<— Quest For The Best Managed WordPress Hosting Service – Part 1

In my previous post, I laid out the groundwork for what we’re doing, and why we’re doing it. In case you didn’t read it, click the link above to read Part 1.  But if you’d rather just get a quick fill-in, then read on.

A business associate of mine and I decided to team up to create a very high capacity website that needed to be able to start small and scale to millions of visitors per month, even millions of visitors per day eventually. This kind of large scale application takes a huge amount of technical knowledge, granular separation of component parts into separate servers and services, a high degree of network engineering and linux administration knowledge, the ability to provide 24/7/365 support and replication of assets both on the same LAN as well as on a wider network of replicated servers in multiple data centers. We need the site be be highly available, and we need support with the technical chops to help us design it, build it, scale it, and support it when things go wrong.

Your needs may be different than ours. What you need for WordPress Hosting may be completely different. Any of the low cost hosting providers can provide acceptable levels of uptime and support for most sites that get even thousands of visitors per hour. For example, a GoDaddy Ultimate account can handle 800,000 visitors per month easily. That’s about 26,666 visitors per day, or 1111 visitors per hour. You get that for about $25 per month. Not a bad deal. For about $75 per month they’ll give you unlimited visitors. In theory it’s unlimited, but truthfully you are on a managed, shared hosting environment with a plan like that and if you exceed certain limits, they could make your site unavailable. This is done to prevent bad code from running amok and taking down a bunch of websites all at once. It’s also done to prevent you from really having 10 million visitors per hour on a $25 plan. When you get that big, you need more robust hosting, and that’s where we are focusing.

Support Is King

They say that in the “Googleverse”, Content is King. Well, I was probably the very first person to ever say in the Hostingverse, Support is King. And I really mean that. Depending on your budget, you should opt for the best support you can afford to pay for. All of the hosting companies say “Free Support”, but really the level of support you get is truly a function of how much they can afford to pay support personnel. If they hire WordPress Junkies to do support, you’ll get varying degrees of competency depending on who you talk to when you call. If the company only hires true experts in all things WordPress, then their monthly charges will most likely reflect that. Look over your support options carefully and compare between several hosting companies before you make a decision. And speaking of decisions, I’m not going to tell you who to pick. I’m only going to talk about each service and the types and levels of support they provide. I’ll leave it up to you to decide which company is the best managed WordPress hosting service from a support standpoint.

The Contenders

I evaluated the support levels of several companies: Flywheel, WPEngine, Pagely, BlueHost, Pressable, GoDaddy, SiteGround, and HostGator. Many of these companies have similar support services, and most offer 24/7/365 phone support, but not all. I had to call some, and chat with some, and in some cases did both, to come to a conclusion about support beyond availability.

  • Flywheel Bulk Freelance Account
    • Cost: $100 per month
    • Max Sites: 10
    • Visits/Mo: 150,000
    • Disk: 40 GB
    • Bandwidth: 2 TB
    • SSL: $10 per month per site
      • In addition you have to bring your own certificate which you pay for elsewhere
      • This can potentially cost $120 per year per site, or $1200 per year if you have an SSL certificate on each site
    • CDN (Content Delivery Network): $10 per month per site
      • Another $120 per year per site, or $1200 per year if you use it for all 10 sites.
    • Multisite Support: $10 per month per site
      • Yet another $120 per year per site, or $1200 per year if you use it for all 10 sites.
    • 24/7/365 Support: Ticket Only.
      • Phone support is limited to 9:00 AM to 7:00 PM Central Standard Time. There is On-Call support after hours, but it is unclear under what conditions you will be able to contact the on-call support person.
    • Overages: No Charge (but don’t abuse it – whatever that means).
    • Scalability: Custom Plans
      • Because of the lack of 24/7/365 Phone Support, this is immaterial.
      • Their “Custom Plans” are not very well defined in terms of their ability to design extreme high traffic, high availability websites.
  • WPEngine Professional
    • Cost: $99 per month
    • Max Sites: 10
    • Visits/Mo: 100,000
    • Disk: 20GB
      • Disk Space can be optimized using their free LargeFS option with puts content files on your Amazon S3 account, and you pay Amazon for your disk storage.
    • Bandwidth: Unlimited
    • SSL: $49.99 per year per site
      • This is a potential $599.88 per year if you put SSL on all 10 sites.
      • An option to purchase a Wildcard SSL for $199 per year is available (apply to all sites).
    • CDN (Content Delivery Network): Included
    • Multisite Support: Included
    • 24/7/365 Support: Yes
    • Overages: $1.00 per 1000 visits
    • Scalability: Excellent
      • WPEngine was the only company that I reviewed that i feel had the experience to design a site that can scale to multiple millions of visitors per month. They have done completely customized architectures for many clients and are renowned for their expertise in this area.
  • Pagely Professional
    • Cost: $149 per month
    • Max Sites: 10
    • Visits/Mo: Unlimited
    • Disk: 20 GB
    • Bandwidth: 25 GB
    • SSL: Unknown
      • The site was unclear on the charges except to say “additional fees apply”. I didn’t look further because I felt their price was high and they don’t have 24/7 phone support.
    • CDN (Content Delivery Network): Included (100 GB Shared)
    • Multisite Support: Included
    • 24/7/365 Support: Ticket Only
      • No Chat Support
      • No 24/7/365 Phone Support
    • Overages:
      • 500 GB Bandwidth: $65 per month
      • 1 TB Bandwidth: $125 per month
      • 10 GB Disk: $15 per month
      • 100 TB Disk: $150 per month
    • Scalability: Excellent
      • Enterprise System Scalability Available
      • This company designs and hosts Mission Critical, High Availability with automatic resource scaling built on Amazon Web Services. They utilize multi-region redundancy and caching and enterprise grade security. They are capable of designing and hosting systems of any size on this arcitecture.
      • I took them out of the running for our system because they do not support WordPress Multisite on their smaller plans.
  • BlueHost Professional
    • Cost: $74.99 per month
    • Max Sites: 10
    • Visits/Mo: 300,000,000 (yes that’s three hundred million)
    • Disk: 60 GB
    • Bandwidth: Unlimited
    • SSL: Additional Fees Not Specified
    • CDN (Content Delivery Network): Included
    • Multisite Support: No
    • 24/7/365 Support: Yes. 24/7/365 Phone, Chat, and Ticket support
    • Overages: Not Exactly Specified
      • The site does say that you can add CPU, RAM, and SAN Storage easily.
    • Scalability: Standard VPS Levels and Dedicated Servers only.
  • Pressable.com
    • Cost: $45 per month
    • Max Sites: 10
    • Visits/Mo: 50,000
    • Disk: Unlimited/Unspecified
    • Bandwidth: Unlimited/Unspecified
    • SSL: $10 per month per site
      • Potentially $1200 per year if you put SSL on all 10 sites
    • CDN (content Delivery Network): Included
    • Multisite Support: Not Specified
    • 24/7/365 Support: Not specified
    • Overages: Not Specified
    • Scalability: Unknown
      • They offer an Enterprise package, but there’s not a lot of information on the site.
  • GoDaddy Developer
    • Cost: $24.99 per month
    • Max Sites: 5
    • Visits/Mo: 800,000
    • Disk: 50 GB SSD
    • Bandwidth: Unlimited
    • SSL: 1 SSL Certificate Free for the first year, $69.99 per year per certificate.
    • CDN (Content Delivery Network): No
    • Multisite Support: No
    • 24/7/365 Support: Yes – Phone and Ticket
      • As a long time customer, GoDaddy Support has time and time again proven to me that just because you offer support, doesn’t mean you give support. Read below in the Verdict section.
    • Overages: $1 per month per 1000 visitors
    • Scalability: Standard VPS Levels and Dedicated Servers only.
      • This is a good hosting company with a lot of bang for the buck, but they really aren’t geared towards architecting very large systems.
  • SiteGround GoGeek
    • Cost: $29.95 per month
    • Max Sites: Unlimited
    • Visits/Mo: 100,000
    • Disk: 30 GB
    • Bandwidth: Unlimited
    • SSL: Included
    • CDN (Content Delivery Network): Included
    • Multisite Support: Yes
    • 24/7/365 Support: Yes – Phone, Chat, and Ticket
    • Overages: Notifications are sent at 80% of plan capacity. Specific charges were not obtainable even with a live chat.
    • Scalability: Standard VPS Levels and Dedicated Servers only.
  • HostGator Business
    • Cost: $31.95 per month
    • Max Sites: 5
    • Visits/Mo: 500,000
    • Disk: Unmetered
    • Bandwidth: Unmetered
    • SSL: Shared (you can install your own for a flat $10 fee)
    • CDN (Content Delivery Network): Yes
    • Multisite Support: No
    • 24/7/365 Support: Yes – Phone, chat, and ticket
    • Overages: no charges
    • Scalability: Standard VPS Levels and Dedicated Servers only.

The Verdicts on Support

Because this part of the series is focussed on support, I’ll break it down for you here in this section. My assessments are only focussed on our needs for a hosting provider that will provide the level of support we need to accomplish our goals. Remember, we are not just evaluating the initial plans, but the ability of the hosting company to assist in the planning and execution of scaling up to a highly trafficked, highly available system serving multiple millions of visitors. Because of this, if a company doesn’t provide phone support in the beginning, even if they offer it to the “custom architecture” clients later they’re useless to me to start with. It’s hard enough scaling a website up, I don’t want to have to move to a different provider later, so it makes no difference if they’re custom solutions fit the bill if they’re shared hosting doesn’t give us what we need.

Hosting Providers I Disqualified

Flywheel.com, Pagely.com, and Pressable.com.

Well they say that God is in the details, and after scouring over all of the various plans and offerings from these managed wordpress hosting providers I was able to eliminate these three for various reasons that are not really the same for each of them. In the case of Flywheel.com, it was the lack of 24/7/365 phone support that put them out of the running. That, combined with the fact that if we wanted to build a series of high availability sites, their custom plans were very ill-defined, and the icing on the cake for me – the elephant in the room – is the exorbitant fees they charge for SSL, CDN, and Multisite. On their $100 per month plan, you could spend an additional $3,600 per year if you just add SSL, CDN, and Multisite to all 10 of the sites in the plan. Not only that, but you have to bring your own SSL and they charge you $10 per month per site for the privilege of using your own certificate. Pagely.com was put out of the running because they don’t have phone support at all. As far as I can see on the the website, the $149 per month plan doesn’t even include live chat support. Even if they offer phone support for VPS and Dedicated servers, or their “custom” solutions, I wouldn’t choose them due to the lack of phone support at the entry level. Pressable.com is out for a list of reasons, the least of which is that they don’t specify anywhere on the website if they have phone support or chat support. Even on the Enterprise page they clearly do not provide 24/7/365 support. I have a hard time feeling good about their offerings so I took them off the list.

Adequate Support for Most Hosting Needs

Bluehost.com, GoDaddy.com, SiteGround.com, and HostGator.com

These four websites are four of the best known managed wordpress hosting sites around. Search Google for “best managed wordpress hosting” and you will find these four companies showing up on a lot of reports. I noticed GoDaddy is left out of a lot of reports but I think it’s just a “we hate GoDaddy” thing similar to the way Open Source proponents hate Microsoft. Out of all of these, the only provider that supports WordPress Multisite on Managed WordPress plans is SiteGround. In fact, if it weren’t for the really limited number of visitors per month on their plan, I would have to say that they really do look like the place I might consider moving my hosting to. But, alas, they only provide 100,000 visitors per month on a plan that costs $5 more than GoDaddy (who provides for 800,000 visitors on their Developer plan at $24.99/mo). They ALL have 24/7/365 Phone Support. They all have what I would consider “non-mission-critical” support. This means when you call, you won’t talk to an expert or engineer. You may get somebody on the phone who is really good with ASP.NET but knows nothing about WordPress. You might get a real WordPress guru. It depends on who they hire for support. But your support issue will almost always be escalated to the engineers if the support tech that takes your call can’t solve the issue. In some cases, be prepared to talk to support people who seem to be clueless about WordPress. One time I called GoDaddy support because there was a loss of connectivity between the web server and the database server. He told me he had to check the INI file. There are no INI files in WordPress. But you get what you pay for, and for my money, they are all really good hosting companies with different strengths and weaknesses. BlueHost costs $74.99 per month, but they provide unlimited bandwidth and 300,000,000 visitors per moth, with CDN included. GoDaddy only costs $24.99 per month, but you only get 800,000 visitors. You do get 50 GB of wickedly fast SSD storage, but they don’t have CDN available with their Managed WordPress plans. SiteGround has the most impressive set of features for the money. They offer unlimited sites, 30 GB of HD space, unlimited bandwidth, free SSL, CDN, and Multisite, all for $29.95. Wow! But wait… they only allow for 100,000 visitors per month and you either have to upgrade to a more expensive plan, or they shut down your site after you exceed the limit. HostGator has the least restrictive hosting environment, offering half a million visitors, five websites, unlimited disk, unlimited bandwidth, shared SSL, CDN, and no overage charges, all for $31.95. That’s pretty amazing.

Out of these four, only SiteGround.com supports MultiSite on Managed WordPress. But they all support Multi-site on standard C-Panel hosting. HostGator is the only one of these that really don’t monitor your bandwidth, disk space usage, or number of visitors (according to my chat with Support this morning). That might be a good place to start with a small WordPress Multisite installation, but be prepared to migrate it to a different host when your traffic gets really high, because even though they (HostGator) don’t technically monitor your space and bandwidth, they will get on the phone with you if you’re abusing the plan level that you pay for.

The Best Managed WordPress Hosting Service Support For Our Requirements

And the winner is…. drum roll please… WPEngine.com!

And it’s not hard to see why. In the words of Ryan Metz, Sales Consultant and WPEngine.com, if you call on Christmas Eve and your site is down, someone will answer the phone who has the skills and knowledge to deal with the problem and get you back up and running as quickly as possible.

They don’t have the least expensive, or most expensive plans. On the WPEngine Professional Plan, you get 10 sites and 100,000 visitors per month. You only get 20 GB of disk space though, but they have an integrated LargeFS option you can choose that automatically puts your media files and other content files onto your Amazon S3 account, effectively optimizing the 20GB by offloading the largest space eaters: pictures, audio, and video (in that order). You get CDN free and Multisite Support. You get 24/7/365 phone support from very experienced WordPress experts. All they do is WordPress, nothing else, and they are considered the best at what they do based on numerous reports and reviews I’ve read. You get unlimited bandwidth, reasonable charges for SSL, and you get all this for $99 per month. There is only one part of this plan that raises a red flag for me: the allowed 100,000 visitors per month shared across 10 websites. I think it’s pretty tight, this limitation, but after spending a lot of time on the phone with their Sales department, it’s pretty easy to move up into a more robust plan, and they have the expertise and engineers that will help you scale up to a site that can host 3 or 4 million websites on a multisite installation getting millions of visitors per day.

Recap

We’re on a quest to find the best managed WordPress Hosting Service that will be there for us and have our backs in the beginning when we’re just starting out with our venture, and be able to be with us and help us scale and migrate our website from a simple, web server/database server architecture to one with multiple web servers, load balancing, replicated databases, caching servers, geo-optimized content delivery networks, and cloud storage for huge amounts of files. It takes engineers who possess a high degree of skill to architect really large systems and I’m pretty confident that WPEngine.com fits all of our criteria. Face it: hosting a website at the scale that we are anticipating is no easy thing, and you don’t want to end up painting yourself into a corner by picking the “cheaper” hosting provider who can’t help you get to your destination.

Next Up: Quest For The Best Managed WordPress Hosting Service – Part 3: WordPress Multisite


 

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Jerry Boutot is a Microsoft Certified Application Developer (MCAD) and Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP). He owns AppDataWorks, LLC, which develops custom solutions for Desktop Software, Web Applications, Database Systems, and Online Marketing Solutions.

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