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WordPress powers forty-three percent of all websites, supporting everything from small hobby sites to major sites such as Rolling Stone, TechCrunch, and even The White House

If you want your WordPress website to scale and accommodate anywhere from 10 to millions of site visits a month, you need to choose your hosting wisely. When a site is business-critical, you need scalable hosting that can support its performance and security requirements

WordPress.com is a managed WordPress hosting solution that accommodates the growing demands of your site, allowing it to scale with you and your clients.

In this article, we’ll take a look at the importance of scalable WordPress hosting, as well as how to ensure that your sites are as highly available, secure, and performant as possible. We’ll cover:

  1. Shared vs managed WordPress hosting
  2. Why managed hosting is best for growing sites
    1. Security
    2. Cost containment
    3. Scalability
    4. Performance
  3. How to make your site more scalable
    1. Use a Content Delivery Network
    2. Caching
    3. Autoloading
  4. Wrapping up

Shared vs managed WordPress hosting

When evaluating WordPress hosting options in terms of scalability, it’s important to understand the differences between shared hosting and managed hosting.

blue kettlebells with the WordPress logo on the over a black background

Shared hosting is like going to the gym where you need to share access to all of the equipment like treadmills and weights. If there are too many people using the treadmills, you may need to wait your turn, which can impact the amount of time you need to spend at the gym to get your desired workout. 

With shared hosting, your website shares server space and resources with other websites; if one website gets a lot of visitors or needs more resources, it can slow down the performance for everyone else on the same server.

Managed hosting, like what we offer at WordPress.com, is like having a home gym. The equipment is yours, and you can use it whenever you want––no need to wait in line! 

With managed hosting, your website has its own dedicated server and resources, so you don’t have to worry about other websites affecting its performance. Not only that, similar to how a personal trainer establishes your workout schedule and nutritional suggestions, a managed hosting provider manages all of the technical stuff for your website, like keeping it safe and making sure it runs smoothly.

Building upon the workout analogy, as your goals change, whether it’s weight loss, muscle gain, or general fitness, a personal trainer will customize your workout plan to meet the desired goals. Similarly, when the demand of your website grows with a larger audience or new service requirements, a managed hosting provider ensures appropriate resources are allocated to support those needs so that your website continues to perform in high traffic. 

So when trying to find the best hosting solution for scalability, managed hosting is typically recommended over shared hosting.

Why managed hosting is best for growing sites

Shared hosting can be a great budget choice to start, especially for small-scale hobby sites and other sites that aren’t business-critical. However, when you are working for clients or customers, you often have requirements that even the best shared hosting providers aren’t always equipped to handle.

Especially when developing a complex site, it’s important to have hosting that can grow with a site, as your host will need to support more traffic, a greater number of plugins, or different types of editorial content. 

Unfortunately, many shared WordPress hosting platforms have some difficulty meeting this need, and there are a number of common problems you may face when using shared hosting:

Security

Security can be an issue with some of the shared hosting providers due to the fact that multiple sites are sharing resources. Depending on how the infrastructure is configured, a vulnerable plugin on someone else’s site could affect yours, even if you keep all your plugins, themes, and WordPress core up to date!

As your site grows, you’ll also likely need to add more users with permissions to log in and manage the site. Thanks to WordPress’s user roles, it’s easy to restrict what parts of a site users are able to change. However, as this list of users grows, so do the opportunities for less-secure practices to sneak into your site and potentially compromise things.

One major concern is authenticating users who need access to the backend of your site. With a solution like WordPress.com, you get our Secure Sign-On, which allows you to use a single set of credentials to access both the WordPress.com dashboard and the backend WP Admin dashboard of any of your sites, quickly and securely. It also allows you to enforce two-factor authentication or security key authentication to ensure that everyone who has access to your site is accessing it in the most secure way possible.

Since eligible WordPress.com plans also run on WP Cloud’s architecture, your site gets double protection through the use of their Linux namespaces and control groups; they separate your site data from other sites and users. 

WP Cloud also encrypts site traffic with Transport Layer Security (TLS), protecting any data your users share with your website (and vice versa).

Cost containment

A common pattern among shared hosting companies is to be relatively cheap but charge for additional features a la carte, such as a content delivery network (CDN) or increased bandwidth. 

While this might make sense for someone just starting out, more advanced sites may need additional features, which can rapidly make hosting your site an expensive proposition. A better choice is finding a managed hosting provider that gives you everything you need to scale your site for a flat rate.

With WordPress.com’s eligible plans, you get access to WP Cloud’s ultra-powerful Global Edge Caching, unrestricted bandwidth, a site accelerator CDN, and high-burst capacity, all included within your plan.

Scalability

As your site scales, you’ll be adding more content and getting more traffic. Your server needs to handle the increased demands and load that a bigger, more highly-trafficked site requires. A managed hosting company handles traffic spikes and increased demands on the server behind the scenes, so that you can rest assured that your site won’t be held back by the hosting infrastructure it sits on. 

When comparing hosts, the ability to handle increased infrastructure demands should be a primary consideration; you don’t want your website to go down just when it’s getting more exposure than normal or while your business is growing.

In independent, third-party testing, WordPress.com stands out for its top tier performance, even under increased load. Your site will also load quickly at scale due to the quantity of PHP workers available from WP Cloud for each eligible WordPress.com site

PHP workers process PHP code to build pages, execute processes, and fulfill requests. The number of PHP workers provided by your host impacts the amount of uncached requests your site can handle at once. The more PHP workers your site has, the quicker content can be shown to your audience.

Our custom resource management system automatically scales to over 100 PHP workers that will support your sites and keep things running efficiently, regardless of the number of visitors trying to access them at once. 

blue buildings going from small to tall with a blue cloud with the WordPress logo in it on a black background

Performance

One of the major downsides to shared hosting is speed. Because you’re sharing the same server and resources with many other customers, there are limits to how fast your site can load, especially if your site or someone else’s site on your shared server experiences heavy traffic. And as you probably already know, sites that perform better and load more quickly are more attractive to customers and do more business overall

Even though many shared hosting solutions claim to offer “unlimited” bandwidth or other resources, there are practical infrastructure limitations due to the fact that you’re sharing with others. 

As your site grows, shared hosting can also lead to decreased stability and uptime. With multiple sites competing for resources, there’s a higher likelihood of performance bottlenecks and server strain, potentially causing frequent downtimes and slower loading speeds. Consequently, you may find yourself spending more time on maintenance tasks to address these issues.

With WordPress.com, your site resources will scale with your website as it grows, so you never need to pay overage charges or worry about being too successful. Eligible WordPress.com hosting plans include WP Cloud’s robust and automated burst scaling to ensure that your website will never slow down or crash as a result of heavy traffic spikes or excessive concurrent users.

How to make your site more scalable

No matter where your site is hosted, there are some best practices that you can implement to make it more scalable:

Use a Content Delivery Network

A Content Delivery Network (CDN) provider has dedicated servers around the country or world that can serve your site’s static assets quickly, dramatically improving page load time. Serving static assets from a dedicated CDN, instead of serving them from your web server, frees up your web server to process requests to the actual site, and helps these resources load faster for users around the world. When you can, you should always use a CDN to make your site load more efficiently.

If you decide to use WordPress.com for your site’s hosting, you can take advantage of the Site Accelerator from Jetpack and offload the responsibility of serving static assets, such as images, JavaScript, and CSS, to the CDN. This will ensure that even as you add more media to your site, performance won’t be affected, because the heavy lifting will be handled by your CDN.

Caching

Another way to make your WordPress site more scalable is to effectively utilize caching. Hitting the database or an external API to fetch data for rendering a page can slow down your site. By caching some of these performance-impacting pieces, you can significantly speed up page load and ensure your site remains performant.

A form of caching uses the transient system built into WordPress, which can store the result of a long-running database query or API call in the wp_options table of the WordPress database, allowing quick lookups. In general, any data that takes a long time to generate is a good fit for a transient. Transients expire over time, so they won’t always be cached, but when they are, they can significantly speed up page load time. Check out this complete guide on WordPress Transients to learn more.

There are also caching plugins that do some of this work for you. However, in many cases, hosting providers implement their own caching systems that conflict with these plugins, so be sure to check with your hosting provider to see if the caching plugins you’re interested in are compatible with their infrastructure. 

WordPress.com has all these caching solutions built-in, there’s no need to use additional plugins to handle caching.

Autoloading

Another improvement you can make to your site, regardless of your hosting provider, is checking how many autoloaded queries you have. By default, certain options in WordPress are autoloaded, meaning they’re queried from the database on every page load, regardless of whether they’re needed on that particular page.

By only autoloading the options that are actually required everywhere on your site, you can reduce the number of database queries made on each page load, which will make your site load much more efficiently.

If you’re not sure what’s getting autoloaded, you can check the total size of all the options you are autoloading by running the following SQL query:

SELECT SUM(LENGTH(option_value)) as autoload_size FROM wp_options WHERE autoload=’yes’;

This will give you the total size, in kilobytes, of options that are autoloading. If this is more than a megabyte, you should investigate what you are storing in wp-options and what’s being autoloaded to see if there are any optimizations you can make here.

Wrapping up

When it comes to building and growing your WordPress site, the last thing you want to worry about is your hosting provider not being able to handle your expansion. By choosing scalable, managed WordPress hosting that takes care of all of the core features required to host your site, you’ll be able to grow without issue, keeping your customers and users happy.

You can rely on WordPress.com’s managed WordPress hosting as a fast, secure hosting environment that will scale with you and your clients’ success.

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