We love blogging. And we love the WordPress blogging platform. But we are very much not in love with most website hosts WordPress bloggers use.
Like it or not, a website host is a necessity if you want to run a WordPress blog with your own domain name (which we strongly suggest†). It’s a hyper-competitive business, website hosting is. To cut costs most hosting companies skimp on service and reduce their reliability standards. How do hosting companies get away with that? you may wonder. Because most customers make their choice of host by looking at the price and nothing else.
Do not be one of those customers.
The difference between a low and high quality host is the difference between your WordPress blog being down a few minutes per month or being down for hours (or days!). It’s the difference between your blog loading quickly or loading slowly. It’s the difference difference being able to get help with a hosting issue and not.
Here’s our overview of sharing hosting in general and our suggested hosts in particular. Short on time? Skip head to our conclusions:
Shared Hosting Overview
What is a shared host?
By far, the cheapest hosting services are shared hosts. All the WordPress blog hosting options we considered for this review were thus of the shared variety.
As the named implies, with a shared hosting account you are sharing a server with other users. The speed of your site will therefore depend on the popularity of the other sites using your server — something you have no control over and can not know in advance. That’s an inherent downside of shared hosting, though the better hosting companies will cram fewer accounts together.
For a faster connection, you can get a virtual private server (VPS) or even a dedicated server, but these cost substantially more, especially if you want help managing your server. Plus, the reality is: If you are starting a new blog, a good shared host will be plenty sufficient for you. And you needn’t spend more than $10 to get one.
For what it’s worth: The website you are reading now started on a shared host. In time we switched to a VPS account and then to a dedicated server. If you have hopes of your blog becoming the next big thing, you’ll do well to go with a host that has a VPS and/or dedicated server option. That will be it easier to upgrade in the future. If your blog is more for family, friends and a few random strangers, then that sort of expandability doesn’t concern you.
In general, what makes for a good shared host?
A high quality website host will stand behind an uptime guarantee of at least 99.7% and provide responsive customer service. Many hosts are fly-by-night operations so you’ll also want a host that has been in business for several years. And, of course, you want all that for a reasonable price.
Time was that sufficient bandwidth and disk space were important qualities to look for in a host. These days, many hosts offer an “unlimited” amount of each. While that sounds good, it isn’t actually true — in the fine print most hosts have an “acceptable use” clause. It is actually to your advantage to have a host that does have strict limits. Remember, if you can have unlimited bandwidth then so can the other people on your shared server.
In specific, what makes for a good WordPress blog host?
In addition to what you’d want in a host no matter what kind of website you are running, there are some qualities that will help with a WordPress blog specifically:
• Easy installation. On some hosts you can install WordPress with a few simple clicks.
• Experience with WordPress. On occasion things can go wrong with a WordPress blog, either through user error or a glitch in the software. When that happens, trust us, you’ll save yourself time (and not a few headaches) if your host has extensive WordPress experience.
• Regular backups. Blogs tend to change a lot more than static sites. You want to use a host that will backup your blog as often as you update it.
• Multiple domains, subdomains and MySQL databases. Though your plans may be for only one site blogging can be surprisingly addictive. Look for the flexibility to expand your planned blogging activities without having to switch hosts.
• A full array of up-to-date developer tools. Many of the best WordPress themes and plugins require the latest versions of PHP and MySQL. Your host should support them, along with GD libraries, Python, Ruby (RoR) and other developer tools. (You’ll want your host to be able to do that even if you don’t know what any of those things are.)
Every single one of the WordPress hosts reviewed below score well on those criteria. Though we’ve ranked them #1 through #5, the top one might not be best for you. Each has its own strength. Each would make an excellent choice for your new WordPress blog:
Cheapest Package: $3.96/month
There are three main reasons why HostGator tops our rankings for the best WordPress host. First, HostGator has one of the best uptimes in the industry. Second, if you already have a website with another host, HostGator will do all the work of migrating your old files for you (without charging you for it). Third — and perhaps most of all — HostGator’s customer service is really phenomenal. With HostGator you can usually get a tech on the phone without spending an interminable time on hold. Plus, HostGator is a popular WordPress host. Have a problem with your WordPress blog? Chances are that the HostGator technical support has seen it several times before.
HostGator also offers both VPS and dedicated hosting, which means you can later upgrade your hosting without switching hosts. Add to that a 45 day money back guarantee, a long and positive track record with the Better Business Bureau and tremendous script support for virtually anything you are likely to want to do with your blog and you have Spot Cool Stuff’s choice for the best WordPress host.
WP Engine details
Cheapest Package: $29/month
Every other hosting company deals with a variety of websites. WP Engine is the only quality host that deals exclusively with WordPress blogs.
If you are a novice blogger, worried about setting up your WordPress site or simply want to make your WordPress start-up process as easy as possible, then WP Engine is your ideal hosting choice. Every new account comes with WordPress already installed! When WordPress upgrades come out (which happens surprisingly often), a WP Engine technician will check to make sure your blog is 100% compatible with the new version and automatically upgrade it accordingly.
If you are an advanced WordPress user, there are good reasons to host with WP Engine too. Every account is set up with a free, intuitive-to-use staging area. If you are doing something tricky with your blog, you can easily test it out before making it live. Plus, all the host settings and back end software options on WP Engine are chosen specifically with WordPress in mind.
For all user levels, WP Engine has excellent customer service that’s entirely staffed by WordPress experts. If your blog gets hacked, they’ll work immediately to fix it (at no extra cost or time to you). We also love how WP Engine will automatically optimize and cache your blog. Your WordPress site will run as fast or faster hosted with WP Engine than it will with the shared plans of pretty much any other host. The downside, predictably, is that WP Engine is also significantly more expensive than most other shared plans: $29/month. If that’s within your budget WP Engine is a superb choice.
Cheapest Package: $3.15/month (sale price)
The marketing department over at FatCow Hosting certainly has a sense of humor. Whether it’s a good sense of humor is an open question. FatCow describes hosting as their “milk and butter,” refers to their guarantee as the “HeiferCratic Oath,” stores site templates in a “bullpen” and declares their whole company to be “udderly fantastic.” While we appreciate the playful nature of it, all those cow puns made us initially skeptical of the quality of the product. Initially. Though Spot Cool Stuff has not ourselves hosted with FatCow, we’ve spoken to several webmasters who have; every one of whom — to a person — raves about the company. They are happy with the company’s uptime and satisfied (though not always completely glowing) about their customer service.
New FatCow customers get $175 in free advertizing when they sign up. They also get a free mobile website builder and a step-by-step guide to installing WordPress.
And the best part? The price. There’s no quality host anywhere that’s less expensive: only $3.15 per month! That’s, um, not a lot of moo-lah.
Cheapest (and Only) Package: $3.96/month, for unlimited disk space and bandwidth
For our previous review of the best green hosts Spot Cool Stuff researched all the shared-server hosting companies that (at least claim to) have an eco-friendly operations. The best one we uncovered: GreenGeeks.
In fact, GreenGeeks would make our list of the best WordPress hosts even if they obtained their electricity through the burning virgin rainforests. Their servers are speedy and have a guaranteed 99.9% uptime rate. GreenGeeks’ customer service is excellent too. The catch — and at a mere $3.96 per month a catch is inevitable — is the relatively long wait time to talk to someone at their help desk. In our experience, hold times averaged about ten minutes.
Happily, GreenGeeks is also one of the most, if the the most, environmentally-friendly hosts. Others mentioned in this review (like FatCow Hosting) use some amount of renewable energy. But GreenGeeks’ operations run 300% (!) on wind power. For every kilowatt of electricity the company uses, GreekGeeks will purchase 3 kilowatts of wind energy credits.
Are you already hosting a website and wish you had picked a more eco-friendly company? GreenGeeks will transfer your site to their service for free.
Cheapest Package: $4.95/month
This hosting company uses their URL in all lowercase letters as their formal name. That makes for awkward sentences when writing a review. But, by whatever name, myhosting.com is our choice for the best, cheapest shared host that also offers VPS. As we discussed under What is a shared host?, a VPS option will let you upgrade to a faster and more robust (but more expensive) type of hosting if you website becomes sufficiently popular in the future.
For a hobbyist blogger who is unlikely to need more than shared hosting, you’ll save money and probably get slightly better service going with FatCow (above). If you plan to blog as part of a business venture, myhosting.com’s VPS expandability is probably worth the extra $1~2 per month. myhosting.com’s “personal website” package limits you to one email address but does come with a free domain and a WordPress installer.
In Summary, the Best WordPress Blog Hosts
Add all that up and here’s our advice:
• If your chief concern is getting the cheapest possible deal for a high quality shared host, choose FatCow Hosting .
• If you want the cheapest possible deal for a high quality shared host that you can later upgrade to a faster VPS, go with myhosting.com.
• Installing WordPress isn’t difficult. But if you aren’t the technical sort or if you place a premium on choosing a host with special WordPress expertise, then WP Engine is well worth the extra cost.
• If you are environmentally conscious and place importance to finding a host that is too (without sacrificing quality) then select GreenGeeks.
• If all the hosts in this review sound the same to you or if you are feeling uncertain what host to get, you can’t go wrong with HostGator.
† Getting a free blog through wordpress.com is okay if you are absolutely certain that your blog will be temporary. But the only way to truly own your blog, and to be able to make whatever modifications to it you’d like, is to host it yourself. Plus, how much cooler is it having your own domain name?