I have been involved in website hosting since 1995. I’ve worked for organizations and companies who hosted their own sites. I’ve had clients with Virtual Private Servers (VPS) for site hosting. I’ve used shared hosting for personal websites, the websites of family members, and for a small non-profit. From that experience, here are a few things that might be of relevance for people looking for WordPress hosting solutions.
How much server administration can you do?
A dedicated server or a VPS means that you are doing everything yourself. Do you have the time to install, secure, maintain, backup, etc a server? Do you have the expertise or the dedication to learn to do so? It will be a lot of work, especially at first, and with all of the constant bad-guy scanning for vulnerabilities, it is crucial that your server is secured and kept up to date. If you want to go this route, something like Linode or Digital Ocean are pretty cost effective.
You can get a “Managed VPS” or managed server, where the host does much of the routine work for you, but that is more expensive.
I suspect that many people looking for WordPress hosting don’t want to do a lot of server and network administration, which would typically lead to shared hosting.
How many sites and how many site administrators?
If you are going to have more than one site and/or more than one site admin then you want to keep in mind that the least expensive shared hosting cPanel accounts will only have one login. Note here I am not talking about a WordPress admin, but rather about someone who can use FTP, setup the database with cPanel, or other similar tasks outside of WordPress. If you are the owner of the account then you probably don’t want to share that login and control with someone else. I found that site5 has a nice, economical MultiAdmin dashboard for managing sites, and each site under it has their own login.
How much traffic?
Everyone hopes to have a ton of traffic, but how much traffic do you really have? Another related question, what happens if you suddenly get a popular article on the home page of Reddit or Slashdot or another major site?
Even on a dedicated server or VPS, there are bandwidth usage limits. From my experience, Linode allows you to instantly scale up or down your plan. Other hosts may have similar features. Ask before signing up.
If you are going for shared hosting, what happens if you get a big spike in traffic? Ask you host before signing up, because you don’t want your site to go offline at the moment of success. Siteground says they will not shut you down or throttle you if that happens. In my experience, that is a fairly rare policy for hosting companies.
What about PHP versions and SSL certificates?
WordPress is pretty tolerating when it comes to PHP versions, but plugins may require newer versions of PHP. Also, now that PHP 7 is available, you can get a nice speed boost by using it. Of course, if you setup and control the server yourself, you control what version of PHP is used. Hosting providers, generally, tend to be pretty cautious about installing the latest and greatest, and PHP 7, for instance, is just starting to be offered with some shared hosting plans. I’ve found that often there is a simple way to set the PHP version for your site from within cPanel, but sometimes you might have to select a particular server from those available if you need a particular version of PHP.
Getting an SSL certificate for a site used to be expensive. Google now gives some page rank priority to sites that have SSL (if you can about search rank). Also, SSL is required if you want to do any e-commerce and should be used, at least for account management, if you want to have a multi-user site.
While SSL certificates used to be very expensive, Let’s Encrypt now offers free SSL certificates. This service is sponsored by a number of high profile tech companies, including Automattic, who runs WordPress.com and provides support for WordPress.org. Let’s Encrypt SSL certificates seem geared towards small and medium sized sites. I’ve installed them from the command line and the process is very straightforward … if you follow the instructions carefully.
I use Siteground for my WordPress hosting and have been very happy with the support and range of options available. They offer both PHP 7 and it also offers free Let’s Encrypt SSL certificates integrated from within cPanel (no command line).