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How to Pick the Best WordPress Hosting Service for Your Online Course or Membership Site

Choosing the best hosting service for your LMS or Membership Site

Finding the best WordPress hosting service for your online course, membership site, or any other application of a learning management system (LMS) solution can be a daunting task. There are a number of considerations, such as what features you’ll be offering your students, how many students and members you'll be catering to, how your membership or course site fits with your business model, and much more.

These factors will give you a better idea of what decisions to make when choosing hosting. For example, they'll help you decide whether or not you’ll need to offload data to a third-party storage solution, ramp up your caching efforts, or develop a practice continually optimizing your website for performance.

In this article, we’ll start by explaining how membership websites are different than regular WordPress websites and blogs. We’ll also cover some of the most important factors you should keep in mind when deciding which hosting service to go for and list some common mistakes online course and membership website owners make.

Let’s get started!

Hosting Your Course, LMS, or Membership Site

Online course and membership websites give students and members access to content that isn’t available to the public. In addition to all of the content, students and members also have access to member-only features like forums and discussion boards and can participate in quizzes, assignments, live training sessions, and webinars. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

However, in the context of website hosting, offering these sorts of features comes at a price. More specifically, this means LMS and membership sites tend to take up more server resources as compared to a typical WordPress website such as a business website or portfolio.

Here’s why:

Reason #1: Online course and membership sites have a lot of uncacheable pages

Most WordPress LMS and membership websites have several uncacheable pages. What makes these pages uncacheable is that they’re dynamic and always changing. Caching the content on these pages simply isn’t possible because it’ll likely be different whenever the user requests it again.

Most membership websites also have forums, discussion boards, and other sorts of dynamic content that can’t be cached for similar reasons. In addition to this, member login pages and course checkout pages also can’t be cached. If you do attempt to cache these sorts of pages, you’re bound to experience a drop in website performance.

Reason #2: Online course and membership sites need to store a high volume of content

Generally speaking, LMS and membership websites house large volumes of content that’s offered to their students and members either all at once or by drip-feeding. This includes videos, audio files, downloadable resources, online courses, student submissions, and member profiles.

As you continue to create more content for your membership site or add new course material to your LMS, you’ll require more disk space from your hosting provider. All of these content resources add up over time and can affect your website’s performance and page loading times. The good news is that many LMS and membership plugins offer integrations with third-party video hosting services which can take some of the load off your hosting server.

For example, we use Amazon Web Services' very robust and cost-effective S3 cloud storage platform to host all of our multimedia content and course lesson videos. Several years ago, after developing WP Courseware initially to solve the challenges we faced when trying to create our own online courses with WordPress, we very soon after developed S3 Media Maestro. S3 Media Maestro allowed us to host our videos with Amazon's S3 service, embed them within our WP Courseware course lessons, and also implement functionality to keep those videos from unauthorized sharing. Hosting several hundred gigabytes of video content separately from our WordPress site's hosting provided a much better video playback experience for our customers.

Reason #3: Online course and membership sites experience large volumes of concurrent visitors

If you’re running an online course website and release a new unit or lesson, all of your students will likely log into their accounts to download the course material. The same goes for membership sites where moderators drip-feed content to paying members. As you can probably guess, if you have hundreds (or thousands) of users logged into your website at the same time to study, download resources, or attend a live training session, it can put a lot of load on your server’s resources.

For these reasons, it’s important to spend some time figuring out what sorts of features you want to offer through your online course or membership site and which hosting service would be best for your specific needs.

Choosing the Best WordPress Hosting Service for Your Online Course or Membership Site

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When it comes to finding the best WordPress hosting service, you want to go with a solution that’s scalable and optimized for performance. This way, you’ll be able to start off small without having to worry about switching hosting providers when your business starts to take off.

Here, we’ll step through some of the most important factors to consider when choosing a hosting service for your WordPress LMS or membership site:

#1: Optimize for performance

You probably already know that hosting an online course or membership website on a shared hosting server will lead to a number of performance issues. You can expect to experience incredibly slow page loading times and frequent periods of website downtime on a regular basis.

This is simply because shared hosting servers aren’t designed to host high-performance, high-traffic sites like online course sites and WordPress membership sites. Instead, you’ll want to invest your money on a hosting service that offers isolated containers for each website and can effortlessly handle traffic spikes and large volumes of concurrent visitors.

Opt for a hosting service that gives you access to dedicated infrastructure as well as full access to the software and server resources your LMS or membership solution recommends. This is especially important to pay attention to, since the requirements of LMS and membership plugins often vary from one solution to the next.

In addition to this, you should also check to make sure your hosting service allows you to upgrade your hardware resources on the fly. This will be useful if you experience a sudden traffic surge (for example, when you release fresh membership content, start classes, or organize a webinar) and when your online course or membership site takes off and you start to attract new students and members. In these sorts of situations, you’ll need to be able to serve content to all of your students and members without any performance issues or server downtime.

#3: Use PHP 7.3 (or higher)

PHP 7.3 is currently the best-performing PHP version in terms of performance for WordPress LMS and membership websites. One of the best things you can do when choosing a hosting service is to go for one that uses the latest version of PHP (i.e. PHP 7.3 or higher). This will affect the number of requests your website can handle. As of this writing, PHP 7.3 is significantly faster than older PHP versions (like PHP 5.6, 7.0, 7.1, and 7.2).

#4: PHP workers

Membership sites have to deliver content to large volumes of students and members in an uninterrupted way. Hosting services use PHP workers to handle limiting requests.

The number of requests your WordPress membership site can process at one time depends on the number of PHP workers offered by your hosting provider. Here’s a simple example: if your website has two PHP workers and you receive eight requests simultaneously, two of those requests will be processed while the rest of them will have to wait in queue. Once the first two requests are processed, the next two will be processed, and so on and so forth.

#5: Offload data

As we mentioned above, membership sites usually store large volumes of content including media files, online courses, videos, audios, and downloadable files.

Putting all of this content on your website will cause you to run out of disk space very quickly. Instead, you should consider transferring large files to a cloud storage platform. Again, Amazon's S3 cloud storage platform is great for this and if you'd like to take a look at what it might cost for you to utilize their service for your media, we've produced a detailed guide to using using Amazon's pricing calculator to determine how much AWS S3 costs. This will also help you minimize the load on your server.

It’s also worth noting that storing multimedia content such as videos and audio files on your membership site can be a problem for your hosting server. What this means is that by storing this sort of content on your website, you’ll be consuming a huge portion of the monthly data transfer of your hosting server. For this reason, you might consider offloading all of this data and content to a more cost-effective storage solution such as S3 or a third-party video hosting website like Wistia or Vimeo.

#6: Image compression

Online course and WordPress membership sites store large quantities of media content. This typically includes images, graphics, illustrations, and GIFs. There are a few simple ways you can make sure your website is optimized for optimal speed and fast page load times.

For starters, ensure that the images published on your website are compressed. The easiest way to do this is by using an image compression plugin like WP Smush that will automatically compress images on your WordPress membership site as you upload them.

To take things a step further, you can also use a global CDN. It will automatically copy and deliver your site’s content and assets from around the globe thereby minimizing server load and reducing network latency.

#7: Traffic limits

This is an important factor to consider when choosing a hosting provider for your online course or membership site. The easiest way to come to a decision is by analyzing your existing traffic numbers. Knowing your present needs will help you better decide which hosting provider is right for you.

Some hosting solutions (particularly cloud hosting) are able to provide you more resources on the fly as your business grows. However, other hosting services might become cost-prohibitive when you start getting more traffic to your website.

#8: Server location

Most hosting solutions don’t allow you to choose your server’s geographical location. As a result, you can’t deploy your content from a server close to most of your visitors’ locations. And the closer your content's server is to a user, the faster that content will load. However, there are several cloud hosting services that let you choose the location of your hosting server.

For instance, if the majority of your members are based in London, you might choose a hosting server located in London to ensure faster page load times to students and members in that area.

#9: Number of websites on your site's server

Shared servers host the domains of hundreds or even thousands of other users. The more websites that are hosted on the same server, the more your WordPress LMS or membership website will have to compete for the limited pool of available server resources. This is a major reason why shared hosting is usually slower than dedicated hosting platforms (and why you can get hosting for as little as $3 per month...you get what you pay for).

When it comes down to choosing the best WordPress hosting service, we recommend that you go for a dedicated hosting service to deliver uninterrupted and fast loading times to your students and members.

3 Mistakes to Avoid When Creating an Online Course or Membership Site

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WordPress LMS and membership site owners often make mistakes that affect their website’s performance. Here are some of the most common mistakes to avoid when creating an online course or membership site:

#1: Don’t add post counters

As an LMS or membership site owner, you should actively avoid adding unnecessary post view counters or social counters to your WordPress membership site.

For example, you shouldn’t add 3k views next to forum posts or 1.5k downloads next to a downloadable PDF. This is because these post counters put a lot of burden on your database as they increase. Ideally, you should avoid using post counters and social counters on your online course and WordPress membership website altogether.

#2: Leverage object caching

For those unfamiliar, caching speeds up your website and improves performance by reducing the load time on the webserver your site is hosted on. You can further improve your LMS or WordPress membership website’s performance by choosing a hosting service that offers server-level caching. However, to experience a significant improvement in performance, you need to take advantage of object caching.

In simple words, enabling object caching allows you to store the results of database queries in a cache. As a result, when students and members request the same information again, it’ll be sent to them directly from the cache. This way, you don’t have to query the database over and over again which is far more resource-intensive. Some WordPress caching plugins – like W3 Total Cache – let you implement object caching.

#3: Don't use page builders

While page builders may be great for some websites, they bring with them a number of performance issues because they generate unnecessary code for rendering the page. You would be better off using a WordPress theme or coding your page templates by hand and keeping them as light as possible. Some WordPress LMS and membership plugins come with their own lightweight design out of the box, as well.

#3: Minimize plugin installations and third-party integrations

As you probably already know, there is a performance cost associated with each plugin or third-party integration you choose to install on your WordPress membership site. The more plugins and tools you use, the higher the chance of unnecessary plugin bloat and plugin conflict.

If you’ve installed plugins that you no longer need, we recommend that you deactivate and remove them from your website. This way, you’ll be able to reduce the number of frontend and backend queries on your site which improves overall website performance.

Specialized WordPress Hosting Packages for Online Course and WordPress Membership Websites

WP-Tonic offers boutique WordPress hosting services perfect for WP Courseware and WordPress membership websites. Whether you’re an e-learning entrepreneur or looking to host a large-scale membership website, WP-Tonic has something for you.

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All of the hosting packages include features that are necessary for hosting your website in an optimized way. This includes image compression, daily cloud backups, regular updates, WP Courseware integration, a built-in affiliate marketing system, and much more. Additionally, it also offers full CRM integration and 24/7 security monitoring.

The hosting service is PHP 7.3 ready which means you won’t have to worry about performance drops and comes with a global CDN right out of the box. You also get automated SSL certificates and access to an internal client support ticketing system. The hosting package is designed to work with high-traffic LMS and WordPress membership websites so you won’t ever have to worry about switching providers when your business starts to take off.

WP-Tonic’s managed WordPress hosting service lets you sell an unlimited number of products through your online course or membership website. You can create as many landing pages and pipelines as you’d like to market your offering. The service integrates seamlessly with leading CRMs including Infusionsoft (now Keap), ActiveCampaign, ConvertKit, Ontraport, Drip, and GroundHogg CRM. In terms of customization, you can choose from 100+ pre-designed themes that work well with WP Courseware or WordPress membership websites that are optimized for performance out of the box.

Conclusion

Finding a performance-optimized hosting service for your online course or WordPress membership website becomes a lot easier once you know what to be on the lookout for. That said, if you’re looking for a fully managed solution, consider trying out WP-Tonic’s boutique WordPress hosting services. You’ll get everything you need right out of the box without having to worry about website upkeep, maintenance, or security.

We discussed some of the most important factors to look out for when choosing a hosting service for your LMS or membership site. By following the actionable tips given in this article, you’ll be well on your way to choosing a WordPress hosting provider that meets your specific requirements and helps you deliver an engaging learning experience to your students and members.

About Ben Arellano

Ben Arellano is one of the co-founders of Fly Plugins, creators of the first and most widely-implemented learning management system for WordPress, WP Courseware. Since 2012, he has helped thousands of entrepreneurs, corporate training departments, and higher education institutions develop and deploy online training courses from their WordPress websites.

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