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 them, “It’s them or me.” Rather than leave a great client in the lurch like the prima donna I sometimes aspire 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 (owner of WordPress,) 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.)
WPEngine – Probably top-mind or near it when most people think of managed WordPress hosting. I worked in their platform several years ago.
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 by their other services.
“What is managed WordPress hosting?” (My 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 backrubs 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. 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, “extra chaff and turd-polishing doesn’t managed hosting make.”
Spreadsheet Comparing 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
Adendum: Pronto Marketing is Worse than 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 plugins they used on your site. It’s a mess. The first quote to rebuild the site to work on Pressable came in at 80 hours @ $65/hr. Friends don’t let friends use Pronto.
Dan Dreifort consults on UX and SEO and makes noise in several bands. He enjoys sketching, films, games, beer, and his hot triathaloner-doctor-wife. He plans to turn his front yard into a two-hole miniature golf course with a dragon scultpture. Somehow, she’s on board with this.