In previous instalments, we’ve looked at a range of different types of hosting you could choose for your website, everything from shared hosting to dedicated hosting and VPS hosting. Each of these types of hosting is stronger in certain areas. For example, shared hosting is more economical, but dedicated hosting has far superior performance and VPS hosting is a great bridge between the two.
However, one very specific type of hosting we haven’t yet covered is managed WordPress hosting. Now, not all types of managed hosting are worth it, for one reason or another, especially when you start looking at the detail of what you’re being offered. That’s why in this post, we will take a look at what this type of hosting actually is, some common pros and cons, and whether or not it is right for you and your website.
Unlike other types of hosting, there is no exact set definition as to what managed WordPress hosting is. The minimum you should expect from a host offering you this type of package is some extra features and benefits you wouldn’t normally see with a standard web hosting package, such as a much more user-friendly control panel, giving you easy access to performance stats for your website, amongst other things. You should also expect some sort of work done by the host to manage the server for you, such as software and hardware upgrades.
Surprisingly though, the interpretation of ‘managed’ differs from host to host. At the basic end of the scale, you are left to do all the hands-on work, such as the backups, security improvements etc, whilst being offered a good level of customer support, should you need it, beyond what you’d expect from shared hosting, although you are still likely to be sharing resources and support with others on the same server.
If we liken that basic level of managed hosting to going on holiday to stay in a hostel, where you’re sharing a dormitory (resources and support) with other guests, then the top end of the scale is a swanky 5* hotel in London, with your own personal concierge. By that, I mean you have all your own resources, the server is set up perfectly to be optimised for your website, it is maintained without you having to lift a finger and you’ve even got your own personal contact at the hosting company, who will answer any questions or queries you may have, at any time.
Now, you need to be aware that this is of course a very simplified view of things. To make things a bit clearer for you, let’s now go through some of the key pros and cons of managed WordPress hosting.
There are many reasons why managed WordPress hosting could be the perfect solution for you and your website, of course assuming your website is built using WordPress. Let’s take a look at some of those now, which you will commonly find are claimed by the hosting providers, alongside the most likely truth behind them.
On pretty much all managed WordPress hosting packages out there, the providers will claim that the servers they use are specifically optimised to host WordPress websites. It is important to realise that WordPress doesn’t need any special configurations to run. Basically, all it needs is a server that supports PHP and some sort of database, such as MySQL.
Therefore, when you see ‘specifically optimised for WordPress’, this is unlikely to be completely true. By this, I mean that whilst you can’t truly optimise something for WordPress specifically (as it can run almost anywhere) the chances are that the servers the host is using are likely to be much more modern and sophisticated than standard shared servers. They probably use very powerful processors, SSD storage (solid state, like a flash memory drive) and the latest software versions, all of which will result in better performance for your website.
When you’re looking for managed WordPress hosting, you’ll often see something along the lines of ‘improved security’ being advertised. Now, it is likely that these packages do actually offer you better security, but it may surprise you to know that this doesn’t really have anything to do with the hosting being advertised for WordPress specifically.
What’s more likely to be the case is that the managed platforms you would end up using are of a much higher quality overall, with a built in firewall and DDoS attack protections. What’s more, these packages will perhaps even offer you premium versions of various security plugins for free. All of these things combine to give you that higher level of security protection that you’re after, although they don’t really have anything to do with it being targeted at WordPress specifically.
Most types of hosting that you will come across gives you access to one of the industry-standard user interfaces, such as cPanel or Plesk. These are both highly sophisticated and comprehensive, offering everything you would need to effectively run your website, from the ability to manage your emails and domains, to updating software and everything in between. However, if you aren’t particularly tech-savvy, these can be a struggle.
That’s where managed WordPress hosting comes in. Usually, the hosting provider offering this type of hosting will provide you with their own custom user panels, giving you quick access to the features you are most likely to use. Whilst you’re not able to do anywhere near as much with them compared to something like cPanel, that’s not usually an issue. For example, let’s take a look at some interfaces from managed hosting providers. Here, you can see examples from Flywheel and Kinsta.
What you can see for both of these is that the interfaces are very simple, un-cluttered and easy to navigate, which is exactly what most users will need.
With even the most basic shared hosting, all the core tasks related to running a website hosting server are already taken care of, unless you are doing something like running your own server, in which case you would be responsible for the management, although this is very rare. This means that whilst a statement along the lines of ‘server management is taken care of for you’ is likely true, this has nothing to do with it being managed hosting, so don’t be fooled into thinking that you need to have managed hosting, to have the server management taken care of for you. You would have full server management even with the most basic shared hosting.
When running a website, you are more than likely, at some point, to come across a situation where you want to make some content or design updates, or even that you want to add completely new features. For this, a staging website, which is a carbon copy of your live website, hidden from the public, is essential, to ensure any of your changes work perfectly, before you make them public.
Now, with ‘non-managed’ hosting, you would likely have to create the staging website manually,
or purchase a plugin, which would allow you to do that. One of the great benefits of managed hosting is that providers usually offer what’s known as ‘one-click staging’. That’s exactly as it sounds; you click a button and a staging website is created for you. You also just have to click a button to migrate the changes to your live site, with no extra effort on your part.
I would always recommend that you use a staging website to make any big changes, unless we’re talking about updating just content, such as product prices. That way, you can be sure all of your changes are perfect and won’t break your live website. If you’re not particularly confident in creating a staging website, then managed WordPress hosting is probably the solution for you.
Managed hosting packages will generally advertise that you can install WordPress, update software and set up backups at the click of a button. Now, this is almost certainly true (and therefore very helpful for you) although just be aware that even the most basic shared hosting packages can offer the same features, so don’t feel like you need to specifically have managed WordPress hosting, to give you this functionality.
One thing that most definitely is the case for managed WordPress hosting is that you are usually offered useful additional features that you wouldn’t normally see in standard hosting, even on dedicated hosting. These offering can vary from host to host, although they’re usually pretty useful. For example, WP Engine offers you all the StudioPress themes (including the Genesis framework) and Atomic Blocks Pro.
We’ve seen many reasons why this type of hosting could be the perfect solution for you, even though some of them aren’t specific to WordPress. So that you can get a balanced understanding, let’s now take a look at some of its disadvantages.
It goes without saying that this type of hosting can be very expensive. For example, simple shared hosting could cost you as little as £3/month. However, when you look at managed WordPress hosting, you’re more likely to be starting at around £15/month. Now, that’s not terrible, since you are getting more for your money and especially since VPS and dedicated hosting can cost considerably more.
Something else to remember with this type of hosting is that where standard hosting would simply cut you off when you go above your limits, here you get charged quite a lot for going over (known as ‘overages’). For example, WP Engine could charge you around £2 extra per 1000 visits. This isn’t so much of an issue if your website doesn’t have a lot of traffic, but it is something you should be aware of if you know you are going to have a lot of visitors.
Unfortunately, unlike standard hosting, managed WordPress hosting offers no ability to host emails on the same platform. That simply means that if you choose this type of hosting and you still want branded email addresses, you will need to pay someone else to host your emails. This could be through something like Google, 123 Reg or even HostPresto.
This isn’t so much of an issue if you have a large budget, but it is something to be aware of if you are operating on a tight budget. If so, given how useful for branding it is to have non-generic email addresses (i.e. avoiding @gmail.com) then you may be better off choosing a standard hosting package, which would include emails at no extra cost.
You’ll notice that most entry-level managed WordPress hosting packages only allow you to host one website. In a lot of cases, this isn’t an issue, as it isn’t often that an organisation, especially a smaller one, would need more than one website. If you find you need multiple websites but you are on a budget, this may not be the type of hosting for you, as you’ll need to pay at least £30-40/month (including VAT) for that privilege.
As with anything, from the packaging on your favourite products, to the team at the top of the Premier League, things change. At any point, you may decide that you want to switch your hosting provider, for whatever reason. If you’re migrating from a standard hosting package, all you need to do is migrate things over to your new host (a service which most good hosts provide).
However, things aren’t always so easy when you’re migrating from a managed WordPress hosting package. Some hosts actually modify the files in your website’s WordPress directory to suit their environments better, but then these changes don’t work with a completely different host. Let’s take WP Engine as an example. They have a full checklist of things you need to take care of before you can migrate your website. For example, there are some files you need to delete. You’ll also need to go back to a standard ‘config.php’ file. That’s just a pain, isn’t it?
Now, it is important to remember that not all managed hosting providers will be like this. Some will likely make it very simple for you to switch, a bit like switching your mobile phone provider. However, the downside is you won’t know what your experience will be like until you try and make the switch.
If you are using a standard hosting package, anything from shared to dedicated and VPS hosting, the chances are you’ll be able to run any plugin that you want to run on your website. Managed WordPress hosting is different. Hosts offering this type of package aren’t always so understanding. For example, WP Engine, Kinsta and Pressable all have a list of plugins you cannot use. You can click on each of their names to find out exactly what those are. This isn’t a major issue if you only need to use a small number of plugins. However, if you need to have full control over the plugins you use, then you are probably better off avoiding this type of hosting.
Many managed WordPress hosting packages will limit how much storage space you are allowed to use, especially in the more entry-level packages. For example, HostPresto only offers you 10GB of storage space in their basic package, for £15/month + VAT. WP Engine offer you the same, except for £24/month + VAT. In a similar way to when we looked at the advantages of managed WordPress hosting, this isn’t necessarily something that is unique to this type of hosting, as most standard hosting packages also limit your storage space. Therefore, provided you have the budget to match, I wouldn’t let this put you off getting this type of hosting, if everything else about it is perfect for you.
Managed WordPress hosting is a fantastic option in many situations. Now that we’ve seen the key advantages and disadvantages of this type of hosting, you’re now able to decide whether or not it is right for you. Generally speaking, if you fall into one of these categories, then it would be a great choice.
Clearly there are many reasons why this type of hosting would be the most suitable option. Although there are many hosting providers out there, you just need to make sure you find the right one for you and your website.
At Digital Lychee, I make sure that I tailor all my clients’ website to suit their individual needs. In your initial consultation (free and no obligation, of course) we will discuss your needs in full and I can advise you on the best type of hosting to suit your needs and how you can upgrade it going forwards, if necessary. If you are interested in my services, or you want to find out more about my blog, I would love to hear from you. You can get in touch with me here.