Guide to Building a Small Business Site With WordPress Pt. 2: How to Select Hosting

If you’re following our guide for setting up your small business site with WordPress, then you’ve already checked out Part 1 and have clearly outlined your goals for creating your website. Now you’re ready to start purchasing the necessary tools for operating your business. Your next step is to select quality hosting for your WordPress site.

Clients often ask me what the difference is between owning a domain and purchasing hosting. I like to think of it like digital real estate. Your domain is the address where visitors can find your website. Selecting a domain name, though not covered in this guide, is something you’ll want to do before purchasing hosting. Hosting is the actual land on which your website lives. Space on the internet is not free, but it can be pretty darn cheap. How cheap is too cheap? We’ll address that in this guide.

When looking at options for WordPress hosting, selecting from among the hosts who claim to provide it can be overwhelming and even a little intimidating. There’s a great deal of phoney marketing to navigate through in order to find quality and reliability, especially with so many hosts who seem to offer “unlimited” everything. Here’s a basic primer to help you start the process of selecting a host. You’ll be able to narrow it down considerably if you follow these guidelines.

WordPress Hosting Guidelines:

The Basics: WordPress Minimum Hosting Requirements

You can run WordPress on both Windows and Linux hosting, but you’ll find that Linux is usually cheaper and you’re also more likely to get WordPress-specific help when you need it. Other minimum requirements include:

  • PHP 4.3 or greater
  • MySQL 4.1.2 or greater
  • The mod_rewrite Apache module

Important Considerations When Selecting a WordPress Host:

Tip 1: Beware of the All-You-Can-Eat Buffet Hosts

Many shared hosting providers will advertise unlimited databases, unlimited bandwidth, and unlimited disk space. At first glance this seems like the best way to go. However, you must understand that thousands of other websites are also taking advantage of this unlimited buffet all on the same server. That means that you’re bound to have overloaded, overtaxed servers that cannot deliver the uptime that they are promising. A small business cannot afford to have a website with unpredictable outages, and that is exactly what you will get. If you complain to your host, chances are that they will apologize for the server and offer to move you to another one. This will also cause more down time for your site. A site that fails to pull up for its visitors gives off a very unprofessional impression.

Tip 2: Regular Backups Can Save Your Business From a Digital Disaster

Look for a host that provides regular remote backups for your site. Otherwise you’ll need to be able to easily set up backups so that a server outage doesn’t completely wipe out your site’s data.

Tip 3: Permissions Can Be Critical to How Your Site Operates – Get all the Freedom You Can Afford

Make sure that you can have access to your .htaccess file. This is absolutely crucial for WordPress SEO, because it gives you the ability to rewrite URL’s to be more friendly. You’ll also want to be able to manipulate your file and folder permissions as needed by plugins. If you have to call your host every time you want to change permissions, then you’ll be spending a lot of time on hold with support. You’ll want to have GD library installed or access to your server to install it, as it handles the creation of thumbnails and graphics for many WordPress themes. Check to be sure that your host can support it. Depending on the needs of your site, you may need shell access to your server, which can be very useful in situations such as backing up a large database or moving large files.

Summary of WordPress Hosting Guidelines:

Must Haves (The bare bones):

  • PHP 4.3 or greater
  • MySQL 4.1.2 or greater
  • The mod_rewrite Apache module

Critical Items to Look For:

  • Access to .htaccess file and ability to change file/folder permissions
  • GD Library Support
  • Regular remote backups
  • Ability to create multiple MySQL databases
  • Shell Access
  • Ability to create cron jobs

Depending on what kind of site you’re hosting, your business may require more server resources than a standard WordPress blog. These type of situations generally include WordPress + eCommerce, sites including many video files and streaming requirements, sites offering free or paid downloads, WordPress Multi-Site networks, highly active BuddyPress communities, and sites running custom web applications. If you don’t know what you’re going to need, talk to the developer building your site and get his recommendations.

Shared Hosting vs. VPS vs. Dedicated Server

What’s the difference? Here’s a quick overview:

Shared hosting is by far the most economical but somewhat unreliable. In a shared hosting situation your site will be on the same server with hundreds or possibly thousands of other websites, all sharing in a pool of server resources. You will have significantly fewer freedoms available to you and virtually no control of how your server is managed. Speed and uptime often suffer with shared hosting

VPS (Virtual Private Server) hosting is a split server where each user can run his own operating system in complete privacy but with guaranteed bandwidth, CPU resources, disk space, memory, etc. VPS hosting offers more security, the ability to install applications as needed, flexible configurations, and more opportunities to scale your site gracefully. Users have root access to their own virtual space.

A Dedicated Server is not shared with anyone else and is the most flexible solution with full administrative access to the box. Most small businesses will not require a dedicated server, but if the nature of your business involves heavy internet traffic and supporting custom applications, you may want to look into it.

To play it safe, a small business should never select anything less than VPS hosting. There are some quality shared hosts out there, but they’re usually hit and miss and depend largely on how overloaded (read oversold) the server is where they put your website. Remember that this also affects the email addresses associated with your domain, unless you have email hosted somewhere else. You simply cannot afford to have your email and your site go down if you are a small business hoping to be competitive in today’s market.

Changing your hosting can be a huge pain and may cost you if you don’t know how to move your site yourself. It’s important to do your research upfront and make a decision based on the current needs of your business with options to scale. If you have questions beyond the scope of this guide, feel free to ask here in the comments.