Recommended WordPress Hosts

Following is a list of carefully selected hosts, in the event you either need a new host or your existing host doesn’t comply with the WordPress server requirements.

How to choose a host

Support, support, support

Support is the single most important item you should consider when you select a host. It is times more crucial to your online success than control panel, storage, bandwidth, goodies and cost. Especially cost.

Please take my word for it… In the past years, I’ve interacted with a number of hosts that you should be avoiding like the Plague in spite of their great looking offers.

Consider what good support staff is if their only leverage on a shared server environment is to tell you they can’t enforce the configuration change that’ll make your site work? Not much indeed.

Likewise, how useful is 24/7 “fanatical support” by telephone if you end up interacting with a guy that tells you to configure your server yourself? It’s completely useless.

Who are these recommended WordPress hosts?

The hosts listed below were selected by interacting with the Semiologic Pro community. I had several points in mind while compiling the list.

All hosts that made it in this list:

  1. Keep their servers up to date
  2. Backup your data
  3. Answer questions instead of directing you to a Google search
  4. Investigate nastier issues rather than immediately dismiss them as software related

Shared hosts that made it in this list additionally deliver WordPress as a one-click install.

Hub.org

hub.org is where I host semiologic.com. It’s an offshore host, that is run almost single handedly by Marc Fournier.

Marc has incredible credentials: He’s one of the initial four people behind PostgreSQL, is still one of its core developers, is hosting multitudes of open source projects, created the very first ISP in Canada, the list goes on.

Users who are used to dealing with hosts may be surprised by the minimalist control panel that they get: It lets you create domains, databases, trouble tickets, and a separate interface lets you manage your email addresses. For everything else, you either know what you’re doing or you open a trouble ticket and have Marc do it.

Dealing Marc on a daily basis is, simply put, different from anything you’ll have experienced to date. He sets the bar very high, and no other host I’ve ever interacted with will deliver anything near the level of service you’re going to get.

Mark my words: Marc delivers the best support in the industry. More proficient system administrators are far and in between. If hosting is anything critical to your business, you know this makes all the difference in the world.

To illustrate how things are different, suppose, for a moment, that you need to install some exotic software. On your typical CPanel host, you’ll likely proceed as follows:

  • Purchase/Download the software
  • Read the installation instructions
  • Create a database if necessary
  • Upload it to your site
  • Configure it as necessary
  • Browse the install url
  • Ask for help because it’s not working out of the box
  • Get a reply along the lines of “we don’t support software”
  • Insist that you’ll be happy to pay for it
  • Get a reply along the lines of “we don’t support software”
  • Spend a few hours googling for a solution on your own
  • You run the installer

Time spent: hours.

With Marc around, it looks more like this:

  • Purchase/Download the software
  • Open a trouble ticket, asking him if he’d mind installing the software for you.
  • Marc, your on-demand system administrator gets back to you shortly after. (He might bill you something for doing so if is complicated, time consuming, or a recurring request.)
  • You run the installer

Time spent: minutes.

It’s like… I can configure a configure a server myself. And yet, I rarely bother installing software on my own server. You should likewise be worrying about more important things, and have Marc around for system administration tasks.

Upon signing up with hub.org, opt for a Basic or Premium VPS, select the WordPress template with the redundant server option, and ask for the server’s software to be kept up to date. (At the time of writing this, this site is using an Entreprise VPS, and Marc and I are looking into an exotic setup using two such plans.)

Shared Hosting Environment

A shared hosting environment means your server’s resources are shared indifferently between the many users (and many more websites) that are on it.

It’s the cheapest deal you’ll find online, but it comes with two tradeoffs. The first is performance (you could end up on the same server as a busy site). The second is security (you are on the same server as many others).

The host that follows stands out as an exception to the dreadful state of the art. When you make it clear that you don’t know what you’re doing, they proactively offer system administration services — where applicable, they’ll bill you by the hour, but this is extremely rare.

Dreamhost

Dreamhost is my sincere recommendation for tech-illiterate users who are looking for a cheap host with a do-it-yourself control panel. I’ve a Dreamhost account myself. You might overhear me pestering after them now and then when they change their servers’ settings. But the honest truth is they always do so for a good reason, i.e. security. Reasons to choose Dreamhost include:

  • Storage and bandwidth that covers the needs of most podcasters
  • WordPress as a one-click install
  • php 5, which is faster than php 4
  • You can get dedicated IP addresses (useful for SEO)
  • Impeccable support

More long term reasons include:

  • You can scale without worrying about changing hosts
  • They’ve the best dedicated server offer in the market (see below)

They way they manage sites’ ftp folders deserves a special mention: Each domain has an ftp folder that is named after that domain name. When you log in using your ftp software, it looks neat and tidy:

domain1.com
subdomain.domain1.com
domain2.com
domain3.com 

Upon signing up with Dreamhost, use the ‘semiologic‘ coupon. It will let you waive the setup fee, or knock $30 off your first bill if you opt to prepay for a year or two.

Virtual Private Server

Virtual Private Servers (VPS) combines the best of both worlds: You get the added security and comfort of a dedicated server, delivered at a much lower cost.

In layman’s terms, the server is split into several virtual machines, and these run in a completely airtight environment. Each virtual machine gets a minimum amount of resources, and you can tailor it to your specific requirements.

Virtual private servers have one major drawback: The host will usually assume that you know what you’re doing, and deliver minimal support as a result — if any at all. Discussions can quickly become vitriolic.

The host listed below stand out as exceptions to this dreadful state of the art. When you make it clear that you don’t know what you’re doing, they proactively offer system administration services — and they’ll bill you by the hour where applicable.

PowerVPS

I’ve no account with PowerVPS myself, but several in the Semiologic Pro community do. They get praise and more praise, and made it in this list as a result. Upon signing up with PowerVPS, select the CPanel VPS plan, and ask the PowerVPS staff to configure it as follows:

  • php 5.2 (latest stable) with the most commonly used php extensions turned on
  • MySQL 5 (latest stable) with strict mode turned off and utf-8 as the default table collation
  • Make the ftp server display hidden files even when not prompted to (-a mask)
  • safe_mode off
  • register_globals off
  • magic_quotes off
  • display_errors on
  • A very high php memory limit, e.g. 64 Megs
  • upload_max_filesize and post_max_size of 32 Megs

Don’t forget to ask them to keep the VPS updated as a permanent item on their todo list.

Dedicated Server

The dedicated server should be your preferred choice when your online presence becomes so large that a VPS no longer is an option. Or when you’re about to launch a service that will need to scale massively. Be very weary when choosing a dedicated server offer. The standard package is a hosted, preconfigured server with bandwidth. Your responsibilities will include installing your own software, and keeping the server secure and up to date. Whenever prompted for help, the host’s staff will fanatically tell you to RTFM. In practice, this means you’ll need a system administrator. And assuming you hire one, your money will be better spent buying a server and signing up with a datacenter directly. There is one major exception to this rule.

Dreamhost

Assuming hiring a system administrator makes no sense to you, Dreamhost’s Strictly Business Enhanced plan is definitely worth a mention:

  • They monitor all aspects of the server 24/7 at no charge, as well as email and mysql services
  • They handle all software and security management for you, at no charge
  • They handle all hardware replacement, at no charge
  • They keep your files on their redundant network attached storage, with hourly versioned backups
  • Your email and databases are hosted in a shared environment
  • You can use the Dreamhost web panel to handle your hosting account as usual

In other words, they take full responsibility for managing the server as if it were one of their own. The only difference for you is you’re alone on it. Dreamhost‘s offer is thus exactly what you’re looking for — and the only one of its kind I’m aware of.