As security and performance on WordPress sites become more technically complex, the trend is growing for bloggers to want more management in their hosting. But, all managed hosts are not the same.
Discover the critical differences in how hosts use the term “managed” and what you’re really purchasing.
What Does Managed Mean?
Almost every host now advertises that they offer managed hosting.
But what, exactly, does that mean?
It could include anything from just managing the server where your site files are stored all the way up to do-it-all for you site services.
Well, that’s a HUGE range!!!
Following are a few examples of the radically different types of managed hosting.
The most common use of the term “managed hosting” refers to the host managing the server where your site files reside.
Just like your computer, servers consist of both hardware and software that need to be maintained and updated.
So, in this case, managed hosting means that the host takes care of the server and you take care of your site.
This basic type of server managed hosting is usually also the cheapest, as it’s a no-frills service.
If you have an issue with the hosting, you would call host support to help.
- The site being down
- SSL certificate issue
- Setting up domain-related email through the host
- Adding DNS records, as the host is your DNS zone manager
But, if you have issues with your WordPress site, you would not want to call the host for support.
Server-managed hosts know hosting, not WordPress.
Of course, this doesn’t keep many of them from trying to help.
I make a pretty good living cleaning up the type of unqualified help this type of host gives you for site issues.
And if you run into resource overages, server-managed hosts are not likely to be able to help you find the cause unless it is security related, like a DDoS attack
Instead, they will advise that you purchase a bigger hosting package.
(Other resource overages are caused by things like resource hog plugins, backups being stored on the site, running out of disk space due to huge image files, etc.)
You may also be entirely responsible for taking your own backups with server-managed hosts.
(Having your own backup that is stored off the host is a good idea anyway. See my Backup Checklist for more)
Most hosts will have their own backups, but they are not guaranteed, even if you pay for them. (Read the fine print at your host and you’ll see that’s true.)
You’ll also be responsible for your own site updates (WordPress, theme, and plugins) and other regular maintenance.
And you’ll be responsible for all speed and security for your site.
But the good news is, with this type of server-managed host, you have no restrictions on what you can do with your site, meaning you can run any kind of theme or plugin you want.
The host generally offers an extensive control panel for you to access the hosting side of your site too.
And since this type of hosting is so much cheaper, it is particularly appealing to new bloggers.
Bluehost, HostGator, and other EIG owned hosts are examples of race-to-the-bottom pricing for server-managed hosting at this level.
Better Server-Managed Hosting
However, that is not to say that other hosts who simply advertise as managed hosts, but have zero restrictions, are in that race-to-the-bottom price class.
Far from it!!!
NameHero is a good example of a server-managed hosting that has zero restrictions, but has super fast hosting and hero support. They also have better security allowances than EIG owned hosts, meaning you can implement full security measures.
And they are more forgiving if you occasionally have a post go viral and use up more of your hosting resources for a day.
Now, if running over in resources a consistent issue due to a resource hog plugin gone wild, they may be able to help you identify it too.
The key with this type of hosting is that you do have a little sweat equity in keeping up with host-side changes that affect your site and implementing them. A good example is updating your PHP level. As long as you have someone like me to explain it in plain English and show you what to click, you can very easily do this yourself.
Keeping up with these types of changes takes 15 minutes a week by reading Tips Tuesday.
Pseudo Managed Hosting
What I mean by pseudo managed is that this type of host not only manages the server where your site files reside, it also manages parts of your site maintenance, performance, and security.
That’s a key point – they manage some site things, not all.
And every host that offers this middle way is different.
SiteGround is a pseudo managed host.
SiteGround offers extra performance features like server-side caching and their SG Optimizer, which is basically a rip-off of WP Rocket type caching and optimization. (And it’s to make up for their slower server setup too.)
But, SiteGround also inserts themselves as a middle man in undesirable ways too, like taking control of your WordPress updates. This became a huge mess in the months leading up to the release of WordPress 5.0 with Gutenberg. Major changes were coming in minor releases and SiteGround auto updated folks, even though those releases had bugs, which resulted in broken sites.
They also have a WP Management System that does not allow you to gain full access to the new Site Health Check features that are natively rolling into WordPress. That’s because they are controlling some of those features for you and need you to do things their way.
But, some pseudo managed hosts may also offer better support for WordPress site issues.
UPDATE: SiteGround has dropped WordPress Support as of Fall 2020
And they usually want you to rely on them for backups and 3rd party integration with things like Cloudflare. All of those things will be more limited than if you did them yourself, though.
Plus, they may offer extended features in their control panel to access and manage features on the server side of your site too. The drawback here is that because they have made that tool available to you, support is likely to send you a KnowledgeBase article on how you can do it, rather than them taking care of it for you.
So, pseudo managed hosts take care of some things for you, but certainly not everything, like plugin updates or additional site security (because the security at the host is not enough).
And while they may also offer performance enhancements, they are not going to help you find the real causes of speed drags or resource hogs on your site.
This type of hosting is generally more expensive too, and may have some restrictions on what you can do with your site.
Or worse, if you follow advice from others on how to fully maintain or speed up your site, you could run into direct conflicts with the way the host has things set up for you.
The other issue you will run into with this type of host, especially SiteGround, is a hard ceiling on resource usage. If you go over, your site goes down.
Almost Fully Managed
Once reserved to the high-priced, boutique hosting sector, this has become the fastest growing type of hosting industry, and with good reason.
An almost-fully-managed host offers more of a finely-tuned server package for WordPress sites that is somewhat restrictive in what you can access and do on the backend of your site.
Lyrical Hosting is a good example of this almost-fully-managed hosting.
They were built by WordPress users for WordPress users.
The servers are specifically tweaked to run WordPress sites as fast as possible and site owners are discouraged from deviating from that setup in any way.
Access to the backside server functions is also limited, as a way to curtail tweaking that may conflict with their setup.
The good news is that you can contact support for anything, and I do mean anything.
They have qualified folks to help with both hosting and site concerns.
This type of hosting is more expensive simply because they offer so much more in the way of support.
And it caters directly to hands-off site owners who still want to run WordPress but don’t want to concern themselves at all with the tech side of things and want to call the host for every little bump in the road.
What almost-fully-managed hosts don’t do are regular updates. And they may or may not offer more security or server-side backups.
Since there is no standardization from host to host, you really need to ask a lot of questions about what you’re getting with this type of hosting package, as all of them will be different.
FYI, Lyrical Hosting’s servers are in the UK and they deliver the site around the globe via a CDN network that is substantially smaller than Cloudflare. While they can switch you to Cloudflare (or you can get your own account so that it can be fully optimized for better security), that does nothing to speed up admin access when you are logged in. So, if you are U.S. based, expect the backside to run slower than with a U.S. based server.
Lyrical also has a unique custom setup. You are discouraged from goofing with it, or hiring a 3rd party site speed person like me to make changes to it. In fact, they lock you out of seeing some critical areas of improvement for just this reason. And their free speed assessment is worth what you pay for it.
If you move away from Lyrical, they do not put your site back to standard first. You will need an experienced support person to do a manual migration and undo that setup once it is on the new host. (I have such folks at NameHero who are very well versed in this type of migration.)
BigScoots has three levels of server packages. Their shared hosting is pretty much like NameHero in that it is fast, and you can access everything without restrictions.
The mid-level at BigScoots is WordPress Optimized. It has a custom setup and restrictions on what you can access and change.
BigScoots also offers bigger packages, such as VPS, which also fall into this almost-fully-managed category where there is a custom setup and restrictions on what you can access and change.
The key to hosting like this is that they are filling a need in the industry for bloggers who are self-taught with WordPress and want the host to take care of more of the backside stuff, plus be there to support every little thing for both hosting and WordPress.
You pay more to have qualified WordPress help and the extra services.
Fully Managed Hosting
In my opinion, WPEngine sets the bar for what a fully managed host should be.
They take care of nearly everything for you including regular WordPress core updates and backups.
They also have knowledgeable support for any site concern with the hosting or WordPress.
But, they also have the most restrictions for both backside hosting access as well as what plugins you can run on your site.
Basically, they don’t want you poking around the backside at all, so they lock you out of accessing most of it. Instead, they prefer you contact them to do whatever is needed.
And they have a pretty long list of resource hog plugins that you can’t run on your site. That includes running your own backup. They take care of that for you.
Plus, they have a hard ceiling on resource usage. And that’s not a pleasant thing to discover if one of your posts suddenly goes viral and you have to purchase a bigger hosting package to accommodate it.
This is usually the most expensive type of hosting and is suitable for site owners who want hosting and some routine maintenance rolled into one package, plus the ability to call the host for anything.
While not necessarily true at all fully managed hosting, the WPEngine setup is so unique that if you want to move from another host, you’ll need to ask them to put your site back to standard setup first.
Do It All Hosting
There are two types of do-it-all-hosting.
The latest trend in self-hosted WordPress hosting is to offer a total package with all manner of extra goodies.
WPEngine purchased Genesis/StudioPress for this reason.
Not only do you get hosting and some maintenance, but you also get access to all StudioPress themes for free.
Other hosts are starting to move in this direction, and rumor has it that even some page builder companies may be moving into hosting to compete in this market.
This is generally the most expensive type of hosting because there are so many extras and perks, plus complete hands-off site maintenance.
The other type of do-it-all hosting is from vendors like Wix and Weebly. Even though Blogger has been offering this type of hosting for a long time, Wix and Weebly have a newer, easier drag-and-drop interface plus lots of themes that reflect current styles and trends.
Which Managed Host is Best?
There is no such thing as a single best host.
There is, however, a best host for your needs.
My site audit clients are non-techies. But, they are educated in how to DIY their sites. And they rarely to never need to call the host for anything. Plus, they want security and speed that is customized to their site, not the generic setup offered by nearly-fully managed. For those reasons a server-managed host is the best fit.
For coaches/consultants who just need an online brochure, something like Weebly or Wix is a good choice as a do-it-all hosting service. WordPress is really not the best fit for this type of site owner.
For beginner to medium size WordPress site owners, a almost-fully-managed host that is fast and has good support is likely the best fit. The host gives you a generic speed and security setup that is better than what you get at sever-managed, and they may take care of some things for you like PHP updates and such.
For big sites that are generating a substantial income, either a server-managed host with superior speed and support, and then paying for private monthly maintenance may be the best way to go. Or, move up to a fully managed host.
The one type of host I don’t think is the best fit is the pseudo managed hosts, and here’s why.
This puts site owners in a gray area of not fully understanding what the host is doing for them and what they should do for themselves. Too often a site owner will read a tech recommendation and try to implement it and then find it directly conflicts with what the host has set up.
Trust me, I’m seeing this WAY too often in site audits now.
And sometimes, an almost-fully-managed host can put you in this gray area too, but that depends on the host.
You’re better off either being fully hands on or fully hands off than to be in the middle when you are not fully versed on what the host is managing or not.
Your best bet is to spend some time to get in-the-know about your hosting or put a dollar figure on the time it takes you to do that and hire someone knowledgeable for monthly maintenance, or pony up the money for the do-it-all-for-you type hosting.
My Hosting Recommendation
I base my recommendations directly on my client’s needs and in accordance with the data we gather during their migration project.
Need Help Migrating to a Better Host?
See my Migration Checklist for tips on what’s involved when moving to a new host.
Since hosting setups vary so widely now, there’s a lot more to it than there used to be.
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