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#11 Website 101 Series Part Two- WordPress and Hosting

Post #11

Websites 101 Series: Part Two

WordPress & WordPress Hosting

April 24, 2019 | Erin Braxton

When I first started my web consulting business...I didn't know what-the-what I was doing.  I had this dream of a website I knew would be amazing, and just having come out of a very bad financial period in my life, I had no money to hire anyone to get it done.  In my last business, I had a WordPress blog, so I knew just a little about WordPress...like how to write my blog posts and add a picture, but that was about it.  In my previous business, I always had that "I need to do it bigger and better syndrome."  Meaning, I was always trying to do too much and spend money I didn't have thinking that was going to get me where I wanted to be.  NOT.  Even the developer I hired to build my Magento site (super bad investment), tried to tell me about WordPress and how much it had improved, but I wasn't trying to hear it.  I wanted to get the more "cutting edge," difficult, hard-as-hell to maintain, expensive-ass platform I could find.  Just because I didn't like the idea of WordPress due to information I'd heard...mostly incorrect and uninformed.

So...anyway...I landed on WordPress because it was supposed to be easier, and I was told I could do it myself.  That meant it wouldn't cost me as much money as hiring someone to build on another platform.  Well...that was the beginning of my current consulting business (which I didn't know at the time).  I built the site with much effort and learned a lot. I spent money on my artwork and help with trickier things here and there, but because I didn't have any money and I really wanted this site built, I was forced to figure it out.  As a result, I leaned how amazing WordPress really is.  I no longer saw it as the cheap, featureless, do-it-yourself, blogging platform others tried to convince me it was.  I found endless options to build beautiful, functional websites.  Wordpress was now AMAZING to me.

So that is why I wanted the next part of my series Websites 101 Series to be about WordPress.  In part two of the series, I’ll be going over WordPress and the web hosting you should invest in for your WordPress website. (Check out Websites 101 Part One- Domains) If you’re on the fence and undecided about what sort of web platform you should be using, this is a great post to check out.  I’m a WordPress consultant and that is what I know.  I’m always surprised about what I’m able to accomplish for my clients using WordPress.  My opinions definitely skew pro-Wordpress.  So if you’re interested…keep reading.

Here’s what I’ll be covering in this post:

What exactly is WordPress? 
Why should I bother with WordPress when there are simpler options to choose from?
Who is WordPress good for?
What is WordPress hosting and why does it matter so much?
Must haves to consider when purchasing WordPress hosting.
What should concern me about WordPress?

What exactly is WordPress?


WordPress (WordPress.org) is a free and open-source content management system (CMS) based on PHP & MySQL.[4] Features include a plugin architecture and a template system. It is most associated with blogging but supports other types of web content including more traditional mailing lists and forums, media galleries, and online stores. Used by more than 60 million websites,[5] including 30.6% of the top 10 million websites as of April 2018,[6][7] WordPress is the most popular website management system in use.  - Wikipedia

Why should I bother with WordPress?

When there are so many other simpler options....


  • As stated in the definition above, WordPress is free and open source. This means anyone can use it, copy it and change it to suit their needs.  
  • There are literally thousands of plugins and themes out there that already exist to build your WordPress website.  While the WordPress platform is free, the best plugins and themes are not. So building a complete site is going to cost you something.  However, WordPress is far cheaper than trying to create a custom site, from the ground up.  Doing that can leave you relying on one, specific developer to revise and/or fix your site later.  And…it’s just unnecessary in 2019.  But we’ll talk more about “custom” websites in my next series post, Websites 101- Part Three- Custom Websites...yay or nay?
  • WordPress has been around a long time and continues to grow and expand.  There is no shortage of developers who know and understand the platform.  
  • WordPress can grow with you.  There is this huge misconception that WordPress is just for blogging, so many times people don’t understand it’s growth capabilities.  Not only is WordPress great for beginners, but the platform has the ability to expand as your business needs expand.

Erin's thoughts on growing websites....

I always help my clients to understand their sites are living and breathing.  They’re birthed at some point and then they grow and evolve from there (if you nurture and feed it).  Think about giant sites like Facebook or Amazon.  They didn’t start off as massive and function-rich as they are now.  Every time you log in there’s a new feature or improvement.  Wordpress gives you the ability to grow, too.  So even though you're not selling your eCourse today, do you plan to sell one later?  Will you at some point need a site that allows certain users to have certain access?  Do you plan to build capabilities on your site that no one else needs but you…so there is no out-of-the-box solution?  If you answered yes to any of these questions, WordPress could be for you.

  • While there is a learning curve with WordPress, the basics of what a newer website owner will need are doable if they take their time and want to build on their own.  Even if one decides to hire a developer, it's easy for business owners to make blog posts, add eCommerce products and make minor changes without always hiring a developer to help. 
  • You’ll be in great company...
    Many large, very well-known companies use WordPress.  Here are just a few…
  • Yelp
  • Disney
  • Etsy
  • Zillow
  • Skype

Please note that their entire site may not be using WordPress,  just certain portions.  But you get the idea.  For more information on big business using WordPress, check out these articles from WPBeginner and WinningWP 

Who is WordPress good for?


WordPress is good for those who want to get in there and have total control over their sites.  It’s also great for people/companies who want to do special customized features on their sites.  And by special, I mean “special.”  Not just changing a few colors on a theme.

For example…I recently did a project for a client that had an offline component to their eCommerce membership business.  They needed to be able to take eCourse payments from customers at conferences through Square, then have the payment connect to their WordPress site, generate an online customer invoice, create a user membership for the customer, and send confirmation, transactional emails to that customer.  That’s pretty special. And it is possible with WordPress.

Even if your site is more simple, WordPress is a great choice because of all of the extension options.  I wouldn’t say it’s for everyone, but it’s a great option for the reasons mentioned above.  Blogging capabilities are the best you can find, the eCommerce and eLearning add-ons/extensions are amazing, not to mention there are thousands of plugins and themes that can help you get your site looking and functioning exactly the way you want.  

If you just need a landing page to display key information and you never plan to go any further than that, you may find it’s better for you to just use a simple website builder or landing page builder, and call it a day. But....most businesses should eventually need more.

What is WordPress hosting and how does it fit in?


As I mentioned, WordPress is free and open source.  So you can get it for free…but how do you access it, use it, etc.  You can go to WordPress.org and download it for free…but then what?  You have to have somewhere to install it so you can use it to create your site.  That is what hosting is…a portion of a computer (server) that houses your website.  Web hosting gives you the technology needed to actually get your website online.  For small companies, a shared web host provider is what you’ll need.  You shouldn’t need your own server as a small business owner in the beginning.

All web hosting service providers are not created equal. I recommend specific WordPress web hosting.  More specifically, I recommend WPEngine.  Their specialty is WordPress web hosting.  That is all they do, so it is what they know.  Unlike competitors in the market that provide web hosting services for a number of different platforms, offer email services, domain services, etc., WPEngine only provides WordPress web hosting.   WPEngine provides website owners a level of customer support that I’ve never seen from a web hosting service provider.  It’s a little pricier ($35/mo at the time of this post), but if you want a $6 business, go get $6 hosting.  You get what you pay for. The customer service, alone, is a good enough reason to use WPEngine and pay that $35/mo.

Erin's Sidebar 

I recently was looking to move a client of mine to a dedicated server environment, as they'd outgrown the shared environment they were on with WPEngine.  So I was shopping it around trying to see what else was out there.  I looked outside of WPEngine to another leading WordPress web hosting service provider.  Even though our new business wasn’t bringing them the most money in the world, we would have been looking at $500/mo to work with this company.  Which is a lot to small businesses. Following an informational call, I asked about customer support and customer response time and their response back to me was cray, cray.  The guy literally accused me of trying to get his support staff to do our work, fix our site and bring him a problem website.  I found myself trying to explain that was not the case, as me and my development team were ready to dig in and make the site the best it could be.  But then I quickly decided to just move on and stay with WPEngine for $600/mo.  The attitude wasn’t worth the $1200 difference per year.  The customer support I’d gotten from WPEngine was stellar, so I felt it was worth it to stay put. If a potential web hosting company gets defensive when you start asking questions relevant to your business needs, move on.

Everyone claims they offer proper WordPress hosting. But when you have a specific question or really need help, you need to know you can get it.  That has been my experience with WPEngine.

For those of you who can't afford WPEngine…I've had good experience with SiteGround.  They are more affordable, and I have not seen any real issues.  The last I checked, they didn't have a solid staging environment feature, but they did have a workaround that allowed me to work offline before going live.

If I didn’t mention them, I don’t currently recommend them.  But the world doesn’t revolve around what I know and have experienced.  So do your research and let me know in the comments if you have other recommendations.

Must haves to consider from your WordPress host


Like I said, I do not have experience working with every WordPress hosting provider out there, but I'll share a few things you should be looking at when searching for WordPress hosting.

  • Knowledgable Customer Support- I can't express enough how important good support is when hosting your site.  Especially as your business and site really begin to grow. As you begin to add more features and capabilities to your site, just one update can cause issues.  Good hosting support can save you thousands in the long run.  Many times, a good web hosting support team can help you identify issues on the server that could be causing issues on your site. 
  • You can't rely on your WordPress host support team to fix problems on your site, but if something you've got going on conflicts with the server or the  environment your site lives on, they can definitely guide you in the right direction.  At this point you know my love for WPEngine.  Their support rarely fails me.  They will really dig deep to help me in times of need. Each one of their support staff seem super friendly and knowledgable.  While they've not done any real programming for me (because that is not their job), they have researched issues, pointed me to fix articles and occasionally gone the extra mile to help me resolve my issues.
  • .Having a good developer on your team doesn't mean you can skimp on your hosting.  Developers are not server managers.  There's a difference in what they do and what they know.
  • Accessible Customer Support- can you reach your WordPress hosting service company when you need them?  Are they available via chat, email or phone?  Are they 24/7?  Do they go home at 5pm EST until the following day? While this requirement may seem like overkill when you get started, later, when your website really becomes an integral part of your business, you'll see it isn't.  Think of it like this....a lot of people are surfing the web late at night.  And often times they make late night purchases.  But if your site is down, you could miss out on a sale.  Think Black Friday Eve.
  • Staging Environments- as your site improves and grows, you will need to make updates and changes ways that are seamless to the flow of your online business.  It is best when these updates cause very little disruption.  While it's not always possible to keep your site live during maintenance, it makes things a whole lot easier if your web host provides you with a staging environment to test new features before you take them live.  A staging environment is a clone of your site that is only available to you.  You can try out new plugins, test plugin updates, and test new features without fear, because it is just a test environment.   The live and staging environments should work together so that you can push updates from staging to the live environment once you know it's safe to do so. You should also be able to push your live site to your staging environment so you're always testing from the most current site.  
  • Daily Backups- while it's important for you to have your own external backup location, your web host should back your site up daily, as well.  Additionally, your host should be able to help you restore your site if there is an issue.  I often backup websites when I install new plugins or update something.  I've also used these backups to restore my site to the pre-backup condition on the rare occasion my updates have failed me.
  • Growth Capability- Everyone in business wants it to grow.  Make sure you have a hosting company that is able to grow with you.  One day you'll need more server space or your own dedicated server.  It's nice to work with a company that can come along on the journey instead of hopping from one web hosting company to another.
  • Nice to haves- Easy URL redirects, easy SSL certificate installations and simple site migrations 

What should concern me about WordPress?


WordPress is amazing in my opinion.  But, there is no perfect solution and you must pick the best option for you and your business goals.  So I’ll just point out a few things to consider.

  • WordPress is learnable, but there is definitely a learning curve.  Depending on your propensity for tech and your time availability, you may find that using a developer to get you up and running is a better solution.  There are front-end builders that can really help simplify the process if you choose to build on your own, like ThriveThemes.  But it can still be overwhelming and there is no shame in getting help.
  • Installing themes and having an instant, amazing looking site is what a lot of WordPress theme developers will sell you.  But that is extremely misleading.  Even after purchasing a well-built theme, most of the time you will need to do quite a bit of work to get your site to look like the theme you purchased.
  • With WordPress, you will be the master of your own ship.  Unlike a site using SquareSpace, Wix or Shopify, you will be responsible for your own hosting and web maintenance.  You can’t just sign up for a WordPress account and be up and running online.  Wordpress comes with a bit more responsibility in that regard.  But the trade-offs are, many times, well worth it.  And with good WordPress web hosting and a developer on speed dial, you should be fine.

Takeaway


  • WordPress is a great free, open-source platform that is widely expandable.  
  • WordPress hosting is one of the most important things to consider when running a WordPress website.  Just any web hosting service is not sufficient.  My recommendation is WPEngine due to their knowledge and top-level customer support.  However, if you can’t afford it, there are other options like SiteGround.  You get what you pay for, so make sure your host provider is able to provide great support and back you up when needed.
  • WordPress isn’t for everyone. If you just need a landing page and will not grow your site beyond that, there are easier, less time-consuming, less expensive options.  

If you have any questions about WordPress hosting…leave them for me in the comments section below and I'll do my best to guide you in the right direction.  

Next week, I’m continuing my Websites 101 Series with a post on building your site on a custom platform.  Be ready!

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