WordPress Hosting Comparison

Shh… I’m dating several WordPress hosts

I get around.

That’s right, I’m always dating several WordPress hosts at once, because I want to keep my options open and I want to know what’s out there. Below is a summary of my experience with three web hosts, each of them great enough that I’m willing to recommend them to you.

Let’s start the introductions…


There are affiliate links out the wazoo in this post, which means if you purchase a hosting plan through one my links, I earn a commission. You can read my full affiliate disclosure here.


Recommend WordPress Hosting (IMHO)

Before we dive, I’d like to be clear: this is not a “definitive top 10” or “best WordPress hosting” post. This is just me sharing my experiences and thoughts related to WordPress hosting with three companies.

I have no doubt there are other amazing web hosts out there, but they’ll have to bide their time for an honorable mention here until I’ve had a chance to vet them for myself.

Note: As of this writing, I have active sites hosted with each company below. I’m paying for the accounts and don’t have any relationship with these companies beyond simply being a customer (and an affiliate).

WPEngine

WP Engine is what’s commonly called a “managed WordPress host,” meaning that they only host and optimize their servers for WordPress. There’s no one-click install, WordPress just IS when you set up your account. I’ve always had great interactions with their customer support.

The best WPEngine Feature? Staging sites.

A staging site is an independent clone of your live production site that can be easily created to test plugins, themes, and custom code. You can also copy the staging site to the live site at any time after making changes. – WPEngine

Staging sites are the perfect way to test out changes in a cloned site environment before pushing them to production. If you’re a cowboy coder (I hope you’re not) and like to tinker on live sites, for the love of Pete, please incorporate staging sites into your workflow.

Another favorite feature? Manage multiple accounts and users with a single login. If you’re managing multiple client sites, no need to log in to each individual account. So long as you’re listed as a user on your client’s account, you’ll be able to manage their site from within your own user portal. #winning

I also love that I can create multiple WordPress installs on the same account, which makes it perfect for spinning up demo sites. Although their Startup Plan ($25/month) says it’s only 1 install, they’ll totally let you have others for demo purposes – but be warned if one of your installs starts generated more than the allotted traffic, you’ll be asked to upgrade your account).

Here’s a peek at their dashboard.

WP Engine customer portal

I’ve had consistently friendly and helpful customer service experiences, so double thumbs up on that.

WP Engine Successfully Completes SOC 2 Type II Examination


Update: WP Engine now offers billing transfer to clients. Woohoo! Also, as of  Oct 2016, WP Engine announced free Let’s Encrypt SSL Certificates available on all accounts (install through your user portal). 

Update: In June 2018, WP Engine acquired StudioPress. Every WP Engine plan now comes with free access to the Genesis Framework and all StudioPress themes, which is awesome. I’ve been a long time fan of StudioPress and seeing these two companies come together is exciting.

Flywheel

Flywheel is another “managed WordPress host” that, on the surface, might look like WPEngine, but operates quite differently. For starters, Flywheel offers free site migrations, which is a big bonus for users not wanting the hassle (really, who wants the hassle?). Their entry-level account (Tiny Plan for $13/mo) comes in at half the cost of WPEngine’s basic account ($25).

The Flywheel interface is, well, FLY. The top Flywheel feature is the ability to create accounts for clients and seamlessly transition billing. Check it:

Flywheel Billing Transfer dialog

Flywheel is designed for straightforward usage and caters to the consultant spinning up sites for clients. It’s not for those who want to tinker with advanced server settings. Also, there’s no PHPmyadmin – they’ve rolled their own DB interface. If that bugs you, then know you’ll be bugged before you sign up. If you could give a flip about that, then strongly consider Flywheel.

Like WP Engine, Flywheel let’s you manage multiple client accounts with a single login, but I think WP Engine’s implementation is easier to understand and manage.

As for Flywheel’s customer service, I’ve yet to hear of a single person who had a bad experience with Flywheel. I’ve been with them since their beta launch in early 2013 and had a few hiccups, but each was resolved quickly and courteously — even on weekends.


Update: In September 2016, Flywheel announced free Simple SSL for all accounts.

Update: In December 2016, Flywheel acquired a company called Pressmatic and relaunched their product under the name Local. It’s a FREE full-fledged local development environment (similar to DesktopServer) and makes publishing development sites to you (or your client’s) Flywheel site a freaking breeze. You can use Local even if you’re not hosting with Flywheel, but obviously that’s integration is tight.

Update: In June 2019, WP Engine acquired Flywheel. While the two companies operate under the same umbrella, they each continue to offer their own hosting plans. The Local development product has seen continued improvement and now enables publishing directly to WP Engine in addition to Flywheel.

SiteGround

This is the newest of the bunch for me, but so far I’m pleased as punch. In the case of SiteGround, what I needed was cheap WordPress hosting (or, if you’re in the marketing department, “affordable WordPress hosting” šŸ˜‰ ). I didn’t need migrations, malware scans, nightly backups, or all the bells and whistles that come with a managed WordPress host – I just needed something quick and inexpensive.

Whereas 10 years ago, GoDaddy would have filled this role for me, I’m now looking at SiteGround. For $6.99/mo (or less, if there’s a promo deal), this is a great option if you need to just need something basic. You can also do monthly billing, which helps offset the up-front expense of launching a WordPress site.

WordPress is one of several one-click install applications available and you get a standard cPanel interface to work with. While I think cPanels are a gross user interface to work with, the site overall isn’t hideous and I appreciate that I haven’t been bombarded with up-sell opportunities at every turn when tootling around.

I’ve tried some other hosts in the “inexpensive/bulk shared hosting” category and been so sorely disappointed with the dependability and the customer service that it was a breath of fresh air to move to WordPress-managed hosts Flywheel and WPEngine. SiteGround is my first attempt in over a year to go back to a shared hosting experience and, so far, it’s been good.

One more thing to note: SiteGround accounts come with email accounts. I’m a firm believer that you should host your email separately from your website, but if the email + hosting package turns you on, you’ll be happy here.


Update: As of February 2016, Siteground offers free SSL certificates via Let’s Encrypt (install via your client area).

Update: As of 2020, no more cPanel! SiteGround has rolled their own custom interface. And they get big kudos from me for focusing on making their hosting interface accessible.

In Summary

I’ve highlighted three WordPress hosting companies, each with different strengths depending on what your situation is. Here’s an overview, because tables are nice:

 WPEngineFlywheelSiteGround
Staging AreaYesBeta (this has been beta for longer than I’d like and is still buggy)Yes (on GrowBig Plan)
Multiple WP InstallsYes (if an install draws a ton of traffic, you may get bumped to a higher plan)No (but does allow for Demo sites with limited lifespan)Yes, but not on entry plan.
Customer ServiceAward-winningVery goodOk
Free MigrationsNo (but they do have an automated migration tool)YesNo (but they do have an automated migration plugin)
Transfer Billing to ClientYesYesNo
Automatic BackupYesYesYes
One-click (free) Restore from BackupYesYesYes, but not on entry plan.
EmailNoNoYes
Git Version ControlYes (here’s a tutorial on using Git push with WPE)NoYes (on GoGeek Plan)
WP-CLI and SSHYesOnly if you’re using LocalYes
Deploy site with Local ConnectYesYesNo
Deploy site from DesktopServerYes, but with difficultyYes, on a site with completed billingYes
Free SSLYesYesYes
Free StudioPress themesYesYesNo
SOC2 certificateYesNoNo

It’s important to keep in mind that hosting is not a one-size-fits-all situation. What I care about in a hosting plan, you may not (and vice versa), so do your homework before signing on the dotted line.

So which WordPress host is right for you? I’d probably sum it up like this:

  • Freelancers, developers and digital agencies, go with WP Engine. You’ll enjoy the suite of modern developer tools, top-tier performance, and ease of account management.
  • Freelancers, designers and marketing agencies, go with Flywheel. Client billing transfer and the beautifully designed, non-techie user portal will make you happy.
  • Freelancers and developers on a budget or building websites for families and friends, go with SiteGround. While you may not get top of the line performance, you can get a WordPress site up and running quickly with minimal costs.

Pro Tip: Keep in mind that while you may get a price break for signing up for a full year, you may want to go month to month with a host before committing to a long-term relationship.


Since I originally wrote this article, I’ve also started a managed WordPress hosting account with Nexcess (a Liquid Web brand). You can check out my Nexcess review here.

112 thoughts on “Shh… I’m dating several WordPress hosts”

  1. I can chime in about SiteGround and Mission Critical sites. Short answer, I’m losing confidence.

    I moved to SG, and have the Go Geek plan, and thus far it’s just been “ok”. Recent support ticket:

    ME: My site seems slow and laggy, especially in the Admin. I just had a user call and say that she can’t get a form submission to go through at {my form url}. Can you let me know if there seems to be any trouble with the server or resources?

    SG: I have carefully examined your case and it seems that the issue at hand occurred because the server temporary reached high-load. I am including the server logs below :
    Code:
    Dec 01 15:38:55 High load (15.95) reached!

    Uh, darn. I know I’m on a shared server. But when I originally called to talk to sales, explained what I’m doing, etc, (real estate websites, mostly static but very important contact forms) I was sold on the “Unique Account Isolation Technology”. https://www.siteground.com/setup.

    In other words, led to believe that bad behavior by others on the shared server can’t bleed over to affect my account because they have automated tools to detect and crush issues, etc.

    To be fair, after further questioning, the tech did make me aware that I was not utilizing all of the included tools to speed up the site (SuperCacher), which I have now enabled. I don’t know if that would have mattered in this case though.

    Were it not for the mission critical forms that we use for lead inquiries, repair requests and application submission, I think it would be fine.

    For a big eCommerce site, I’d talk to SG about a beefier account, or look at WP Engine, which is what I’m now considering.

    1. Sorry to hear that, Steve. I’ve also experienced a slowness with SG lately that is very frustrating.

      For a big eCommerce site, Iā€™d talk to SG about a beefier account, or look at WP Engine, which is what Iā€™m now considering.

      For any site that’s generating income (i.e. ecommerce), I’d definitely so go with a managed host. Those are sites where you literally can’t afford downtime or sluggish page loads that lead to higher bounce rates.

  2. Had the same issue with SG Steve… had to pull the site and switch it back to the previous host… and haven’t had an issues since… Had it there 2 weeks and kept going over the limits and with no resolution or troubleshooting from their end…only an offer to update the hosting to 3X the cost…

  3. Hey Carrie, I’ve been using SiteGround for a couple months, and I just ran into my first major hiccup this week. I’m not sure if it’s a plugin fault or a hosting fault or a little of both.

    But I got two emails from SiteGround. Very strange wording in the first one:

    “We would like to inform you that your account has reached the allowed daily usage of 20000 CPU seconds per account. Please note that once you hit 150% of the allowed daily CPU seconds, your web service will be limited for the calendar day. The web service limit means you may have problems accessing your website.”

    “We have detected that MySQL database(s) on your account exceed the maximum allowed size of 1000 per database and we kindly ask you to reduce them within the next 7 days grace period. In case your database(s) still exceed the allowed size after the grace period is over, a limit will be applied, which may result in malfunctioning of your website.

    xyzsite_wp734 3368MB

    With a very new and untrafficked site, I magically blew the lid off the database limits in one single day. Turns out it coincides with an email newsletter plugin I was testing, but still, I had only a list of 500 and there’s no way it should have exceeded bandwidth.

    The biggest irritation I have is with the number of “CPU seconds”. Who uses that term? I’ve used a dozen hosting companies from Hostgator to WP Engine to Synthesis and never seen that term before.

    It might be legit, but it feels like an unusual unit of measure.

    1. At the very least that’s not a helpful message! As for the unit of measure, I’m not sure if that’s odd or not (I have never gotten a nastygram about exceeding bandwidth).

      Can you run some tests on your local server and see what results you get? Might help you narrow down the root cause.

  4. Another +1 for WPEngine. We’ve been on their Premium plan for many years now and have never had any issues! Plus it’s always blazing fast.

    Hey Carrie, we’d love to have you guest post on our site again it’s been 3 years since your last post! Just know that you are always welcome! Paid or unpaid šŸ˜‰

  5. Thank you so much for this post! I’ve been with a different host for some time. As a non-techie, I’ve been mired in a never-ending nightmare to be sure my site is secure (If my site is hacked and I can’t fix it myself, I have to pay my host a small fortune to fix it). I’m so paralyzed with fear that I haven’t even made my site public yet.

    To make life simple, I’m considering WP Engine and Flywheel, both of which will fix security issues for free. I’m a total newbie and need something super simple to use (I’m not a developer or anything. I just want to blog securely). I would like to know if WP Engine or Flywheel would fit that bill. Do you have any words of wisdom for me? Thanks.

    1. Hey Julie, I hate that you’ve been scared off of launching your site! As a self-described non-technie, I think you’ll be more at home with Flywheel. WP Engine is great as well but caters more to the developer while Flywheel is made with “normal people”, like you, in mind. šŸ™‚

  6. Great review here. Thanks.
    I am using Siteground, was quite happy with it, but was surprised that there is mailbox quota limit of 2 GB per email account in all shared hosting plans.
    My client need more than that, upgrading to their cloud plans (for unlimited quota) will cost about $80 a month instead of the $15 I am currently paying… since the website has little traffic, I don’t think it is a good idea to migrate to that expensive plan now…
    Your suggestion of mail host in another post unfortunately will cost me a lot too. Since my client need like 50 email accounts, in your suggestions of google app, rackspace…etc that will add to like $100 a month for emails alone..
    Any recommendation?

  7. Here’s an unanticipated problem with SiteGround: The WP AutoUpdate mandate. The last time WPAutoUpdate updated the site, it replaced the site with an older cached version of the site, absent of my client’s latest content updates. So I submitted a support ticket. The response is below:

    “The AutoUpdater cannot be disabled completely. I cancelled the upcoming update for your website and added this to the “wp-config.php” file: Code: define( ‘AUTOMATIC_UPDATER_DISABLED’, true );
    However, if there is a new WordPress release, the tool will schedule an update for your website and you have to manually cancel it via cPanel -> WP AutoUpdater. Apologies for the inconvenience. Note that you can quickly and easily restore the site using the tool itself should anything goes wrong after an update. If you have any other questions or require further assistance from your end, don’t hesitate to get back to us.”

    So, in other words, I need to anticipate WordPress updates before the WP AutoUpdater does in order to cut it off at the pass.

    I WANT to like SiteGround, but in addition to this annoyance, I have also experienced a major run around with customer support two different times in the past 9 months over two completely different issues/websites. Occasionally I get someone who is direct and honest, informed, smart and helpful. But too often they do not seem to understand the question and respond with glib and inappropriate solutions.

    I have personally decided to steer clear of SiteGround for all future clients.

  8. We’re using Flywheel right now and it’s ….eh…..not going so smoothly. We had to migrate from WP Engine because of certain limitations. What we’re trying to do is technically difficult and that may be part of the problem. But my main beef with Flywheel is their support feels really thin. If you need anything done Friday, good luck – you’re going to have to wait until Monday. With MediaTemple, you can always call and someone is available 24/7. Also, their support team doesn’t seem to have the best WordPress chops. I’m starting to get a really bad feeling about this move…

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