So you want a WordPress website? Now it’s time to buy a domain and hosting. What’s the difference? Your domain is like the address on your house, and hosting is the lot that contains the house. It’s the physical space where your website files sit on a physical server that’s connected to the internet 24/7. By purchasing hosting service, you’re essentially renting space on these machines along with a staff of people to monitor the machines, make repairs, support customers and assure the servers are running and connected to the internet as much as possible.
Truth be told, hosting is a commodity these days. There are very few differences among hosting providers and it often comes down to anecdotal experiences and word-of-mouth as to which company to choose. However, there are just a few important things you need to consider when you’re hosting a website with WordPress.
Shared or Dedicated?
There are two kinds of servers for your website: shared or dedicated. They are exactly the way they sound. A shared server is one physical machine that is split up into different spaces to store websites. You’re sharing a server with someone else’s website. For many small websites and small businesses, a shared server will do the job when you start out. Once you start getting thousands of visits to your site per day, it may be time to upgrade.
A dedicated server is an entire machine devoted only to your website. As you can guess, a dedicated server is going to cost a significant amount more than a shared server. Sometimes, if a site has outgrown its shared server, one option is to upgrade to a VPS (virtual private server) as a middle step. A VPS is a machine that has multiple virtual servers on it – same physical machine, but they act as individual machines.
How Much Space?
Typically, when we think about how much space to get on a personal computer, or media storage device, we want many gigabytes, or even terabytes. Web servers are just a bit different. The site of your site is directly related to how fast it loads – the smaller the site, the faster it loads. So, it’s important to try and keep the size of your site as small as possible. For this reason, a basic starter site can work with 2-5GB of space in your hosting package.
If your site is heavy with photos and videos, you may need to upgrade to more space. A better idea is to resize your images so the files are smaller and they’ll load more quickly.
How Much Traffic?
Many shared hosting companies allow unlimited bandwidth. This is the amount of data transfer they’ll allow between the server and the people visiting your site. Every time someone pulls up a page on your site, data is being transferred to their computer. This counts as bandwidth usage. So, it’s not measured by number of visits or number of people that go to your site, but rather, amount of data that’s being sent back and forth.
Your traffic needs depend on how popular your site is, and how interactive it is (e.g., how much the user can send things back to the server via forms or mouse clicks). If the hosting company doesn’t provide unlimited bandwidth, 1,000 mb/month should be sufficient to start. You can always adjust the amount of bandwidth once your site is established and you see usage patterns.
What is the Control Panel Like?
When you’re managing your site, you want access to a control panel that gives you everything you need, but isn’t overwhelming and confusing. A popular control panel that many hosts use is called cPanel. If you’re able to demo the host’s control panel, take a look around and see if it seems user friendly. If you’re working with a web developer, ask if there are any features they will require to work on your site.
What About Domains?
Hosting companies often provide a free domain with your service. It’s fine if you want to take advantage of the free domain, however, sometimes it’s nice to have them separate in case you decide to switch hosting companies. Then, you only have to move your site files and redirect your domain, instead of coordinating moving both your site files and domain. We recommend GoDaddy for purchasing your domain, but not for hosting.
Is it Compatible with WordPress?
WordPress has some specific hosting requirements and most reputable hosting providers meet these specifications. However, some fly-by-night or smaller hosting companies do not. It’s best to check with the hosting company before assuming they can run WordPress on their servers.
Additionally, many larger providers offer WordPress-specific packages. These packages are not necessary and you can avoid paying extra money for them. All they offer are a few additional features such as: auto-backups, security additions and content delivery networks (CDN). These are good things, but you can add them as plugins on your site for free. As long as a basic, shared package meets the minimum requirements, you’ll do well for a basic site.
What Hosting Should I Choose?
Given all the considerations, here are a few companies we recommend for hosting a WordPress site – Hostgator, BlueHost, and WPEngine. We’ve worked extensively with these hosts and find them to be reliable, and a good value.
Hostgator offers a “baby” plan that works well for small biz sites.
BlueHost’s “starter” or “plus” plans are viable options.
WPEngine offers more premium options. Their hosting services are dedicated only to WordPress, so there are many additional features built specifically for WordPress, but they also understand WordPress better than other hosts since they serve the WP market exclusively.