Cloud Confusing

Explaining hosting, AWS, Wordpress, static sites, and all manner of cloud solutions.

In the market for budget WordPress hosting? The competition for your business is immense, but that doesn’t mean you — as a consumer — will benefit in the end. The hosting business is largely a race-to-the-bottom where price sensitivity has overtaken user experience. Any buyer must go into the purchase in a defensive mindset, with the full expectation that budget hosting is going to come with a few serious catches. This doesn’t mean you need to spend $35 a month to host a WordPress site, but go into the buying decision with your eyes open.

I’ve been looking for the cheapest way to host a small group of low-traffic WordPress sites, which means I’ve been knee-deep in the in the world of A2Hosting, HostGator, Bluehost, DreamHost, GoDaddy, SiteGround, and others. I initially assumed that if I did enough research I’d find the right host and everything would be OK. Today, I’m fairly certain that budget WordPress hosting is not worth the savings if you have any technical requirements for what you are doing or any real preference on features. This may seem obvious to you — sub-$10/month hosting of multiple sites is going to mean major tradeoffs — but it wasn’t completely obvious to me.

Note: Yes, I realize I wrote a guide about $5/month WordPress hosting on Amazon Lightsail but some of these hosts promise to accommodate WordPress sites for half that. Additionally, Lightsail requires some degrees of maintenance and manual supervision that I’d like to avoid if possible. Finally, Lightsail’s use of Bitnami means that a VPS instance is really designed for a single WordPresss site, not multiple ones even if the virtual machine’s specs could handle them.

Here’s a list of some of the players I’ve experimented with and what I see as their major issues. I have no doubt that each has thousands of satisfied customers, but that didn’t happen for me in the end.

DreamHost

DreamHost says they offer $2.59/month WordPress hosting. Sounds awesome, right? There seems to be no way to sign up for this, even if you get a 10-year pre-paid plan. Of course, deceptive pricing is the number one hallmark of budget hosting. Almost everyone does it, it’s just a matter of how egregious the various offenders are with it. Basically assuming that you are going to have to sign up for at least of year of service, with the money paid up-front.

I will say that in my attempts to find the promised sub-$3/month web hosting I accidentally restarted an old account. DreamHost was very nice about cancelling that re-activation and giving me a plan that almost matched those specs (the “Started Shared” 3-year plan at $2.95/month). This took manual intervention from their support team after I specifically asked about the plan, but it did happen.

Personally I feel that DreamHost’s admin toolset (for setting up your domain, etc.) is super confusing, enough to be a dealbreaker for me. If you can deal with it, this might be an OK route. I’ve used them in the past for low-traffic WordPress sites with no major problems.

SiteGround.com

This was the first place most people seem to turn to for budget WordPress hosting. Their GrowBig plan is about $68/year ($5.59/month) and supports multiple sites.

What killed this for me was that SiteGround was not playing nicely with Route 53 DNS. I know that sounds crazy, but I could not get the two to work together. The site was active with its shared IP at SiteGround and my DNS was setup in Amazon Route 53… but nothing worked. I gave it some time and waited for things to propagate, and still nothing. SiteGround support said I should wait and blamed Route 53. My Route 53 setup was no different than with any of my other sites, so I’m guessing something odd was happening in in my SiteGround setup. A second try with support yielded no solutions.

This was frustrating but I will revisit in the future as it doesn’t make sense to me.

EasyWP from NameCheap

EasyWP sounds like a cool service: $4/month per WordPress install. “Easy” is in the name, so what could go wrong? The setup, website, and documentation are all super clean. This looked promising.

EasyWP doesn’t support third-party domain names. Sure, NameCheap says it does, but what it supports is domain name forwarding. So if you are OK with MyWordpressSite.com forwarding to MyWordpresssSite.easywp.com, then you are fine. Otherwise you need to use a NameCheap registered domain.

So basically EasyWP is a perk for NameCheap users. That’s fine, but they should just make that more clear up front.

A2 Hosting

A2 offers what seems like an attractive package, but once you get started, it’s upgrade madness. Be prepared to be nickel-and-dimed to an impressive extent. Obviously these things are mostly optional, but they are priced so that they seem like no-brainers.

I started at the “Swift” plan which is said to be $4.95/month for unlimited WordPress sites. If you click that $4.95/month offer you’ll get this:

And you’ll quickly realized that to get the sub-$5/month pricing you’ll need to do a 36-month plan at $9.99/month and then apply the coupon code to get you to a base package of $176.22. Divide that by 36 and you get the promised pricing.

What are you missing? It’s time for add-ons!

Most of the above add-ons are optional, but A2 is all about speed so the extra CPU cores, CloudFlare, and RAM seem like reasonable options. But even if you don’t want those, you definitely need SSL, which means you might want to consider the dedicated IP for $4/month (they recommend it but it’s not necessary). You’ll definitely want backups, which are another $2/month. Not a fortune, but it all adds up.

And then there is the “Railgun” option. Awesome name, so you probably need this. But what the heck is it? A2 offers no explanation on the page. In their help docs A2 says:

“Railgun is a web optimization technology provided by Cloudflare that greatly speeds up delivery of non-cached web pages… Railgun speeds up serving this remaining 35% of web content by opening a secure, tunneled connection between the Cloudflare network and your host’s origin server.”

And then after that:

“In order to use Railgun, you must: Enable Cloudflare in cPanel. (You cannot use Railgun separately.) Use A2 Hosting’s name servers for your domain.”

OK, so Railgun is $2/month and Cloudflare is a separate option for $3/month, and you can’t use one without the other. Additionally you need to use A2’s name servers for this feature. This isn’t a dealbreaker, but $60/year seems like a lot for what seems to be a CDN with a cool name.

Cheap Hosting Comes at a High Price

As I wrote this article, I realized that these hosting solutions probably just weren’t the right thing for me. That doesn’t mean they are terrible, but I’m going into the deal with a number of requirements, and that’s just now how these business operate. If you have a lot of technical requirements, then you need a technical solution where you have a lot of control. I ultimately launched another site on Lightsail for $5, but I could have easily used a DigitalOcean droplet or something to that effect.

If I had wanted managed WordPress hosting — after all, my goal was to offload my problems to someone else — then providers like WPEngine, Flywheel, Pantheon, MediaTemple, and Kinsta offer a higher tier of service, a great feature sets, and improved customer service. For these options you are looking at spending more like $20/site/month, which isn’t terrible by any means, but I can’t help but be lured in by the thought of hosting sites for a fraction of that.

September 8th, 2018

Posted In: Web Development

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