If you already have a great web host for your WordPress website, you probably don’t spend a lot of time interacting with them, or even thinking about web hosting. It’s one of those services that should “just work”, and only takes up time and energy when it’s causing problems.
If you already know you’re in the market for a new web host (due to website downtime, surprise high bills, mysterious errors, unresponsive customer service, etc.), here are a few key points to take into account as you search.
I’d also suggest that even if you are happy with your web host (perhaps as evidenced by the fact that you haven’t thought about web hosting in awhile), it can’t hurt to check these points to make sure you’re still getting top-notch technical service and support.
I have two favorite web hosts that I recommend. They are DreamHost and SiteGround, and they meet every one of the tests I suggest below. I’ve been a customer of both for many years, and I belong to both of their affiliate programs, so some of the links I provide here are affiliate links, even though I’d happily recommend each of these companies regardless of affiliate status.
If your web host doesn’t offer these two features, run away:
- Free SSL certificate. This is what gives your site URL the padlock icon in the browser address bar. Without an SSL certificate, your site may give visitors a security warning. Most good hosts offer free certificates from LetsEncrypt, and some have their own equivalents, but if your web host is charging you money for an SSL certificate, they are profiteering on your ignorance. Also beware hosting plans that include a free SSL only for the first year; this service should be a permanent part of your hosting package.
- Support for PHP version 8.0 or later. You don’t have to know anything about PHP (which is the programming language that underlies WordPress). If your web host doesn’t have a support document explaining what PHP versions are available, just ask whether they have support for version 8.0.
Those are the most important litmus tests (which are unfortunately necessary because some hosts won’t meet them). A few more nice-to-have features:
- Automated backups of your hosting account and/or your website (backing up your own website is still important, but host-managed backups provide another safety net).
- A built-in staging site lets you have a test version of your website, where you can experiment with new designs and features, and only roll them over to the live site when you’re sure they work, saving your visitors from viewing works-in-progress.
- If you want to work with a web developer, designer, or Peace of Mind Provider, it’s nice to be able to create a user login for them that grants them the necessary access to your website without having to share your account-owner password or expose your personal or billing information.
Be warned: Almost every web host flat-out lies about its prices, by displaying what they claim is a “monthly” price for a hosting plan that can only be purchased by buying one or more years of service upfront. You’ll need to search out and read the fine print, as well as do some math, to determine your actual cost before checkout.
(Honorable mention goes to DreamHost for being the only host I know to put monthly plans on nearly equal footing with annual plans, displaying prices in a way that lets prospective customers see the difference between paying monthly and paying annually… although you still have to do some math to get the final cost.)
Also be cognizant of the fact that as a new customer, you can usually get a significantly discounted price at signup, but when it comes time to renew your plan (whether that’s in a month, a year, or multiple years), your bill is going to be much higher. Make a plan for this so you don’t get sticker-shocked into cardiac arrest when your next renewal date arrives.
If you’re signing up for a new hosting package, I always recommend looking for a solid money-back guarantee (DreamHost’s is an industry-leading 97 days, SiteGround’s is a more normal 30 days, both of which are long enough to kick the tires).
If you needed to report that your website was down, how easy would it be to contact your web host?
If you already have experience with your web host’s customer support, has it been positive? Have they responded quickly enough and treated you with respect?
Does your host offer customer support in your preferred medium, in your time zone?
I, for example, am happiest when I can interact with support in writing, so email support tickets or live chat are my favorite ways to contact support. DreamHost only offers phone support for an extra fee, but my personal preferences are a match for this system.
Someone else might feel more comfortable speaking to a human on the phone, in which case it would be wise to check whether phone support is available (as it is from SiteGround, 24/7, even for pre-sales questions), and when lines are open. Time zones matter, even for email support, but especially for live chat and phone support.
Moving to a new host
If you know you are going to be switching hosts, it’s a good idea to check out whether your new host candidates offer any kind of website transfer or migration for new customers.
Both DreamHost and SiteGround have created WordPress migration plugins that are specific to their hosting platforms, and DreamHost offers a free migration service for new customers of their higher-priced DreamPress plans.
Web hosts will often have a migration service available as an add-on purchase, or you could hire your friendly Technology-to-English Translator to handle the move for you.
Whatever your chosen hosting solution, I hope you find a host that is the perfect match for your website. Even if you don’t love my recommended companies, there are undoubtedly other good WordPress web hosts out there, and I encourage you to ask questions and do your due diligence in choosing the right one for you.