In Part 3 of our Best WooCommerce Hosting Plans we take a look at the VPS market and share our recommended VPS for WooCommerce hosting.
Why so long for Part 3?
In the 4 months that have passed since I wrote Part 2 of this guide we’ve been crazy busy here in CommerceGurus HQ. We launched the wildly successful Adrenalin WooCommerce theme at the end of October which took off like a rocket and meant we put our blogging duties were neglected. We’ve also been working on a number of exciting consulting projects and have a few more themes in the pipeline for 2015 so stay tuned for more frequent posts in the near future 🙂
WooCommerce Hosting Still Sucks!
My experiences the past few months helping to support our Adrenalin customers continues to highlight the sad state of affairs that the vast majority of WordPress hosts are not suitable at all for WooCommerce. It’s quite common for WooCommerce to add a second or two to the load time of a vanilla WordPress install with no other themes or plugins installed. The situation gets much worse on your average WordPress install where a user might have 20, 30 or more (shudder) plugins installed and fails to do Plugin Due Diligence. Plugin Due Diligence is the simple process of making sure that the plugin you’re about to install is:
- Reputable – who is this developer? what’s their track record? Do they have a blog? Are they active on social media and on support forums? What do other people say about them?
- Fast – how well is the plugin coded and how much additional load does it add to my site?
- Up to date – when was the plugin last updated? Does it support the latest versions of WordPress and WooCommerce?
Most people don’t conduct serious Plugin Due Diligence and then end up with a slow eCommerce website. You might get away with that with a simple WordPress site as you can always fall back on a caching plugin like W3 Total Cache.
But the big problem with WooCommerce is that a caching plugin won’t hide a lack of Plugin Due Diligence or underpowered hosting (or both). WooCommerce features like dynamic carts on every page with your subtotal/item quantity displayed render caching plugins pretty much useless. Not entirely useless but pretty useless (caching is still ok for users who’ve not added anything to their cart – but they’ll most likely notice a huge slowdown once they add something to their cart which will impact on conversion!). You’ll no longer be able to create static copies of your site because if you did then your users wouldn’t be able to see a dynamic cart. You might get away with this on a simple content focused blog but if you’re serious about selling online, speed is so important.
The search for the perfect WooCommerce host.
All of these factors described expose the fact that most big WordPress hosts were not designed to be optimized for eCommerce. This is a huge problem in our community. Most WooCommerce users are not aware of this. Most assume as WooCommerce is “just another plugin” that their crappy shared host should be fine. That’s not the case. In my view, WooCommerce needs a completely different type of hosting solution – one that is focused on in memory caching like memcached and performance tuned database instances. To date, there’s been very little in the way of WooCommerce specific tuned hosting. Compare this to the Magento community where there’s tons of Magento specific hosting services. Right now the perfect WooCommerce host doesn’t exist – and that’s a damn shame.
So I know you’re probably thinking at that point “Hang on I thought this post was about the best WooCommerce hosts – not a rant about crap ones!” Well it is, it’s just taking me a while to get there 🙂 It’s important to set the context that it is my opinion that this is an underserved market and that the hosts we’re recommending here are damn fine hosting companies but no one has created the perfect WooCommerce hosting platform yet.
I think there’s a huge opportunity for a clever host to dominate this market in 2015.
In the meantime let’s take a look at our VPS recommendations for WooCommerce.
A note about our judging criteria
NOTE: Our shortlist of recommended VPS providers is completely based on personal experience in hosting eCommerce websites over the past 15 years. In that time we’ve developed a pretty good spidey sense for what makes a good host. We’ve seen good hosts come and go. Of course we’ve also spent the time to review the low level numbers provided by hosting industry experts before ever signing up with a host. But the shortlists below are largely based on personal experience as customers of each host.
Best Unmanaged VPS for WooCommerce
TL;DR WARNING: Do NOT select an unmanaged VPS unless you’re comfortable with managing a Linux server via the terminal/command line.
An unmanaged VPS is not for the faint of heart. If you’ve never managed a Linux machine via a terminal session/command line before then I wouldn’t recommend you go down this route if you’re in need of an immediate host for your WooCommerce powered store. That said, if you’re just getting up and running and are keen to learn the dark arts of Linux sysadmin, then by all means proceed down the rabbit hole of an unmanaged VPS. Be prepared for a few months of learning how to do things via a command line, how to setup web servers and mail servers from scratch, how to secure your VPS with your own firewall, how to harden your web server, how to manage backups and rotate log files. The list of tasks goes on and on. If you’re in a time crunch you absolutely don’t need this additional overhead. But if you’re keen to experiment with your own machine – then cool – go for it! You’re also going to have to get used to your hosting company saying “sorry can’t help you!” If you’ve come from the comfort blanket of managed hosting this can be unsettling for a while – especially if it’s in the middle of a crisis and you’re trying to figure out what the hell is going on with your server!
If you’ve already got the sysadmin/devops chops then going the unmanaged VPS route for WooCommerce has some significant benefits. YOU get to build your own highly tuned VPS that you can optimize for first class eCommerce performance. This is THE major significant advantage going the unmanaged route has over the managed VPS route. By going unmanaged you can build out your WooCommerce server to utilize nginx, PHP-FPM (or PHP-HHVM if you’re really brave), memcached and Varnish. Plus you also gain a lot more control over your database instance and can make your own performance optimizations based on what’s right for your site. This can be incredibly valuable (and almost a necessity for high traffic WooCommerce stores) as your store starts to grow. Quite simply, the major advantage of this approach is that it’s possible to tune an unmanaged VPS on a next generation custom LEMP stack and throw a lot more traffic at it than you would get away with on most managed VPS providers – which means you’ll save a lot in monthly hosting costs if you invest in your sysadmin capabilities. It will be up to you as what what makes most sense for your business.
Shortlist of Recommended Unmanaged VPS providers for WooCommerce
Honestly, I wouldn’t hesitate recommending ANY of the 3 hosts below. They all provide top class unmanaged VPS machines. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses.
- To this day, Linode are still the first host I go to when I want a rock solid host for production sites of any kind.
- They are a 6 out of 5 host on basically any criteria you can think of to judge a hosting company.
- In recent years they’ve come under increasing competitive pressure from the likes of Digital Ocean (DO) but they’ve responded brilliantly in kind with new SSD plans and pricing to compete with DO and similar contenders.
- For WooCommerce sites I recommend no less than the Linode 2GB plan ($20/mo.) I would also recommend starting with the Linode 4GB ($40/mo.) if you’re getting any kind of traffic to your online store.
- I also strongly recommend the first thing you do is to enable backups of your Linode (another $5 per month on the 2GB plan). The Linode backup system is worth it’s weight in gold for an eCommerce site and it’s one of the best in the business.
- Digital Ocean appeared out of nowhere a few years ago. A combination of ultra cheap servers ($5/mo), high performance SSD disks, a great API for managing droplets (what DO called their machines) and some super slick marketing meant that DO has quickly gone from the new kid on the block to one of the biggest hosting companies in the world.
- DO droplets are awesome. The DO control panel is incredible for managing Droplets.
- Personally, I still have some concerns with trusting DO for my production sites. The backup system in DO is still not as well developed as I’d like it to be. I’ve also had issues with it’s reliability over the past few years. In one case it took me sending a support ticket for their sysadmin team to realise backups had not run on one of my droplets for a few months. That’s NOT the kind of experience that gives you warm, happy feelings inside when it comes to running an eCommerce site.
- What I do love about DO is it has become my development playground. Low powered machines for $5/mo. is a great way to spin up a new machine for a few weeks to experiment with something new before moving to production.
- I would NOT recommend the $5/mo. droplets for production use with WooCommerce sites. The DO 2GB droplet is the same price as Linode – $20/mo.
- Rackspace is a stalwart of the hosting business. It’s servers are trusted by some of the biggest eCommerce players in the world.
- Rackspace are more expensive. For a 1GB machine you’re looking at about $25 per month. So for the equivalent 2GB minimum we recommended for Linode/DO would be approximately $46.72 per month.
- So why go with Rackspace rather than DO or Linode? If you’re completely comfortable managing your own machines then there’s probably no reason to do so. But if there’s even a chance that you might need some form of managed service in the future then I would recommend Rackspace. Their managed service is the best in the business.
The Winner – Best Unmanaged VPS for WooCommerce
If I had to just choose one unmanaged VPS provider over the others on the shortlist it would have to be Linode. While competition in this segment of the market is heating up, Linode for me are still head and shoulders above the competition – particularly given the importance of a stable, rock solid host for eCommerce.
Best Managed VPS for WooCommerce
There are tons of managed VPS hosting providers out there. Do yourself a favor – avoid at ALL costs the VPS plans offered by the likes of Bluehost, HostGator and GoDaddy. Just don’t do it! A managed VPS will always be more expensive that an unmanaged one given that the hosting plan also includes some form of technical support that you simply won’t have with an unmanaged server. For many WooCommerce users currently on shared hosting plans and with little or no server/system admin skills, you should avoid unmanaged VPS plans and go straight to a managed VPS plan.
Shortlist of Recommended Managed VPS providers for WooCommerce
I’ve used the services of pretty much every host on the list below in the past few years. Again, I’d be happy to recommend pretty much any of these hosts. Again I’m setting a minimum requirement of 2GB RAM and ideally SSD disks. You won’t find a huge amount of variance on the price of each host on this list at that spec as this is an extremely competitive market. All of these hosts will each have their own unique strengths and weaknesses (e.g. Knownhost don’t provide a Live Chat but their email response times are pretty good) Nearly all of them will be offering CentOS machines running Cpanel, Daily backups, Managed Support (with decent experience with WordPress. ), Free Migrations, Root/SSH access. Some will also offer a number of different locations across the globe which can be useful if your audience is concentrated in one particular area. In some cases these providers may also offer an unmanaged plan for approximately $15-$20 cheaper. Again, avoid this unless you’re happy managing your own servers each month.
Perhaps the most WordPress centric of all the providers on this list. Siteground have been lots of waves in the WordPress community the past few years as they get more involved in the community itself, but also for providing servers that are optimized for optimal WordPress performance. I’ve a had a lot of dealings with Siteground the last year and I can safely say know WordPress inside and out. Their servers are also hard to beat.
Recommended Plan: Cloud 1 Plan – 2GB RAM, 40GB SSD, 1TB Bandwidth – €51/mo. (approx $58/mo.)
Knownhost are probably considered to the best managed VPS hosting company in the world right now. Their support is legendary and their servers are rock solid. I’ve run several VPS machines with Knownhost over the years and have never had a single issue with them. Top quality hardware and a support team that really know their stuff.
Recommended Plan: VPS-SSD-2 Plan – 2.25GB RAM, 40GB SSD, 5TB Bandwidth – $50/mo
We’ve already discussed Rackspace earlier on when considering unmanaged VPS providers. Their support team are right up there with Knownhost as one would expect from one of the biggest hosting companies in the world.
Recommended Plan: General1-2 mPlan – 2GB RAM, 40GB SSD, Bandwidth n/a, – $55/mo.
I’m grouping WiredTree and Futurehosting together purely because while I’ve used both of these providers before, I’ve not spent sufficient time with them to really put them under stress – but they have excellent, long standing reputations in the managed VPS market.
Wiredtree Recommended Plan: Pure SSD VPS – 2GB RAM, 40GB SSD, 4TB Bandwidth – $55/mo.
Future Hosting Recommended Plan: SSD3 Plan – 3GB RAM, 50GB SSD, 3TB Bandwidth – $44.5/mo.
Other notables which come highly rated (but which we’ve not tested)
A Small Orange – Some people swear by A Small Orange but I can’t ignore their recent acquisition by EIG which has been the death knell for many a good host over the years.
EuroVPS – Based in Amsterdam which can suit European based sites/stores more so than many of the other VPS providers who don’t have European data centres.
Liquidweb – Rock solid but a good bit more expensive.
The Winner – Best Managed VPS for WooCommerce
I’m really torn on picking a winner for the best Managed VPS for WooCommerce. If you had asked me this question 12 or even 6 months ago my answer would have been unequivocal – Knownhost. Knownhost for me are head and shoulders above the competition in terms of consistently superior customer service and rock solid, high performance machines. I continue to be a customer of Knownhost to this day and I’ve NEVER had a single fault on their machines. But and this is where my earlier rant comes full circle folks, Knownhost suffer from the same impediment as nearly every other managed VPS provider on the shortlist. They don’t as of yet provide a VPS platform that’s been optimized for WordPress and WooCommerce. In fact, NONE of my shortlist do as of yet offer machines that have been optimized for high volume eCommerce/WooCommerce stores. But one does come close. Damn close. And for this reason I’m going to make them the outright winner in this category – Siteground. Remember folks there’s very little to choose amongst all of the managed VPS providers on my shortlist. But Siteground do offer one major differentiator that the others do not. The Siteground Supercacher. The Supercacher is actually a series of different caching mechanisms that you typically won’t find on any shared or managed VPS provider. Normally you’d have to go down the unmanaged DIY VPS route to avail of these. Which is why it’s so interesting and promising to see a managed VPS host introduce these technologies to the masses via an easy to web user interface. In a nutshell you get all the good stuff like Varnish and memcached without the significant sysadmin overhead. And it all works swimmingly well. Siteground have also tuned their servers to be optimized for WordPress and performance in general which makes a huge difference with some managed VPS providers who are essentially just giving you untuned stock cPanel/WHM instances. On top of that here are some other major differentiators that are normally reserved for Managed WordPress hosts (which we’ll be looking at in Part 4!).
- Git repo
- Free CDN
- WordPress Staging Environment (worth it’s weight in gold – you can test all your new plugins/themes/code changes in the safety of a sandboxed staging environment before going live).
- Automatic WordPress version updates
I’ve been using Siteground for over 12 months at this stage and I’m mightily impressed by what they’ve been able to achieve to differentiate themselves in this hyper competitive market. Their support is pretty good too. I don’t think they’re quite as good as Knownhost from that perspective but they do have a live chat support service that Knownhost don’t offer. Siteground for me are an example to all other VPS providers as to what they need to be doing to compete and differentiate in 2015. I’m hopeful that others will follow shortly and I hope to see someone really go to town and produce a compelling managed VPS plan optimized specifically for WooCommerce in 2015.