You can have the best WordPress website in the world, but without proper hosting it means nothing. WordPress is known for not being the speediest of systems, so a good host can help compensate a bit. Since this is a discussion I have pretty regularly, I figured it's worth posting.
Most people are reeled into the cheap hosting providers, especially since they are more well known and advertise just about everywhere. We'll go over the bad hosts, the good ones, and a couple budget hosting options.
HostGator, BlueHost, GoDaddy, and other EIG Hosting Options
I used to recommend HostGator religiously to clients and friends. Heck, even I had a reseller account with them just in case I needed to throw a small site up there in a pinch. At under $5 a month this hosting plan was a steal and I never had a problem with them… until I did.
Congestion and slower response time has always been an issue with shared hosts. You can't expect a blazing fast website while paying little to nothing. However, you should expect at the very least a basic level of support and a stable secure website.
In 2016, we had a couple clients' sites get hacked. It happens from time to time and is inevitable in the WordPress world since you have so many third-party plugins that clients can install themselves and create security vulnerabilities. The timing on them was close enough to unnerve me a bit though. And then the sites were hacked again… and again.
Was it something I did? Maybe a plugin I was using that was being exploited? But then we got a few brand new clients all around the same time with complaints of hacked websites. I was comparing all these websites to find a plugin, WordPress version, or anything that was consistent enough to create a loophole for hackers. And then the obvious hit me in the side of the head; all these sites were hosted on HostGator.
We cleaned up any hacked files one last time, cleaned the databases, changed the HostGator billing and login passwords, and the websites were not hacked thereafter. HostGator data leaks seem to be commonplace and a quick search will show that at least once incidence like this seems to pop up annually.
The final breaking point was dealing with an incompetent support staff member at the company. We were having trouble on a client's website sending and receiving from the PayPal IPN and had no way of processing orders. I identified an outdated cURL library as the culprit and after spending 3 hours waiting on support, I asked if it was possible to upgrade this outdated library. Not only was the support person extremely rude, but he also tried to upsell us claiming that we needed to purchase an SSL certificate since PayPal required one to connect to their IPN. Talking with PayPal directly and a quick Google search will show that you do not need an SSL.
Looking on HostGator's own website you can confirm the versions they're using and quickly realize that most of the software used is outdated and full of vulnerabilities. It seems like most of their system has not been updated since 2009. Aside from the obvious performance and functionality problems this creates, the potential security issues should be enough to sway you away from this host.
EIG owns most of the hosting companies and my advice is to stay as far away from this company as possible. Cheap hosting is very tempting, but you really get what you pay for in this arena. Poor service, bad security, and congested newtorks.
WPEngine is our go-to recommendation for WordPress hosting. Disclaimer: we do get a commission if users sign up though this link (which helps us keep our doors open :)), but have been recommending them to clients long before we even knew about the commission.
They aren't the cheapest host around, but they're also very reasonably priced at around $29 a month. What makes them great is that they are focused purely on WordPress. So while they have a pretty decent server in terms of speed, everything is configured to work with WordPress. Their caching is really great and works out of the box with most WordPress plugins. It's a far better choice than the usual WordPress caching plugins thrown on top of WordPress websites.
From a development point of view, they have a pre-configured git deployment process that makes pushing changes to sites quick and painless. You can also setup a snapshot of the production site on a staging server and migrate changes back and forth to avoid interruptions on the main site. While we hit a few bugs with this back when they were still ironing out the kinks, this process is a huge productivity boost and lessens the chance that you break an active production site.
But what makes this such a great host is the premium support you get. I've never waited longer than 2 minutes to get in touch with a support rep and they've always been quick to help, even if the problem is not on their end.
It's pretty cheap to get your own VPS or dedicated server now. Linode and DigitalOcean are both really great choices and will let you spin up your own server for as little as $5 a month, while most people will probably end up around $20 a month depending on storage and speed needed.
There are very few restrictions placed on these servers, so you can add any type of caching programs you want, any version of PHP, and any other libraries you want. It's also one of the fastest and most scalable hosting options you can pick. If you're planning on running a lot of traffic to your website, look no further.
The big downside to one of these options is that if you aren't a developer, you're going to need help. You get handed a blank server and get to configure it to your liking, but this isn't something you can do in 5 minutes (or at all if you aren't familiar with sysadmin). Aside from the initial setup, if something goes wrong you're on your own. Obviously if it's a hardware issue with your server, they'll fix it. But they provide no assistance if you break your own code or server configuration.
Budget hosting options
I don't think hosting is an area anyone should be cutting corners, but if you are convinced you need to or just have a personal blogging website, then you still have a couple options. Nexcess WordPress hosting comes in around $12 a month and has some of the most stable shared hosting around. Siteground is another that remains independent from EIG with fairly positive reviews and with prices as low as $4 a month you can't get much lower.
If I had to pick between the two, I'd definitely lean towards Nexcess. Aside from better speed and support, I don't think $4 a month is sustainable for a good host without overcrowding their shared server space. But the most important thing you can do if you choose a budget host is to avoid the massive list of hosts that are owned by EIG.
Hosting itself is a business expense and I for one take business seriously. It may be smart to reduce expenses in some areas of your business, but it's generally pretty unwise to cut yourself short for a few extra bucks on hosting.
Having your website go down or losing customers due to load times is not worth it and will cost you way more than the hosting itself. Picking a good host is the first step towards creating a great website.
If you have any questions on hosts or comments, feel free to leave them below!