Choosing the right hosting is one of the most important decisions you’ll make for your WordPress site, but before you even get to picking a hosting company you’ll need to decide on the type of hosting you need. Two types you may have come across are shared hosting and VPS hosting.
If you’re not sure of the difference between shared and VPS hosting, then this easy-to-follow guide should give you all of the information you need — and help you to decide which of the two is right for you. I’ll be taking an in-depth look at both types of hosting, and answering common questions such as:
❓ What is the difference between shared hosting and VPS hosting?
❓ What are the pros and cons of shared and VPS hosting?
❓ Which are the best shared and VPS hosting providers? And how do I choose the right one?
If you’re in a rush, here’s a summary of the key differences between shared and VPS hosting.
What is shared hosting?
Shared hosting is a type of hosting where your account ‘shares’ resources with other hosting accounts on the server.
This is generally the cheapest way for non-technical users to host websites. Shared hosting typically offers easy-to-use control panels and website setup tools, along with generous limits such as unlimited sites, visitors and storage.
On the other hand, your site will often load more slowly than with other hosting types (especially in high-traffic situations) and you don’t have as much control over your infrastructure.
Other accounts on your server can also affect your sites because you have to share resources with them.
👉 Non-technical users who want the cheapest way to host websites.
👉 Low-traffic websites.
What is VPS hosting?
With VPS hosting, your account gets its own dedicated resources, thanks to virtual isolation. This is why the full name is ‘virtual private server‘.
As with shared hosting, there are still other accounts sharing the same infrastructure. However, those other accounts won’t affect your VPS-hosted site because the virtual isolation gives it its own dedicated resources within that environment.
It’s kind of like the difference between sharing an apartment with roommates (shared hosting) and having your own apartment inside a condo building (VPS hosting).
👉 More advanced users who want the best experience possible.
👉 High-traffic websites.
👉 Money-making websites.
||Starts at $5+ a month
||Starts at $5+ a month
||Share resources with other accounts
||Dedicated resources via virtual isolation
||Based on server resources — no hard limit
||Based on server resources — no hard limit
||Can be slow
|Managed or Unmanaged Hardware
||Can be managed OR unmanaged
Shared hosting is the absolute cheapest way for a non-technical user to host websites.
VPS hosting can actually be cheaper, but only if you have the technical knowledge to unlock those cost savings — more on that in a second.
Again, shared hosting achieves these cost savings by having your hosting account share its resources with other hosting accounts on that hosting server.
Beyond low prices, shared hosting also offers very generous limits. Typically, you’ll get the following:
👉 Unlimited websites.
👉 Unlimited traffic.
👉 Unlimited storage.
Finally, shared hosting is usually very beginner-friendly because it’s the type of hosting most people choose when creating a site. Most shared hosts make it easy to install software such as WordPress, which is great if you’re just getting started with your first site.
Those are really the only reasons to choose shared hosting.
In terms of performance and reliability, VPS hosting is almost always the better option.
👍 Very cheap: Shared hosting is the cheapest way for non-technical users to host websites, which is a big part of why this hosting approach is so popular.
👍 Usually beginner-friendly: Because shared hosting is where most beginners start, most shared hosts offer very beginner-friendly dashboards and setup processes.
👍 Unlimited resources: There are always fair use policies, but you typically don’t need to worry about hard limits for the number of websites, storage and so on.
❌ Poor performance: While some shared hosts are better than others, websites on shared hosting generally won’t load as fast as websites on quality VPS hosting.
❌ Can be unreliable: Shared hosting can have more downtime or slowdowns because other accounts on the server can affect your account. This is called the ‘bad neighbor’ effect.
❌ Limited access: You don’t get as much access to your underlying server, including not having root access.
VPS Hosting Explained in More Detail
VPS hosting is a little bit more complicated to explain because there are a lot of variables.
But first, let’s recap the basics:
VPS stands for ‘virtual private server’.
The key thing to understand about a VPS is it gives your account dedicated resources but through virtual isolation.
So, while your hosting account doesn’t get all of the physical resources on a server (that’s called dedicated hosting), you don’t have to worry about other accounts affecting your sites because there’s still a virtual barrier keeping everything separate.
These resources could come from a single physical machine (a ‘traditional’ VPS) or they could come from a network of machines (‘the cloud‘).
In recent years, this cloud VPS approach has become the most popular option because it allows for easier scalability (adding or removing resources from your account).
UNMANAGED VS MANAGED VPS HOSTING
When you purchase VPS hosting, you can choose between two baseline levels of service:
👉 Unmanaged — you literally just get the ‘bare metal’ server. You’re responsible for installing the operating system and web server, securing the server, applying OS-level software updates, and so on.
👉 Managed — the hosting provider sets up and maintains the basic server for you. It functions a lot more like shared hosting in that you can manage everything from a simple dashboard and easily install software such as WordPress.
All things equal, an unmanaged VPS will always be cheaper than a managed VPS.
In fact, an unmanaged VPS can often be cheaper than shared hosting for the same performance.
However, the tradeoff is you need some technical knowledge to use an unmanaged VPS. That doesn’t necessarily mean you need to be a developer, but it’s definitely more complex than a managed VPS (or shared hosting).
For this reason, non-technical users will generally want to go with a managed VPS option even though it’s more expensive.
PROS OF VPS HOSTING
👍 Better performance: In general, VPS hosting can help you to create faster-loading sites (though there are always outliers).
👍 Better reliability: As with performance, VPS hosting is also generally more reliable than shared hosting because you avoid the ‘bad neighbor’ effect.
👍 More flexibility/access: VPS hosting gives you a lot more flexibility for setting up your hosting environment, including root access.
👍 Easy scalability: You can easily add resources to your VPS plan as your site grows (or remove them if you no longer need them).
CONS OF VPS HOSTING
❌ More complex OR more expensive (but usually not both): VPS hosting can be cheaper than shared hosting, but only for technical users who can handle unmanaged servers. You can also find simpler managed VPS servers, but those are usually more expensive than shared hosting. Basically, there’s a trade-off between cost and complexity when you choose VPS hosting.
👉 Non-technical beginners will still usually want to start with shared hosting because it’s a lot simpler to use.
👉 More advanced users who are seeking better performance and reliability should go with a quality VPS over shared hosting.
In terms of website performance and reliability, and just the general quality of hosting infrastructure, a quality VPS is always a better option than shared hosting.
If you go with an unmanaged VPS, VPS hosting can even be cheaper than shared hosting, which eliminates one of the biggest advantages of shared hosting.
However, there’s one big issue with VPS hosting that stops me from recommending it to everyone — it’s more complex than shared hosting.
For example, with shared hosting, all you need to know is that your plan supports ‘unlimited everything’.
But with VPS hosting, you need to be able to figure out if your chosen configuration can support your traffic, which necessitates dealing with vCPUs, RAM, bandwidth, and so on.
Additionally, if you try to save money by using an unmanaged VPS, you’ll need some tech chops to be able to get everything working (though there are tools that can help non-developers do it).
For this reason, if you’re a non-technical beginner, you’re still better off starting with shared hosting because it’ll give you an easy way to create a working website and learn the ropes.
Once your site starts growing (and you grow more comfortable with managing your site), you should consider moving to a VPS for faster, more reliable infrastructure.
What’s more, if you use an unmanaged VPS, you won’t even need to spend lots of money to achieve those benefits.
|Starting price (one website)
|Starting price (unlimited websites)
||Solid performance for the money
||Lets you pay monthly
If you want the best performance, go with GreenGeeks because it uses LiteSpeed Web Server.
If you want the most beginner-friendly experience, go with Bluehost (but the performance/reliability isn’t as good).
Finally, consider DreamHost for a solid all-around option that lets you pay monthly for a low price.
Top VPS Hosting Providers
Choosing a VPS provider will primarily depend on whether you want a managed or unmanaged VPS.
TOP MANAGED VPS PROVIDERS
|Starting price per month
Personally, I recommend Cloudways, which uses a unique managed approach built on top of cloud infrastructure providers such as DigitalOcean, Vultr, Linode, Google Cloud and Amazon Web Services (AWS).
TOP UNMANAGED VPS PROVIDERS
If you’re searching for an unmanaged VPS, I recommend going with one of the many cloud VPS providers out there.
|Starting price per month
🔔 Inside tip:
My personal approach is to pair one of these unmanaged cloud VPS providers (I use Vultr) with a server management panel such as RunCloud.
This makes it a lot easier to configure and maintain the unmanaged VPS (I’m not a developer), but still lets you benefit from the cost savings and fast performance of these providers.
If you’re exclusively building WordPress sites, you can also consider WordPress-specific server control panels such as SpinupWP or GridPane.
What Other Hosting Options Are There?
If you’re running a WordPress-powered website, another very viable solution besides VPS would be managed WordPress hosting.
Managed WordPress hosting may (technically speaking) be run on either shared or VPS servers, but, because such services are specifically tuned to running only WordPress, they come with a number of significant benefits — one of which is speed!
Most premium managed WordPress hosts use cloud VPS hosting, although some do still use shared environments on their entry-level plans.
If you’re looking to choose a hosting solution for a website running only WordPress, you may also want to look into our shared vs managed WordPress hosting comparison.
In technical terms, VPS hosting is almost always superior to shared hosting.
However, VPS hosting can be a little more complicated, which is why shared hosting can still make a good option for non-technical users just getting started with a website. GreenGeeks are a great option here.
Once your site starts growing and you begin learning the ropes, I recommend upgrading to a VPS for more control over your hosting environment, along with improved performance and reliability.
For the simplest way to benefit from a VPS, I recommend Cloudways.
Still have any questions about VPS hosting vs shared hosting? Ask away in the comments!