Having a website that loads lightning fast isn’t a luxury anymore — it’s a must.
Web users are very impatient these days. If your site takes more than 2-3 seconds to load, you could be losing a lot of traffic and revenue.
This is particularly true for mobile web users. And since the majority of people use their mobile devices to browse the Internet and shop online nowadays, you cannot overlook the importance of optimizing your site’s loading speed.
Web pages that load slowly also get a low Google PageSpeed score, which can negatively affect your site’s rankings in Google search results. So one of the numerous things you can do to improve your SE rankings is to speed up your site.
WordPress, by its nature, isn’t particularly known for being a fast content management system. It makes heavy use of server resources compared to other lighter or custom-made content management systems.
Both your WordPress installation (including the theme and plugins) and the web server it is hosted on play a major role in how fast your site performs. In this article, we’ll only focus on the second part, i.e. the server and the hosting service.
Key Factors For Fast WordPress Hosting
When searching for the fastest web hosting service for your WordPress site, the following criteria should be at the top of your list.
1. Type of The Hosting Service
There are generally three types of web hosting you’ll have to choose from. These are shared hosting, virtual servers, and dedicated servers.
Shared Hosting For Small Sites
Shared hosting involves multiple user accounts and websites sharing the same physical server with each account allowed a certain quota of resources (disk space, CPU, memory, and others).
This is the cheapest option and also the most limited in terms of available resources for your site. There are normally different tiers of plans to choose from, each of which includes preset limits on available server resources.
Most shared hosting plans are suitable for a new site or a relatively simple one that doesn’t receive large amounts of traffic and doesn’t consume a lot of server resources. More demanding sites may experience poor performance with a shared hosting service due to the server resource limitations.
Virtual Servers For Business Sites
A virtual server can either be a virtual private server (VPS) or a virtual cloud server, both of which are similar in that they provide virtually dedicated resources.
With a virtual server, you get a certain amount of CPU cores and RAM that are exclusively dedicated to your account/site and not shared with any other sites. This obviously results in improved performance and speed, but comes at a higher cost and requires more technical knowledge.
Small business and e-commerce site owners ideally opt for a managed VPS or a managed cloud server where the host takes care of software installations, updates, security, server monitoring, etc. This is more costly than an unmanaged server, but unless you have a solid experience with server systems and the Linux command line, you can potentially run into a lot of trouble if you choose to manage your own virtual server.
Dedicated Servers For Enterprise
A dedicated server is the most advanced and most expensive type of web hosting. You get a whole physical server with all of its resources fully dedicated to your site.
In terms of performance, no other type of web hosting can beat a properly configured dedicated server.
However, setting up, maintaining, securing and monitoring a dedicated server (or more) requires having a full-time server administrator on your team. This option is usually suitable for large businesses and enterprise projects that can afford it.
2. Type of Server Storage Device
One of the main determinants of your website’s speed is how fast it can transfer data from and to the server’s storage device (disk or drive).
The read/write, or input/output (I/O), rate varies significantly between the three main types of storage devices used in web servers. These are HDD, SSD, and NVMe SSD devices.
HDD drives are the slowest and the worst for hosting a WordPress site since they offer low I/O speeds. SSD drives are several times faster than HDD and can offer ample I/O speeds for most sites.
But if you want the fastest data transfer experience, look for hosts that equip their servers with NVMe SSD drives. These are capable of delivering I/O and IOPS rates that are multiple times higher than what standard SSD devices can afford.
It’s important to note, however, that regardless of the storage device used by the server, hosting providers can set account-specific limits on I/O rates.
Companies that use NVMe SSD are usually more generous with I/O limits, but you should always check this when exploring different services to make sure it won’t fall short of your site’s requirements.
3. Web Server Software
Apache is the most popular web server software used by the majority of web hosts. It is free and generally offers decent performance.
A better option would be an Apache + Nginx server setup, where the latter functions as a reverse proxy for enhanced caching and performance. Many web hosts are switching to this option for its numerous advantages as opposed to using Apache on its own.
The third, and arguably the best, web server software option for hosting WordPress sites is LiteSpeed. This is a commercial software that outperforms both Apache and Nginx as far as WordPress hosting is concerned. It also comes with a free cache plugin that can further speed up your WP site.
4. Number of PHP Workers
WordPress is written in the PHP scripting language. Each time a user visits the website, it needs to run PHP code on the server before sending the requested page to the user’s browser (unless it’s a cached static page).
PHP workers execute PHP code on the web server. The more workers that are available, the more simultaneous requests (visits) can be handled and served without delay.
The number of PHP workers your site will need depends on its complexity and the amount of traffic it receives.
For example, a mostly static website (such as a blog) with server-side caching enabled should do fine with just 2 PHP workers.
On the other hand, dynamic sites and those using complex plugins — such as WooCommerce for e-commerce stores — require a higher number of PHP workers to run smoothly. Otherwise, slow loading and error pages become a frequent problem for the site’s visitors.
Some WordPress hosts are known for having strict limits on the number of PHP workers available in each plan and will charge you extra to upgrade the limit (Yes, I’m looking at you, Kinsta!)
This is something you should pay attention to when examining the technical features of any WordPress hosting plan.
A content delivery network (CDN) consists of a large number of geographically (often globally) distributed proxy servers. It speeds up the loading of web pages by serving cached (locally stored) copies of static content from a proxy server that is closest to the end user’s geographic location.
If your website serves a global audience, you should definitely consider implementing a CDN service. Not only will it make your website load faster for users accessing it from distant locations, it will also reduce the load on your server’s resources and thus can lower your web hosting costs.
Some hosting providers have their own CDN service, while others can help you implement a third-party CDN service, such as Cloudflare.
6. Sever Security
Sometimes a slow website is neither caused by the website’s setup nor the web hosting service.
External bad actors like hackers, spammers, bots and malware can slow down the entire server and cause all the sites served by it to experience poor performance.
It’s not enough to secure your own website with third-party security plugins, because a malicious attack may target another website on the server or the server as a whole.
To ensure a secure hosting environment, the provider should implement the proper server-level tools to scan for and prevent different types of security threats including malware, spam, DDoS attacks, vulnerability exploits, and others.
Real-time malware scanning is especially critical in shared hosting environments where one infected website can lead to performance degradation for hundreds of other websites sharing the same server.
A Final Important Note
While your web hosting service can definitely affect the speed of your WordPress website, it’s also important to consider how your own website setup and design affect its performance.
If your site is using a poorly-optimized theme and/or is bloated with a bunch of poorly-optimized plugins, then no matter how fast of a hosting server you use, it’s not going to make much of a difference.
So, make sure you pick a theme that is optimized for fast loading and use as few plugins as possible.