This is the first article in a series of articles that will explore the process of finding the best managed WordPress hosting service for a new web venture that I expect to scale to millions of users per month.
Part 1: The pain points.
Hosting a website for most small businesses is a fairly inexpensive affair, with the vast majority of websites getting modest amounts of traffic that can easily be serviced by most shared hosting providers. Most providers have a 99.9% uptime guarantee. What that means is that your web server will respond to requests 99.9% of the time, but that guarantee usually comes with caveats that protect the hosting company from having to issue refunds for what they call “perceived outages”.
For example, if your web server is running but can’t connect to another resource like your database, you’ll get a “Can’t connect to database” error but that doesn’t technically count as downtime. Why? Because your web server is responding to requests. The fact that the database is missing or down doesn’t matter.
So when a partner of mine and I decided to start a new venture utilizing WordPress Multisite hosting, there were a couple of things we knew already based on hard earned experience. We knew we are not Linux or Microsoft engineers so we needed to find a Managed WordPress host that handles the technical side of the fairly complex configuration of web server, database server, firewalls, malware protection and scans, regular backups of the entire site directory and database to a separate filesystem for disaster recovery purposes (ideally to a CDN (Content Delivery Network) that automatically creates duplicates for redundancy), high level caching for lightning fast delivery, and most of all, 24/7 phone support that will have your back and work aggressively to get your site back up and running, regardless of why it’s down. Oh, and one more requirement which probably is the number one requirement: Growth and Scalability built in to their entire system.
In short, we needed a web host that could help us go from a small, shared hosting plan that handles a hundred thousand visitors a month up to a full blown premium or enterprise plan that utilizes multiple web and database servers, CDN’s like Amazon AWS, and can handle millions of customers and multi-millions of visitors every month.
I think we finally settled on a hosting provider that can meet all of those needs, but instead of telling you what you should pick for yourself and your own unique requirements, I’ll just go over the list of the handful of top sites that I focussed on in my evaluations, and you can decide for yourself what will work for you. It’s entirely possible that a $15 per month managed hosting plan from GoDaddy will be completely fine for your needs. But if you want to create something as big as Walmart.com you can forget about GoDaddy or any of the other cheap hosts. Why?
It’s all in the support.
I don’t have any personal experience with any other managed hosting providers except GoDaddy. I have an account with GoDaddy that allows me to create up to 25 managed WordPress installations and can service up to 2.5 million visitors per month. The cost is $89 per month. I host appdataworks.com, jerryboutotmusic.com, simonandadrien.com, and purplepineapplefitness.com on that hosting plan. But GoDaddy doesn’t support Multisite, which I would really like to use so I can provide hosting for my clients and charge them for hosting instead of having them set up a full blown hosting account that they 99% of the time don’t really utilize. So my choice is to switch to a regular unmanaged shared hosting account, pay to increase the allowable resources to the max available, and host it there. That could work, except GoDaddy (and many of the other “cheap” hosts) have built in metering on CPU cycles, RAM (memory) usage, and IO (input/output). When you exceed those, your site goes down for 30 minutes. Which means ALL of the sites go down. I might have one client with a popular website that takes up too many resources that penalizes the rest of the sites. My customers wouldn’t be too happy. The next level is to move up to a Virtual Private Server (there are several levels) which provide increasingly higher resource amounts for a higher price at each tier as you move up in your needs. Theoretically, they can create and manage a customized multi-tier system for you, so that should be something to consider if you’re planning to build something that will scale to millions of visitors. Theoretically.
But just as in the Googleverse, Content is King, in the Hostingverse, support is king! And all you need to do with ANY web host – I don’t care who you host with – is have a technical malfunction somewhere in their system that takes your site down and call for support to find out just how many of the cheaper web hosts just don’t have your back. Case in point: one of my client websites went down last Friday (August 14th, 2015). It was hosted on a single GoDaddy managed hosting plan. It took multiple phone calls to Support, only to find that the support person on the other end of the line really had no clue how WordPress works. When the support person says “wait while I check the INI file”, you know you’re doomed. WordPress doesn’t use INI files. After many hours of dealing with clueless support personnel that pretty much could not really do anything to help, I understandably got really agitated and confrontational. Suffice it to say that the poor guy on the other end of the phone will probably require some couch time after I got done. But seriously, what I learned that day is that the support people are just low paid technical folks who may or may not have any expertise with your particular hosting platform or account type (Windows, Linux, php, .NET, Managed, Unmanaged, etc.). When you call, they submit support tickets to engineers that really don’t care one way or the other if your site is up or down. I learned that the hosting agreement clearly states they have up to 72 hours to respond to the ticket. I learned that they will eventually get to it and you will eventually get a resolution. But nobody will have your back if you have a business that relies on your web site being up 100% of the time or you lose money.
I finally received a response from the report ticket on Tuesday, August 18th, 2015. They told me they checked my site and it appears to be operating. But whatever the problem was cleared itself up overnight Friday the 14th into Saturday the 15th and the site was up and running Saturday. But they didn’t get to my ticket until Tuesday.
So the quest to find the best managed WordPress hosting service began in earnest. We had been looking at other hosting options already, but mainly because GoDaddy’s managed wordpress hosting didn’t support Multisite and we needed it for this new venture. But after the cold slap of reality hit us that Superior Support was probably the highest consideration for us, we were able to articulate our requirements a little more clearly: Superior Support at the entry level, support that can work with us to scale at each stage as needed, and support to make sure that our business doesn’t suffer from loss of profits longer than it has to if the site or database or a network switch fails.
Support, followed by several other criteria which I’ll get into in Quest For The Best Managed WordPress Hosting Service – Part 2: Support.
Have an AWESOME Day!!!
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