Down time, server configuration, performance issues, software upgrades… running your own server can be a nightmare when all you want to do is focus on the content. Switch to dedicated WordPress hosting to focus on your content.
For a long time I’ve enjoyed owning and running my own virtual private server (not sure what that is? Different types of web hosting explained) – but being responsible for optimising the server yourself is quite a burden. Server configuration really isn’t my thing – I’d much rather focus on writing content and building cool stuff. Unfortunately this meant I was running a couple of expensive, poorly optimised servers that simply weren’t performing as best as they should be. With the sheer popularity of WordPress as a content management platform nowadays, hosting companies have begun to offer some rather specialist hosting options: managed WordPress hosting.
What exactly does that mean, what are the limitations, and why would you choose that kind of hosting? That’s what I’ll explore today. Specifically, I’ll be looking at the MediaTemple offering, but there are others which are similar.
Note: this isn’t a sponsored post, I just really love MediaTemple and you should too! I was particularly impressed with their Grid Service shared hosting, but this is even better for WordPress sites.
What is Managed WordPress Hosting?
If it wasn’t obvious, WordPress hosting is dedicated to one task, and to doing it well: hosting WordPress sites. Instead of overly complex CPanel or Plesk control apps for domain and hosting management, you’re provided with a simple control panel set number of slots, each of which holds a single WordPress site. The interface is in stark contrast to the usual plethora of buttons and settings. Don’t worry though – you still get full SFTP and PHPMyAdmin access for file and database management, should you wish to.
The control panel for each site is simple and clearly designed for those unfamiliar with hosting management: creating email addresses or adding the domain is a one-click process. But there’s also some incredible powerful tools hidden away, such as the ability to create staging sites, duplicate the site as a template for another, and automated site migration.
Site migration allows you to quickly import a complete WordPress install, with database and uploads intact. We’ve talked about plugins to migrate WordPress before, but this is the easiest I’ve come across yet – assuming you know the correct access details for both FTP and the domain. Point, click, and wait – 2 or 3 hours later (depending on the size of your uploads), your entire site will have been imported and set up. You can then preview using the temporary domain, before making the necessary arrangements to point the actual domain over to MediaTemple.
Staging sites is completely new to me, but it’s a simple enough concept to understand. If you’re working on new features or want to try a new theme without breaking your main site, you can use a staging site to test things out. Create a new staging site to make a copy of your live (“production”) site – you’ll get a temporary URL, but everything else will be the same. You can log in, tweak settings, adjust the theme, install some new plugins – then when you’re ready, choose to Sync to Production. Note that posts you created on the staging site will not be transferred; nor will posts you’ve written on the live site be overwritten. Your content remains as it should be.
If you have a popular site which you’ve been afraid to make changes to in case of downtime, this is a fantastic way to change things before you’ve gotten everything perfect – and it’s something that’s normally quite difficult to set up.
Managed WordPress hosting is also faster: very clever engineers have spent a good deal of time setting up and tweaking the servers to perform optimally for WordPress. Your site will scale to many thousands of visitors per day without any effort on your part, thanks to multiple layers of caching. On eCommerce sites this is particularly important when random server timeouts and unresponsive shopping carts can lead to abandoned carts.
What does all this cost? MediaTemple’s WordPress hosting starts at $30/month for 3 sites with unlimited bandwidth, and you can add additional slots for $10/month each. It isn’t the cheapest hosting solution out there, but for the speed and features you get it’s very competitive. By switching my main site from VPS to managed hosting, I actually reduced my monthly costs by 2/3rds, while at the same time achieving better performance (and less headaches, which shouldn’t be underrated!). For any site that’s been suitably monetized (how to monetize your blog), this shouldn’t be an issue.
Apart from the obvious inability to install other random applications, the biggest limitation I’ve found is that you’re not allowed to install caching plugins such as w3 Total Cache. There’s a reason for this of course, in that the hosting already has it’s own internal WordPress caching enabled and optimised, so the w3 simply isn’t compatible. However, it does mean you’re at the mercy of your host.
You can’t install any additional server level optimisations like Google PageSpeed either – you get what you’re given. If you were using either of these technologies to automatically handle things like script minification, it’s best if you minimise files yourself with a local tool like Gulp.js. Since w3 Total Cache can’t be used, consider the simple WP CDN Rewrite to use your existing CDN services – though when I asked, MediaTemple said a CDN shouldn’t strictly be necessary.
In the interests of security, WordPress core is automatically upgraded for you. I’m listing this as a limitation, because it may break your site if a plugin or theme is incompatible – but the assumption is that you’ve used a modern theme and good plugins which are regularly updated to stay compatible. Still, it’s a risk – but well worth it, in my opinion.
Have you switched to a managed WordPress host yet, and what have your experiences been? Are there any features you really appreciate? If have any hesitation, ask away in the comments and see if I can help alleviate your concerns.