Last updated on September 24, 2020
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A few months ago, I switched hosting companies. I had been with DreamHost but decided it was time for a change after my site went offline for several hours (which I had discovered and reported). I disliked its upselling tactics and inconsistent customer support. Also, DreamHost appeared to care more about its website’s design than the performance of its servers. It’s worth noting that DreamHost was recently vulnerable to “simple account takeover hacks.” Given my experiences with DreamHost, I’m not surprised to learn of its vulnerabilities.
In my search for a new host, I chose SiteGround (SG). Its been around since 2004 and supports nearly two million domains. SG routinely ranks well in comparison articles and reviews. What’s interesting is that Kinsta, a top-rated managed WordPress hosting company, features three comparison articles on its site. They compare themselves to SG, WP Engine, and Flywheel. Given that there are hundreds of hosting companies, to target SG speaks volumes.
SiteGround has three WordPress hosting plans including “StartUp,” “GrowBig,” and “GoGeek.” Its plans cost slightly more than similar plans from other hosts, but the extra couple of dollars monthly has been worth it. SG is tech and server optimization focused, which has made my sites more efficient. Its customer support team is excellent, so it’s no wonder it achieved a 98 percent client satisfaction score in its latest year-end survey.
SG customers get one free site transfer and can use SG’s specialty website migration plugin. Transferring my sites was quick and efficient. SG issues free SSL certificates in partnership with Let’s Encrypt. Lastly, customers get deals and perks on other website products and services.
SG Optimizer Plugin Review
SiteGround customers gain access to its SG Optimizer plugin (noncustomers can’t use it). The plugin improves the performance of WordPress websites by directly connecting to SG’s servers. As SG states,
Our SG Optimizer has always been an invaluable tool in boosting site performance, and now we’ve pushed its capabilities even further. Internal speed tests of the new version show an additional 20-30% performance improvement even for well-optimized sites. And when you use the plugin on a site that runs on an old PHP version and/or has poorly-optimized content, the benefit can easily go up to 500%!
The plugin includes cache, backend (environment), frontend, and image benefits. Additionally, it has a new and sleek user interface (UI). Optimization and performance features include:
The SuperCacher system provides several layers of caching for your site including static cache, dynamic cache, and Memcached.
Force HTTPS, switch between different PHP versions, and enable/disable GZIP compression and browser caching.
Minify HTML, CSS, and JS, remove query strings from static resources, and disable emojis.
Optimize new and existing images. Lazy load images so that they appear when users are about to view them instead of processing them immediately (reducing file requests increases page load times).
Check the performance of your website via Google PageSpeed.
Impact on Site Speed
Page speed is critical to a user’s experience and used by Google as a search engine ranking factor. I’m obsessed with page speed, and my website is the fastest it’s ever been. My desktop scores fluctuate between 90 to 100, and my mobile scores 75 to 85. I could remove things like opt-in forms to achieve a higher mobile score, but I’m willing to accept tradeoffs to grow my business. Separately, I tested page speeds with DreamHost pretransfer and SG post-transfer. Using identical sites, SG easily outperformed DreamHost and exceeded my expectations.
Page speed and performance are impacted by the number, quality, and types of plugins a site uses. Naturally, using one excellent all-in-one plugin is more efficient than using two or more excellent plugins. Secondly, using fewer plugins yields fewer requests, which can speed up a website. Before switching to SG’s all-in-one plugin, I used a handful of performance plugins (which made my site slower by comparison) including:
- WP Fastest Cache
- Fast Velocity Minify
- Remove Query Strings from Static Resources
- Smush Image Compression and Optimization
- Really Simple SSL
- a3 Lazy Load (I wasn’t using a lazy load plugin, but I should have been)
At first glance, you’ll notice the SG Optimizer plugin has a low rating (it’s been improving since I’ve been tracking it). Several reviewers say the plugin doesn’t work, but it probably didn’t work for them because they were noncustomers. Secondly, the plugin used to have a single purpose, which was to connect WordPress with the reverse proxy caching system set up on SG’s servers. I suspect plugin versions one through three weren’t excellent, but versions four and beyond have come with vast improvements. When you factor out “not working” and reviews for older versions, the plugin scores well.
SiteGround takes technology, speed, uptime, security, and customer support more seriously than many of its competitors. Its the only hosting company with a robust, all-in-one optimization and performance WordPress plugin. The other two WordPress.org recommended hosts, i.e., DreamHost and Bluehost, don’t offer any plugins. A2 Hosting has a plugin that seeks to optimize other performance plugins. However, its plugin doesn’t do much by itself and is poorly rated.
As the author of a bestselling book about WordPress plugins, the SG Optimizer plugin ranks high on my list. It’s allowed me to streamline server requests, reduce my plugin count, and increase my site speed. It and the WP-Optimize plugin make for a fantastic performance combination. It’s a shame the SG Optimizer plugin isn’t available to noncustomers because, in many ways, it’s equivalent to a high-performance sports car.