So now we get down to the purpose of this series, which is our quest for the best managed wordpress hosting for WordPress Multisite installations. To be certain, any of the hosting providers in the previous two articles – part 1 and part 2 – would be perfectly fine for any kind of WordPress Hosting if you don’t need to enable MultiSite support. I have several GoDaddy accounts and I’m perfectly fine with them. They give you the most bang for your buck. In fact, almost all of the hosting providers in the previous article support Multisite but not on Managed WordPress.
Why is this important? Managed WordPress hosting accounts are a special type of hosting designed specifically for WordPress. You usually don’t get access to any kind of CPanel or other server management user interface. The site compression, firewall, anti-malware scans, backups, etc. are all handled externally to your website. You get access to – in most cases – only the ability to restore backups, push/pull content to/from a staging environment, and access to your WordPress Admin Dashboard. You typically don’t get access to create FTP accounts, create add-on domains, etc.
I say in most cases because there are a couple of exceptions – most notably SiteGround which somehow manages to allow you to create Managed WordPress installations and yet still gives you full access to your CPanel. I got into a live chat discussion (argument) with their support people over this because they really don’t use the term Managed WordPress Hosting even though after much hair pulling and back-and-forth discussion about what Managed WordPress means, it seems they actually do offer Managed WordPress hosting. It seems their WordPress Hosting option is actually Managed WordPress, but they don’t fully understand why the terminology is important. To them, “WordPress Hosting” is de-facto “Managed WordPress Hosting”. Which in most cases would be true, but they give you full access to the CPanel on Managed WordPress accounts which kinda confuses those of us who are used to the distinction between CPanel Hosting and Managed WordPress Hosting. The former allows you to install more than one CMS into more than one Domain Name or subdomain, where the latter is typically a single WordPress installation or a specific number of allowed WordPress installations.
Since Managed WordPress is typically 4 times faster than WordPress installed in a regular hosting account, and since speed and availability is so important to our project, and because we need those things to run a WordPress Multisite installation, we’re going to focus on only the hosts that offer MultiSite support in Managed WordPress accounts. There are only two that we’ll even consider based on our assessments of the individual hosting companies in the previous two articles: SiteGround and WPEngine.
But before I get into a comparison of the two contenders, I want to just cover the two best non-managed hosting plans that you can get for a very good price which will usually be enough to get you going with a Multisite project without breaking the bank: GoDaddy and HostGator.
Honorable Mentions: Inexpensive Non-Managed WordPress Hosting for Multisite – GoDaddy and HostGator
OK so I’m biased to GoDaddy for cheap and reliable web hosting. After all I’ve been with them for many years and up until recently I always thought they were the king of the mountain of hosting providers. I mean, after all they offer hosting plans from really super small and cheap with minimal resources that are perfect if you have a very limited budget and the site doesn’t get a lot of traffic, right on up to massive physical servers that you rent for your own purposes, mounted in their racks. And their prices are reasonable. They have really good support (although not as good as more expensive hosts like FlyWheel or WPEngine) which is available by phone 24/7. But finding out my Managed WordPress plan didn’t support WordPress Multisite was a real downer, and when they acted with indifference towards a site that was down, telling me I had to wait up to 72 hours for a support ticket to be responded to, I wasn’t too happy and at first thought about moving ALL of my accounts and client web sites to a new hosting provider. But then I reasoned that they are inexpensive, have the most resources for the money (bandwidth, number of users, number of sites, etc.), and I really have not had any problems with them for years. I’m also a GoDaddy reseller and provide hosting services for my own company at http://www.beawesomehosting.com – mainly for my clients – so moving would be a nightmarish ordeal. So I’ll stick with them for all my sites until I have a very high volume site that needs to scale and the cost/benefit of moving makes sense.
GoDaddy offers CPanel (Linux) hosting plans where you can install WordPress (and several dozen other applications) with a lot of resources, fairly inexpensively. For $14.99 per month you get Unlimited Websites, Unlimited Storage, Unlimited Bandwidth, 1000 Megs of Email storage which you can use to create one big mailbox or up to 1000 mailboxes with 1 meg each of storage. For an additional 3 or 4 bucks a month you can increase your resources to their Level 3 package. After that, you can move up to VPS 1/2/3/4, then move up to a Dedicated Server, and they go from 2GB of RAM with 512GB of disk space up to 32GB of RAM with 2TB of disk. And the prices aren’t too bad, really. But once you get into the need for multiple servers so you can separate your database and web server, you really need to think about hosting services that can support your specific requirements for scaling up.
I 100% recommend GoDaddy if you want to get started with MultiSite and you don’t have a lot of resource usage. You’ll have to see how much you can get away with on an Ultimate CPanel account at Level 3 Resources (less than $20 per month). If you are selling memberships or subscriptions, which you should, then by the time you reach the limit moving to WPEngine won’t be cost prohibitive.
Now my experience with HostGator is ZERO. That said, I have looked over their offerings and the resources they provide and I’m pretty impressed. According to their own support people, they don’t actually meter your usage, per se. So even if you start out with a really inexpensive plan you could exceed the resource limits you’re paying for without having your site go down or being penalized. BUT, if you are paying for a cheap plan and you’re getting a million visitors a day, they’re going to call you and make you upgrade. For the most part, most web sites just sit there taking up little or no resources just responding to requests. If the site is created properly and doesn’t have any resource hogging programming code (usually poorly programmed) or poorly designed plugins, and if it’s WordPress and you use a good quality caching plugin, your site should be able to handle a lot of traffic without too much resource hogging. HostGator might be the next place I go when I need a new hosting plan to set up a MultiSite wordpress installation because I can get their “Business” plan for less than $15 per month and I’ll get unmetered disk and bandwidth, unlimited domains, free dedicated IP, Free Private SSL, 24/7/365 support, backups… wow! I feel like signing up just looking at the specs!
Because I don’t have any personal experience with the service, I can say that I 100% recommend it for inexpensive hosting with a lot of resources just to get a MultiSite project off the ground without spending a ton of money. But this recommendation is qualified by the fact that it’s based purely on specs, not experience.
The final Managed WordPress Multisite Contenders: SiteGround and WPEngine
This is really a no-brainer. WPEngine wins our Quest for the Best managed WordPress Hosting Service that supports Multisite.
Why? Not the money. It’s more expensive than SiteGround, while SiteGround seems to give you more resources… at least on the surface they do, but it’s really not true. We chose WPEngine because of the SCALABILITY SUPPORT for extremely large WordPress Multisite installations. They just have more experience doing WordPress. There’s a lot more to it, and I’ll get into details in a bit.
Runner Up: SiteGround
SiteGround didn’t win for several really important reasons. And this is one of those examples where using computers and databases and keywords is a really bad lazy practice that has been taking over everything in business from purchasing to finding employees. Recruiters search for Keywords on resumes with no regard to organic experience. Employers search for keywords on the candidates resumes with no regard for experience. Shoppers search for the best price with no regard for customer service, and that will always bite you on the ass when you need help. The rubber meets the road when you are comparing the skills of two individuals, or two companies, or two service providers, or any two of anything: it takes a serious professional with lots of organic experience and skills to look deeper than a bunch of keyword search results to find the best provider, vendor, employee, etc. If I had been as lazy as most of the hacks out there that try to write content like this to game the search engine content scoring system, this series of 3 articles would have been a single 500 word regurgitation of facts and figures in a single article, not a serious attempt to analyze the offerings and give assessments based on common sense, experience and gut instinct. So far I’ve written about 6000 words on this topic. If I were that lazy hack relying solely on specs and stats, SiteGround would have won.
And why shouldn’t they win? They have a wicked cool web site. Really, it’s a beautiful, modern UX and has all the superfluous “feel-good” eye-candy you ever would want in a website. While WPEngine’s website is just as modern and beautiful, I found SiteGround’s site more appealing. That’s purely subjective, built into my own sense of style, but it’s important because a really good design can fool you into thinking something is better. It’s called “Packaging”, and it’s been a trick of marketing since the dawn of the Industrial Age.
SiteGround costs $29.95/mo for 100,000 visits/mo, while WPEngine costs $99/mo for the same traffic. Siteground gives you unlimited web sites on your plan, while WPEngine gives you 10. SiteGround gives you 30GB of disk space. WPEngine? 20GB. SiteGround gives you a free SSL certificate while WPEngine charges $49.99/yr per site. Based on those specs alone, SiteGround should win, right?
But let’s get into it a little deeper. While SiteGround offers unlimited web sites on a plan that’s roughly 1/3 the price of WPEngine, the fact is they still only give you 100,000 visits a month. So go ahead and create 250 websites on that plan and see how fast you eat up 80,000 visits and risk getting shut down. Shut down? Correct. At 80% of your allowed resources, they contact you to upgrade your account. If you don’t, once you hit 100,000 visits your 250 web sites will just simply stop working. So unlimited sites is really a non-benefit. And even though they give you 30GB disk to WPEngine’s 20GB, they don’t offer any way to easily offload your files to the cloud. WPEngine does. And SSL? If it’s free it’s shared.
Then there’s experience and expertise. The fact is, to have a Managed WordPress hosting plan that doesn’t have the words “Managed WordPress” anywhere on the page, or anywhere on the site for that matter, is a real problem for me. In my conversation with them, they just didn’t seem to understand why the term “Managed WordPress” is important. Add the fact that they offer regular web hosting in both Linux and Windows, plus Drupal Hosting (I’m assuming Managed Drupal but they don’t say that either – if there is such a thing as Managed Drupal), and it all starts to become an aggregate of little red flags that tell me, in a very real and organic way – not in a keyword-search kinda way – that this is not the place to host a potentially massive multisite installation.
But in all fairness, they made it to Runner Up because they do have a good set of offerings and a reasonable price for Managed WordPress that supports Multisite hosting, and since they’re the ONLY hosting provider in this study besides WPEngine that offers Multisite support in Managed WordPress accounts, they get Runner Up.
WINNER of our Quest for the Best Managed WordPress Hosting: WPEngine
When you are designing a web application that will potentially get millions of visitors, you really have to do more than create a good app. You have to understand the capabilities and limitations of the environment where you will be hosting that web application. You have to be a serious Network and Server engineer with tons of experience and the chops to deliver the correct combination of systems and resources to handle the highest of peak loads. If you can handle all of the technical aspect of a multi-server n-tier system that may include multiple replicated database servers, multiple replicated web servers, load balancing, cloud based CDN storage, and all of the intricacies and complexities of such a large system, then go build it in Amazon or Azure. Plan to get zero sleep while you monitor the network 24/7/365. Or hire a team of six figure engineers. You’ll need at least 3 to cover all hours of every day of the year. How is $300K per year or more looking compared to $99 per month, or even $10K per month for a massive managed system?
WPEngine is 100% dedicated and devoted to WordPress. You’ll never call WPEngine because your web site can’t connect to the database and have the tech on the other end of the phone tell you maybe there’s an error in the INI file. WordPress uses wp-config.php to store connection information, not an INI file. When you call WPEngine, you’ll get someone on the other end of the phone that truly understands WordPress and has your back. They charge more because they’re going to answer the phone 24/7/365 and take your downtime seriously and help you get your site back up and running. They are WordPress Experts. They do nothing but WordPress. And they have built massive systems for major players. MyFitnessPal, SoundCloud, ConstantContact, Texas A&M University, Asana, The Motley Fool, AMD…
So when we look at the seemingly “better” set of specs that SiteGround offers in a different light, with knowledge of the very important distinctions between the offerings of these two hosting providers, the picture is a bit different. WPEngine is more expensive, but they’re staffed with WordPress Experts, not generalists that know WordPress. That’s a major distinction. WPEngine gives you only 10 sites per account, but that’s reasonable, really. For only 100,000 users per month, having 10 websites means you don’t get a lot of traffic, which translates to less revenue (if you make any money at all on those 10 sites), so you probably could be hosting those 10 sites at a cheaper hosting provider. 10 Sites is way more than enough. Frankly, to spend $99 per month I would think you should have a single revenue generating multisite with subsites. That IS the point of this exercise, right? Finding a Hosting Provider that can help you scale up from a basic hosting account to an Enterprise Level hosting plan capable of handling a large scale Multisite installation that gets massive amounts of traffic.
WPEngine does charge per site for domain specific SSL, but the cost is very reasonable compared many other SSL providers.
WPEngine only gives you 20GB of HD storage, but they have a system that you can utilize – for no charge – called LargeFS – which allows you to put your files on your Amazon S3 account, effectively giving you unlimited storage. WPEngine doesn’t charge for bandwidth at all (but keep in mind if you use LargeFS then Amazon S3 charges will apply). If you don’t want to use Amazon, they offer a CDN system where you get the first 1000GB free, then pay $0.12 per GB after that.
WPEngine also doesn’t shut you down when you go over your allotted visits per month. They don’t use a threat of getting shut down to force you to upgrade when you may not really need to. They simply charge you $1.00 per 1000 visitors. If you are paying attention to your account, you should know when you might potentially exceed the limits, and you should consider scaling up to the next plan. Of course, if you see a temporary spike in traffic and you exceed the 100,000 visits/mo because of it, but your average traffic is typically below the max, then I wouldn’t worry about it too much. But much like your cell phone company’s data plan, if you consistently go over, or if your daily average is consistent enough to put you over your max allocation, scale up to the Business plan. And after you consistently exceed 400,000 visits/mo, scale up again to the Premium Plan. And when you exceed the capacity of the Premium Plan, well Congrats! Hopefully you’re making tons of money! Scale up to the Enterprise plan. WPEngine will be with you all the way to help you create the ultimate custom hosting solution for WordPress.
And isn’t that the ultimate goal of this series, anyway? Scalability? Besides Multisite support, which is the foremost requirement for this exercise (which you can get on most any shared hosting plan and a couple of managed hosting plans for relatively little out-of-pocket) isn’t the real driver for this analysis exercise Scalability?
We’re looking at creating a system that may potentially scale to millions of visitors, maybe even millions of subsites on a multisite network. According to WPMU DEV, in February of 2015 they wrote in their article “The Ultimate Guide to WordPress Multisite“, that WordPress.com hosts approximately 37 million sites! The fact is, WordPress.com is a massive Multisite Network, built on the exact same codebase that you or I would use to enable Multisite capability on our own WordPress installations. WPMU DEV’s own site EDU Blogs hosts over 3 million subsites in a single Multisite installation. So yes, we’re going there. Millions of subscribers. That’s where we want to be.
And not just for one multisite installation, either. We’ve got plans in the pipe for more multisite networks and we’re really going to need the absolute best-in-class support and expertise to get us there. We don’t want to have to build our own datacenters around the world. That’s not our business. But we do need to have access to very large scale hardware solutions with world class expertise and support to make it happen. Support that has our backs every step of the way, a partner that can help us get where we want to go without having to stop and move to a new host because they couldn’t hack the size, scope, and complexity of a truly large scale WordPress Multisite installation. And in my opinion, WPEngine meets our requirements.
So WPEngine, take a bow! You really and truly are the best Managed WordPress Hosting Service out there, at least that I could find. And knowing that you’re there as a resource relieves a lot of the anxiety associated with planning a potentially massive system, because we don’t have to think about or worry about this aspect of it. Which leaves us to create something Totally Awesome!
I am not affilated with WPEngine in any way, and I’m not a reseller or affilate marketer for them. This is a real and true honest assessment. If you know of another Managed WordPress Hosting company that can scale up to millions of sites on a multisite network, then by all means please leave a comment letting me know. In my preliminary research the same companies kept coming up in article after article, and I aggregated the ones that came up the most often into the initial 8 providers featured in this article.
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