WordPress Hosting February 20, 2020

WordPress Hosting – Sorting the Good from the Bad

Alexander Newnham

17 min read
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Without exception we see comments on forums and social media daily that are all asking for WordPress Hosting recommendations. With the sheer number of WordPress hosts available to consumers to today it’s not hard to see why it can be confusing and potentially overwhelming trying to find a suitable host for your website.

Sadly, this is an industry that is filled with misinformation. Buzz words and slick marketing are routinely deployed to convince unsuspecting consumers that ‘XYZ’ hosting is the best. It’s extremely rare for the underlying hosting product to live up to the hype.

So how exactly do you sort the good from the bad? We think that the more informed you are about WordPress hosting, the better the position you will be in to make the right choice for your specific hosting needs.

In this article we’re going to take you step by step through some of the core Pressidium platform features we think are a ‘must have’ for any web host and on the way explain what these features do and why. In doing so you’ll hopefully be in a strong position to truly evaluate a WordPress host without getting caught up in the high-powered marketing that is desperately trying to sell you an inferior hosting product.

Backups

Before you even start thinking about any other features, the first thing you want to consider is how safe is your website going to be? In this instance, we’re not talking about whether or not it could be hacked, but quite simply is it backed up. It sounds like such a simple thing on the one hand, but we know that backups are actually something that people tend not to worry about. Why? Because they think that their hosting in and of itself actually provides the ‘backup’ of their website that they need. Regrettably, this can ultimately cost you big time as there are almost limitless ways you could potentially experience website data loss or corruption that will result in your website being worthless. Now, if you don’t mind spending the hours required to re-build it then that’s fine. But if you’ve poured tens, hundreds or even thousands of hours (and quite possibly thousands of dollars) into its development then you need a decent backup!

Backup Myths

There are lots of ways to com unstuck with backups and WordPress. Here’s just a few:

  • Shared WordPress Hosting Backup Engines – Cheap ‘n Cheerful shared hosting plans are often seriously tempting. After all they appear to provide all the options you need including backups! Well, you’ve probably guessed it, but this isn’t the case. Firstly, shared hosting backups will likely be non-WordPress specific. WordPress is a complex mix of files and also includes a vital database. Backups need to be taken in a way that is designed to cater for WordPress. Shared hosting backups will be unlikely to do this properly.
  • Shared Hosting Backup Locations – Not only will the ‘backup engine’ probably do a bad job of replicating your WordPress website but the backup it creates will almost certainly be stored on the same server as your live website. This is like having a safe that contains your valuables but then leaving the key for the safe taped to the door. You might as well not bother! For backups to have any meaningful value they need to be offsite backups. Offsite backups are stored in a different location, on a different server (ideally one that is in a different datacentre entirely) so that if the worst happens your backups are kept safe.
  • Backup Accessibility: You create a backup for a reason. That reason is to provide you with a perfect copy of your website that can be restored in the event that your live site becomes compromised in some way (e.g. as a result of a hack). The key word here is ‘restored’. Many hosts who promise backups as part of their package seem to skip this step! Restoring your WordPress site needs to be easy. Frequently though, backups are so hard to access and manage that it’s often just easier to rebuild the website!

In summary, don’t whatever you do read that your host of choice ‘provides backups’ and leave it at that. Check how your website will be backed up, whether or not the backups are stored offsite and how easily you can actually use the backup if you need to.

Backups the Pressidium Way

So, now we’ve seen some of the pitfalls that can occur with backups let’s take a look at how we do things at Pressidium.

We strongly believe that backups are vital and when we built the Pressidium platform they were something we kept at the forefront of our minds. The result is a two-tier backup system that includes Snapshot Backups and Offsite Backups.

WordPress Hosting Backups

Snapshot backups can be taken from within your Dashboard for any of your websites at any time you wish. These do exactly what they say on the tin, i.e. take a snapshot of your website at the time of the backup request. These backups are kept available for 15 days and allow you to restore your website with just a couple of clicks to the exact state it was in at the time of the backup. These types of backups are incredibly useful. For anyone who has spent any time working with WordPress you’ll realize that not everything you do goes smoothly. For example, simply updating a plugin can break your entire site. With snapshot backups you would be able to restore your website within a matter of mere minutes saving you a huge amount of time, stress and, in the case of a business website, money.

As a second line of defence, we take full daily backups of your website (including the database) automatically and store these backups on secure, offsite servers. These backups are also available for you to restore from within the Dashpanel and in addition can be downloaded in full. This gives you complete control over your website.

Needless to say, we have a sophisticated backup engine that is specifically designed to take WordPress backups. Our backups are tested for data integrity to ensure they are actually usable! Our restore function also means that you can deploy your backup with zero technical know-how. This makes the Pressidium Backup function a truly indispensable feature and one we believe is the best in the business.

Staging & Cloning

Let’s set the scene… your business website sees several hundred visitors a day. As a diligent business owner, you’re always keen to improve your website but recognize that making changes can be a fraught process as updates occur whilst you potentially have customers browsing the site. The solution? Stay up until midnight when traffic is low or make the changes as quickly as you can and hope no one notices!

Well, neither of these ‘solutions’ is exactly ideal. That’s why we provide staging sites on all our plans. Staging sites are an exact copy of your website that is generated on demand. It is hosted on a sub domain and in no way interferes with your live website. You are able to visit the url of the staging website, log into WordPress as you would normally and then make any changes required to your site. Test until you’re happy and then with just two clicks from within the Pressidium Dashboard you can deploy the ‘new’ version of your site to the live domain. There is little to no downtime for your live site which means your customers aren’t in any way inconvenienced. It really is the ultimate way to make changes to your website!

Staging also allows you to make changes to your website ahead of time. For example, you might want to run a promotion on your website. Rather than make all of the required changes and publish these same day, you can update the staged version of your website ahead of time and only deploy these changes to the live site when you want the promotion to start. Much easier!

Another great feature of the Pressidium platform is the ability to clone your website. This is especially useful if you are running an Agency as it allows you top make a perfect copy of one of your websites to a brand-new WordPress install. This can drastically speed up development time.

Staging & Cloning Pitfalls

Many Managed WordPress hosts now offer a staging and / or cloning functionality on their platforms. In our experience however, these tend not to work as well as advertised. One of the primary issues is to do with urls in the WordPress database and also links within the website itself. For example, let’s imagine we had the domain name ‘bestbikes.com’. Within this website there will potentially be thousands of links that use this domain name. For example a link on a page that takes you to the website contact page ‘bestbikes.com/contact’.

When you create a staging copy or clone of a website you also copy over all of these links, both in the body of the website and also the database. The staging url of this copy might be ‘bestbikes.dev.onpressidium.com’ for example.

This means that the link that was formally ‘bestbikes.com/contact’ now needs to be ‘bestbikes.dev.onpressidium.com/contact’.

A sophisticated staging a cloning system will undertake an in-depth ‘search and replace’ to change all of the old links to the new ones. This means your staging copy (or cloned copy) works perfectly. If you don’t make these changes though, you won’t be able to work effectively on the staging copy as all the links will point to the wrong website.

Not only does this need to work seamlessly in one direction (from the live website to the staging version) but back again the other way! The potential for things to go wrong is therefore doubled.

It’s vital to recognize these types of pitfalls and to understand why your website might have errors after you use a staging feature with a host. The ‘normal’ response when you query this with support will be that this is how their system is designed and ‘all you have to do’ is use a third party search and replace database tool to correct all of your links. Not only does this take time but it also isn’t a guaranteed process and leaves you at the mercy of the third-party tool.

It doesn’t have to be this way though! The Pressidium Platform staging feature works absolutely seamlessly and you will not need to run a search and replace to ‘fix’ your staging or cloned sites. It just simply works… and that saves you a ton of time and stress.

Security and Maintenance

It’s almost a fact of life… at some point someone is going to have a go at hacking your WordPress website. WordPress is a prime target for hackers and yours will be in their sites before long.

As such, if you value your website or it is an important part of your business, then you need to make sure it’s hosted on a secure platform.

Rather than spend hours on this we can cut right to the chase… your average $20/year shared hosting package will not offer anything like the level of security required to properly keep hackers at bay.

WordPress security is a massive, complex topic and in part you are at the mercy of your host and have little choice but to take their promises at face value. That said, you don’t get something for nothing. If it seems to good to be true then is certainly is in the world of hosting!

The best way to evaluate a host when it comes to security is to look at how well they do everything else. If support tickets are promptly answered (more on that later), their backup and staging features work well, your site loads quickly, then perhaps it’s not unreasonable to assume that they are working hard on the security side of things as well.

At Pressidium we take security very seriously indeed and have built in a number of features to help ensure your sites stay safe including:

  • DMZ Firewall – This Network Based Firewall layer is the first line of defense against malicious activity and Denial of Service (DoS) attacks. This inspection layer filters and inspects each incoming & outgoing packet for malformed requests. If something isn’t right, it will immediately take countermeasures to protect your site.
  • Managed Web Application Firewall Layer – Our proprietary web application firewall layer inspects actual HTTP requests and filters web content to and from your WordPress site. It will, for example, pick up SQL-Injection attacks, bad-bots, brute-force attacks or malicious cross-site scripting activity. If something is detected as out-of-order, the malicious attempt is stopped here, protecting your website from any further penetration.
  • Malware monitoring and removal – We actively scan for, detect and block malware and vulnerabilities.
  • Managed WordPress auto-updates – We proactively install WordPress security updates. We keep your site up to date and secure without you having to think about it. Whenever WordPress issues a minor or major update, we test it and then apply it to your site.

Managed auto-updates are particularly important as many hacks exploit out-of-date WordPress cores. Our auto update procedure makes sure you are always running the most secure version of WordPress without any extra effort on your part.

Support

If your website is in any way important to you then you deserve Managed WordPress hosting that comes with the very best of support. The problem? Great support in the hosting industry is almost unheard of!

First things first. Cheap hosting = bad support. End of story. The reason we can be so confident in this assertion is because of simple economics… if you’re only paying a few dollars for hosting, how realistic is it to expect awesome service from support staff who are well trained and really know their stuff? Even a ‘simple’ support request takes a few minutes to respond to, whilst more complex problems can take a considerable amount of time and expertise to resolve. It is simply impossible to make the numbers add up and something has to give…

If you want high quality support then you need to be looking at a premium host. We’d love to say though that price is a guarantee of support quality. It’s frustratingly not the case at all.

There are a few ‘tricks’ that will be used to help bolster the impression that great support is on offer. The latest one used to pull in the customers is the provision of live chat. The promise that you can speak with the support team via live chat 24×7 is, on the face of it, a great thing. The problem is that often wait times to speak to an Agent will be high. We’ve seen wait times in excess of 30 minutes for some providers. Worse than this though is that in all likelihood you’re going to get through to a Tier 1 support agent. Tier 1 support agents don’t have the in-depth technical knowledge of Tier 2 agents. Unless your problem is relatively simple you are going to be told that they will ‘create a ticket’ and one of the team will get back to you.

If responses you typically get from Tier 2 agents were of guaranteed quality then so be it… the wait would be worthwhile but the truth is, hosting companies have relatively little incentive to solve your problem. Hosting is a number game and spending hours helping out their customers doesn’t make great financial sense. They’d rather give broad stroke responses that are generic in nature and hope you get fed up and stop bugging them!

Needless to say, we are different at Pressidium. We actually do care about support and go to great lengths to offer the best WordPress hosting support in the industry.

Wordpress hosting support

We do this in several ways:

  • Qualified Support Staff – Forget Tier 1 and Tier 2 support… all of our support team are comprised of WordPress Experts and DevOps Engineers. No matter who answers your support ticket, you’ll benefit from their in-depth knowledge of WordPress. Each of our support team take ownership of their support tickets so you won’t be passed from pillar to post. They will work with you to resolve your issue no matter how long it takes.
  • Support ticket times – Standard plan customers benefit from response times of less than 15 minutes, whilst Enterprise customers are guaranteed a response in 5 minutes or less, 24/7, 365 days a year. We deliberately haven’t gone with the crowd and introduced live chat as we feel it is more efficient for all concerned for support tickets to be dealt with via email. We frequently hear our customers say that our response times are so fast via email that it feels a bit like live chat anyway!
  • Platform investment – Our support team work closely with our platform development team. If they see something that could be improved in how the Pressidium platform works it is fed back so we can continually refine our WordPress hosting.

Summary

WordPress hosting can be a confusing topic and it’s very easy to fall victim to the slick marketing found in this industry. The truth of the matter is that there are relatively few hosts that provide a hosting platform that really works! We might be biased, but we strongly feel the Pressidium platform delivers on multiple fronts and offers the perfect home for your website. If you are trying to work out which host is best for you, we hope this article has given you some insight into what to look for. You might also want to check out this article ‘Eight Questions You Should Ask a Web Host Before Purchasing WordPress Hosting with Them!’ for more hints and tips on choosing the best host.

And if you think you’d like to try Pressidium, don’t hesitate to contact our team with any of your questions on WordPress hosting. They’ll be happy to help.

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