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Best WordPress hosting for photographers: budget vs premium providers, what features to look for, and how to migrate your photo site

If you’ve decided to choose WordPress for your photography website, the hosting provider is critical to the well-being of your site, and to your SEO and marketing efforts.

Without a good hosting service, you run the risk of having security problems, slow performance, or even intermittent downtime. Whereas a good hosting provider can give you the features (and peace of mind) to build a great online presence.

Domain registrars are not always the best hosting providers

GoDaddy is the most popular site that fits this category. Because of its popularity for selling domain names, many people also purchase their (cheap) hosting and email services. But in my experience, that’s a big mistake.

On their regular shared hosting plans, the memory and I/O resource limits are (artificially) set so low, that making site changes in the admin area often leads to obscure errors like this, all while the admin area

Website error example: 503 service unavailable Website error example: internal server error

In the meantime, GoDaddy’s cPanel area is showing red limits for “Memory Usage” and “I/O Usage” just from editing a few WP pages:

GoDaddy memory usage and I/O usage limits red from cPanel

With the use of a good performance plugin, this doesn’t necessarily affect the traffic on your site (since they’re seeing cached versions of your pages at all times), but it makes managing your site a nightmare.

Take my advice: stay away from GoDaddy hosting plans. Continue reading to see better (both cheap and premium) hosting options for your WordPress photography site.

But the important thing to know here is that you can keep the domain and the hosting service at different companies. You don’t necessarily need to transfer your domain name to a new company (unless you just want to keep everything under the same roof for simplicity).

You just point your domain name to a different hosting company by using custom nameservers, or by using CNAME or A records in your DNS settings.

  • Using custom nameservers is the complete approach, you pass all domain functionality to the other hosting company, including the email service and the ability to create sub-domains.
  • Using DNS settings means that you keep email and DNS control at the first company, and only use the hosting services from the second one. Some hosting providers only accept this option.

 

Basic features to look for in a WP hosting provider

  • free (or inexpensive) SSL certificates: you want to please Google by having a secure HTTPS website, for which you need an SSL certificate. Most hosting providers now offer them for free.
  • PHP 7 (for improved performance, reliability and security for your WordPress installation): a good performance plugin can help a lot, but the hosting service is of great importance for site performance (which then indirectly impacts SEO as well). While it’s difficult to compare hosting services (and many online comparisons are “sponsored”), they should at least provide PHP version 7 which helps a lot.
  • staging area: a big bonus if your hosting has this feature, staging areas are useful for doing design and functionality experiments without affecting the live site. Once you’re finished with the changes in the “site clone”, you deploy everything to the live site with one click.
  • security measures baked in the hosting platform: because a security plugin alone, however good, can only do so much. Many security threats can be blocked directly at the hosting server level (not at the PHP software level), so the security guarantees offered by the hosting providers should not be ignored.
  • good reliability and uptime statistics: your should site almost never go down, so your hosting provider should offer at 99%+ uptime guarantee. And once your site is up, use a free uptime monitor like Uptime Robot to double-check your site’s availability over time.
  • automatic backups: your last line of defense, hosting backups should include both files and database, at least weekly (if not daily)
  • unmetered traffic and unlimited disk space: just so that your website can grow over time, without aggressive upsell emails from the hosting company
  • email service: you should be able to have email addresses on the same domain as your site, that’s the most professions option. However, if your hosting provider doesn’t offer email, it’s not the end of the world. You can use a separate email service like Google’s G Suite (formerly called Google Apps for Business, it starts at $5/mo but is worth it).
  • good customer service (via live chat, support tickets, and phone): you’ll never know when you’re going to need to contact the hosting’s support team to help fix an update gone wrong or something like that, it happens. Good hosting services keep full backups of their entire servers, so support teams can quickly restore things for you when needed.

 

Types of hosting providers

A) Budget shared hosting services

As mentioned earlier, try to avoid GoDaddy as your hosting provider. They’re OK for purchasing/managing domain names (though not the best, I’m using NameCheap instead), terrible at hosting websites. Yes, I said it.

With many other companies to choose from, two good bets are HostGator and Bluehost.

Here’s a detailed comparison between the two: HostGator vs Bluehost – Which Offers the Best Budget WordPress Hosting?

In my experience with them, HostGator is indeed the fastest budget option, with good cPanel features and reliability. Bluehost has a bit more features but has poorer performance to handle heavy WordPress themes in the admin area (due to strict resource limits on their cheapest hosting plans, asking you to upgrade quite quickly).

But my pick in this category is SiteGround (here how it compares against HostGator).

Their affordable shared hosting plans come with:

  • unmetered traffic
  • free site transfer
  • unlimited email accounts
  • free SSL certificate
  • daily backups
  • great performance (SSD storage and free Cloudflare CDN)
SiteGround hosting homepage preview (from early 2018)

So if you’re looking for a cheaper option for a relatively-simple WordPress photography website, you can’t go wrong with SiteGround, with HostGator as a good second option.

B) Premium WordPress-specific shared hosting services

While considerably more expensive (usually somewhere between $20 and $40 per month), professional hosting solutions are the serious option for pro photographers.

The service I recommend most is WP Engine.

They handle backups for you, performance, security. It’s very reliable. And they have a “staging area” feature allowing you to make experiments to your site in a clone, without affecting your live site. Here’s a detailed review where I cover all of its great features: WP Engine hosting – excellent speed & reliability for your WordPress site

WP Engine hosting review article preview

Flywheel and Media Temple good premium options as well.

C) Dedicated hosting & more advanced options

Almost all hosting companies have more advanced options (like “VPS”, “Cloud” or “Dedicated” hosting plans). Their power & configuration depend a lot on your specific needs.

For 99% of photographers though, these more expensive options are overkill, and only suitable if you have huge amounts of traffic (>100K visits/mo). Performance is important, but getting a service like this makes virtually no impact on how your visitors experience your site versus the regular shared hosting options I mentioned above.

But if you ever need a custom and more powerful hosting environment, a good option is CloudWays – a service that allows hosting your site on popular cloud hosting services like DigitalOcean, Linode, Amazon Web Services or Google Cloud Platform.

 

Migrating from one hosting provider to another

If you’ve decided to change your hosting service, you might need to hire a developer to do the site transition for you. But it’s not a difficult process, and if you have some web experience, you can probably tackle it yourself as well.

Here are some things you should take into consideration:

  • you need to copy both the WP database and the files over to the new hosting space
  • if your site was loading on HTTPS, be sure to also prepare an SSL certificate for that at the new host
  • be mindful of any email accounts you have on the old hosting account, those need to be recreated on the new service as well, so you don’t experience any email downtime. And once you’ve made the hosting switch, you’ll probably need to reconfigure your email clients (Gmail, Apple Mail, iPhone Mail app, etc.) because the server details and passwords have now changed
  • once you prepare everything at the new hosting space, your last step is to change the domain DNS settings to point to the new hosting server (which can take up to 24 hours to propagate across the Internet). That should give you zero website downtime!
  • thoroughly test your site afterward (including your email service, and any contact forms on your site)

An excellent plugin you can use the migrate the site from one host to another is Duplicator, allowing you to generate a full backup of your existing site and to then set that up quickly at your new hosting location.

A detailed guide on using it can be found here: How to Move WordPress to a New Host or Server With No Downtime

And finally, check first if your new hosting service doesn’t already offer free website transfers (in which case you just contact them asking for them to migrate the site for you!). Just Google “[hosting] free website transfer” and follow their instructions.

 

FAQ

“What if I need to host multiple websites, not just one?”

From what I’ve seen, most hosting companies only allow one single website on their cheapest plans. So you might need to upgrade to a more expensive plan of theirs to be able to host multiple (or unlimited) other websites. Simply check each hosting’s pricing page to see the details.

“How do I know if I need a dedicated or VPS hosting server?”

If you have huge amounts of traffic, and your current hosting plan is stretched thin, you’ll surely get some notifications from them (via email) that you need to upgrade to a higher plan. And most pricing pages give you a recommendation of number of visits per month for each plan.

When you reach that point, you’ll take the decision of whether to switch to a more powerful hosting solution (as outlined previously in the article)

“Does it matter what country my website is hosting in?”

Some hosting providers allow you to choose data centers (server) in specific parts of the world.

While this has no direct impact on SEO, it can make a small difference in terms of performance. If the majority of your target audience is in the US, for example, then it makes sense to choose hosting in the US as well. So choose a hosting server location where most of your visitors will likely come from. But don’t choose an obscure local hosting provider for this, it’s still better to go with a good well-known company.

“I want to switch to a different host, but should I wait until my current hosting plan expires?”

Unless you have just a couple of weeks left to go with your old host, don’t wait any longer, switch now. You should be treating your website seriously.

If you ask for it, the existing/old hosting company should give you a prorated refund for their service.

“If I change hosts, should I also transfer my domains names?”

Not necessarily, there’s no technical reason to do it. Domains and the hosting service can stay with different companies.

If, however, you just want to keep everything under the same roof, for simplicity, go for it.

And if your new hosting provider doesn’t handle domain names, go for a reputable domain registrar like NameCheap.

Ask your questions in the comments section, and I’ll add them here for others to read as well.

 

Conclusion

WordPress is a very mature content management system (CMS) used by more than a quarter of the entire Internet. But if you combine it with a poor hosting service, the doing active maintenance becomes a lot more difficult.

So put your photography website on a quality hosting service from the beginning, it’s the foundation that everything else sits upon.

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