I recently set out to migrate the UC Geek blog from Blogger to WordPress. Part of this process involved finding a suitable WordPress website hosting company. As a Microsoft professional I felt that Azure would be a great fit, however I soon changed my mind due to some of the restrictions in the platform, and WordPress’ wider support for Apache server when compared to IIS. Having a bit of experience with cPanel Linux hosting, I changed tack looking for a well-respected hosting company, with the key criteria of speed and support for CDN (content delivery network – I’ll talk further about this later). After reading many reviews I settled on my shortlist – SiteGround and MDDHosting. This article aims to pass on my experiences to you, so should you be in a similar position, you can make a more informed decision. Right let’s get in to it!
Like all the other web hosting companies I trialed, Azure offers a wizard based installation of WordPress making it super easy to get up and running fast! I found hosting on Azure reasonably quick, with page loads in about 4-6 seconds. Where it came unstuck was the many WordPress plugins that are built and tested only under Apache server, and some with requirements not possible in IIS. One of the main issues I came up against was the use of the .htaccess file – this is used extensively by security, SEO and redirection plugins, all of which were requirements for me. IIS is more that capable as a web server, however rather than a .htaccess, IIS uses a web.config file which no plugin I assessed could use. The plugins would still mostly work, however to use functionality that relies on the .htaccess file, would require you to manually update your web.config file. This was too hard basket stuff for me!
Azure charges you for resource use, so its difficult for me to assess what monthly costs might look like, however rough calculations would indicate Azure would be on the higher side.
On the support front I found Azure to be amazing. All the support tickets I logged were responded to in around 8 hours, and responses very thorough. One of these tickets was the best support experience I have ever had from Microsoft in my 10 year IT career, so well done!
SiteGround had great reviews and quickly made my shortlist for live testing. They have some great features specific for WordPress hosting, including special caching and compression, automatic staging site creation with managed merge back to live site, and integration to GitHub for source control. SiteGround have datacentres in the US, Europe and Singapore which is very flexible. My biggest issue was the site loading times. While not unreasonably slow, my blog saw load times of up to 9 seconds even with all their fancy caching and compression enabled. My aim was to have average loading times of under 5 seconds so this was a major problem for me.
SiteGrounds support is AMAZING! They answer tickets within minutes, and resolve within the following few. I logged around 10 tickets all with the same great experience, awesome stuff!
I tested SiteGrounds top WordPress plan GoGeek which is US$29.95 per month, however they offer a 50% discount on your first payment which can be from 1 month to 3 years hosting.
MDDHosting were also very highly rated and were my second choice on paper until I tested their service. They don’t offer all the fancy features that SiteGround does, however these where not so important to me, and were not really a driving factor in my decision making. Most importantly for me MDDHosting excelled in page loading times. Somehow MDDHosting achieves blazingly fast results at a quarter of the price!
MDD Hosting support is also second to none! All logged tickets (around 10 of them) were answered and actioned within minutes. I really don’t know how they do it! Very impressive!
I tested MDD Hostings Intermediate plan which is US$9.78 per month, or slightly less with a 15% discount for annual payments.
When I set out to find a web hosting provider it wasn’t my plan to write an article about it, so I have limited results to share. However you can be assured that I tested all providers thoroughly, repetitively and from different locations. I compared my UC Geek blog and the default WordPress install on SiteGround and MDDHosting. From the results below there is a clear winner, with MDD Hosting being 4-6 times faster even without all the specialised caching and compression techniques promoted by SiteGround. MDD Hosting wins by a country mile!
UC Geek Blog
Default WordPress Install
Test Archive – http://tools.pingdom.com/fpt/#!/dlzjOF/http://ucgeek.co
UC Geek Blog
Test Archive – http://tools.pingdom.com/fpt/#!/bL6heA/http://ucgeek.net
WordPress Default Install
Test Archive – http://tools.pingdom.com/fpt/#!/eJMJof/http://ucgeek.net/
Content Delivery Network (CDN)
In the introduction to this article I mentioned CDN – a simplistic way of looking at CDN is that its a global caching network with the aim of speeding up content delivery from your web site. Most of the cPanel providers I looked at support Cloudflare CDN out of the box, and it’s a simple as creating an account and linking it to your hosting provider via the cPanel control panel.
I only ended up testing CDN with SiteGround, and it didn’t give me any great improvement on the Cloudflare free plan. Also the free plan does not support bring your own SSL certificates, so if you want to do this like me, you will require an upgrade. For a not for profit blogger it just doesn’t make financial sense with the cheapest paid plan starting at US$20 per month.
All 3 contenders were well above average, but for my needs and my key focus on having very fast page load speeds, I decided to move my blog to MDDHosting. Their price and awesome support made the choice even easier! Additionally I made the call not to pursue CDN, because I felt the page loading speeds achieved with MDDHosting from locations all around the world, where good enough not to warrant the additional monthly expenditure. I hope that this article has been useful, and as always I am more than happy to answer any question you may have in the comments section below.