We chose to focus on just the host and theme for this article. There’s a ton more that goes into a WordPress site than these two things, but these are the foundation of every website. Well, hosting is the foundation and the theme is the next layer that everything builds upon.
That makes hosting and theme equally important and is the reason we’re focusing on hosting and WordPress theme. They’re also two things that are done wrong right from the start even by supposed WordPress or web design experts. It’s much too common for us to see websites that are hosted on GoDaddy, Bluehost, HostGator, etc. and with a theme from ThemeForest that is poor quality.
There are more bad hosts than good hosts and there are more bad themes than there are good ones for WordPress. That’s why this article focuses on helping you choose the best of the best if you really want to be an expert or create a good website. We also balance simplicity, elegance, and speed. That means we’re not simply focused on the fastest but rather the fastest that is simple to use without sacrificing any speed.
We also see websites developed with StudioPress themes which is great for developers IF they put in the massive work needed to make them functional. The problem is, developers go with these standard developer friendly themes because they’re the standard but don’t make them work well for the user.
Balancing the user’s needs, future developers and designers’ needs, and creating a website that’s fast, looks good, and functions well are all necessary to balance. Unfortunately they often aren’t balanced from the host to the theme and beyond.
I won’t focus on plugins at all because they’re simply too complex and vary too greatly for every project. Just keep in mind that the same goes for plugins in that there are more bad plugins out there than good.
Why You Should Listen To Us
We aren’t hardcore developers, but we’re also not beginners. We’re expert designers with a lot of experience and enough developer chops to do what’s right without sacrificing usability on the front end and back end. Our focus is on the perfect balance with the right host and the right theme for the core of WordPress and then building upon that.
We specialize in building affordable WordPress websites for local small businesses. We’re capable and have done larger scale projects, but we’ve found we can best serve local small businesses who have a harder time getting quality web design for an affordable price.
Our work has given us the knowledge of how to choose the best host and theme for WordPress websites. These are often overlooked, yet they’re the most important steps for every website. Without choosing the best host and theme possible, the rest of a WordPress website is going to be a failure.
Our work has brought us away from the standard popular hosts and themes for the most part and given us the background to make the ideal suggestion for each use. Most websites built today are built for either looks or developerness (is that a thing?)
It will either be too slow, too cumbersome, difficult to use, insecure, or even all of them at once. There are too many bad hosts and bad themes out there to just look for something you like or go with the most popular and call it good. Every project is unique and requires a thorough analysis of the requirements.
As far as the project type goes, we work on small business websites which for the most part are classified as a project type. Some small business websites require more because their business is based on the WordPress platform. But, that’s the minority, especially when it comes to local small businesses.
Now that we’ve established our qualifications for sharing our knowledge about this topic, time to get into what you should know about hosting and how to choose the best option.
Website hosts even beyond WordPress are the core of your website. They vary in price a great deal from free to thousands of dollars per month for huge websites.
The old adage “you get what you pay for” definitely is true for WordPress hosting. It’s essential to have a great host for your WordPress website because even the simplest WordPress website is dynamic and has a lot of overhead beyond just displaying websites.
WordPress uses a large array of PHP pages, which is a computer language that requires computers to process the script. That takes computer power!
In addition to that, WordPress has a central database that these PHP scripts access constantly in order to grab information and also post information. Data is constantly going back and forth and all over the place in even the most simple WordPress website.
That means you need a powerful host that can handle these scripts without slowing down. Unfortunately the basic level rarely cuts it even for the most simple WordPress website.
If you have anything beyond a simple few page website that isn’t updated or messed with often, your host can slow down a great deal if it’s poor quality. Even with a basic website, though, bad hosting can lead to a slow website which has consequences. Google hates slow websites, and you won’t rank as high if yours is slow. That means less customers from Google which ultimately hurts your business.
As a rule of thumb, we think it’s important for every website to load in less than 1 second, but 3 seconds is the general rule of thumb. Faster is better, though, so 1 second is attainable for the desktop version of a website, therefore it should be your goal too rather than 3 seconds.
Before you get into choosing the best host, first you need to understand your needs.
Evaluating Your WordPress Hosting Needs
What are you doing with your WordPress website? Are you starting a small website with only a few pages that you don’t update often? Or are you starting an eCommerce store that has a complex setup?
Whatever the case may be, you also want to plan for the future and expansion of your website. While most hosts will let you upgrade to faster plans, that’s not ideal because hosts seem to always bungle it and a website gets slower as you change plans.
As an example, when SiteGround moved from cPanel to their proprietary control panel, things got messed up and all the websites I had on them slowed down. Extra files were created, old data wasn’t cleared out, and ultimately it led to poor performance. All this on the Google Cloud network which is otherwise exceptionally fast.
Needless to say, we no longer use SiteGround even though they’re seen as the gold standard for web hosting still. They have outlived their useful life as a web host and are no longer the best but merely a large, mediocre provider.
We still host our network on Google Cloud after leaving SiteGround, and it’s significantly faster. We can now manage our pages much better and most of them load in 1 to 2 seconds as opposed to 4-6 on SiteGround’s network. Many of the sites we manage load in less than half the time now.
So what are your WordPress needs? What are you going to do with your website?
Your needs are going to determine what the best hosting option is for you, but for the most part, a good host can manage any type of website. It’s good to first determine what type of WordPress hosting you need. There are many types of servers and the higher your requirement, the better the type of hosting you should have.
Types Of WordPress Hosting
There are many types of hosting available for WordPress. Most of them aren’t really specific to WordPress, but some do fine tune a few settings for WordPress specifically or provide features specifically for WordPress such as automatic core, theme, and plugin updates.
Within each type of WordPress hosting there are good and bad hosts. But, overall a bad host is generally bad across all types of hosting they offer whether shared, dedicated, or managed WordPress hosting. That’s not always the case but as a general rule, it is.
So, here are the different types of WordPress hosts available with some of them becoming or already irrelevant today with the popularity and power of cloud hosting.
Free WordPress Hosting
Yes, free WordPress hosting is a thing either on a WordPress platform or complete bare-bones free WordPress hosting. One of the most popular hosting companies that offers free bare-bone WordPress hosting is 000webhost. They’ve been around for a long time but have been purchased by another company (Hostinger).
Free may sound like a great option because it’s free, but there are some catches. This makes it good for playing around with or testing an idea but not for an actual business.
The free hosting on 000webhost is limited to 300 MB of storage space and 3 GB of bandwidth. Now, small business websites don’t require much storage or bandwidth, but 300 MB is really pushing it. That’s not even much for the smallest website possible because WordPress itself takes up at least 61.8 MB as of version 6.0. Then you have to add things like the theme and plugins. After that you’re left with very little storage for the actual website.
Then there are considerations such as the fact that free hosting is shared hosting and extremely oversold even at the free price. That means you’re sharing the server resources with potentially thousands of other websites that are going to degrade the speed of your website significantly, especially as your website grows in complexity.
You also have very little control of the server, the resources available to your website, and more. Overall free isn’t a good option for a WordPress website.
A better option is a free WordPress website on a managed platform. The commercial version of WordPress itself (WordPress.com) offers a free personal website that’s fine for testing basics. Then there are other WordPress platforms such as WPHubSite that offers a free HubSpot integrated WordPress website.
These are better options for a free WordPress website, but they are not hosting, they’re simply a platform. Free website hosting is never a good option, especially with WordPress.
Shared WordPress Hosting
While free WordPress is bad, shared is better but sometimes not by much. In fact, sometimes shared hosting can be worse because many cheap hosts (especially owned by one large conglomerate going unnamed) oversell their hosting in order to maximize profits.
You want to stay away from these hosting companies because you’ll get shared servers that have hundreds or thousands of other accounts on them and can affect your site significantly. If one of them is using more than their share (and they can) then it will slow down or could even shut down your website.
Most regular non-premium hosting companies offer shared WordPress hosting, but they might also offer other types of hosting too. In fact, many of them offer shared as their entry level and then move up to VPS, dedicated, and managed WordPress hosting services.
Some shared hosting you should stay away from are Bluehost, HostGator, and of course GoDaddy. Fairly decent shared WordPress hosting will still be relatively expensive. SiteGround, while not what it used to be, offers shared WordPress hosting for about $15/month. Don’t even bother looking at the introductory price, though. It’s a scam because you will end up paying significantly more after that and hosts aren’t that easy to move while free migration services aren’t a good solution.
For a basic website that doesn’t require many resources, shared hosting can be okay as long as you get a quality host. The better option for even a small website, though, is managed WordPress hosting because you have less to worry about (sometimes). To learn more about that, managed WordPress hosting is below.
So, if free and shared hosting aren’t any good for any website beyond simple websites, what is good?
WordPress VPS Hosting
You don’t see VPS much anymore since the rise in popularity of cloud hosting. There’s a reason for that. VPS is better than shared because you have dedicated server resources, but the problem is that you have dedicated resources on a shared server, one server typically.
The risk of having your website live on one single server is significant. There’s one point of failure, and you still have a server with other users on it which can mean security risk also.
Any way you look at it, VPS is better than shared but still not the ideal solution, which is why you don’t see it much anymore except for certain circumstances. For WordPress hosting, I’d stay away from WordPress VPS hosting entirely.
WordPress Dedicated Server Hosting
The risk of a dedicated server is similar to a VPS in that you have a server and if it fails you have nothing but your backups. The security issue is gone unless it’s not managed, and you’re not managing the security.
Even large companies who have the resources to have a dedicated server are moving away from this solution. Cloud services can provide better resources with redundancy that no company can compare to unless they are a dedicated hosting company.
Our next host type is likely what everybody should use. It’s fast, easy to use, and the option of choice for sole proprietorship all the way to huge multinational companies.
WordPress Cloud Hosting/Managed WordPress Hosting
Cloud hosting is the solution for hosting that has taken over the world. It’s currently the best solution we have and will likely only get better. These are services like Google Cloud Platform, DigitalOcean, and AWS (Amazon Web Services). No consumer is going to sign up for any of these platforms and know what to do, though. Cloud services in their raw form are extremely technical and only for IT departments in a large company or app developers to spin up and use in their raw form.
Luckily we have a beautiful thing called managed WordPress hosting that sits on top of cloud services to make them easier to use. The good hosting services we mentioned above (Cloudways, Closte, Kinsta) all sit on top of a cloud hosting platform. Even SiteGround sits on top of the Google cloud for all their plans.
One of the best parts of Cloudways is that their management software lets you choose between several cloud platforms. You can host your website on Google Cloud, AWS, DigitalOcean, and more. Cloudways is still our favorite (even though we can’t use it because of platform limitations for our complex setup) when hosted on DigitalOcean.
It’s the fastest service in all our tests with page loads in less than .5 seconds compared to Google Cloud’s .7 seconds and SiteGround’s 2-3 seconds for the same site. Apparently SiteGround has an extremely poor quality platform that slows down Google Cloud Platform significantly.
So what’s the best service, and what should you choose?
Choose The Best WordPress Hosting
Even if your website is small, we’ve established that managed WordPress hosting is your best option. That is, good managed WordPress hosting. The most affordable and fastest among them is likely Cloudways on DigitalOcean. Of course, this is in our tests and every website is different. You should always run your own tests to find the best solution and best speed.
If you have low requirements then you can go with a more affordable website plan, but we’d still recommend using a high quality host. Some of the most high quality hosts if Cloudways isn’t your thing are WPEngine, Flywheel (owned by WPEngine), and Kinsta.
In almost all circumstances, we’d recommend Cloudways because their network is extremely strong, control panel easy to use, and their support is good enough (though not the absolute best). The price, but for Cloudways on DigitalOcean at the time of this writing is $22/month for the minimum setup you should use, but you can try to use a smaller cloud server.
In most circumstances, you’re going to pay around $15/month minimum if paid yearly for a good host and likely around $25/month if paid monthly though some are more but offer more. That’s our standard go-to for the cost of running and providing a host for clients, and we’ve mentioned that in our breakdown of the overall cost of running a WordPress website also.
If you’re extremely advanced at WordPress and don’t have much of a requirement for support, then Closte is a good option also. Their pricing is different because you pay for usage only similar to how you’d pay for electricity.
The overall cost depends on how many websites you have. Our cost is fairly similar to paying upfront for some other premium website plans. Closte’s network is extremely fast, but you’re expected to be a relatively advanced user to use their hosting service. Closte’s service is provided on the Google Cloud Platform with Google Cloud CDN and Google Cloud DNS. While they default to the Litespeed cache plugin for WordPress, we’ve had much better luck with WP Rocket in all our testing.
Hopefully with these practical suggestions you have an idea of what kind of host you should get.
But what about WordPress theme? That can be just as important as your host.
Even the fastest host possible can be slowed down significantly by a bad theme. If you take the best host possible then load Divi onto it, you’re going to get slow results. Not only can a theme slow your host down, it can also introduce security risks and are often more overlooked than plugins.
But why? Some of the worst themes out there try to load so much junk that should be plugins, yet they are more poorly supported. Plugins can cause huge issues too but there are so many requirements and different plugins required that it needs to be its own article.
Your first step when choosing the right theme for your fast host is evaluating your requirements.
Evaluate Your WordPress Theme Requirements
There’s not necessarily a lot you need to evaluate from a form or function standpoint in any theme.
Because the function for your WordPress website shouldn’t come from your theme, it should come from your plugins. That means you definitely want to look for a theme that doesn’t have a lot of functionality built in aside from the needed functions of the theme itself such as menu types, etc. That means no portfolio, no sliders, and no other stuff that should be a plugin rather than bundled in to the theme.
The more you try to put into the theme, the slower it will be, and the more risk it will be.
But what about form? Isn’t the theme all about how your website looks? Yes and no. The look of the theme or at least what you can do with it is important, but it shouldn’t be a priority in picking the theme. That’s because you are going to limit yourself to certain types of themes and a lot of poor quality themes if you only go for looks.
The best place to start when evaluating the right theme is speed and simplicity. That’s going to ensure your website loads fast, works well for users, and will work well for your project when complete.
A good theme, no matter what it looks like, can be molded into the look you need. That’s why you should choose your theme based on function before form. Once you get the theme with the right speed and simplicity then you can make it look the way you need.
It could be with a good page builder that you manipulate the overall theme or with custom CSS. With the right theme that’s coded well, is well-supported, and fast then you can make it work for every project.
That’s why there’s only a small handful of themes you should even consider for any project. Some developers have preferences but overall a good developer will understand the importance of why they should stick with a handful of themes no matter the website requirements.
We’ll get into good theme options (just a handful) but before we do, our favorite for nearly every project is the Astra Theme with the Pro add-ons. It’s one of the fastest WordPress themes, is well-coded, supported with regular updates, and is all around a powerful yet simple theme that we can create great WordPress websites on. Whether it be a small business website or eCommerce website with WooCommerce, Astra has proven the best WordPress theme over and over.
We created a base WordPress install on a free WordPress hosting for several themes, and you can see the free version of Astra results here. Keep in mind this performance result is extremely slow because it’s on a free WordPress host, not our typical host.
There are other themes that are good also but just be sure you have something well-supported and fast. Not all popular themes are great themes to use so don’t just pick something on the most popular WordPress themes list that you like the look of.
So what should you consider when choosing your theme?
What should you consider in your theme?
There are a few things you should consider when choosing your theme. I have already mentioned speed, support, and code. Those are important, but there are some specifics to you that should also be considered.
If you’re going to use a WordPress page builder, make sure it’s a good one and make sure your theme supports it. There’s nothing worse than finding a good theme and then learning it won’t support your page builder. If you are using a page builder, be sure you’re using a good one of those too because it will be just as important as your theme.
A bad page builder can make or break your website. Even some of the most popular page builders will make your site significantly less secure and slower even with the best host and theme. So, don’t choose a page builder or theme based on popularity. Some page builders you should stay away from are Divi, WPBakery, and Elementor. They will slow down your site and are an overall burden on your website.
Instead, make sure you choose a good page builder such as Beaver Builder, Oxygen Builder, or another high quality page builder that won’t slow down your website. Then choose a good theme that goes along with it.
Our favorite combination is Astra with Beaver Builder. It’s a fast, secure, stable, and well-coded combination that can make a winning website that’s fast on a good host.
Your next consideration for your theme is whether you want to go free or premium. Many themes are freemium which means they’re free but if you want more features, then you have to pay up to premium. On the list of the best themes for your WordPress website I’ll also mention if they have a premium upgrade available.
I would not recommend purchasing a premium theme unless it has an exceptional reputation that is very public. Many premium themes are bad themes masquerading as premium. That especially goes for many themes on the ThemeForest repository.
As for free themes with premium add-ons, they aren’t all bad but keep in mind most themes are bad. So, as I mentioned, Astra is a great theme also with a great premium add on, but that isn’t the case with all free themes with a premium add-on.
You may already know where to find WordPress themes but if not, check out the next section. If you do, just skip over it to see what to look for when you’re choosing a WordPress theme.
Where Can You Find WordPress Themes?
There are themes for WordPress everywhere online, including the official WordPress theme repository. In fact, the official repository is the best place to get WordPress themes. You can also get themes in places like ThemeForest, but I do not recommend you do so. Nothing good will come of it.
You can also access all official WordPress themes within WordPress. Just go into the Appearance menu and click on Themes then click the Add New button. You can then search the entire free theme repository.
There are even themes available on regular websites. You can do a Google search and find dozens of WordPress themes. Of course, this isn’t the best option because you might have a hard time finding a quality theme.
There’s really no reason to go beyond the official WordPress theme repository. You can download the free version of many themes and then once you find something that’s fast and well maintained then you can also upgrade to the premium version if you find it necessary.
There are some basics you should look for when choosing a WordPress theme.
What To Look For When Choosing the Best WordPress Theme For Your Website
No matter what theme you choose, make sure it at least checks these basics for a good WordPress theme. If you’re looking for visual presentation only then you likely won’t find all of these. A good WordPress theme is usually pretty basic and even the templates for them are slow and unruly. It’s always best to design your website yourself even if using a good page builder that’s fast (not Divi, WPBakery, or Elementor).
Here’s what to look for at a minimum
- Basic and fast: It shouldn’t look pretty out of the box. In fact ugly and basic is good because it lets you design the site for speed and quality rather than poor quality templates. No templates are the best way to build.
- Responsive: This one isn’t typically an issue today as most modern themes are responsive, but just make sure yours is modern and responsive. A responsive website ensures that you have a mobile-friendly website right out of the box.
- Translation ready: This may not be a concern to you but if you anticipate translating your website, make sure your website supports the translation plugin you’re going to use.
- Page builder compatible: Again, if you’re not going to use a page builder, don’t worry about this. Otherwise, be sure your theme is compatible with the page builder you’re going to use.
- SEO Friendly: Themes don’t need to be 100% SEO friendly at their core because most SEO functionality comes from an SEO plugin. In fact, nearly all themes won’t be 100% SEO friendly from the start, but they should at least be 80% in testing with Chrome Lighthouse.
There are many other things to look for that may be specific to you, but these are the basics you should keep in mind. We have a few suggestions for you when choosing the best theme for your WordPress website.
Possible Best WordPress Theme Options
Now for the good stuff. There are thousands of themes on the WordPress theme repository alone but as we said, 99% of them are bad. Don’t bother with them.
There are only a handful of themes you should bother with, but fortunately they are some amazing themes and allow for a lot of customizations for your WordPress website. Our favorite is Astra which is a free theme, but occasionally you can also find us using the Beaver Builder Theme which is not free but rather included in certain plans of the Beaver Builder plugin.
Here are our suggestions for a good WordPress theme:
- Astra Theme: Astra is a freemium WordPress theme that is mobile-friendly right out of the box, SEO friendly, fast, and works with many popular page builders. Keep in mind that if you choose the wrong page builder then you can quickly overload the theme (as with most themes) and make it slow.
- GeneratePress: GeneratePress is another freemium WordPress theme that is excellent and fast. In fact, this is just as good as Astra in many respects and in our initial (though not thorough) speed test it did outperform Astra. That’s at the basic level with no customizations, though. That may not be the case after building the same website.
- Page Builder Framework: You’ll find the Page Builder Framework is a fast (though not the absolute fastest) theme but can be good to use if you’re using a page builder.
- No Theme: Yes, quite literally no theme. Depending on the page builder you’re using, you may not need a theme at all. For instance, Oxygen Builder doesn’t require a theme because it overrides any theme you use. Divi (please don’t use Divi) also doesn’t need a theme because it’s a theme and page builder all in one. So, be sure you even need a theme before picking one if you’re using a page builder.
We did some basic testing and while they all performed well, Astra and GeneratePress are the best. In fact, GeneratePress outperformed Astra in our mobile tests on a basic installation. We may have to give GeneratePress another look for our fast theme of preference!
Even though these are only a small handful of themes, they should give you enough to work with. No theme does it all but any theme can be made into anything. That’s why you should only have a handful of themes for nearly every WordPress website, big or small.
These themes are a great place to start that will make sure your superfast host works well with a superfast theme.
With both a fast host and a fast theme, your WordPress website will be amazingly fast and work extremely well. You will be sure to have a great foundation for your WordPress website that you can then build upon in a planned way that will ensure you end up with a fast and usable website.
An excellent foundation means you’ll end up with a great website if you continue on the right path. The right path involves evaluating each and every plugin for speed, necessity, and quality as well as optimizing every other part of your website. Without continuing on the path of responsible design, even the best WordPress foundation can be ruined and become a slow website.
WordPress at its core is extremely fast and optimized. The problem is that it’s too easy to do a lot on WordPress but what’s done is often done poorly.
That’s why it’s always helpful to work with a professional web designer who can build an optimized and fast WordPress website with the best hosting. Working with a professional web designer means you end up with a website that is built better, ranks better in search, and loads fast for your visitors.
These are all necessary requirements that all start with a strong core. We are affordable web design professionals who will work with you to build a great WordPress website for your small business.