Cheap WordPress hosting and performance nightmares
WordPress hosting, and how to choose wisely comes up a lot in our business. Recently, I spoke with the vice president of a small business who spent five months and $17,000 redesigning her WordPress company website. It was a stunning and unique design and a great example of good usability and business marketing.
But the site pages loaded extremely slow, especially on mobile devices. Even worse the home page often reported 500 errors or timed out before fully loading. The client explained that the company hosting the site continued to blame the WordPress theme and plugins she was using for the performance problems, and that she had already upgraded twice to higher shared hosting plans recommended by hosting support. My investigation revealed that the site was well-designed. The theme was well-structured and well-coded, with a minimum number of established and maintained premium plugins.
In addition, she optimized images, made good use of W3 Total Cache, and a CDN to boost performance. In fact, from a site application standpoint, I couldn’t find any problem at all. For a site that was getting fewer than 5,000 hits a week in its infancy, it should have performed extremely well.
Then I looked at the site’s WordPress hosting package and discovered the problem. My client’s well-crafted site was being served by a shared host that was poorly configured, under-resourced, and overloaded with active websites (2100, to be exact). Her problem was not bad applications; it was bad hosting. Unfortunately, this is something I encounter with greater and greater frequency these days.
Bad hosting can ruin a great site. It’s like taking your brand new Tesla S and trying to run it on leaking 9-volt batteries.
If this has happened to you, don’t feel bad. It’s easy to get lured into a bad WordPress hosting plan. But the consequences of trusting the wrong hosting company can include more than just aggravation. Loss of business trust, security breaches, and blacklisting by major search engines and ISPs are all known effects of hooking up with the wrong hosting service. The damage can be irreversible in some cases. That’s not only unacceptable, it is entirely avoidable. There are great performance WordPress hosting plans out there, and for very reasonable prices. But let’s first go over what you need to know, what you need to ask, and the minimum requirements you need to stick to for hosting the WordPress site you’ve invested significant time, and maybe significant money, into building.
Bad WordPress hosting plans all wrapped up with a pretty bow
WordPress hosting plan performance can be a difficult thing to plan for, because most people just don’t know that they need. They assume that if a hosting company says their low price hosting plans support WordPress sites—or some theme author, plugin maker, or WordPress blogger recommends them—everything should be fine. But nothing could be further from the truth. Authors of WordPress themes and plugin authors, as well as bloggers (even notable WordPress core developers) are often tied financially to bad hosting companies through affiliate programs and “consultant” contracts. It doesn’t matter if their hearts are pure or not; the conflict of interest is clear. Besides that, theme and plugin authors and bloggers often know a lot about writing code, but virtually nothing about web servers and what it takes to properly host premium WordPress sites for businesses, educational institutions, and non-profit organizations. The large hosting companies all use similar strategies:
- They claim that even their cheapest shared hosting packages support WordPress sites.
- They underplay or completely omit actual server specifications, like available RAM and PHP resource limits.
- They offer potential customers unlimited domains, email accounts, databases, and generous disk space.
- They bait customers into signing up for ultra-cheap hosting packages (sometimes under $3.00 per month).
- Once they get the customer signed up, they wait for things to go wrong, and they do. They then explain the need to upgrade to a higher-tier hosting package.
- Then they repeat step 5 until they have the customer into a VPS or dedicated server package for 5 to 40 times the cost of first package.
Does that sound familiar?
When you get sucked into these big hosting operators, just know that their real goal is to sell you more and more stuff. It’s evident from the moment you log into your hosting account. Your control panel will be flooded with ads for upgrades and add-ons. Poor performance and reliability actually play into their hand. They know that most people don’t know anything about web servers, CPU cycles, bandwidth, RAM, PHP resource limits, load balancing, or resource distribution. And that makes it easy to blame your WordPress site for problems that crop up; like slow performance, errors, and other serious issues. They don’t tell you that your site is being loaded onto a server with hundreds or thousands of other user accounts—running WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, and heaven knows what else—and that there is no way the server can adequately support the load of all of those web sites. If you don’t finally get angry enough to move to another host (which is no fun either), you will waste countless hours battling hosting support. Their responses will continue to encourage you to upgrade to higher-tier hosting plans. I had a business owner tell me that, while using a very popular hosting company, she was talked into moving her site up three tiers in 18 months, trying to deal with performance issues. She then moved to another equally bad host, before being lured back to her original host by an offer she couldn’t refuse on the highest-tier hosting plan they had. After graduating from a $5 per month starting plan to a $179 per month premium plan, she found that down time on the site actually went up and her pages were loading so slowly that she finally shut the site down.
How to make sure you get the right WordPress hosting plan
For the average small business WordPress site, using a complex premium WordPress theme like Avada, Enfold, or Salient, running one or more popular plugins like Woocommerce, BBPress, W3 Total Cache, and YOAST SEO, you need a hosting package that has the capabilities to properly support all of these processes. At a minimum, I would recommend the following:
- Linux – CentOS 64 or Ubuntu Server 64
- NGINX 1.9 or Apache 2.4
- PHP 7.0 with option for PHP 7.1
- PHP Memcache, Varnish, or Redis caching
- MySQL 5.6 or higher
- SSH Access with SFTP[/list_item]
- Prepacked latest version of WordPress
- Access to your site’s server logs
- Strong security
WordPress Hosting Minimum PHP Resource Requirements
- PHP ini override
- Available Memory 512MB or higher
- Disk Space – 100GB or higher
- Bandwidth 600GB or higher
- Free Database memory
- PHP memory_limit 512MB
- PHP post_max_size 32MB
- PHP upload_max_filesize 32MB
- PHP max_execution_time 120sec
- PHP max_input_vars 2000
The above recommendations are meant to be guidelines, not absolutes. If you are running a simple WordPress personal blog site with a few plugins, you can make do with a little less. If you are running a high-traffic, high memory load site, with a lot of complex plugins and externally connected services, you will likely need more. But the recommendations are a good base, and here is the good news: You can get a hosting package that includes every one of those recommendations and more for currently just $10.00 per month.
My recommendation for excellent WordPress shared hosting
I have hosted with WebFaction for more than 10 years now, and I don’t recommend anyone else for shared hosting services. They exceed every requirement and expectation I have for a web host. Their data centers run high-performance servers, use the right Linux OS, and have superior features and applications. They provide strong maintenance and security monitoring, and have stellar support.
That being said, I need to make one fact very clear: I do not receive a single penny from WebFaction for recommending or referring customers to them. Not one red cent.
I do make money from fees for our Precision Managed Hosting Packages, where I lease servers from WebFaction or Google Cloud Platform for our high availability hosting infrastructure. I also optimize sites on those hosting platforms, and for our Annual Preventive Care program, which offers complete maintenance of those sites. But I recommend WebFaction because I use them myself and they’ve always served me extremely well. They’ve also helped me relieve my clients’ hosting and performance nightmares. But regardless of where you choose to host, you should focus the same attention to detail on selecting your WordPress hosting solution as you spent planning, designing, and building that awesome site of yours. And if you don’t have the time or interest in doing that, you should seriously consider hiring someone who can properly assess your needs and help you choose wisely.