A lot of people use WordPress to power their blogs, websites, and web projects of all types which has resulted in many companies that target WordPress to offer dedicated services such as “Optimized” hosting, typically at a considerably higher price tag than standard hosting services. They’ll then provide impressive metrics to back up their claims, like “the fastest hosting on the planet” or “blazing fast speeds”.
The question is: what is WordPress Optimized hosting, is it necessary to host a WordPress site, and should you be paying more for it than other hosting plans?
WordPress Optimized Hosting ultimately ends up being some combination of the following wrapped up into one service:
- Speed: High speed servers and software technologies
- Security: Hosting systems that provide WordPress-tuned security and plugin/theme compliance rules
- Management: Providing hands on support for your WordPress website
- Control: A WordPress toolkit to help you do things with WordPress easier
We’re going to explore each of these common tenets of ‘WordPress optimized hosting’ and show that in many cases, they’re not really all that unique after all. In fact you can get almost all (if not all) the features of WordPress optimized hosting from much cheaper hosting plans from at least a few of the more savvy web hosting companies, like us. Further, you can often get more flexibility of management alongside those cheaper prices.
WordPress Speed Optimizations
A lot of hosts will talk big about their ‘special technologies’ and ‘optimized services’ or ‘WordPress Optimized environments’. These are fancy words, and they sound like these companies have done a huge amount of work to find the best setup. Truth is, the best setup for WordPress is widely available. Do a bit of research online and you’ll see the best environment to set up, and it’s generally all free.
Our default setup is nginx, php-fpm, and MySQL (on our newer servers, either MariaDB or Percona variants). If that’s all Greek to you, don’t worry, I’ll explain it further.
Apache is the leading web server of choice on Linux/*nix based hosts, but that may soon change. Nginx is a (relatively) new, and incredibly lightweight, web server engine. Whereas Apache has been constantly evolved and expanded over the years by way of ‘modules’, nginx has most of the modern requirements baked in, and is generally a lot more spartan. It doesn’t do some things that Apache does, and doesn’t really care that it doesn’t. What it does do, it does fast.
As I just mentioned, nginx doesn’t do a lot of things Apache does. One of those things is it’s own php processing (which Apache can do via mod_php). However, nginx is smart enough to know that, and can be configured to use applications that do handle those processes. Enter php-fpm. The PHP-FastCGI Process Manager. This is an external application which handles PHP processing and execution, and was built with speed and scalability in mind. Nginx passes PHP requests through to PHP-FPM which handles them with speed, grace, eloquence, and many other nice-sounding adjectives.
MySQL, MariaDB and Percona:
Without Databases we would have no modern internet. That’s not hyperbole, that’s just the way it is. Facebook, even back in 2011, handled over 60 million database queries per second. Use Facebook? You’re using one of the world’s most advanced public database implementations. As an open source program, MySQL has a few different flavours, or variants, if you will. Percona and MariaDB were both designed with speed and scalability in mind, pushing the boundaries of what the original project is designed to handle. All of our servers use MariaDB for optimal compatibility and performance.
Hardware and Load
Specs & Load
While the actual server specs can be important, even more important is how loaded your server is. We actually publish our server load numbers, live.
There’s a fair bit of debate around how to interpret load numbers, but the general consensus is that if the number is lower than the number of CPU cores you have, you’re in a good position. Our shared servers have a minimum of 4 cores on each, yet our average loads are well below 1: we keep our servers intentionally underloaded.
Because of this conscious choice to underload our servers, you get great performance and, when there’s a traffic spike, our servers can handle them smoothly with minimal changes in performance during peak intensity.
IO just refers to “Input and Output”, meaning how quickly can your server read and write to disk. All of our servers now use 6gbps SATA channel RAID5 (x3 SSDs). I know that means nothing to a lot of people, so simply put these drives provide up to 50x the speeds of traditional rotational disks. Technically, if your host is doing it right, most websites will load from RAM, not disk, meaning Disk IO isn’t the most important hardware metric for day-to-day use. However, if your server needs to ramp up processes to handle a traffic spike, it *does* need to pull ’em from disk and so there are select cases where having all SSDs is super handy for performance.
When you set up browser caching instructions, you’re basically telling visitors “if this file hasn’t changed save us some time and don’t bother downloading it again.” This can be done in either your .htaccess file or nginx rules – depending on your configuration. Most caching plugins provide an option to enable this.
Did you know that most web servers and browsers can actually compress / decompress data on the fly? Our servers are all custom configured to provide gzip compression out of the box, greatly reducing the size of your HTML, CSS, and JS files in transit. They’re also configured to automatically detect when your caching plugin pre-compresses files. It then serves those files rather than having to do the work on the fly, saving time and resources!
PHP files need to be interpreted when they’re viewed; that means the server likely needs to run a bunch of database queries and process the code each and every time someone views your website. Seems wasteful, doesn’t it? When you use a caching plugin (like WP Rocket, Super Cache, or others), the plugin runs the PHP code and creates a static version of the site as a basic HTML file. It then shows visitors this HTML file, using much less system resources and reducing the amount of time it takes to send data to the visitor. Even better, our servers are configured to detect the use of the above mentioned caching plugins (as well as W3 Total Cache and WP Fastest Cache) and automatically serve their html output via nginx for the fastest possible page load times.
A lot of people ask us to take a look at websites and recommend where they can make it faster. One of the biggest problems we see is massive image files. Someone wants a big, beautiful background image on their website, so they put a 5MB JPEG up there. It looks great, yeah, but it’s enormous – and it doesn’t need to be that big. Tools like Imagify process image files and optimize them for websites; I’ve seen some 5MB images reduced to ~200kB – that’s a huge savings.
Managed WordPress Hosting
One big downside of typical WordPress optimized hosts is that their services are all or nothing. No matter what website you host with them, they charge you the same costly managed rate per site to use their systems, even if the site is a really basic one-pager, you’re still paying the same as a website with thousands of visitors per month! Even if you already know how to maintain WordPress backups, updates, etc., you still pay the same price and that just doesn’t seem right.
If what you want is every single one of your sites to be not just high speed, but also to have someone else manage them for you, then the cost of expensive WordPress optimized hosts will surely be worth it to you. However many people want just a site or two that’s fully managed and the rest of them don’t require such a high-end service. And that’s where many optimized WordPress hosts fail to deliver. They’ve built their systems around only providing their managed WordPress hosting and therefore fail to ensure you can use the same interface to manage more basic non-managed instances of WordPress.
With more flexible hosting companies (like us!) you can pay bargain basement rates for hosting for your more basic sites — the ones where you feel comfortable maintaining the security and speed yourself — and pay for managed WordPress hosting only for the sites where you’d rather have an experienced team monitoring them.
WordPress Tools & Control
Sometimes WordPress optimized hosts make it seem like only they can provide you with functionality like creating WordPress development environments, 1-click installs, WordPress cloning, and easy backups and restores. In reality, even the cheapest, and lowest quality hosts like GoDaddy have this kind of functionality on their basic hosting plans.
Be careful that you’re not paying $30-50 / mo or more just to get access to these kinds of tools that are available on most hosts for nothing more than a few dollars per month.
WordPress optimized hosting is typically made up of a few different aspects of hosting, from fast website loading to handy WordPress tools to website management services where you get hands-on help with your WordPress site. But not every website is the same, and you may not want to always have every website managed. Additionally, a good chunk of the technology behind high speed WordPress hosting is available from cheaper web hosting plans.
You can spend $30+/month on “WordPress Optimized” hosting for every one of your sites, if you want, or you can host your site with Websavers for a fraction of the price. We’ve already got the technology, servers, and knowledge, and we’re always happy to help you figure out anything you’re unsure of.