There are a lot of web hosts out there, the vast majority of which meet the WordPress minimum requirements. However, membership sites require more than WordPress alone, and not all hosts are created equal. When choosing a hosting partner you want to consider a number of angles like support, reliability, performance and scalability. There are generally three tiers of hosting options:
Shared - These plans should be avoided - This is the lowest tier and the least expensive option. Shared hosting plans have several clients on one server that must share the system resources. If one site is particularly resource intensive, it affects everyone. Hosts monitor this closely and will sometimes put limiters in place to terminate any processes that exceed set time or resource allotments, regardless of how this may affect site function or availability. This also means that all accounts use the same service configurations, sometimes meaning that requirements for certain features are not able to be accommodated.
Within this tier you have specialized Managed Wordpress servers. These are shared hosting servers specifically configured for WordPress accounts. This may sound like a good option, and while they can make setup and maintenance seem easy, they are created to be efficient, allowing more accounts per server and as such can be especially problematic for membership sites like MemberMouse with specialized integrations. They are setup to allow all of the accounts to use the same base WordPress installation with system wide plugins that everyone must use. A good way to check if you are on Managed WordPress is to look at the links at the top of the All Plugins section for Must-Use or Drop-in links along with the usual Active and Inactive. The problem here (along with the aforementioned limited resources that are endemic to all shared hosting) is that you have no access to these Must-Use and Drop-In plugins so they can't be disabled if they cause problems.
Virtual Private Server (VPS) - This is the minimum recommended plan for MemberMouse - This option is midway between shared hosting and dedicated servers. These servers are still shared, but contain far fewer accounts, and instead of pooled resources, each account is allotted a percentage of the CPU and memory exclusively for its use. So regardless of what the other accounts are doing, it won't affect your available resources. Along with the rotating resources, each VPS is given a dedicated section of the hard-disk. This usually means that you are responsible for the WordPress and database installation, but WordPress has a simple 5 Minute Install, and with a Linux/cPanel platform the rest can be setup quickly. These accounts typically come with terminal access and can require some knowledge of system administration to handle updates and configure system services like PHP; but VPS gives you complete control over your environment and is the best way to ensure the system you are using meets all of your needs.
- Dedicated - Required for larger membership sites - This is the higher tier option. With this option you are leasing the whole server. These can be pricey, but necessary once you start accruing large numbers of active members and stretching the limit of what VPS can provide.
General Rules For Your Hosting Environment
- Try to avoid 'shared hosting', unless absolutely required.
- Expect to pay $29-$99 per month at the low end.
- Avoid 'Windows' hosting/servers. Choose 'Linux' options.
- Avoid 'managed WordPress' plans.
- Make sure you have a plan which provides a dedicated IP and SSL certificate.
- If you are on a shared host now, you may be able to upgrade to a VPS level plan easily/cheaply.
- If your host aggressively caches (specifically WP Engine), make sure you can turn it off or ignore certain URLs on your site. Read this article to learn more about configuring WP Engine for MemberMouse.
- Make sure you get adequate performance on your site even with caching turned off.
- Varnish caching run server side can also cause issues. Varnish is something that is included with Bluehost VPS hosted sites and possibly other hosting providers.
Hosting / Server Minimum Requirements
Whichever hosting you choose, you need to ensure that the server has the following:
- WordPress 3.6 or above
Do I Need To Upgrade?
Many of the lower level shared hosting plans (and even the better shared hosting plans) rely on aggressive caching to get you the performance you need at the price you are paying. (Read this article to learn what caching is). You cannot cache a membership site like you can a normal site. MemberMouse is constantly trying to stay in front of the best practices of caching, to allow you to run the most efficient site. But in the meantime, any membership site will require that you have slightly more robust hosting plan.
With that said the basic hosting provider we're currently recommending is SiteGround (full disclosure: we're an affiliate of theirs).
The reason we recommend them is because they're very affordable and we've had minimal instances of our customers running into issues with them. Even their shared hosting plans (we like the GoGeek plan) offer strong performance and caching disabled.
If cost isn't your primary motivating factor and you're more interested in performance then we recommend ServInt (again, we are an affiliate).
We use ServInt to power membermouse.com.
If you're thinking about migrating servers make sure to read this article before you do so:
Other Recommended Hosting Providers
Things to Watch Out for When Choosing a Hosting Provider
Plans To Avoid
- We've seen issues with GoDaddy's and HostGator's shared hosting plans, including GoDaddy's Managed WP. Upgrading to GoDaddy's or HostGator's lower tiered VPS plans has fixed the problems and was a painless upgrade for our customers. (Some people in the comments have had issues with Host Gator's VPS, including having to manage a server themselves.)