What exactly is WordPress hosting?
The requirements for becoming a WordPress host are minimal: support for PHP version 7.2, HTTPS, and MySQL version 5.6 or MariaDB version 10.0. This means there are literally thousands of potential “WordPress hosts” for a consumer to choose from.
This can be a problem for consumers, making discerning between hosts an increasingly tricky task. Hosting companies realize this of course, and so they do what they can to set themselves apart. At a most basic level this involves offering WordPress-specific hosting packages or positioning themselves as specialized WordPress hosts. In 2010 this was about as complicated as “WordPress hosting” got.
Since then, however, hosting companies have been keen to differentiate themselves. Specialist WordPress hosts now tend to take care of much of the heavy-lifting involved in hosting a WordPress site. Most manage security, caching, and performance at server level. Some hosts go a step further, automatically updating WordPress and in some cases plugins for you. All provide WordPress-specific support. In 2018 this is what most specialist WordPress hosting looks like.
Some hosting companies like WP Engine, Kinsta and Automattic’s WordPress.com (we’ll touch more on why it’s right to think of WordPress.com as hosting later on) will only host a WordPress website. Others such as SiteGround, Liquid Web and GoDaddy are considered “WordPress specialists”, but still host sites that aren’t built on WordPress.
WordPress hosting: no longer a niche
The change driving this shift from “here’s a hosting account you can install WordPress on” to “here’s a WordPress site taken care of for you” is demand. Consumers want WordPress hosting, and this has taken it from a niche offering to something you can build your entire hosting business around.
Further, the WordPress market has become large enough that there are viable niches within “WordPress hosting”.
There are plenty of examples of this: from the cheapest WordPress hosts offering packages at under a dollar a month, where the model is best described as “churn and burn” (new customers join and leave at a rapid rate, but you add so many new customers it’s okay), all the way through to managed WordPress hosting which can handle everything up to the very biggest websites.
The really interesting growth has come in this managed hosting space, especially towards the lower end. This is where the hosting companies are building their most interesting products, and quite likely where they see their most profitable growth coming in the medium term.
This lower-end managed hosting makes sense: the customer is willing to pay a small premium for a good product so this can be more profitable, and whilst everyone has to get the core product right (good, fast, and reliable WordPress hosting), the scope for adding value with extras is huge.