Shared vs Managed WordPress Hosting – How To Choose The Right Service
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Hosting is an essential part of any online business. Making sure you use a plan that’s ideally suited to your needs is crucial to serving a fast, secure website to your visitors. As such, the hosting plan you choose can often directly influence your website’s earnings!
The aim of this article is to compare shared and managed WordPress hosting. Perhaps you’ve come across these terms before, but aren’t yet clear on a few things, such as: What are the benefits of managed WordPress hosting? Is it worth the added cost? Is it worth switching from shared to managed, and who are the top managed WordPress hosts? If so, read on!
Shared vs Managed WordPress Hosting: Not Inherently Different Things
Before we get into the deeper comparison, it’s important to note that shared and managed WordPress hosting aren’t always mutually exclusive offerings.
Shared hosting is a type of hosting setup where your account ‘shares’ resources with other accounts on the same server. This has a number of drawbacks, which we’ll discuss in a second. But it has one distinct advantage — it makes hosting a website incredibly cheap, which is why it’s so popular.
Beyond shared hosting, other popular hosting setups are:
- VPS/Cloud — your site gets its own dedicated resources, either as part of a single machine (VPS) or spread across multiple machines (cloud). You don’t have to share your resources with anyone else.
- Dedicated — you get your own physical server all to yourself. Most ‘regular’ WordPress sites will never need this.
Managed WordPress hosting, on the other hand, is perhaps best defined as a concierge set of WordPress-specific features and optimizations that can be added to any hosting setup. For example, managed WordPress hosting typically encompasses:
- hosting environments that are optimized for WordPress performance
- WordPress-specific security rules
- automatic WordPress updates
- automatic backups and easy restores
- support members that are experts in WordPress
- staging sites to test changes.
You can have managed WordPress hosting that uses shared infrastructure, managed WordPress hosting that uses VPS/cloud infrastructure, or even managed WordPress hosting using dedicated infrastructure.
Nowadays, most performance-focused managed WordPress hosts use cloud hosting infrastructure from Google or AWS.
However, as the demand for managed WordPress hosting has grown, we’ve also seen it move ‘down market’ to more accessible price points. As such, you’ll also see a lot of shared hosts offering their own managed WordPress hosting plans.
Some people will argue that these aren’t truly managed WordPress hosts because you’re still sharing resources, but I think they still fit the label, albeit with some drawbacks.
‘Vanilla’ Shared Hosting and Managed WordPress Hosting Are Different, Though
While you can have managed WordPress hosting that uses shared infrastructure, most popular shared hosting providers do not offer managed WordPress hosting features on their regular shared plans.
When we compare ‘shared vs managed WordPress hosting’, we’re talking about those kinds of unoptimized shared plans.
Here’s an example of Bluehost’s regular shared hosting:
This service falls squarely in the ‘shared hosting’ side of our comparison.
And here’s an example of Kinsta’s managed WordPress hosting:
This service obviously falls on the managed WordPress hosting side.
The Trouble With Shared Hosting
There are a number of issues with standard shared hosting, most of which stem from its business model. Although the accounts are cheap, they’re cheap because hundreds (sometimes thousands) of users are put on the same server. This leads to the so-called ‘bad neighbor effect’.
The server, which houses hundreds of accounts, has a fixed amount of memory. If one website exploits more than its fair share of the available memory, all of the other sites housed on the same server will experience issues because of this one ‘bad neighbor’. This essentially means that one troubled website has the potential to cause thousands of unrelated sites to load slowly, or even — in the worst-case scenario — not at all.
On top of that, memory isn’t the only resource that gets divided on a shared server. Bandwidth, processing power, storage… Everything has to be shared between these accounts.
In many cases, hosts are powerless to resolve an issue. A particularly diligent company may disable a website that’s using too many resources due to inefficient code, for example, but what can they do if a website on the system suddenly experiences a huge traffic surge from social media? Not much!
In a nutshell: Websites on shared hosting aren’t dependable. What’s more, because of resource restrictions (remember: Resources must be shared) and the fact that shared-hosting environments must, generally speaking, be able to run a large variety of applications (i.e. not only WordPress), they’re often much slower than their managed WordPress hosting counterparts that use separate resources for each account.
The Advantages of Managed WordPress Hosting
By moving your site to a managed WordPress host, you’ll not only be able to effectively sidestep the ‘bad neighbor’ problem altogether, but also reap a number of very significant benefits…
Blazing Fast Speeds
Everything about managed hosting servers is optimized to run WordPress. In contrast, regular shared hosts need to be able to run any kind of platform/application, so they have to forfeit all of the WordPress-specific tweaking and fine-tuning managed WordPress hosts are able to do.
On managed hosting, everything from the hardware to the software is built for WordPress websites. They’ll have server-level caching in place and will likely be running the most optimal version of PHP, MySQL and Nginx — all of which will be individually configured to give the best performance possible.
Faster page load times aren’t just a vanity metric — speeding up your site can have an effect on your bottom line because page load times are important for everything from user experience to engagement, Google rankings and conversion rates.
Basic security sweeps are likely performed by shared hosts to ensure their hundreds of users on each server aren’t hit by all sorts of threats. Managed WP hosting, however, takes security to a whole other level.
Increased security protocols, daily malware scans, and the ability to ward off all kinds of cyber threats (such as DDoS attacks) are features you’ll find pretty much as-standard on most managed WordPress hosting plans.
Many managed hosts will also help you to protect the WordPress login page, and almost all managed WordPress hosts offer free, easy to install SSL certificates to secure your site’s data in transit.
At the end of the day, though, no matter how secure your servers are, websites (especially popular ones) still occasionally end up being attacked. If your site is unfortunate enough to get hacked on managed WordPress hosting, you’ll get a lot more expert help — and some managed WordPress hosts will even fix malware problems for free.
I simply can’t emphasize enough how important it is to make regular backups of your site! Luckily, most (if not all) managed WordPress hosting plans include not only automated daily backups, but also features that let you quickly and easily restore to your backups should you ever need to.
Many shared hosting services do offer automatic backups (after a fashion) via cPanel. However, these are almost always stored on the same server; meaning they’re just as susceptible to damage as the original data. In addition, restoring to one of these backups is usually no trivial task.
In contrast, managed WordPress hosting usually offers one-click restores that will bring your whole site back online within minutes, if not seconds!
With managed WordPress hosting, your web server will be managed by professionals whose goal is to ensure things are performing at peak efficiency. Automatic updates cover not only everything from the operating system on the server to PHP and MySQL etc, but also WordPress itself!
This means you’ll always be running the latest, most stable and most secure versions of just about everything.
Shared hosting sometimes offers something similar, but with a slight twist. Shared hosting operators will also take care of maintaining your server essentials, but this will be done far less proactively and primarily include only the operating system, control panel, PHP, MySQL and Apache — at best. It will not, generally, include WordPress — which you’ll need to maintain yourself.
Convenient Dashboard Features
Because managed WordPress hosts are 100% dedicated to WordPress, most of them use a custom hosting dashboard, rather than the standard cPanel dashboard you’d get with most shared hosts.
Beyond being more pleasant to work in, these dashboards can also give you access to a lot of helpful management features.
For example, Kinsta lets you view your WordPress plugins from your hosting dashboard and see when updates are available:
Most also offer staging sites, which give you safe sandboxes to test any changes you make. When you’re happy with the changes, you can push them to your live site with the click of a button.
Support personnel at your shared host may be extremely friendly, but they’re unlikely to be WordPress experts.
Have you ever had issues where the standard response was: ‘Make sure WordPress is updated and make sure you aren’t using bad plugins?’ Or that old classic: ‘Try deactivating your plugins one by one to see if one of those is the problem?’
Managed WordPress hosts know exactly what version of WordPress you’re running (since they themselves are the ones maintaining it) and what plugins you have installed. They’ll usually be able to home in on your problem much more quickly and will, generally speaking, be able to solve issues shared hosts won’t even get into.
Better Uptime & Scalability
Because of the highly tuned nature of the setup, your website will be able to handle a much higher number of viewers with a managed WordPress host than it would be able to when running on shared hosting — although, keep in mind that many leading hosts, such as WP Engine, will have predefined limits on the number of monthly visitors your site will be able to accommodate before being subject to additional charges.
Furthermore, if your site does start to outgrow the particular managed WordPress plan you’ve chosen, technicians will usually let you know you’ll need to consider upgrading to a higher level of service.
Disadvantages of Managed WordPress Hosting
Based on all of the above, I’m sure the prospect of a managed WP environment is beginning to sound pretty great — as indeed it should! However, before you decide, there are some downsides of which you should be aware.
A Higher Price Tag
There’s no getting away from it: Managed WordPress hosting costs more than shared hosting. If you’re running a serious online business/endeavor, then of course the additional cost will almost certainly be more than justified.
If, however, you’re simply running a personal or non-profitable blog, then it may be worth sacrificing all of the above-mentioned potential benefits and sticking with shared hosting to keep costs to a minimum instead.
Entry-level managed WP hosting plans tend to start at around $30 a month. On many managed WordPress hosts, this price can get you your own dedicated resources on a VPS. For example, Kinsta’s $30 entry-level plan uses Google Cloud infrastructure.
This is much higher than the $4 to $5 a month you’d pay for cheap shared hosting. Additionally, it’s important to remember that most managed WordPress hosts limit the number of sites you can have — you won’t typically find the ‘unlimited websites’ option cheap shared hosts offer.
Hard Visit Caps and Overage Charges
Beyond the higher price tag, many managed WordPress hosts also implement hard caps on the number of visitors your website can have a month.
Typically, a ~$30-a-month managed WordPress hosting plan will allow for around ~20,000 to 25,000 visits a month, which is a far cry from the ‘unlimited’ traffic most shared hosts advertise. Of course, there’s no such thing as unlimited in the real world.
Now, this doesn’t mean a managed WordPress host will shut off your site if you exceed those limits, but it does mean you’ll need to pay overage fees if you go above your traffic limits.
Most managed WordPress hosts charge around $1 per thousand visitors over your limit.
Limitations On Plugins
Many managed WordPress hosting companies will often put certain restrictions on usable plugins. They may disable some plugins because the task they perform is handled on the server level (such as caching), or they may disable them for performance or security reasons.
For example, WP Engine blocks the Broken Link Checker plugin because of its effect on performance.
This one almost goes without saying: You can only use WordPress on managed WordPress hosts. You won’t be able to run other systems such as Joomla, Drupal or Magento on the same server.
This is, of course, an absolute deal-breaker if you need to run something other than just WordPress!
Top Managed WordPress Hosting Companies
The biggest, most popular and best-known company specializing in WordPress hosting is undoubtedly WP Engine. WP Engine host some extremely large sites and provide services ranging from entry-level accounts for $27 a month (which allow up to 25,000 visits a month) to dedicated hosting environments from upwards of ~$400 a month (which allow millions of visits a month).
Kinsta is another well-known company who have rapidly grown in popularity. They started as a premium option, but have since become a lot more accessible, with starting prices similar to WP Engine.
Their entry-level hosting plan starts at $30 a month for up to 20,000 visits. All of their plans offer dedicated resources on Google Cloud infrastructure.
Flywheel are another popular option who were recently purchased by WP Engine, though the two are still run as separate entities. Like Kinsta, Flywheel use Google Cloud infrastructure to power all of their plans.
Their entry-level plan starts at $15 a month (5,000 visitors), though most people will probably want to opt for the $30-a-month plan, which allows for 25,000 visits a month.
Additionally, because Flywheel are positioning themselves as a hosting company created for ‘designers and creative agencies’, they’ve also gone a long way in offering a number of features aimed specifically at making web designers’/agencies’ lives a whole lot easier — such as the ability to create free demo sites, one-click staging environments and transfer billing to clients at a later date!
Budget Option for Managed WordPress Hosting
If you want the ‘full’ managed WordPress experience, we recommend one of the hosts above.
However, as we mentioned before, there are also some hosts that offer managed WordPress features with a shared environment.
You get the benefits of shared hosting in terms of price and being able to host ‘unlimited’ websites, while still getting access to some managed WordPress features, such as automatic updates, backups, staging sites and more.
However, you also get some of the downsides of shared hosting when it comes to performance, uptime and support, which is why we still think the three hosts above are the best options if they fit your budget.
While a lot of shared hosts have moved into this space, one of the better options are SiteGround (our review). Just pay attention to the renewal prices — while the plans start at just $3.95 a month, those prices will triple after your first billing cycle.
Still, even at full price, the $19.95-a-month GrowBig plan ($5.95-a-month promo) offers managed WordPress features for unlimited sites, which is tough to beat from a budget perspective.
Hosting Companies to Avoid
Judging from online reviews and reactions on social media, when it comes to managed WordPress hosting it seems the companies to avoid are, for the most part, those who don’t make managed WordPress hosting their primary focus.
GoDaddy and Bluehost have a number of appalling reviews for their managed WordPress hosting services — even a number of otherwise highly rated companies, such as Media Temple, seem to suffer in the managed-WordPress-hosting arena.
The companies we’ve recommended have one thing in common: WordPress hosting is their only business.
How to Pick the Right Host for Your Needs
If you just look at the quality of service you receive, the best choice is obviously a premium managed WordPress host such as Kinsta, WP Engine or Flywheel. These three hosts offer the absolute best performance, reliability, support and convenience.
Of course, most of us have to worry about another consideration beyond quality of service — the budget!
So, if spending $25-plus a month for the best hosting isn’t an option, here are your other choices:
- Basic shared hosting — only use this if it’s literally the only thing you can afford. The only positive thing we can say about these hosts is that they’re cheap and they can get you a working WordPress site. Here are our recommended shared hosts.
- ‘Shared’ managed WordPress hosting — if you want some managed features at a lower price point, you may like SiteGround, which offers some managed WordPress features on shared environments. Again, these types of hosts do not match Kinsta, WP Engine or Flywheel in service quality, but they do offer a budget-friendly entry point to managed WordPress hosting, especially if you need to host multiple sites.
Any questions on choosing the right hosting setup for your site?