What do Sony Music, The Walt Disney Company, Time Inc., BBC America, and Clorox have in common? Here’s one thing: They all use WordPress to help get their digital content out to the masses.
WordPress began as a blogging platform, but it’s way more than that today. WordPress has become an enterprise-grade solution that doesn’t come with enterprise-level complication.
WordPress powers more websites than any other content management system (CMS). Most of the platform is simple, and that’s the part of WordPress you have to look out for. The dashboard is so easy to learn and operate that it can be startling when you uncover some of the complexity lurking just beneath the surface. After nearly a decade of working with WordPress sites, we have learned how important it is to have the right hosting environment and the best support possible to manage those underlying complexities.
After several huge headaches and near misses in a row, we moved our own site to a managed hosting solution specializing in WordPress, and we began urging our clients to do the same.
That turned out to be one of the best decisions we have ever made. Not only did it free us up to focus on the work we do best, it meant we no longer had to worry about downtime, security breaches, or even version upgrades.
You can invest huge amounts of time and money on advertising, social media marketing, and offsite SEO, but if you don’t invest in quality hosting and management – all of that effort can go down the drain overnight.
My aim here is to briefly describe the events that led us to decide to turn the job of WordPress hosting and backend management away from the “Big Boys” and over to a team of WordPress professionals.
My hope is that you learn from our experience and consider your own move to WordPress managed hosting. Don’t let the calamities that happened to us happen to you.
Why We Decided to Switch to WordPress Managed Hosting
Generally speaking, WordPress is a non-technician’s dream. That’s why it’s the leading content management system on the planet.
My No. 1 job at White Rabbit Marketing, though, is to make sure my business is running smoothly, and our clients are happy and performing, all while taking care of things like website design, content management, and technical SEO.
WordPress management not only isn’t the best use of my time, but there are many situations where focused technical management is imperative.
To illustrate what I mean, let me share a few real-life stories.
The case of the missing backup
One of our clients was updating plugins on her site, but closed the dashboard before the update finished. That somehow caused a malfunction that took the site down. Visitors could no longer access it at all, and we’re talking about an ecommerce site.
Our client was losing money every minute, and she called us for help.
I called my lead developer and went looking for a backup. That’s when I found that someone (on the client’s side) had turned backups off and trashed the backup history. My staff and I used every bit of WordPress savvy we could muster, but couldn’t get the site back in operation.
You see, there’s a difference between frontend developers and backend developers. The former make webpages come to life, and the latter make life come to webpages by controlling the guts of WordPress.
I started calling everyone I could think of who might be able to help. Several hours and a pile of cash later, my client’s site was back up.
Strike one was human error. We met with the client and put a process in place to make sure that kind of thing could never happen again. But a few weeks later, we got hit from a different angle with a different client.
The surgeon whose website suddenly became too graphic
Within a month, we faced another crisis: A hacker gained access to a client’s site (a breast surgeon) and posted a “Watch This” link that led to an obscene site.
Once again, my team and I did our best to solve the problem. We couldn’t pull it off, though. I called on a WordPress security expert I work with from time to time, and it wasn’t cheap.
The good news here is that we acted quickly enough to clear the hack overnight. As far as I know, none of the visitors to the page clicked the link.
Can you imagine what a hoopla something like that could raise? Think of the damage it could have done to the reputation of our client. It was a close call… too close for comfort.
I began seriously searching for a way to better protect my clients and relieve myself of a giant headache (short of hiring a dedicated WordPress security expert).
This chiropractor’s five minutes of fame crashed the server
While I was still pondering the situation, I got another call. One of our clients, a New York chiropractor, was invited to appear on a segment of the Dr. Oz television show. He didn’t tell me about it, though. He wanted it to be a surprise, and it definitely was.
His dreams of bringing in dozens of new clients came crashing down when the spike in visitors overloaded the server his website was hosted on. We were able to get him back online fairly quickly, but there’s no doubt he lost business from the ordeal. It was another live and learn moment.
WordPress backend problems can take a big chunk out of revenue, leave you open to hackers, and wreak havoc with your SEO standing. I’m in business to support my clients. They depend on me to help them navigate online hazards and optimize their sites for sales. I knew that we needed someone to help us manage the technical intricacies of hosting our WordPress sites.
The Criteria We Used to Search for Managed Hosting
I made a list of the tasks I wanted covered. (Given our recent harrowing episodes, the list pretty well made itself.) Here’s how it looked:
Security provisions must be world-class and sites must be constantly monitored
The undesirable link on the surgeon’s site was a nightmare in the making, but it was minor compared to what can happen. I’ve heard of hackers completely taking down sites.
Sometimes the bad guys demand ransom before letting you regain control of your own site. And sometimes, you have to start over from scratch with an entire rebuild.
My research turned up some mind-blowing facts. For instance, if you were aware of how frequently hackers, scammers, and bots try to access your website, you’d be scared spitless. WordPress is regularly updated to patch security holes, but it’s not perfect.
Someone still needs to guard the castle.
Here’s something else to consider. Those low-budget hosting accounts are cheap, but they stick your site on a shared server that’s pretty well available to anyone who wants to host there.
Here’s a way to find out who those neighbors are: Check Domain Neighbors. Are you a bit surprised at the results? I sure was.
I knew we wanted a hosting management team capable of looking after my site and my clients’ sites 24/7. We also wanted to know that backups would be taken before any update and immediately after any changes.
It’s a wild world out there, and the hackers keep working while you sleep.
Customer service calls should be addressed quickly and clearly 24/7
The hosting service we were using is one of the world’s largest. Not only did they have our sites situated in “bad neighborhoods,” their service department seemed more like a sales department.
Their “technicians” kept putting us on hold while they went looking for answers to the most basic questions. They were great at reviewing our account and suggesting upgrades, but my confidence in their technical abilities was fairly non-existent.
We needed a company with service agents and technical support that knew what they were doing and understood the intricacies of WordPress.
Backend capability must include optimizing for load time
This is a factor that often gets overlooked. Slow-to-load websites drive customers away and put a dent in your ability to rank on the search engine results page (SERP). Today’s online user doesn’t like waiting. I reasoned that a vendor with professional backend developers and WordPress experts on the team would surely be able to keep our sites both secure and speedy.
The host should be able to keep us and our clients live under heavy traffic conditions
The chiropractor’s server crash was an eye-opener.
Most hosting companies allow you only so much bandwidth. In normal, day-to-day operations, all is fine. Hit the bullseye, though, get featured in the news or watch one of your videos go viral, and your host can bail out on you just when you need the exposure most.
I hoped to find a WordPress managed hosting provider who could handle extra traffic and keep our clients’ websites running even when visitor numbers soared.
Why We Decided to Trust WP Engine for Managed Hosting
The search didn’t take long. I kissed a few frogs, but one name kept popping up: WP Engine. They had already been around for a few years, quietly growing in the background, but had not reached my ears until a colleague sent me a link to their ebook, The Four Ss of Managed WordPress Hosting.
Reading it, I discovered that WP Engine’s primary services matched my must-have list exactly:
- Security: They turn the bad guys away – both from hosting on their servers and from attacking your website at any level. If there’s a problem, you don’t have to go running for help. WP Engine monitors your website and takes quick action to fend off or fix any problems that occur. That means I can go to sleep without worrying about site security. Their backup protocol is even stronger than I envisioned, and their SSL (secure sockets layer) technology is easy to implement.
- Service: I’ve never worked with a more capable and caring customer service team. No matter when I call, I know I’ll be working with a professional technician who knows exactly what I’m talking about and moves rapidly to solve my problem. Unlike our previous host, they’re not there to sell us; they’re there to serve us. Here’s a huge shout-out to the WP Engine customer service team: You rock!
- Speed: Initially, I was worried about losing speed on our websites if we moved to managed hosting. We’ve put a ton of time into optimizing for speed. Once we moved to WP Engine, though, load time got even better. Their EverCache technology bumps caching capability up to the ceiling (both browser and object caching). Their content delivery network (CDN) serves content from the nearest server to the customer. That means every region runs fast and strong. My team is totally impressed with the results.
- Scalability: Wouldn’t you love to see one of your blog posts gain traction and go viral on social media? Or how about one of the news giants picking up on a story involving your company and broadcasting your name and URL worldwide? We found out the hard way that too much traffic can bring a website down completely. That not only causes you to miss out on sales, but puts a big dent in your branding and reputation. You don’t want to be known for failure, but you’re setting yourself up for it by relying on a regular, self-managed hosting account. WP Engine’s EverCache helps here too, and their team is on standby constantly to help you stay online under the most challenging conditions.
That’s a micro-survey of our findings. There are more benefits to WP Engine managed WordPress hosting, but I’ll stop at the basics. To find out more, just check out their website.
By the way, I’m not getting paid by WP Engine to wave a banner for them. As I said earlier, my aim here is to be helpful to my peers and maybe even help someone else avoid the situations we encountered.
Yes, we had to increase our hosting budget a bit to make the move, but that small investment is way beyond worth it. WP Engine earns every penny of their fees, and we’ve more than made up for it by being able to focus on OUR primary capabilities.
This Could Happen to You – Why We Switched to Managed Hosting
Shortly after the move, one of our clients found out about the WP Engine service structure first-hand. When hackers came out in full force against the server that was hosting the website for his business, WP Engine immediately fought back, then moved our client’s site to a different server away from the fray. We received an email shortly thereafter explaining what had happened. Our client’s website experienced almost no down-time whatsoever. If they hadn’t sent the email, we would never even have known anything was going on. That’s how quick and efficient the process was.
Think about it. What would downtime cost your business? How happy would your clients be if their sites went down? Do you know how to fend off a DDoS attack? Can you repair a damaged database or stay up all night watching for problems?
Thankfully, though, the WordPress experts at WP Engine can.
About the Author:
David Faltz is the founder of the digital marketing agency, White Rabbit Marketing. He helps small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) build presence and enhance brand recognition. White Rabbit is an leader in advanced Search Engine and Branding Optimization techniques (SEBO) and provides website designs optimized for effectiveness. David is a University of Florida graduate, with degrees in public relations and business management.