Building your website
Some people build their websites online, in-place, while others prefer to do it offline, on their home pc. You won’t want your site visible to Google or other people while it’s under construction, so you may just as well build it offline and save yourself the expense of paying for hosting.
WordPress needs a server in order to function, but you can easily create one on your home PC with free software. If you build your site at home you can easily transfer it to your web hosting with the help of plugins like ‘UpdraftPlus‘ or ‘BackupBuddy‘. Having a local (home) version also allows you to test new plugins and layouts without disrupting a live website.
These are the most popular programs used for setting up a WordPress-capable server at home:
XAMPP – Apache + MariaDB + PHP + Perl
MAMP and MAMP Pro – Apache, PHP, MySQL on OS X
In general, if you’re using Windows or Linux, Xampp is the better choice, whereas Mamp is said to be better on a Mac – we don’t use Macs so we can’t offer an opinion here.
Looking for a Host
Before you start looking for WordPress hosting you need to have a little information at hand. For example, how much traffic do you expect to receive on your site? Are you able to manage your hosting or do you want a managed service? Do you plan to use a CDN? Will you be using email, and if so how will it be managed? How much can you afford?
It helps if you know in advance where your target audience is located. Where possible, your hosting should be located in the same area as your main audience. If you’re building a website aimed at people living in the UK, for example, find a host in the UK or at least Europe. If your audience is likely to be people living on the east coast of the USA, your hosting wants to be on the east coast too. The further away a website is hosted from a visitor, the slower it will be. Slow will cost you visitors and Google ranking.
If this is your first WordPress website and you like an easy life, we’d suggest finding a host which offers a simple one-click WordPress install. WordPress isn’t hard to install manually, but an auto install certainly saves you time learning how to do it yourself.
In terms of hosting, look for linux based hosting with some form of control panel which allows you to manage your hosting. ‘CPanel’ is probably the most common and, in our opinion, the easiest to use. However, dedicated WordPress hosting often comes with an alternative control panel. What really matters is that you can control your hosting, set up things like email, FTP access, deal with spam and so on.
While linux is the operating system used to run the server, but it uses other software to serve (run / manage) websites. Most of the linux hosts you’ll come across use Apache hosting software and Apache fully supports the technologies WordPress requires. NGINX (“engine X”) is a quick and lightweight alternative to Apache and has received a lot of favourable press, and can make WordPress fly. It’s no coincidence that NGINX currently runs some of the most popular sites on the Web. You don’t generally find NGINX on offer from budget hosting companies.
Draw up a shortlist
Once you know what you’re looking for, settle down with a cup of coffee and start searching. We’ve offered a couple of suggestions here, but have a good look around. Draw up a shortlist and then contact the customer services / support lines. Tell them as accurately as you can what you want and ask if their hosting matches those requirements. If you’re unimpressed by the replies, move on.
You’ll probably be looking for what is called “Managed WordPress Hosting“. ‘Managed’ means you don’t have to know or worry about managing a server or keeping it online and secure. The host company looks after all that. Ask your shortlisted hosts to explain what they mean by ‘WordPress hosting’ and how it differs from their normal shared hosting. If they can’t give a specific answer there probably isn’t a difference and it almost certainly isn’t set up for WordPress.
Don’t commit too much
Pay monthly. Until you’re 100% sure your hosting is good enough for what you want, pay monthly. Even then, we’d say pay monthly. Larger hosting companies are forever buying up smaller companies and, when that happens, levels of support often tumble. In addition, unless you’re unlucky, your visitor numbers will increase and you can quickly outgrow your hosting. If you can’t upgrade with the same company you’ll soon need to be moving onwards and upwards. You won’t want to leave behind hosting you’ve paid for.