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 that you use a plan that’s ideally suited to your needs is crucial to serving a fast, secure website for 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, like: 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!
A Bird’s-Eye View
Before we get into specifics, let’s take a bird’s-eye view at the two services, i.e. shared hosting and managed hosting.
Shared hosting is, by its very nature, the cheapest means of hosting a website. It caters to the most common needs of a huge variety of websites for a very low price — whether they’re powered by WordPress or not.
Managed WordPress hosting, on the other hand, caters to a very specific market (more on this below) by offering both highly-tuned, WordPress-optimized servers and a number of advanced services.
This means — in essence — that managed WordPress hosting is a technically superior form of hosting in almost every way.
The Trouble With Shared Hosting
There are a number of issues with 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 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 up on a shared server. Bandwidth, processing power, storage… everything has to be shared between these accounts.
In many cases, hosts may be powerless to resolve the 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 are not dependable. What’s more, due to both 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 very often much slower than their managed WordPress hosting counterparts.
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 (more on this below), but also reap a number of very significant added benefits, such as:
Blazing Fast Speeds
Everything about managed hosting servers is optimized to run WordPress. In contrast, shared hosts need to be able to run any kind of platform/application, so they have to forfeit all the WordPress-specific tweaking and fine-tuning that 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 Apache — all of which will be individually configured to give the best performance possible.
In short, running a website on managed WordPress hosting can often reduce a site’s page-load speed by somewhere in the region of 1-2 seconds or more! Think this is just a drop in the bucket? Studies have shown that a 1-second delay in loading times could cost companies like Amazon $1.6 billion every year!
Whilst your website probably isn’t going to be the size of Amazon anytime soon, there’s almost no doubt that your website’s speed is going to be critical to its success. In short: The faster it is, the better. This is important not only for better customer experience, but also because Google takes a webpage’s speed into account (amongst a whole heap of other factors) when determining where to rank it in search results.
Basic security sweeps are likely performed by shared hosts to ensure that 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.
At the end of the day, however — 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 almost certainly be better off since your hosts will likely have both more WordPress-specific know-how and be willing to apply it to get you out of a fix than a general shared host (a little bit more about this further down) will.
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 that you will 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, however, 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 will need to maintain yourself.
In short: A shared hosts goal is not to keep you happy. Instead, it’s to keep the maximum number of people on a server happy. Your server will always be optimized to run every possible combination of applications, and not to run one specific platform at peak efficiency.
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 will usually be able to home in on your problem much more quickly and will, generally speaking, be able to solve issues that shared hosts won’t even get into.
Better Uptime & Scalability
Due to 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, like WPEngine, will have predefined limits on the number of monthly visitors your site will be able to accommodate before being subject to additional charges.
It’s worth mentioning though, that in actual fact, some managed WordPress hosts do, in fact, run their services on shared servers — i.e. some will actually share a portion of the server’s resources with other users. However, if resources are shared, they will be both much, much better allocated between fewer users — meaning that the “bad neighbor effect” is usually all but completely negated. In short, even if you purchase only an entry level managed WordPress hosting account, you will almost certainly still receive a vastly superior level of uptime.
Furthermore, if your site does start to outgrow the particular managed WordPress plan you’ve chosen, technicians will usually soon let you know that you’ll need to consider upgrading to a higher-level of service.
The real benefit here is that since your website is on a standard platform, there will be no migration hassle — unlike when having to move from a shared to a VPS (Virtual Private Server) or dedicated server.
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 has a higher price tag 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 the above-mentioned potential benefits and sticking with shared hosting in order to keep costs to a minimum instead.
Entry-level managed WP hosting plans tend to start at an absolute minimum of around $30 a month. This will usually get you a managed WordPress server on a shared environment. The “bad neighbor” effect still technically exists on such plans. However it’s almost completely canceled out by the optimizations put in place (as mentioned above).
The more expensive managed WordPress hosting plans will generally allow for significantly higher levels of traffic, even higher levels of performance, and entirely eliminate the “bad neighbor” problem by running on virtual private servers that share even less resources. However, these tend to start at about $160-$250 a month.
If you’re upgrading from a general shared hosting plan, your website will likely be all set for quite some time with an entry level managed WordPress plan of course — don’t go spending more than you need to by pre-empting the future before it happens! As your website grows you can keep in touch with technicians about upgrades — which can then be applied to your account as and when they’re necessary.
On the surface, the price comparison doesn’t look all that fair. Yes, $30 a month is more than the $4-$5 a month a shared hosting plan will cost you, but it contains so many additional services — not to mention much, much better performance — that, in many cases trying to save the difference in price is really just a false economy!
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 (like caching), or they may disable them for security reasons, for example.
Whilst this limits your options, it’s often done for your own benefit (as hard as that may be to swallow). One of the plugins usually not allowed on managed WordPress hosting platforms, for example, is the ever-popular WP Total Cache, with the reason being that managed WordPress hosting services usually handle caching on a server-level — which is actually a far superior way to go about doing it!
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 WPEngine. WPEngine hosts some extremely large sites and provides services ranging from entry level accounts for $29 a month (which allow up to 25,000 visits/month) to dedicated hosting environments from upwards of somewhere in the ballpark of $400/month (which allow millions of visits/month).
Flywheel is perhaps the highest-rated and most well-liked hosting company in this category. Their entry level account starts at $30/month* (which, in similar fashion to WPEngine’s entry-level plan, allows up to 25,000 visits/month). What’s more, unlike some managed WordPress hosts that share server resources between users, Flywheel assign each site they host its own individual resources via VPS servers.
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!
Kinsta is another well-known company, positioned to provide enterprise level WordPress hosting for larger sites. Their entry level hosting plans will set you back between $100/month to $400/month. A great number of people are happy with Kinsta and their services appear well-worth the investment for large business applications.
Hosting Companies To Avoid
Judging from online reviews and reactions on social media, when it comes to managed WordPress hosting it seems that 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 I recommended have one thing in common: WordPress hosting is their only business.
This may well change in the future (rumor has it that GoDaddy, for example, are making significant efforts on this front) but for now I generally recommend looking at companies that make WordPress-specific hosting their main business.
You hopefully now have a good overall understanding of the differences between shared and managed WordPress hosting. In short: If you’re running a WordPress-powered website and have $30 a month to spare, you should almost certainly make the switch to a managed WordPress host.
I would actually go so far as to say that presuming you’re only looking to run WordPress, about the only justifiable reason for staying on shared hosting, is financial. As soon as your online business can afford to do so, it’ll almost certainly be worth moving away from shared!
*Note: To be completely accurate, Flywheel do actually also offer a less-publicized ‘Tiny Plan‘ for just $15/month, which caters to — as the name suggests — tiny websites (with up to 5,000 visits a month).