WooCommerce is a popular ecommerce platform because of its simplicity and the high performance. However, as experts will tell you, the real performance of a WooCommerce store comes from the underlying hosting infrastructure that powers it. In many instances, the hosting solution is the make-or-break decision that determines the success of a WooCommerce store.
Another important aspect to remember in this context is all the work that goes into the management of a WooCommerce store. In addition to store administration, the typical workload of a WooCommerce store owner also includes taking care of the server that hosts the store. Now, a small fraction of the ecommerce store owners is technically competent enough to take care of server maintenance and security on a day-to-day basis.
The cost of the WooCommerce hosting solution is another determining factor that influences the choice. The general expert advice is to opt for the middle of the price range. This is because of the simple fact that the low-cost shared hosting solution is not adequate enough, while the high operating costs of a dedicated server mean that not many store owners could afford these servers.
What Does Your WooCommerce Store Need?
The process of finalizing the hosting provider for your WooCommerce store should start from listing down the performance and technical requirements of your store. The list should include questions such as:
- How much disk space does your store needs?
- How many domain names would you like manage?
- What essential services do you need for your WooCommerce store?
Once you have the list of questions, you should next consider the requirements of your WooCommerce store in detail. Here are some essential factors and requirements that contribute to the success of your store.
The Basic Operational Requirements
The official WordPress documentation clearly lays out the basic requirements for a WooCommerce store. The barebones hosting solution should provide:
- Disk space of at least 32 MB
- Apache and/or NGINX running upon a Linux based OS
- PHP version 7.2 or higher
- MySQL version 5.6 or higher
- MariaDB version 10.0 or higher
- HTTPS support
In addition, the hosting provider should provide caching at server level through Varnish or similar cache option to boost the store’s performance.
An average web page with an average-sized script and one or two images usually takes 0.1MB disk space. On the other hand, an ecommerce store generally requires around 1GB of disk space. This requirement goes up as the store adds more content visuals and animations. Also, note that the contents of the store’s email accounts also take up disk space.
Disk space is the cheapest resource to add and many hosting providers do offer adequate disk space to fulfill all your requirements.
Many store owners are not really sure how much bandwidth they need. A simple rule of thumb is to use page views as a measure of the bandwidth requirements. An average web page is around 0.1MB and thus a monthly page view count of 50,000 translates to a bandwidth requirement of 5GB.
Bandwidth is not cheap and often the bulk of the hosting invoice comprises of the bandwidth costs. However, as the store becomes popular, the traffic increases and you will need to invest in more bandwidth.
FTP accounts are not just for developers only. Store owners also use these accounts for store management through an FTP client such as FileZilla and CuteFTP. While FTP accounts come with every hosting account, the number varies, and you need to make sure that the provided number is adequate for your requirements.
Database lies at the heart of any WooCommerce store. While all hosts provide the database, it is important to check the version of the database to ensure compatibility with the installed WooCommerce and other plugin versions.
Remember that the database takes up disk space and in many cases, the size of the database increases at an alarming rate. If you don’t pay attention to the database cleanup and optimization, you will soon see your store slowing down significantly.
Hosted Email Accounts
According to many experts, @storedomain[dot]com email address is essential for maintaining the reputation of the store. While an average store requires at least five email addresses, the number really depends upon the store’s marketing strategy. Several hosting providers limit the number of active email accounts with a visible impact on your store’s marketing strategy.
However, it is always suggested to keep hosting and emails separately. One of the WordPress influencers has written an excellent guide on why and how to keep them separate.
Serious Questions to Ask Yourself About Your Hosting Needs
How Much Traffic do you Expect in the Coming Months?
Growth in traffic is a serious challenge for the hosting solution of the store. If you have invested in the marketing of your store, you should seriously consider investing in a higher volume of bandwidth to accommodate the expected increase in traffic.
Do you need to Scale the Store Hosting Resources?
There are two basic approaches to scaling the hosting resources of your store. Vertical scaling is about increasing the server resources (including disk space, processor, and RAM). In contrast, horizontal scaling adds another server unit to share the increased demands on the server. In many cases, vertical scaling is a cost-effective and a one-click option that greatly improves store performance for the visitors. However, as the hardware and general prices drop, many WooCommerce hosting providers have also started offering horizontal scaling options.
Is your Current Hosting Provider Slow?
Your store’s page load time is crucial for both Google and the visitors of the store. Almost all store owners know the adverse impact of slow loading pages. However, many overlook the impact of the slow hosting provider on the Google’s SERP rankings. Page load speed of the store is the product of an optimized hosting solution and dedicated technologies such as CDN and server-level caches. Remember the three-second rule: If the store doesn’t load up in three seconds, the visitor is lost, probably forever.
What Is Your Budget for WooCommerce Hosting?
The most important thing to remember when answering this question is that the budget for hosting comes from the profit margins of the store. Hosting for WooCommerce stores comes in all flavors ranging from slow to fast and cheap to expensive. To select the right fit for your budget, first, make a list of your requirements and then shop around for the best deal.
When considering the question of budget, you should also keep the future expansion in mind. There is always a chance of growth and your current hosting provider should be able to keep pace with the growth (and the increased resources requirements) of your store.
Types of Web Hosting for WooCommerce Stores
When you go shopping for WooCommerce hosting, you will encounter at least four major types of web hosting, each with its own pros and cons. I will describe the hosting options so that you could take an informed decision about the new home for your store.
As the name implies, Shared hosting solutions “share” server resources among all the hosted websites and stores. Many beginners opt for shared hosting solutions because of low overall costs and next-to-none server management requirements. Many experts perceive these hosting plans as a good starting point because the store owners only need to focus on the business and need not worry about the hosting of the store.
The problem with shared hosting is the simple fact that the server resources might not be scaled on demand. Thus, in almost all cases, your store will not be available to some of the visitors. The problem becomes severe during crunch time (particularly Holiday Season) when the demand outmatches available server resources.
Dedicated hosting is the opposite of shared hosting – the entire server is dedicated to your WooCommerce store. You get to pick the server resources including processing power, RAM, disk space, and bandwidth. This is an ideal situation for any store because the store has access to all the server resources it needs.
The problem with dedicated hosting is the (very) high price tag and the requirement for technical knowledge. Since you will be financing the entire server, you will have to pay the full price for the hardware and installation. Once the hardware is up and running, you have to deal with all the software challenges yourself (or hire someone), including setting up the operating system layer and the WooCommerce store on top. Once everything is ready, you are responsible for backups, maintenance, and security of the server.
Virtual Private Server (VPS) hosting works similar to dedicated hosting, except the server is virtual. This setup offers more flexibility in terms of resource allocation and overall performance of the store. Since the VPS hosting is based on an underlying pool of shared server resources, the overall costs of ownership and operations are lower than dedicated hosting. However, all the issues of dedicated hosting such as server setup and day-to-day maintenance remain to burden down the business.
Cloud hosting offers a virtual server that is based on a distributed hosting infrastructure. This offers immense possibilities in terms of availability of server resources and flexibility of operations of the store.
Cloud hosting offers all the benefits of dedicated and VPS hosting solutions. Since the server resources are all virtual and can be scaled easily, you do not really have to worry about running out of server resources in the middle of a great sale season.
Unmanaged vs Managed Hosting vs Fully Managed WooCommerce Hosting
Another aspect of classifying hosting for WooCommerce stores is the required level of server management. On this scale, your options range from completely unmanaged to fully managed WooCommerce hosting solutions.
Unmanaged hosting solutions require the services of a full-time SYSADMIN and associated staff for sustained performance. This is an expensive solution with the advantage of being custom-tailored to the store’s requirements. However, the very high costs of the solution and the continuous need for in-house maintenance staff put it out of the range of most stores.
In the middle is the managed hosting solutions that offer server management services. These solutions are easy-to-manage and allow the users to focus on their business rather than worrying about server maintenance and backups.
At the other end of the spectrum lies managed WooCommerce hosting that offers a specialized hosting solution for WooCommerce stores. In addition to being completely managed, the hosting parameters (server resources and value-added services) are custom-tailored for WooCommerce stores.
Important Considerations in WooCommerce Hosting
Now that you have a fair idea of the basics of an ideal hosting solution for a WooCommerce store, I will now lay down the basic characteristics of a high-performance hosting solution.
Reputation for Performance
Every hosting provider boasts of the high performance of its solutions. The common claims include fast loading times (less than 0.3 seconds and the ability to go from 100 to 10,000 users in no time). However, your first consideration should be the market reputation of the hosting provider. For this, I recommend checking out social media and technology-focused forums to discover the actual user experience of the users.
However, this should be the starting point of your research. Since you already have the short-term and mid-term requirements for your WooCommerce stores, your next steps should involve matching these requirements with the offerings of the hosting providers.
Security is the most fundamental consideration for any online business. WooCommerce stores regularly face DDoS and SQL Injection attacks (to name a few). In this context, server-level security is THE essential requirement for any store. When considering a hosting solution, always focus on WooCommerce security provisions and measures that are in place for your store.
In the case of managed hosting solutions, the provider manages and administers the security of the server including the regular patching of the OS and application. However, if you have opted for unmanaged hosting, you (and your team) must be ready to take care of patching and updates within hours of release from the official vendors.
Many hosting providers have a backup policy that is a combination of automated processes and manual backup options. When disaster strikes, backups are the only way in which store owners could minimize downtime.
Remember that in the case of unmanaged hosting solutions you are responsible for setting up and maintaining regular backups. This is another reason why many store owners opt for managed WooCommerce hosting solutions because of the built-in backup processes.
A dedicated WordPress Staging environment allows you to test store-level changes without interrupting the business on the live store. A staging environment differs from similar services in that the users are able to “pull” and “push” changes to and from the live store. If your hosting solution offers a staging environment, you are in good hands.
Uptime is actually a combination of various factors including ironclad security and smooth-working moving parts. In short, uptime is what you will experience when everything is working as it should. While all hosting providers promise “99.99%” uptime, few are able to keep it. Again, your best sources of information are the user reviews and industry news. Generally, managed hosting solutions are able to deliver better uptime because of the attention of the support team.
Despite all precautions, things will go wrong with your WooCommerce store. In such situations, the support provided by the hosting provider will determine whether you will continue to make money from your store. Ideally, the support should be available 24/7 and even during the holidays. In fact, the Holiday Season is the time when you will need the support the most as you cannot afford to let issues translate into store downtime. The support channels should include Live Chat, email and a ticketing system that allows you to keep track of the issue resolution process.
SSL certificates have become the essential operational requirements of WooCommerce stores, with Google Chrome marking all non-SSL enabled websites as “Not Secure” from October 2017 onwards. The cost of owning and yearly (or bi-yearly) renewal of the SSL certificates can become a serious cost of doing business for small and mid-level stores. Experts recommend opting for hosting providers that offer FREE SSL certificates to help avoid unnecessary costs.
The location of the data center that hosts your WooCommerce store has a serious impact on the user experience. The larger the distance between the data center and the visitor, the longer it would take to load the web pages. While this is not a strict requirement, you should consider the hosting solution that is closest to your target audience. Alternatively, you should consider investing in a CDN solution for the global audience to remedy the slow page load speed situation.
Many store owners think scalability as something a bit far into the future. However, the solution should be flexible enough to grow as the store grows. As such, the solution should have scalability built-in as changing hosting mid-season is a huge hassle that few store owners are willing to endure.
The right hosting solution for WooCommerce stores is mainly a matter of preference of the store owners. There are people who have years of experience in technical management of servers. Then, there are people who have no clue about how their hosting solution works. Given this wide range of experiences, I would suggest trying out the managed WooCommerce hosting to everyone. This option is ideal for people with little to no technical expertise, who do not have to worry about server-level mishaps affecting their business. Similarly, this option is great for techies who have the knowledge but not the time to manage the servers