Shared, VPS, Dedicated or Cloud Hosting? Which is Best for WordPress?

Shared, VPS, Dedicated or Cloud Hosting? Which is Best for WordPress?

There are so many different types of hosting that it can be overwhelming to choose the right one for your WordPress site, but at the same time, it just means there are enough options so you can choose the perfect fit.

Speaking personally, when it comes to WordPress, I reckon your own Linux server is usually the best bet.

But when you either don’t have the necessary expertise to set that up or just want a far, far easier life, it’s time to choose a hosting plan. Your main options are shared, virtual private server (VPS), dedicated and cloud hosting as well as using a content delivery network (CDN).

And while WordPress technically works with any of these options, some are better than others especially when you have a specific project in mind.

Picking the right one is all about knowing the difference between each of these, their strengths and weaknesses when it comes to performance as well as just how much “WordPress” these hosting types can handle. So, let’s dive right into all of this now and find out which option is right for you.

An illustration of an octopus juggling puzzle pieces under the sea.
Shared hosting juggles everyone’s sites on one server.

Shared Hosting

When a hosting company sets up a server and adds an account to it, one for each of their customers, while also packing as many customer accounts on the server as possible, it’s called shared hosting. Each customer manages all their sites on their account.

This also means each customer has to share the space and resources of the server together and each person only has access to a tiny part of the server. The part you would have access to is also limited.

It’s like sharing a house with all your college buddies where you all have to share the same amenities and space. It’s affordable which is great while you’re studying and only have a part-time job to support you, but at some point, you may outgrow it and need your own place.

Pros

Shared hosting can still be a great option for certain WordPress sites. Some of it’s greatest strong points are:

  • It’s the most affordable choice, often as little as $5 per month
  • The security and maintenance of the server are managed for you
  • Most of the tools you need are already installed for you
  • It’s quick to get started and easier to use than the other options

If you ever run into troubles on a shared hosting plan, you can contact your hosting company’s support team and they can handle just about any issue you have so you don’t need to worry about being technically proficient in being a site or system admin.

Cons

While it’s a lot easier to get started with shared hosting, there are also a lot of downsides:

  • Security is not guaranteed – Since you don’t know your server neighbors, they may not be taking the same security measures as you and if they get hacked, it could lead to compromising the entire server and everything on it including your site. If you don’t have a dedicated IP address, your site could be blacklisted because of a different site on the server since you would be sharing an IP address.
  • You have limited access to settings – With shared hosting, you often don’t have root access, some files are hidden from view and you may not be able to access advanced settings. For example, if you run out of PHP memory or you want to stress test your site to be prepared for traffic spikes, you won’t be able to resolve this on your own.
  • Your site shares important resources – Since you’re sharing the server with many people, this means you’re sharing resources such as bandwidth. If many sites on the server suddenly get tons of traffic, it creates a bottle neck and since there’s not enough bandwidth to go around, your site may become unavailable to your visitors intermittently.
  • It’s not unlimited – Many hosting companies have “unlimited” shared hosting plans which sounds like they don’t put a cap on the resources you can use, but if you check their terms of service, this is definitely not the case. When the hosting company decides you’re using too many resources on the server, they could shut down your site.

When It’s the Best Fit

While the cons to shared hosting may be enough to make many WordPress users steer clear, there may be a time when it would work best for your site. If you find you only need to install a couple plugins and a couple pages for your site while also not expecting loads of traffic for a long period of time, this may be the best fit for you.

For example, if you’re creating a site to share a few details about an upcoming wedding such as the date, time and location or you want to share blog updates to your family and friends, then shared hosting can work for you.

Since you wouldn’t be expecting a lot of traffic at any time and you don’t need a robust site in these situations, shared hosting is usually enough.

A few hands raised in the air.
You’re sharing a server with less people on VPS hosting than on shared.

Virtual Private Servers (VPS)

Similar to shared hosting, you’re still sharing a server when you choose a VPS, but there aren’t nearly as many customers allocated to the server.

While you’re still sharing resources and space, everyone gets a larger slice of the pie.

It’s similar to renting your own apartment instead of living in a house with all your friends. You have your own private part of the building, just as you would on a server with VPS hosting.

There are also two main kinds of VPS hosting: Managed and unmanaged. Managed VPS hosting means that your hosting company takes care of a lot of the work that goes into maintaining the server including security, setting up the tools you need to run your site and setting up other services you need.

On the other hand, unmanaged VPS hosting means you’re responsible for all these areas and you likely won’t get much help from your hosting’s technical support if you run into troubles.

Pros

There are many reasons to choose a VPS hosting plan:

  • You have more allocated resources – Since you’re renting a larger portion of the server, you get access to a lot more of the server’s resources than shared hosting.
  • You have access to all settings – In most cases, you should have root access, be able to view all hidden files and have access to all settings. If there’s something you don’t have access to, your hosting company is more likely to make an adjustment for you, unlike shared hosting.
  • It’s a lot more scalable – Much of the time, you can upgrade your plan if you find you need more resources without having to migrate your site to a whole new server as opposed to shared hosting which has a set limit.
  • In most cases, VPS hosting is still fairly affordable, although, certainly not as inexpensive as shared hosting. It’s common to see a plan for an average of about $100 per month.

Cons

While you have a lot more freedom, there are also some important points you should consider before jumping right in:

  • Security is still not guaranteed – Since you’re still sharing a server, your site may still be affected by what other people on the server do, especially if they get hacked.
  • You’re still sharing a server – Even though you’re sharing with far less people, you’re still sharing which means you may not have access to all the resources such as bandwidth that you need.
  • You may not get as much help from technical support, especially if you choose an unmanaged plan.

When It’s the Best Fit

If you want to run one or more sites that each need to have multiple pages and plugins installed, a VPS is usually a good solution. If you’re also planning on having thousands of visitors a month, then this is also a good fit. It’s also roomy enough to run Multisite well.

To give you a better idea of what kind of WordPress site you could setup with VPS hosting, here a few examples:

  • A new company that requires a fairly complex site, but doesn’t expect to grow too rapidly
  • A photography site or blog with plans on posting tons of photos on a regular basis
  • A site that needs to run custom scripts and plugins

VPS hosting is also a good solution if your site is going to be viewed by more than a handful of people since it can typically handle a lot more traffic than shared hosting plans.

A developer's mind full of code.
Dedicated servers are all about you.

Dedicated Servers

When you sign up for a dedicated server, you’re renting an entire server on your own. You’re not sharing with anyone and you have full reign over the server and it’s resources. You can make just about any change to your server that you want.

Having a dedicated server is a lot like living in a house where you’re the only resident and you can decorate your house the way you want, but you’re also responsible for repairs.

Many hosting companies also provide managed and unmanaged dedicated servers just as with VPSes.

Pros

There are many great reasons to choose a dedicated server:

  • You’re not sharing the server – All the resources are yours. You can let only the people you want to be admins into your server or you can create a reseller account and allow others to host their sites on your server if you wanted.
  • Access to all settings – Nothing’s held back. You have full control over your site and server including root access and all the otherwise hidden files and advanced settings.
  • A bit more secure – While security can’t really ever be guaranteed, since you’re the only one on your server, you don’t have to worry about your site being compromised because of another customers’ actions. You can implement all the proper security measures and run a tight ship where there’s less of a chance that security is compromised because of outside influences you can’t control.

Cons

While a dedicated server brings a lot of freedom to your site, there are some downsides:

  • You’re solely responsible for your server – If something goes wrong, it’s on you and it’s up to you to fix it.
  • It’s not scalable – The resources you get can’t be changed unless you migrate to a bigger server. You can’t suddenly create more space, bandwidth or other resources.
  • Less affordable option – Dedicated servers aren’t nearly as affordable as VPSes. You should be prepared to spend more than $100 per month and can cost as much as $500 per month for larger servers.

When It’s the Best Fit

Dedicated servers are a better option for sites that require more security and are complex with many pages and plugins installed. It’s also a good option for running a social media site with BuddyPress or bbPress. You can also run Multisite with ease, even if there are many sites within a network.

Ultimately, it depends on the size of your server, but in most cases, they’re pretty large unless the price is on the lower end of the scale, in which case, it may be similar to a VPS in terms of resources.

The biggest thing to consider is that you won’t be able to add more resources down the line if you suddenly see a consistent growth in traffic and you become more popular. If you don’t have enough resources, your site could go down in this case. Similarly, if you upload a lot of content and plugins, and find you run out of space, the only options are to click the delete button or choose a different hosting service.

Still, dedicated servers can be great for developers who want to host their own clients’ sites or for companies and sites who have outgrown their VPS hosting. It’s also a great option for hosting hundreds of thousands of blogs using Multisite or if you have a similar number of members on your social media site using BuddyPress.

An illustration of a cloud opening and files are pouring out.
You’re not as limited with cloud hosting and CDN.

Cloud and CDN Solutions

Cloud hosting is different from the other hosting solutions already covered because it’s usually used to describe a cluster of servers rather than just one.

Content is also stored redundantly.

This means that if you suddenly need more resources, your site can be automatically migrated to allot you the resources you need. If you suddenly get a spike of traffic, your site won’t go down due to exhausted resources since you’re given what you need.

On the other hand, a content delivery network (CDN) uses servers located around the world to store cached versions of your site so it loads quickly for everyone no matter which country they’re in – unlike a single server that’s optimized to serve your site best in the country where your server is located.

Both are similar in that they make use of multiple servers, but cloud hosting is the only one that can store and serve up a dynamic version of your site. You also often have to share resources similar to shared or VPS hosting, but because there are more servers involved, this also means that there are a lot more resources for everyone as well.

Cloud hosting like living in a house, but occasionally going to your summer home when you feel overworked and need a break. A CDN is like keeping a photo album of your house in your summer home so you and your guests can peruse it at your leisure.

Pros

Cloud hosting and CDNs are gaining steam fast. They’re even quickly becoming the norm and for good reason:

  • Scalable – If you suddenly need more resources or access to more bandwidth, you can automatically get it.
  • Flexible Pricing – With cloud hosting you pay only for what you actually use and many CDN companies have similar plans.
  • Redundancy and rapid deployment – Your sites load faster and since your site can be automatically migrated when more resources are needed, your site is a lot less likely to go down. With cloud hosting, you also get the feature of redundancy – you can clone your site on other environments to further reduce downtime.

It varies, but many hosting companies grant you full access to most of the server settings you need. Sometimes, it depends on the type of plan you get. Also, many CDN solutions offer firewall and other security features including SSL certificates to increase overall security.

Cons

While there are many benefits to using cloud hosting and CDNs, there are some downsides:

  • Security isn’t guaranteed for cloud hosting – Since you’re still sharing resources, your site may be affected by what happens to other sites using cloud hosting.
  • CDNs only display static sites – Most WordPress sites are dynamic so in most cases, a CDN won’t do much when it comes to speeding up your site’s front end, but the back end’s speed it usually improved significantly.
  • Learning curve – Cloud hosting isn’t an easy solution to set up and can often be difficult for even technically-minded developers. It’s not impossible, but also not for beginners. CDNs are often incredibly easy to set up, but navigating the options may be a bit more challenging when it comes to getting the right balance for dynamic WordPress sites.

When It’s the Best Fit

Almost any WordPress site can benefit from a CDN other than simple sites with a small audience. You can also check out our CloudFlare review for more details about their free CDN service as well as some of the benefits and drawbacks of using a CDN. Larger WordPress sites or networks could also benefit greatly from using cloud hosting, especially if they can boast tons of content and traffic.

Huge companies and institutions such as Netflix, Airbnb and NASDAQ use cloud hosting. If your site is as big as any of these, then you should consider cloud hosting as your best option.

You can also check out some of our other articles for more details about cloud hosting and CDNs: Moving WordPress Media To The Cloud With Amazon S3 and CDN77 Review: A User-Friendly CDN for WordPress Faster Than Amazon CloudFront.

Our Recommendation

Unless you want to build a small site that is going to stay small indefinitely, the best option for startups and small businesses is usually VPS hosting. For larger companies, networks and social media sites, a dedicated server or cloud hosting is the better fit.

If you’re just starting your site, you may not want to go with the smallest or biggest solution. If you think too small, it may be difficult to upgrade later, but if you think too big, you may be stuck with a hefty bill for resources you’re not going to be using for quite some time.

No matter your choice, it’s a good idea to plan a route for scalability. As your site grows, if you have a plan on how to easily upgrade your resources, it’s that much easier to ease into the transition without much or any downtime.

It’s also important to note that each hosting and CDN company may have their own custom hosting plans so it’s best to check with them to find out exactly what you’re getting when you sign up.

You can also check out some of our hosting reviews for more details on different plans and their performance: WP Engine Managed Hosting Review: Feature-Packed and Hard to FaultSiteGround Managed Hosting Review: Excellent Support, Not Really for WordPressPagely Managed WordPress Hosting Review: Solid Service, Shaky Communication,  GoDaddy Managed WordPress Hosting Review: Budget Hosting, Poor Features, and Kinsta Managed Hosting Review: Blazingly Fast and Solid Features.

What type of hosting do you use for your WordPress site or network? Which hosting or CDN company would you recommend and what's your experience with them? Share your experience in the comments below.