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What Is Managed WordPress Hosting? How to Pick a Great Host


Managed WordPress hosting is something I’m asked about frequently so I thought why not create a full guide so you can just learn what I think about it here? ๐Ÿ™‚

Before diving into this guide, I wanted to say there are affiliate links inside, but I promise I would not spend hours and hours to craft this if I didn’t honestly recommend the products.
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WordPress dominates the Internet. Familiarity helps create better websites. But regular hosting is too manual. Enter managed WordPress hosting.

You’re probably going to laugh when you realize how simple this concept is. 

Managed WordPress hosting is web hosting where the host manages WordPress for you. Where much of the techie, back-end WordPress management legwork is done for you. How it is managed varies widely by the host you choose.

In this guide, I’ll dive a little into what exactly managed WordPress hosting is. Then go into what to look for in a great host. Finally, I’ll wrap it up with some of my favorite choices and what I like about them.

Let’s get into this.

So, what exactly is managed WordPress hosting?

As I mentioned above, it really is web hosting where the host will handle the installation and initial setup of WordPress.

Where it gets interesting is in just how much the host manages, how they manage it, and what other niceties they throw into the mix — assuming their platform is rock-solid and fast.

Some will build their own caching systems based on their infrastructure so you don’t have to worry about caching. Others will put your site into the Google Cloud Platform. While others will build extensive web application firewalls for improved security.

What to Look For in a Managed WordPress Host

When it comes to managed WordPress web hosting, you now have quite a selection. Not many years ago it was almost all “regular” web hosting and one would have to install WordPress themselves.

It is so much easier today. But while it’s easy, there are things to be wary of. Below I’ll go through quite a few things to keep in mind when shopping around for a managed WordPress host. I’ll also try to explain the type of website that would need certain features.

Datacenter locations

The location of the data center is important if you’re target audience is in a certain location. For instance, if your audience is in India, you’d want to find a host with data centers in India (or at the very least use CDN’s in India — more in CDN’s coming up).

Essentially, you want your website to be hosted as closely with your audience as you can. Location is important for any type of website when you are concerned about performance and want the fastest experience for your readers.

Content delivery network

A content delivery network, or CDN, is often part of the deal you get from managed WordPress hosts (but not all). A good content delivery network will improve the performance of your website globally.
In a nutshell, a CDN delivers the static resources of your webpages (CSS and JavaScript generally) to your reader from a server is close to their location as possible โ€” instead of everything coming from your web host.

I would say pretty much all websites should use a CDN if they can, but always do a cost-benefit analysis. If the host tries to charge extra for the CDN service, verify the price and make sure itโ€™s worth it for your needs.

If the host does not provide a CDN, or the one they do provide is too expensive, check out BunnyCDN. It offers a great service for a fantastic price.

Cloud, VPS, or shared hosting

Cloud hosting is when your site is hosted in a platform of hosting resources like cpu, memory, bandwidth, etc. You generally pay for the resources you use. This could be a private cloud built by the host, or they may use services from Amazon, Google, or Microsoft (among others).

VPS stands for Virtual Private Server. In essence, you pay for your own server and then take care of it yourself. It’s not dedicated hardware, the server is virtual, but you are getting your own resources to do what you want with. I guess in some ways you could call this DIY (do-it-yourself) hosting.

Shared hosting is what you should avoid. This is where other websites will reside on the same hosting resources as your site. And yes, it can be as bad as it sounds. If just one of those other websites does something to take down the server, your site comes down with it.

Do not use shared hosting unless you can’t afford anything else and your website is just a blog/journal for your thoughts. 

A site intended to earn money, do content marketing, have some sort of conversion rate… should never, ever use shared hosting.

Web server software

The top web server software you’ll see are Apache, NGINX, and Litespeed. Often you’ll see a hybrid combination of NGINX + Apache as well. I don’t want to dive into these too deeply here, but there is one I’d like to point out.

While Apache is the original web server on Linux, and NGINX brings improvements too, Litespeed is what you want.

Without getting into the tech, Litespeed gives you the flexibility of using .htaccess for configuration/controls while also being the fastest web server software available right now. In a section down below in this guide, I go over my favorite managed WordPress hosts and describe which use Litespeed.

The operating system isn’t usually a concern. While it isn’t impossible to host WordPress on Windows, nearly every host is Linux based (or some form of a cloud platform with underlying similarities to Linux).

Uptime and high availability

Uptime is is how availability is measured. It’s the amount of time during a given period, usually, a month, measured as a percentage, that the host has been up and all services functioning. You’ll often see hosts showing off their 99.99% uptime guarantee. 

That’s a very small number, 52 minutes and 36 seconds of downtime per year — that’s just 4 minutes and 38 seconds a month!

Now, even if the host shows off that number you must make sure it is in the SLA, or service level agreement, that they will meet a 99.99% uptime — and what happens if they do not.

Most hosts will simply offer a discount on your bill for the downtime beyond the 99.99% threshold.

Performance

With uncle Google more and more taking performance into account as a ranking factor, you’ll want a fast hosting provider. This is where things become difficult to judge though.

Every hosting provider is going to say they are “blazingly fastโ€ with the incredible load times and better performance than the competition. If you took a shot every time you see the word fast on a host’s website you’d probably pass out of alcohol poisoning.

You’ll see all sorts of marketing lingo based around technologies like “PHP 7, NGINX, Litespeed SSD, HTTP/2, Free SSL” and so on… it all becomes very overwhelming if you don’t know what these mean.

Hint, pretty much every host worth anything use modern tech so you don’t really need to think too hard about these. I would say it is more about the quality of the host.

Later in this guide, I have listed my top picks if you need some help finding the perfect host.

Backup & Restore

Backups can give you a safety net when things get totally out of hand. Whether from a hacker with malicious intent, or you accidentally breaking something yourself. 

A daily backup of your hosting environment is an absolute must for essentially all online projects — even if your site is a simple blog. You wouldn’t want to lose all the work, would you?

Don’t forget to check how restores work as well. Can you run the restore yourself from the admin panel? Or will you require assistance from the host? 

Bonus tip. If you are using a cloud host, like Closte, and you are trying to keep costs as low as possible — think about reducing the backup retention based on your project needs. The lower the retention the cheap your hosting will be (since fewer data gets stored).

Customer Support

This is the key aspect to look for if you ask me. Customer support is important when you don’t have the tech skills necessary to deal with problems that may arise with your website.

This is where managed WordPress hosts compete the fiercest. The best hosting service will offer you a great support team. They’ll dig into the problems with you. Not only on their hosting platform but in your WordPress build too.

You get the sense they care and are a part of your team. They’re there when you need them most. 

If you don’t have the IT skills to troubleshoot your own issues, then expert support is probably the most important “feature” to look for — even if the host doesn’t seem to have the absolute best specs in the world.

You’ll regret not having help just so your page can load 100ms faster. Customer support brings peace of mind, especially if your website is an important part of your business (or it IS your business).

Validate with the host if they offer chat support, phone support, or only through ticket support. If it’s only ticket-based, be careful. In my experience, tickets take longer to be resolved. 

WordPress Support

I originally wasn’t going to speak specifically about WordPress support… but decided it’s worth discussing because there are some things to think about.

A great hosting provider will handle all sorts of common WordPress tasks for you. Things like core updates, point releases, security monitoring, plugin compatibility, and more.

Some hosts will say they are a managed WordPress hosting solution but really all they do are core updates.

If you’re looking for a hosting solution for an important project, chat with them before making the decision — find out what they manage for you on the WordPress side.

Control Panel

The control panel is a dashboard a hosting provider will give you access to when you become a customer with them. It will range in capabilities where you can do things like installing WordPress, run backups, setup caching, and much more.

You may have heard of cPanel as it is the grand-dad of web hosting control panels. But you will find hosts that build their own or have heavily customized versions of cPanel or Plesk.

As long as you can do the primary tasks I’d say this isn’t much of a differentiator — unless the host’s control panel is absolutely terrible. But you shouldn’t find yourself using the control panel much after you’ve got things set up and running.

Staging Site

A staging site is a playground where you can load a copy of your site for testing. Some hosts offer a staging area so you can test plugins, theme changes, etc. and validate them before pushing the changes to your live website.

A staging site can be important if your website is vital to your business and changes need to be tested — so you don’t accidentally break something for your customers.

There are a couple of things about this common feature.

1. Does the host offer a staging area?

2. If they do, how to they push changes to your live site?

Number 2 is vital to understand because if you run something like an e-commerce site with transactions happening all the time — the last thing you want when pushing staged changes to live is to lose transaction data.

I won’t go deep into this topic here, but if you run an e-commerce site or something that has live transactions happening often, you should validate with the host what happens when you sync the staging site changes with your live site.

A great staging environment can be a key component for many projects. 

Scaling

When you start a brand new website you generally don’t have much traffic. You’ll start with a few hosting resources so you can save money. 

But if you’re doing things right, over time you’ll gain traction and traffic will pick up. Hopefully, you’ll get a ton of traffic.

But with lots of traffic, you’ll also need the ability for your hosting to scale with you. Some hosts make this easy, some… well, not so much. A solid cloud host will automatically scale with you even.

While many hosts will make the claim they scale, they often mean they have hosting tiers you can move to as you grow. Which is fine if the transition is simply a billing change for you.

Just be careful here. Make sure the host is able to add resources without an impact to your site — especially if uptime and availability are important to you.

Top Managed WordPress Web Hosts

This is by no means an exhaustive list of managed WordPress providers. This is simply a small collection I have either personally used, or worked with others who have. Some are big-name, well-known while others are up and coming.

I should note, I am linking to these with affiliate links, but I promise you 100%, these are great hosts. You can’t go wrong with any of these hosts on the list, but there are nuances between them.

This list is in no particular order, just whatever came to mind first while writing this.

LiquidWeb

I think I consider LiquidWeb the elder statesman of the managed WordPress hosting world. While their managed WordPress plan is relatively new (and recently took on a new brand name), they have been in the hosting biz for a very long time — with a fantastic track record too.

While they don’t have the tippy-top tier performance, they are a fast host. But that isn’t why I recommend them. No.

You should use LiquidWeb if you want the best technical support possible (including WordPress support). Not only does LiquidWeb offer some excellent WordPress tools like automated before/after comparison for plugin updates, but they have a staff full of WordPress knowledge.

And you can access them via chat — anytime. You may not realize how nice it is until you experience it. But having chat support is a huge benefit.

Click here for LiquidWeb.

Kinsta

Kinsta is probably the most renowned of the hosts in this list, for good reason. It has an exceptionally high-quality offer. You won’t find any corners cut here.

Of course, this is offset by the price. You are getting more than you pay for, but it’s not the cheapest host out there — starting at $30/mo. 

But it offers basically everything there is and more — such as PHP monitoring to “self-heal” in the event of a problem. And a huge warranty-like feature — if you’re site is hacked while hosted on Kinsta, they’ll take care of it for free.

As you can see, it’s expensive in comparison to the others, but Kinsta goes well above and beyond to be the top-tier managed WordPress host to beat.

Kinsta also spends a great deal of time building an excellent blog sharing how to do things with WordPress that is an absolute tome of a knowledge base you should read.

Click here for Kinsta.

Name Hero

I like these guys. They have that scrappy startup feel. A team of people dedicated to building something nerdy that brings excellent performance and features without a huge cost.

In fact, if I wasn’t using Closte, I’d probably host WP๐Ÿน here. They meet all the right feature points for me with their fast private cloud hosting based on the Litespeed web server.

The only real catch is they aren’t technically a managed WordPress host. Instead of signing up and getting immediate access to a WordPress dashboard, you have to click a button to install WordPress (using cPanel) — but they do have easy instructions to follow.

If you’re less technically inclined, there’s more to getting set up than other hosts. And while they will try to help, there is less WordPress specific customer support (they have excellent technical support though).

But there is something I really like about their homegrown, scrappy feel — they aren’t trying to overwhelm you with larger-than-life marketing lingo.

If you scan my list of hosts you might notice I don’t include Siteground. That’s because in almost every instance where you’d consider using Siteground, I would recommend Name Hero instead. Price, performance, everything is better.

Click here for Name Hero.

Cloudways

Now Cloudways is interesting. It’s less of a pure host in the direct sense. Instead, you can think of it as a layer on top of server/cloud resources.

When you sign up you pick the plan you want like any other host, but you also pick the underlying infrastructure. Want your site on Digital Ocean droplets? Sure, Cloudways can set that up for you. You can even use AWS or Google Cloud Platform.

It’s actually a really nice idea. They provide tools, services, and support on top of existing infrastructure providers.

Click here for Cloudways.

Closte

Honestly, I could be a bit biased here, but Closte is the king for me. But that’s because I have technical chops. 

Closte equals insanely fast performance. It’s Litespeed web server in the Google Cloud Platform, using Closte’s build and object caching system. On top of that, you get the excellent Litespeed cache plugin free so you don’t have to hunt down a separate caching plugin.

There are two primary concerns I think you might have.

1. It’s pay-as-you-go. This means you pay for the resources your site uses (the memory, bandwidth, CPU, etc.). This can be scary if you have no idea what your site uses.

WP๐Ÿน costs about $5 a month. Actually, I host two websites on Closte and the total per month is just shy of $10. Of course, the price will vary depending on your site and traffic numbers.

2. Strictly platform-only technical support. Closte will not help you with your WordPress problems. They are excellent at supporting their platform technical issue though — although they could be a tad friendlier.

It’s not that they are totally rude, but they are very much to the point and don’t sugar coat things. ๐Ÿ™‚

At first, I was annoyed by this but over time I think I’ve begun to like it. The service is fast, on-point, and resolves the problem quickly. I can’t complain about that.

And honestly, I haven’t had many problems.

If you have the technical skills and want the best-of-the-best hosting, Closte is what you want. But if you just want a host that will handle the technical side of WordPress and hosting for you — don’t use Closte.

I have a full review of Closte here if you want more detail.

Don’t Pick on Price Alone

Here’s where I get philosophical with you. Please don’t pick a host purely on the price. As  you can see from the list of things I went over in the section above, there’s a lot to consider.

But trust me, spending a little more up-front when starting a project important to you will bring you a great deal of comfort later. I would hate to see you become one of those crying out for help when your cheap host abandons you and you can’t figure out where to move to.

So let me put it this way.

Use LiquidWeb if

If you just want your hosting to work and manage WordPress so you can work on your content and your business. Even if you have the technical skills, but don’t want to use them in this project — instead you’re ready to focus only on your content.

LiquidWeb can do that for you.

Use Kinsta if

If you have a need for the highest-end hosting with performance, security, self-healing, malware/hacking assistance, and more — use Kinsta. It does cost more but you get the ultimate peace of mind that your hosting/WordPress is in good hands.

Use Name Hero if

If you want a really fast site without all the extra features you may not use anyway, and want to save some money, Name Hero has your back. It’s clear they have a passion for the hosting business and you get some really great performance features for a low price.

But you will need to be ready to help yourself a little more with WordPress issues. They’ll try to help, but you will have to pull your own weight too.

Use Cloudways if

If the idea of layering a Managed WordPress service over the top of infrastructure-as-a-service operations like Digital Ocean, Vultr, AWS, and Google Cloud sounds interesting to you — then go with CloudWays. 

It is basically like hiring a team of engineers with WordPress knowledge to help your website. It really is an effective strategy I think you would likely enjoy.

It is a bit technical so if you’re a beginner with no technical skills it can be intimidating. 

Use Closte if

If you want the fastest hosting money can buy (and actually, it’s not that much money), use Closte. Their platform (using Google Cloud) is the fastest I have seen.

But you absolutely will need technical skills and be ready to deal with some, ahem, pointed support.

Serverless & Containers

I wanted to add this section to give you a glimpse at some hosting changes that are coming in the future. This won’t be in-depth at all — more of a sneak peek to give you something interesting to research.

You may have heard of the push toward “serverless” in the IT world. Which, obviously isn’t a totally true statement — you do need a server. But serverless refers to two things:

  1. Code that is run inside a cloud routine (such as Amazon’s AWS Lamba service) — which offloads the work your hosting environment would have done.
  2. Your entire site, services, and configuration are loaded into a software container (often a Docker container) and then the entire container is loaded into a “serverless” environment

The goal is to reduce wasted resources such as CPU and memory by abstracting your hosting environment away from the operating system (Linux). But already I’m getting too deep into this. 

Look up things like “serverless WordPress,” “Docker containers,” and “Kubernetes” to learn more and fall down the rabbit hole of future web hosting tech.

Summary

In this guide I covered a great deal about what managed WordPress hosting is and then dove into many of the features to look out for (I’m sure I missed some).

Then I covered the hosts I recommend whole-heartedly and, honestly, any one of them will be a fine host for your projects. 

I hope you found this helpful.

Before I go… I wanted to let you know I’ve started to create these articles as podcast episodes like you see at the top of this article, but also turning the audio into video if you’d prefer to watch on YouTube.

Check out the channel and if you enjoy the content, please share, like, and subscribe. Thanks!

Take care,

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