Hosting a high traffic WordPress blog – GoDaddy Managed WordPress review (Part 1)

This is my first post in trying to write-up my process of monetizing a website.

Just to be clear, at this time, this blog is NOT hosted at GoDaddy, so don’t use the performance of this blog as an example of what you can expect.  I got involved with GoDaddy’s Managed WordPress product because I am helping a colleague out who has a high traffic blog on WordPress.com and he wanted to move it to a self-hosted account in order to monetize it.  Wordpress.com does a great job of hosting, but they are restrictive on what you are allowed to post when it comes to ads and affiliate links.

I’ve been involved in hosting websites for a long time, so I figured I could help.  There were two main issues I needed to figure out with a high volume WordPress blog.  First, I had to make sure there would be enough server resources to deliver webpages during a high volume spike.  By high volume, I’m talking about several hundred thousand page views per day when a post goes viral.  Typical traffic is more like a few thousand page views in a day but at least once every few days a post will get tens of thousands of views in a day.

The second issue I had to ensure was that there would be enough bandwidth.  Bandwidth has become much cheaper, but many of the better hosting providers still have relatively modest limits on bandwidth for a high volume site.

The third issue involved is that the owner of the blog was familiar with GoDaddy and seemed more inclined to go with something he had heard of.  I personally have heard more negative things about GoDaddy hosting in the past, but I’m hoping things are changing for my colleague’s sake.

I started with hosts I’m familiar with.  I have a reseller account and I had looked into using my host.  My host said that the server should be able to handle the traffic loads as long as the site is using a caching plugin that is properly set-up.  The issue with my host is bandwidth.  I don’t really know how much bandwidth the site will need.  My host provides a decent amount of bandwidth, but a viral post would eat up the bandwidth and overages on bandwidth are costly.  Going to a higher account also doesn’t make much sense.

I then started to look at other hosts.  As my colleague only has the one site, the options are better than what I typically have dealt with when trying to find a host since I manage multiple sites.  There are so many options out there, but I wanted to keep it simple.  If you ask around, you’ll get as many recommendations as people you can ask.  Many people suggested going with a VPS (virtual private server) or even a dedicated server based on the volume of traffic.  I’ve been around long enough to know that a dedicated server is overkill.  A VPS can be fine, but I didn’t want to deal with managing it and a good managed VPS can be costly – typically around the $50/month range at the time of this writing.  Anything unmanaged means I would have to be available to troubleshoot if the site goes down.  As website hosting and design is my hobby, and I have a fairly busy full time job, it wasn’t something I wanted to get into.  At least not at this point in my life.

I also have mixed feelings about a VPS vs reseller hosting/shared hosting.  With a VPS you have the advantage of guaranteed resources, but you also generally have pretty close limits on the maximum resources available.  I am doubtful there are many shared hosting providers that would even consider a site that uses that much bandwidth, although a properly configured wordpress site may not use nearly as much resources as many people think.  The options I was most interested in, and may still wind up pursuing if Godaddy Managed WordPress hosting doesn’t work out, were the semi-dedicated shared hosting plans.  There are a few I looked into, and they run around $20 / month.  The places that seemed most reasonable and recommended included stablehost.com, mddhosting.com, and hawkhost.com.  I actually liked mddhosting.com the most from a reputation standpoint, but I probably won’t go with them because of bandwidth limits on their accounts.  In the past, I’d always completely avoid any unlimited bandwidth hosts, but I’ve changed my attitude given the significant drop in bandwidth costs.  It is much more likely that a website will run out of CPU and memory resources before incurring a significant bandwidth cost (at least that is my understanding of it).

I very briefly looked at the other available managed wordpress hosts.  Their prices are VERY high for high volume sites.  For example, WP Engine charges $249 / month for sites with up to 400k visitors a month.  That seems insane to me, and if the GoDaddy Managed WordPress works, it may very well put them out of business.  Maybe WP Engine offers a lot more hand holding for specific things, but that is a huge amount of money to spend on a wordpress host, even if it is a high volume site.  For that amount of money, you could rent a managed dedicated server and hire someone to set-up and optimize things for WordPress.  You wouldn’t need nearly as much optimizing on a dedicated server.  I would say that a modest $20/month VPS could be properly configured to handle large loads, but I played around with doing that myself and it wasn’t as easy as it sounds.  I’m not that experienced with setting up servers, but I don’t think it is the most complex thing either.  When I tried to follow online tutorials to set-up a VPS with wordpress using Varnish, I wasn’t able to get it to work properly.  If I had more time, I could probably get a basic set-up to work, but ultimately, I don’t have the time to monitor and troubleshoot even if I did get it working.  However, even without varnish, using a caching plug-in like W3 Total Cache, it seemed Digital Ocean’s $5 / month VPS was able to easily handle 250 concurrent users over a 30 second period based on blitz.io testing.  That would be sufficient for the vast majority of wordpress.com users.

I was looked at Godaddy’s shared hosting and they certainly offer a lot of resources for a low price.  It wasn’t at all clear from their descriptions, though, just how much their shared hosting account can handle.  I called customer support and they mention that the basic shared hosting account is limited to 300 connections.  Looking at their website now, they say the economy shared hosting is limited to 50 connections, 200 mysql connections, and the cpanel linux hosting is limited to 200 simultaneous visitors (interesting, as our test of traffic seemed to peak at about 200 visitors per Google real-time analytics, but that is probably a coincidence).  Depending on how they define simultaneous visitors, that can make a HUGE difference.  Most hosts will give you 25 concurrent connections and that would be plenty as most connections are milliseconds long.  It would be extremely unlikely for someone to exceed 25 concurrent connections, unless there is a configuration error.  200 simultaneous visitors means something very different though.  Is it 200 visitors per second?  Or 200 per 5 minutes?  I’ll post a follow-up when I hear more.

Back to this post – I decided to call GoDaddy sales to see what their shared hosting actually could handle.  The support staff seemed to say the right things, but I’m not sure how well they really understand what 300 concurrent connections means.  They suggested I go with the higher level shared hosting to allow for more concurrent connections.  I realize the account shouldn’t need it.  But then the sales guy mentioned that they are rolling out a managed wordpress hosting and it was under $10 / month.  This had my attention as it would be a perfect fit.  If they properly configure their server with caching in place, they can easily handle MANY typical wordpress sites on a single server, let alone multiple servers how they have it.

We decided to give it a go.

(I have now posted part 2 with a more detailed description of my experiences so far) and I have posted part 3 of my GoDaddy Managed WordPress hosting review.

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