7 years ago this month, Pagely® launched as a service that aimed to smooth and eliminate some of the technical hurdles of launching and hosting a WordPress powered site. It was a brand new category at the time, and now Managed WordPress Hosting is a ubiquitous channel within the broader Hosting industry. Estimates paint just this specific channel at $1 Billion in value inside of the larger $16-18 Billion hosting market.
An abbreviated origin story.
Back in 2006, when our company was a small Web Design agency, our co-founder Sally had an idea for a ‘website builder’ service that would provide automated deployment and self-service content management for our agency customers. Our developer at the time, Joshua Eichorn (now Pagely’s CTO,) built the product around an early version of WordPress, even using some symlink trickery in the wp-content directory to create ‘child themes’ before there was such a thing. We promoted it to our customer base and got 30 or so clients paying for the platform. We handled the WordPress updates, and all the DevOps-type things like security, email, DNS etc. After a few months we put the idea on ice for a few reasons, chiefly because we were not clear on how to promote and market the offering effectively, and moved onto other things.
Fast-forward to 2009 – the economy was in the dumps, and we were looking for a way to future-proof revenue (get away from fee-based client services). We realized a large majority of those early customers were still paying for and using the system. Bingo. We made significant improvements to the codebase and relaunched the service as Pagely later that year. We doubled down on the Managed Hosting aspect by writing automation code to automatically update WordPress plugins as well as WP core, refined the security footprint of our server stack to address common exploits, and defaulted sane settings on popular caching plugins to improve speed. You can read a more in-depth history of Pagely’s first few years here.
The Managed WordPress Hosting industry’s early years.
No good idea goes unnoticed for very long. Our original idea was validated when the first batch of competitors entered the market in mid-2010. Some of them seemed little more than ‘me-too’ clones, while others came with a novel spin and new feature set that added real value and pushed the infant market forward. The concept was validated even further when a handful of these other players raised venture capital to grow faster and push further.
Pricing for managed WordPress hosting plans started to push higher, commensurate with the increased value being provided to the user. $25-$100/mo was the norm for a Managed WordPress plan in comparison to the $3-8/mo of a generic shared hosting plan. Large sums of capital have been invested in educating and expanding the customer base for these ‘premium’ WordPress hosting services.
Before too long there were at least a dozen or so offerings in the now well established Managed WordPress hosting space.
Managed WordPress Hosting today.
Throw a dart, and you will hit a hosting company offering ‘Managed WordPress’ at all price points. From the $4.99/mo plan at GoDaddy to the $20,000/mo multi-node/multi-region Amazon backed cluster we recently deployed on the behalf of a Pagely Enterprise client. Certainly WordPress VIP and others may have even higher dollar contracts in place. Price is just one factor but may be reflective of the capabilities of the platform and depth of knowledge and WordPress expertise accessed via a provider’s support desk.
Some companies are generalists just adding a few perks to a commodity cPanel based shared hosting plan, while others have laser-focused on a specific niche or customer type. Some target developers, some designers. Some focus on scaling for Enterprise, some on the micro-business and others the white-label market. There is literally a solution available for every use case and budget.
As a whole, they all attempt to add value to the default WordPress hosting experience; which is good for everyone.
But why Managed WordPress?
Depending on which stat you look at WordPress powers 26% of all sites or 80+ million sites in total. The immensely important work of the WordPress contributor community, plugin and theme authors, and agencies using WordPress for client projects has driven the success of WordPress. WordPress had humble beginnings with its share of growing pains. On the road to domination it had to overcome performance problems and security issues.
Hosting companies like Pagely have helped build confidence within the marketplace that WordPress is a viable content management solution for sites large or small. Enterprise adoption of WordPress has been growing quickly over the last few years; big companies simply will not adopt a solution they don’t have confidence in. Through technical proficiency, automation, and skilled support, Managed WordPress hosting providers help make the WordPress experience faster, more secure, and reduce the obstacles to adoption by adding utilizing technology and skilled human resources on the support and DevOps side for clients to utilize.
The Managed WordPress hosting market has pushed all hosting companies to improve their offering and support of WordPress, regardless of price range. Many of the once exclusive benefits of Managed WordPress are now available through most providers. This has made the ecosystem better overall.
A few of the specific things Managed WordPress hosting addressed that were missing in the ecosystem prior:
Performance: Opcode caching, full page caching, optimized PHP and Database setups are essentially platform defaults now instead of the customer trying to figure it out on their own with a mix of plugins and research. More sensible resource balancing on shared setups (old shared hosting providers were notorious for overselling). Collectively these things have made WordPress dramatically faster (vs. a default install) in most use cases.
Security: Some level of malware/file scanning, hardened OS installs, least-privileged access, web application firewalls and DDoS mitigation may be defaults at most Managed WordPress providers now. You don’t hear about widespread security issues as we did in say the 2008-2011 period. Those that come up are mitigated quickly by the Core team (or the respective plugin author) and aided by rapidly deployed patches or firewall rules by the Managed hosts.
Tooling: Automating installs, code updates, and backups along with staging and deployment workflows enabled development teams to work faster and create more complex yet stable sites on WordPress.
Support: More knowledgeable support technicians that understand WordPress to a higher degree than a generic web host. Some providers are better than others but all seem to at least make an attempt to specialize in the unique support requirements of WordPress. Here at Pagely we take great pride in our quality over quantity approach to support ensuring that every agent is not only deeply skilled in WordPress but proficient in the core technical skills of DevOps and deployment management allowing them to address any performance or security issue that may arise.
What about the next seven years?
From our vantage point, WordPress software is going to continue to improve in all areas and will continue to grow market share as a publishing platform. Because of this, hosting companies of all stripes will continue to improve their offerings to serve demand. Specifically for Managed WordPress hosting, we have a few predictions.
- The technology side of Managed WordPress will, to some degree, likely be further commoditized where improved security and decent caching routines will be more prevalent across the board.
- Consolidation and further diversification – There will likely be significant M&A activity in the coming years as consolidation wraps up a few players. This may actually clear a path for more diversified niche Managed WordPress hosting offerings that cater to even more narrow segments of the market.
- Enterprise will continue to adopt WordPress as the default for their public facing marketing, media and sales properties.
- The Managed WordPress Hosting companies that are doing well at the high-end will continue to do so based on their ability to act as trusted technology partners in addition to providing a robust technology stack and suite of tools.
- Those companies that serve the entry-level market will continue to pack features into their plans increasing the value per dollar spent capturing an ever growing segment of new or cost-conscious publishers.
In essence, as competition between Managed WordPress hosting providers pushes them to deliver more and more value and as customers demand better solutions at all price points, the ecosystem as a whole will continue to mature cementing the status of WordPress as the most widely used CMS for years to come.
What’s next for Pagely?
It’s odd to look at the landscape, this $1 Billion-channel we created (and of course others helped to grow) and reflect on where we fit in the picture going forward. For us, it’s fairly simple – do more of the things that have made us successful thus far: Investing in our people and focusing on the customer. It’s a recipe that wins over the long term.
The future is bright for WordPress and we’re happy to be part of it.
Happy 7th birthday to us.