Updated Recommendations for September 2023
If you’re just here for the recommendations, this post is all about why I recommend one of these 3 hosting companies:
Siteground – Affordable Shared Hosting
- Cloudways – Developer Friendly Cloud Hosting
- WPX Hosting – Managed WordPress Hosting
Siteground’s reliability, technical support, and general service has deteriorated since originally publishing this post, so we no longer recommend it for photographers.
If you want to set up your own WordPress site, first you’ll need the perfect hosting company.
A website host is the place where your files are stored. WordPress is made up of files and a database, which both reside on a server managed by your host. If a WordPress website were like a house, the hosting company would be like the plot of land where the house is built.
Picking the right host is important for several reasons. If your host isn’t reliable, your website may experience downtime where it is inaccessible to visitors. If your hosting plan doesn’t have enough storage space or processing power, you may overload the server and crash your website. Your host plays a critical part in how fast your website will load, and also in the security of your website.
In this post I’ll give you 3 recommendations for excellent hosting companies for photography websites. Before I do that, I want to give you a word of warning, and a disclaimer.
Warning: be careful taking advice about hosting companies from other photographers or by asking online in photography groups. I can’t tell you how often I see posts where dozens of photographers are recommending terrible hosting companies. Perhaps those photographers have never had a bad experience, or maybe they just don’t know what to look for. You’ll also find blog posts that recommend hosting companies like Bluehost, even though Bluehost is a pretty terrible hosting company these days. You’ll usually see this because those bloggers are getting paid a commission everytime someone signs up, and Bluehost pays a very high affiliate commission.
That leads me to my disclaimer. I am making my recommendations in this post based on my experience working with almost every major hosting provider. I do site migrations, setup, configuration and optimization on a regular basis for clients. I’ve also personally used all of the companies that I recommend in this post. I do use affiliate links in this post, but my recommendations are not influenced at all by the affiliate commissions. However, purchasing your hosting after clicking a link in this post will help support Fuel Your Photos at no extra cost to you! If you ever have questions about why I recommend or don’t recommend a company, you can leave a comment on this post or ask in the Fuel Your Photos Facebook group. This post isn’t an exhaustive list of every good hosting company, but I wanted to keep the options simple to make it easy for you to choose the right host for you.
Considerations When Choosing a Host
It is important to understand that not all photography sites have the same needs. There is no single hosting company that is perfect for every situation. Here are some questions you’ll need to answer about your website:
- How many separate websites do you need to host?
- How many visitors do you get on a monthly basis?
- Do you plan on hosting your client proofing on your own website?
- What is your budget for hosting your website?
- Would you rather have more technical control, or have more of the technical details handled for you?
- Are you going to need eCommerce functionality (selling products or services directly from your site)?
- Do you want email hosting included with your web hosting?
- Where are you located in the world, and will having a server closer to your physical location make a difference?
While you may have different needs than another photographer, there are some things that you should always look for in a hosting company. For example:
- Fast and reliable service. At least 99.9% uptime.
- A knowledgable and easy to access support staff.
- The ability to automatically backup your website and easily restore to a previous point.
- Free/included and easy to install SSL certificate.
- HTTP2 enabled when using HTTPS.
- Free or affordable migration services when moving your WordPress site to their hosting.
- FTP/SFTP access.
- Free trial or money back guarantee.
All three of my recommendations check all of these boxes!
So which option is right for you? Lets look a little closer at Siteground, WPX, and Cloudways and see which one would be the best fit for your photography website.
1. Siteground – Affordable Shared Hosting
Siteground was our recommendation if you are looking for traditional shared hosting. They have affordable plans (starting at $3.95/mo at the time of this writing) that are perfect for small websites. If you only have one website, you use a 3rd party proofing solution (like ShootProof for example), you don’t need eCommerce, you get less than 10,000 visits per month and have less than 10GB of website files, you could get by with the StartUp package and still have fast and reliable hosting. The GrowBig and GoGeek plans offer the ability to expand your storage and traffic, as well as adding some other features.
One thing to keep in mind with Siteground is that the promotional price is good for your first “term” which can be 12, 24, or 36 months. In other words, if you pay up front for 36 months, you’ll lock in that promotional price for that entire time. After that, you’ll pay the “regular price” (which is clearly listed on the package details page). I thought this was worth mentioning because when I first signed up, I only signed up for 12 months and I was kicking myself for not going ahead with 36 months when the price jumped (I didn’t realize you could lock in the promo for 36 months).
Siteground uses cPanel as the control panel, so if you’ve used shared hosting before you’ll probably be familiar with the interface. Siteground is updating their interface, and new accounts will use their new Client Area and Site tools. There is an easy site setup feature with a WordPress installer, and it is also easy to set up your site with SSL from the beginning.
I actually really like their new dashboard and site tools!
There is an extensive knowledgebase to cover the most common support topics, and support is available 24/7 via phone, live chat and a ticket system. I’ve used the support many times (I normally use the live chat) and almost always get exactly what I need in a matter of minutes. I’ve had 1 case where the support representative couldn’t help me (they didn’t understand my question), then I tried live chat again a few hours later and got the answer I needed from a different support rep. You should realize that Siteground is a huge hosting company that doesn’t specialize in photography websites. That doesn’t mean you won’t get good support or that your website won’t work well on Siteground’s servers, but you won’t necessarily get someone who is knowledgable about the specific needs of photographers.
Siteground is also
the only host on my list that offers email hosting (WPX also offers email hosting) as part of your hosting plan. Personally, I recommend keeping your email hosting separate from your website host anyway (it certainly makes moving much easier if the need ever arises), but if you’re trying to save some money, this could be helpful for you (email hosting from Google or Rackspace is typically $5-10/mo). I still use the Siteground email hosting on one of my domains and I’ve never had any issues with deliverability. Not a bad option if you aren’t going to be moving hosts and you will be using an email client to send/receive email.
There are two main things I don’t like about Siteground.
- The promotional price jump is really annoying. Once you start paying the full price, you might as well be paying for an even better host.
- They are growing rapidly, and they are a low price shared hosting company. I worry about their ability to keep up their standards of service and quality as they grow (will they face a similar fate as Bluehost?).
That being said, I’ve been using Siteground for several years now, and my
main photography website is still hosted on Siteground (recently moved to WPX). I’ve been relatively happy with their service and product and still recommend them if what they offer fits your needs.
2. WPX Hosting – Managed WordPress Hosting
WPX is unique to this list because it is a “managed” WordPress host. If hosting is something that gives you anxiety or headaches, or if you’ve ever been afraid of WordPress because you’ve heard horror stories about sites crashing or getting hacked… WPX might be the right solution for you.
WPX claims to be the fastest WordPress host, and in my experience they are ridiculously fast. There are plenty of independent studies that show WPX beating most of the other popular WordPress hosting options. I won’t make a claim about them being the fastest, but they are certainly near the top of the list when it comes to speed.
On top of that, they offer a managed hosting solution. That means if something technical goes wrong with your WordPress site, and it is related to hosting, they will fix it for you, fast and free. I actually had some experience with this with one of my sites. I had enabled a new cache that I was testing, and everything looked fine at first. However, that night, the caching plugin crashed my site. When I woke up I had an email from WPX saying that they noticed an error, and disabled the plugin causing the problem to get my site back up. Not only that, but they took it a step further and enabled a new caching plugin in the meantime to make sure my site wouldn’t be slow. The email outlined what they had done, and steps I could take if I wanted to diagnose why my plugin was causing problems. This is a level of support I hadn’t ever experienced with a hosting company. While I can’t be sure every person will have the same level of support, their reviews and satisfaction ratings seem to prove that it isn’t an isolated case.
Two other features that I love about WPX:
1. 32 second support. They respond to support requests in 32 seconds on average. They are available for support 24/7. They do not offer phone support, but with their responsive chat support, you probably won’t ever find a situation where you would need it.
2. Maware removal (for free!). It is basically a no-hack guarantee. They suggest a couple of plugins for scanning, but if you DO get hacked, they’ll fix it for you quickly for free.
Just one quick note… “managed” does not mean that they will do plugin updates or support your issues related to your theme or plugins. They manage the hosting and make sure that your site is configured to work correctly with their servers.
I recently moved one of my sites from Siteground to WPX and I can’t even tell you how impressed I was with the process. It was literally the most painless migration process I’ve ever experienced. That being said, I did find their migration request form to be a bit technical, and I don’t know what the experience would be like for someone who wouldn’t understand what they were asking for. Based on my interaction with their support, I would imagine that they would gladly hold your hand through the process.
My only other real complaint about WPX so far is that the dashboard isn’t necessarily intuitive. Sometimes it takes me a few clicks to get to the area that I am looking for.
One thing that may be a downside for some photographers is the price. The starting plan is about $25/month when paid monthly. You can save around $50 per year if you pay yearly.
If you compare this to the non-promotional price of Siteground, it is actually very reasonable considering the extra features and peace of mind you get with WPX. I know that Siteground (and even Cloudways) use the words “managed” in their marketing, but in my experience, WPX is the only company on this list that proactively manages technical issues.
WPX is my main recommendation for people who just want their hosting to always work, and don’t ever want to worry about it. If you want, WPX can also register your domain and host your email, so it is a great option if you just want simplicity and peace of mind.
3. Cloudways – High Quality Cloud Hosting
Cloudways is where I currently host Fuel Your Photos, and many of my other sites. I started using them last year and fell in love pretty quickly. Cloudways is basically a developer friendly managed layer on top of cloud hosting (I currently use the Digital Ocean option, but you can also use Amazon, or Google Cloud Platform.) Basically, if you need advanced functionality and flexibility, but aren’t an experienced server admin, this is a good option for you.
For the basic user, it is extremely easy to sign up and get WordPress installed. In fact, it is even easier than on Siteground. You could have a WordPress site up and running within a few minutes. There is technically no limit to how many sites you can set up on one plan, but you are restricted by resource usage.
With Cloudways you don’t get cPanel, but you get an even more intuitive control panel that allows you to do many of the same things. You can manage which services are running on your server, edit your PHP version, enable LetsEncrypt, access your database, and more. One of my favorite parts is that you can easily setup and clone “applications” (basically a WordPress installation in the context of this article) which makes it easy to set up development sites or test changes on your site.
You also get support via live chat and a ticket system, on top of an extensive documentation. I’ve used their live chat for VERY advanced questions and gotten help within minutes. The support staff is noticeably more knowledgable than typical shared hosting support staff. However, in most cases I don’t even need to contact support because their controls are so intuitive and the documentation is excellent.
I currently use a plan that is $11/mo plus 50 cents for offsite backups. The plans are easily scalable to fit the needs of growing websites. If you’re looking to get away from shared hosting and have a solid understanding of hosting + WordPress, I can’t recommend Cloudways enough.
Basically, you won’t find another option where you get as much “bang for your buck” as you do with Cloudways. World class servers with lightening fast speed, and plans that would be perfect for most photographers around $10-12/month.
The ONLY downside with Cloudways is that I’ve found their support to be a little less friendly for beginners. If you aren’t familiar with something like how to edit the DNS settings for your domain (you’ll only need to do this when first making your site live) or if you don’t know the difference between a hosting company and a domain registrar, you may get frustrated with the Cloudways support.
They also do not support SMTP for WordPress right out of the box, which means SOME form plugins may not send without taking an extra step. However, they do have an easy solution if you need to use SMTP for sending emails from your site. I mention this here because one person gave me feedback that they signed up and didn’t realize their forms were not being submitted.
Other Hosting Options for Photographers
As I mentioned, I wanted to keep this post simple, with only my top 3 choices. However, there are other great hosting companies out there. I’ll list a few more here in case you want to check them out, or you are wondering if they might be legit.
Note: These are not affiliate links, and I do not use them personally. These are only recommendations from my research or working with clients.
I’ve always loved Flywheel, and they almost made my top 3. They could easily be interchanged with WPX on my list above. They are a managed solution that starts around $25/mo. There are 3 main reasons I didn’t include Flywheel on the main list.
- Their main target audience is designers and agencies.
- The limits on the starter plan are pretty small for photographers.
- They were recently acquired by WPEngine, and I’m not a huge fan.
Otherwise, they are a great company, so check them out when doing your research.
I really WANT to love Kinsta. They have amazing content marketing. If you’re doing any research about WordPress, you’ll probably find an article by Kinsta. Their dashboards are beautiful and I really like their company and offering overall.
The main reason Kinsta doesn’t make the top list is because of the storage limits. The $30/month plan only includes 10GB of storage and one WordPress install. I know many photographers who would hit that limit quickly, and your next step up is $60/month (where the limits are still pretty low compared to other options). I asked their support if you could upgrade storage space only without jumping to the next plan and they said no. Pretty much a deal breaker for me.
Closte is an interesting option with a true “pay-as-you-go” pricing model. It is based on Google Cloud Platform, which is extremely reliable and fast. Some of the biggest brands in the world use GCP.
I haven’t used Closte yet, but I really like their offering and structure and will likely use them personally in the future.
Hosts You Should Avoid
There are some hosts you should absolutely avoid at all costs. Others are “fine” but really just don’t even compare to the options I’ve listed here. This is a short list of hosts that I would absolutely avoid.
Probably the most popular hosting company in the world. There are SO many things I’ve come to hate about Bluehost over the years. I used them personally for a long time, and then after a variety of problems moved everything away.
The most common problems with Bluehost involve downtime or timeouts that happen intermittently. You also have a high chance of having “bad neighbors” on a shared host that is literally as cheap as it gets.
The thing that really makes me angry more than anything else is how they push people to use Sitelock if their site gets hacked, often spending hundreds of dollars per month on a service they could get for less than $100 elsewhere. I’ve had so many nightmare support issues with them, I can’t even recount them all here.
It is possible to use Bluehost and have zero problems. Plenty of people still recommend and love them (although one of the biggest reasons is that they pay some of the highest affiliate commissions in the industry). But in my experience, the odds are against you if you choose to use Bluehost for your photography site.
Basically the same story as Bluehost.
One big parent company that owns a large number of budget shared hosting companies. Just avoid them all.
They used to be a leader for domains. I wouldn’t even use them for that anymore. Prices are way too high, reliability and performance of servers is extremely poor, and they don’t even include SSL for free. Stay far, far, far away.
Random small companies that your friend, uncle, or tech guy owns
Don’t use the excuse that you don’t know anything about hosting and you just trust the recommendation of someone else. Do a little research and make sure you understand as much as possible about exactly where your site is being hosted.
These small random hosting companies go out of business all the time, and you may end up in a situation where you can’t even access your website or files.
That being said, if you do have full access to your files and you do understand how it is being hosted, there are plenty of independent companies and individuals who offer hosting, and it *may* be ok.
Any company that charges extra for SSL
I mean come on. This isn’t 1999.
Some people may be surprised to find this on my list of companies to avoid. They have a great reputation in most circles and have been around for a long time. If you look at the pricing plans, you’ll see that WP Engine isn’t really made for small local businesses. The lowest plan is the only one in a reasonable price plan, then after that you have a 3x price jump (to a plan that is almost exactly what you get for 1/5th of the price with WPX).
And what do you get for that high price tag? Not much really. You’re buying the brand name. Look at speed tests for WP Engine vs any other company I recommend, and you’ll see that they aren’t really even that fast. If you want managed WordPress, skip the price tag and go with WPX Hosting instead.
Frequently Asked Questions
What if I just renewed my hosting with ___ (Bluehost, Hostgator, Godaddy, etc)?
This is one of the most common reasons I hear for photographers sticking with their terrible web hosting. I have two thoughts for you. First, many hosts will offer a prorated refund if you ask for it. So in that case, you have nothing to lose. Second, even if you just paid a couple hundred dollars to renew, it may STILL be worth switching to a better host if you are having problems that cause your site to be unreliable. Just think, if even one client who would have booked you can’t access your website, that is a loss of far more than the amount you just paid for renewal.
What if I outgrow my plan or need to change hosts?
This is a common problem and most hosting companies will be able to accommodate your growth. However, one of the big benefits of using WordPress in the first place is that it is easy to move your content to another host if that becomes necessary. I remember back when I first started building websites and I signed up for a very popular webhost at the time. After a few years, they really went downhill fast. I had to move to a better host quickly to make sure my site was readily available. It is especially easy to switch hosts if your domain and email are registered/hosted externally. Usually your new hosting company will even offer to move your site for free.
Should I register my domain name with my hosting company?
I highly recommend using a reputable domain registrar that is not your hosting company. My top two choices would be Namecheap and Google Domains. Godaddy is a distant third, but acceptable for domain registration only. If you have already registered your domain with your hosting company, it is fairly easy to transfer the registration to one of these options.
Where should I host my email if I choose Cloudways?
Cloudways offers a Rackspace email add on. It is $1/month per email address. So if you only need one or two emails, you don’t have to pay the minimum $10/mo to use Rackspace separately. Rackspace is a reputable company that has been doing business email for decades.
Cloudways also offers an add on for Elastic Email, which is only a few cents per month to be able to use WordPress SMTP to send from your server. I highly recommend using both the Rackspace AND Elastic Email add ons with Cloudways.
I also use G Suite (Google’s business solution, previously called Google Apps for Business) for email on another domain, and it is around $5 per month. I tried the email service at Namecheap and had deliverability issues. I’ve also been using Mailgun for delivering email from my site (via forms and registrations).
It is hard to go wrong with any of the hosting companies I’ve recommended here, but make sure to do your own research before making your final decision. Check out the websites, look for reviews online, think carefully about your needs, and if needed, contact the hosting company directly with questions. Picking the right host for your website is a decision that can impact your business’s bottom line, so don’t take it lightly, but hopefully you can feel some comfort knowing that the recommendations here have been vetted and will be updated in the future if anything changes drastically.
If you have general questions about my recommendations, or if you have had an amazing experience with a different hosting company you think I should know about, leave a comment below or head over to the Fuel Your Photos Facebook group to start a conversation!