Updated for 2020: A good host and webmaster grease the SEO wheels. One of my clients is with ProntoMarketing. They’re awful. I loathe working with them. (Pronto, not the client.) I more or less told the client, “It’s them or me.”
Rather than leave a great client in the lurch like the prima donna I sometimes wish I aspired to be, I’m helping them look at managed WordPress hosting options. If you’re impatient, you can just skip to the chart.
Pronto Marketing Sucks
What’s wrong with Pronto? I won’t dig into the abysmal non-hosting side of Pronto Marketing here; that hole’s too deep and dank. But even if their other aspects were acceptable, their hosting platform isn’t.
Pronto hosts all of their clients on a single multisite WordPress install. Both ssh and sftp access are therefore off the table for all of their clients. So there are things you or your web team can’t do. Conveniently, Pronto’s business model includes access to an expensive, on-demand team of unqualified non-experts to do things for you! …I spent far more time checking and correcting Pronto’s work than if I and my team did it ourselves. Enough about them. (Edit: Well, Pronto got worse. I’ll add more about that at the end, if you’re interested.)
Comparing Managed WordPress Hosts – Which Ones?
Sure, my corybantic contender counts when comparing rank tracking vendors and choosing the best tap tremolo pedal were perhaps excessive, but not this time; I kept it simple. Here are the four contenders and why I picked them.
WordPress.com – They’re the oddball in the field. Owned by Automattic and more tightly controlled than other options. Not to be confused with WordPress.org, the self-hosted version of WordPress. This blog is hosted on WordPress.com, and I’ve been impressed with their services, SLA, etc. But to be fair, my needs are minimal.￼￼
Pressable – They don’t tout it much, probably to avoid complaints from their other host partners, but Automattic owns a majority stake in Pressable. If that’s not and endorsement, I don’t know what is.
BigScoots – Who? Yeah. Not a big name. But I host 99% of my sites with them. After EIG bought and destroyed yet another host I used, I spent a good chunk of time finding BigScoots. I don’t use their managed WordPress hosting, but I’ve been nothing but impressed with their other hosting services and cohorts who use their WP hosting love it.
But… “What is managed WordPress hosting?” (One Netizen’s Criteria)
My expectations of a manged WP host are that they’ll largely or wholly take care of:
- Core WordPress updates
- Plugin updates
- Speed and other infrastructure concerns
- Providing full access to the CMS
- Giving me back-rubs and making coffee
How is managed hosting different from other hosting options?
Most sites use unmanaged hosting. You might hear the phrases: shared hosting, dedicated hosting, or even virtual dedicated hosting tossed around; any of those could be managed hosting, or unmanaged hosting. The “management” part pertains only to a higher level of support and services. But don’t be fooled by worthless, free add-ons to lower-tier shared hosting. Like Abraham Lincoln used to say every time Martha wanted to switch the White House website to GoDaddy or HostGator to save a couple bucks, “Now Martha, you know extra chaff and turd-polishing doesn’t managed hosting make.”
Spreadsheet Comparing Top Managed Hosts – WPEngine, WordPress.com, BigScoots, and Pressable
This isn’t exhaustive. I.e. your criteria might be different than mine. And there are definitely other players in this space (Kinsta’s name pops up a lot.)
Want a narrative of the findings?
I won’t deprecate any contenders; I think most sites would be fine hosting with any of them. But two stand out in positive ways which may or may not matter to you.
BigScoots and Pressable both offer tangibles the others don’t:
- more domain/site capacity (in case you want to host more sites)
- more free migration of existing sites
- control over whether or not you auto-update plugins
- the only one with full ssh/ftp access (which might not matter, really)
- the only one with email (you have to use a third party for others, which is advisable, anyhow. GSuite FTW!)
- …but costs more.
- Is the cheapest
Pressable and WordPress.com:
- are owned by WordPress’ parent company, which might be worth something?
- The biggest hurdle here is their migration cost. It’s not unreasonable, but it’s not competitive with other migration options.
- There are several notes in the spreadsheet for WordPress.com, not b/c they’re worse, but b/c their biz model is different than others.
- Migration cost is unknown. E.g. What if their plugin fails on a customized theme? Do I have to pay somebody hourly?
- Some of the notes in the spreadsheet for WPEngine will likely turn more positive as they continue to roll out new services.
- …but WPEngine is the most expensive – Update: WPEngine lowered their pricing. They’re now priced right.
- …However, they’re the only managed host any of my webmasters have had issues with in the past year. I’m not a fan of WPEngine.
Keeping this WordPress Managed Hosting List Updated
I briefly added BlueHost to the chart. But then removed them when I found out they’re owned by EIG, the great Satan of hosting company leveraged buyouts. I gather data by talking to sales people sometimes. So, if you don’t believe sales talk, (and you should never believe an EIG salesperson,) then take the data with a grain of salt. If you believe they’ve turned over a new leaf, BlueHost stacks up, on paper, and is cheap-ish, but they’re owned by a nightmare-company nobody in their right mind would recommend. I say: spend a couple extra bucks on one of the other contenders.
Adendum2: Pronto Marketing is Worse than I Thought. Big Scoots as Good as I Thought
Yikes. When trying to move away from Pronto, one needs to rebuild the site, almost completely. If you haven’t been with Pronto for at least a year, they seemingly won’t part with any of your data. If you’re lucky (??) to have been with Pronto for at least twelve months, they’ll give you some data, but they won’t give you your theme, nor will they let you use many of the several dozens of proprietary plugins they used on your site. It’s a mess. The first quote to rebuild the site to make it work on Pressable came in at 80 hours @ $65/hr. Friends don’t let friends use Pronto.
On the other end of the hosting spectrum, a colleague has now transferred at least one site to each of the hosts mentioned herein, and has this to say:
For future reference – Out of all of the migrations I’ve done so far, migrating to BigScoots was by far the easiest and they also have the most intuitive site management dashboard. I’ll be recommending them in the future. Great service.
Dan Dreifort consults on UX and SEO and makes noise in several bands. He enjoys sketching, films, games, beer, and hanging with his hot triathaloner-doctor-wife. He plans to turn his front yard into a two-hole miniature golf course with a dragon sculpture, some day.