Essential Guide To Choosing A Website Designer

This post originally appeared at Essential Guide To Choosing A Website Designer via ShivarWeb

Essential Guide To Choosing A Website Designer

So you need to know how to choose a website designer.

But here’s the problem.

“It depends” is both the most correct and the most unhelpful answer.

There have never been more choices in the website design industry than now. But paradoxically, all those choices make actually choosing more difficult than ever.

The secret to choosing wisely is to understand exactly what you need rather than attempting to sort & filter all the choices on offer.

Like any other large purchase… a house, car, appliance, etc – ditch the idea of a “best” – and instead, write out your exact needs, requirements, and goals. The best option for you will usually self-select itself.

In other words, choose a website designer through elimination based your goals rather than searching out the one right fit.

With that concept in mind, here’s how to walk through the process of elimination to choose the right website designer for your project.

1. Define Your Technology Needs

How do you need your website to function?

Are you looking to build a “brochure site” – a place with your basic information and contact information?

Or are you looking to build something with certain functionality?

This step is critical because it decides what type of web designer or developer or agency you’ll need to hire.

A pure-play web designer usually does not actually work with HTML / CSS, much less traditional web languages like Javascript, PHP, etc. Pure-play web designers usually work in Photoshop and focus on branding, color palettes, imagery, feel, and user experience.

A pure-play web designer will often work with a front-end web developer to implement a design. The front-end of a website is what the user sees & navigates. A front-end developer will know HTML / CSS and Javascript – and will be comfortable with “back-end” technologies.

Back-end technology involves databases, scripts, and APIs – and generally making sure the computers are all talking to each other correctly.

Now – you’ll likely hire someone who is an expert in one, is knowledgeable in another, and is familiar with the third. If you hire an agency, then they’ll have all three.

Additionally, many designers / developers / agencies will work with certain platforms that already have core functionality built-in. When they work with these platforms, it will speed up the process and lower the costs…but also means that the client (you) needs to have some familiarity with what tools they are using.

But the main thing you need to think about is how much functionality does your site need? This will determine what type of website designer you’ll need, and how to discuss their process.

What To Consider

  • What functionality do you want now?
  • How do you want your website to grow?
  • Do you need to edit & manage your site content?
  • Do your visitors need to work with the site at all?

What To Avoid

  • Avoid using vague concepts or ideas.
  • Avoid accidental technology lock-in.

Example Scenarios

Think about a new fashion brand. Are you more focused on developing content or retailing clothes? Do you need to manage inventory? Do you want to build a community? How do you want to integrate your social presence?

A web designer could build a self-hosted WordPress website to handle the content and then add-in ecommerce with an ecommerce plugin, but it might be harder to manage inventory & social integration. They could also build an online store with Shopify to focus on ecommerce & social, but might hamstring your big content plans.

Think about a new non-profit website. Do you have expertise to manage & maintain the website? Do you need donation abilities or portal logins? Do you need to integrate with certain profiles?

A web designer could build a self-hosted WordPress website that could easily integrate donations and would be cheap upfront, but it would be harder to maintain long-term without someone who can train on the platform. They could also use a hosted website builder like Wix or WordPress.com that might have fewer upfront capabilities, but would be much easier to maintain in-house over the long-term.

Now – the designer that you choose should be flexible but also knowledgeable. It’s better to trust someone that you trust…but also verify that they deeply understand your needs.

2. Define Your Design Needs

How do you want your website to look and feel?

Unless you’ve had to design something for a client, it’s hard to understand how difficult it is to translate a vague idea in someone else’s brain into a tangible creation.

Sure, there are bad designers out there, but usually, the more specific you are about your design needs, the better product you’ll get.

Draw out something – anything – to show even the most basic direction you’d like to go.

Collect websites that you like – and note what you like about them. Here’s a bunch of example round-ups that I’ve written.

  • Wix Website Examples
  • WordPress Website Examples
  • Professional Personal Website Examples
  • Online Portfolio Examples
  • Weebly Website Examples
  • GoDaddy Website Examples
  • Restaurant Website Examples
  • Church Website Examples
  • Shopify Website Examples

Write out your frustrations with existing designs.

Additionally, keep in mind that it’s possible to develop some design assets yourself and let a web designer translate those existing assets into a website design.

For example, I’ve had clients use a photographer and bring in a web designer to build a site layout around their amazing professional images. I’ve built sites around a 99designs logo that clients have already made. Some clients even use automated design generators like Tailor Brands to create a look that a web developer can plug & play into a theme or template.

Once you have all your specifics down – you can use it to choose the right web designer.

What To Consider

  • The right web designer will be able to tell you how achievable certain features, looks, etc are.
  • Think about what process you’d like to work with. Do you want choices at every stage? How do you like to give and receive feedback? What are the most important parts of the design? When budget inevitably comes up, what are you willing to cut or prioritize?

What To Avoid

  • Avoid designers who can’t tell you how they’ll approach a design problem. Look for designers who do not have a stated process.
  • A written design process is best for you and them. Feedback stages can go on forever and make everyone frustrated.
  • Avoid vague wishes – even with emotions, be as specific and as concrete as possible.

Example Scenarios

Think about a restaurant website. An established restaurant will likely already have quite a bit of design assets in its physical location. Between logos, fonts, colors, ambience, etc – a web designer should already have a good bit to work off. Hiring a designer will be less about getting the design right and more about the layout, navigation, and design asset conversion right.

Think about a brand-new yoga studio. A startup might need a website design that can translate offline and throughout social media. Here, the owner will need to make a choice about developing a logo & brand feel separately (via a specialist graphic designer or logo contractor or AI brand software) or letting the website designer drive the look of the business.

3. Define Your Business Needs

What role does your website serve in your business?

Some of this will go back to your design and technology needs, but it’s especially pressing to consider before you define your budget & scope.

Think about how your business gets customers and how you do your marketing.

How will/does your website drive leads/sales? Is it something that your referrals & salespeople will offer as a brochure…or will your website need to drive new leads from online visitors?

Will it need to integrate with any business processes such as inventory or bookkeeping or order-taking? Do you want to move your business processes to the website via marketing/sales automation?

Are there any existing software providers that you want to integrate with your website now or in the future?

What To Consider

  • Think about both the near and medium term needs of your business.
  • Think about your domain names – and how you want to setup your email and online services.
  • Think about the incremental value of your website – what number of leads could it drive? What is a new lead worth?

What To Avoid

  • Avoid too much complexity – integrations and versatility make your website last.
  • Avoid thinking of your website as a cost – it’s an investment.
  • Avoid designers who do not work with integrations or cannot build out features that you need.
  • Avoid designers who cannot make a business case for changing your existing business processes.
  • Avoid designers who cannot explain how & why their approach will work through the medium term.
  • Avoid quick, “duct-tape” solutions.

Example Scenarios

Think about a local property management. An accounting firm could do well with a “brochure website” that simply funnels people to the phone and in-person consults. A nice brochure website (i.e., a website that simple provides information) might do fine. But what if the firm wants to add in client tools, secure portals, content marketing, direct listings, etc? Those features would require a website that can expand and develop over time. It might be worth developing a self-hosted website with a designer on retainer.

Think about a new jewelry business. A jewelry business might do business exclusively on Etsy, and want a blog to connect with customers. It might be easy to get a custom theme on a hosted platform like WordPress.com. However, it also might be a better choice to go a different direction at the beginning to integrate Etsy or lay the foundation for a non-Etsy online store.

4. Define Your Budget & Scope

How much money and time do you have to spend right now?

And “as cheap as possible” is not an answer – if this is your thinking, you should not be looking for a custom website designer. You should look for alternative options.

Your website is an investment, not a cost. If you approach it the same way you’d approach bulk-buying office pens…then you’re not going to get the result you want.

Now – I understand the desire to get the biggest return for your investment. But remember that it’s usually better to maximize your return rather than minimize your investment.

What To Consider

  • Think about your existing cashflow situation. Write out what a single new lead is worth.
  • Write out existing costs of having a poor or non-existent website.
  • Write out features, functionality, and design choices that you’d prioritize.
  • Think about payoff period and amortize your budget. In other words, if you budget $10,000 – and you expect the site to last 50 months, then that is $200/mo. Does that match your expected value?

What To Avoid

  • Avoid thinking about your budget in a silo – always tie it to scope or value.
  • Avoid thinking that you can have everything. Think about keeping your options open.
  • Avoid thinking about having a one and done project. Think about ongoing costs to either you, your staff or your designer.

5. Define Your Sources & Alternative Options

What type of designer do you want? And how do you find them?

The bad news is that most good website designers are not super-easy to find.

The good news is that your competitors don’t know that. If you put in a bit of work to find the right website designers – you’ll have a much better range of choices.

What To Consider

  • Good website designers have plenty of work. If someone is spending a lot of money on advertising & acquisition, then they are probably a giant agency with a churn and burn process.
  • Good website designers want to work with good clients. I used to work with web design clients, and I would take a great client for half-pay over a bad client. In fact, at a certain point, there’s not enough money in the world to take on a bad client.
  • Conversations and back and forths are not billable. That is not good for you or the designer. The more specific you are, the better.

What To Avoid

  • Googling what everyone else is googling.
  • Expecting more from a person or platform than is reasonable given how much effort you’ve put in.

Where To Look

Now – you could always do a Google Search. But I promise that you will likely be disappointed. Here are some better places to look.

For local designer / developer

Local web designers are usually horrendous at marketing their services. But many clients want a local designer that they can talk to in person.

Your approach will depend on your metro area, of course, but here’s where I’d look.

  1. Look for meetups to stalk. Web designers are always looking to upgrade skills and you can usually find some at a local workshop, class or meetup.
  2. Do a really specific Google search – one with search operators. Like this.
  3. Ask your favorite local businesses for referrals.
  4. Use city specific directories – this works especially well in smaller metros.

For a WordPress designer / developer

WordPress is an incredibly versatile content management system. It’s not ideal for every site, but it’s like 4 door SUV / Sedan of the Internet. It’ll probably do the job for you.

Now – the issue is that basically anybody can call themselves a “WordPress developer” – even if they really don’t know how the software works at its core.

It’s important to do #1 and #2 – because you’ll need to know if you are hiring a designer / developer who works with WordPress as their software of choice vs. someone who actually develops websites with WordPress.

Here’s where I’d look –

  1. Stalk local WordPress meetups.
  2. Stalk the attendees of WordCamps – big gatherings of designers who use WordPress.
  3. Stalk the community support forums of WordPress.org
  4. Do an incredibly specific Google search with something like intext:”Work with me”
WordCamp Attendees

One side note about WordPress designers – since they’ll likely use certain themes/theme frameworks – you’ll be able to negotiate a bit more on scope and do more with DIY.

For [other platform] designer / developer

Now there are plenty of other software options out there – especially “hosted options” like Squarespace, Weebly, Shopify, Wix, Bigcommerce, etc.

The key here is to understand the technology and what exactly you are buying (ie, you are paying more for a custom design over functionality since the hosted option bundles lots of functionality in with your hosting).

Lean heavily on the services’ support forums and Experts Exchange to find prospective designers.

For a general designer / developer

The great thing about web design is that you can work with a global talent pool if you want. There are challenges to working remotely but a lot of upside if you can do it well.

Again, for this search, I’d recommend relying more on internal platforms over random searches. Here’s a few examples.

99designs is a good option for contest-run design only competitions. I’ve implemented designs that my clients have bought through them. Here’s my general review.

Dribbble is the big hangout for designers doing cutting edge work.

Most developers will have a profile on Github or StackExchange or HackerNews. Look for ones who have good answers.

Fiverr is a surprisingly good platform if you are willing to try a few gigs before committing to a single designer. I’ve used them for several side projects.

Upwork is also good if you are willing to do a test project with several designers before choosing.

Tailor Brands is an AI-powered self-service platform that will develop a logo and entire branding setup for less than $100.

You’ll also find that vendors on ThemeForest will do custom work in addition to other marketplaces like CreativeMarket.

The point here is that a bit more effort into searching for good designers will give you much better options than general googling.

Alternatives to a Custom Website Designer

Now if you’re thinking “ok – I just need a simple, straightforward website, not a roundabout search” – then you’ll want to look into some Alternative Options.

Skip down to some alternate ways to get a website without having to choose a website designer.

6. Ask for Proposals

Now that you have a few website designers to choose from, the next step is to send out a proposal.

The better your proposal, the better your options will be.

Think about how you would like to be approached if you were a web designer.

Would you prefer a vague email asking how much a website costs? Or would you prefer a detailed description of a the project along with a ballpark budget range?

What To Consider

  • Providing a ballpark budget is the fastest, simplest & most accurate way to get on the same page as a website designer. Your budget does not determine your end cost – but it does determine who you even talk to. As an analogy – it’s how website designers know whether you are shopping for a used Toyota Corolla or a brand-new Ferrari.
  • Make your project easy to say yes to. Keep the next step & primary ask simple and straightforward (ie, “are you interested in the project?”, “if interested, what additional details do you need?”)

What To Avoid

  • Avoid sending lots of feeler emails with no intention of hiring.
  • Avoid sending an email with too much information or too many asks.

7. Follow up with Questions & Request for References & Portfolio

However the designer communicates upfront is how the project will progress. Communication never improves over a project – it only degrades. Look for a high benchmark to start.

What To Consider

  • You are using your requirements, questions, and details to get prospective web designers to rule themselves out.
  • Think about your priorities – sending too many questions is just as bad as too few.

What To Avoid

  • Avoid dictating the entire process. Remember that the designer’s questions for you can tell you as much as your questions for them.
  • Avoid making the designer do too much back and forth. If you think a call will be necessary during the design process, do this entire step via a phone call.

8. Request Contract & Project Plan (and declines)

Tangible expectations in writing help everyone in every engagement.

At this point, you should be able to choose a website designer.

The next step is to request a contract and a project plan from the designer that you want to work with.

A written contract helps *everyone* in the project. The contract should spell out “deliverables”, costs, responsibilities, intellectual property rights, and an adjudicating body.

A project plan helps *everyone* understand expectations, responsibilities, and timelines. This does not have to be complicated. It should communicate clearly though who is responsible for what and when.

Lastly, for the designers that you did not choose, be sure to send a polite decline. Even if it’s as simple as “Thank you for providing this information. We have decided to work with another company. We will keep your company in mind for future project & referrals.” You’ll save the everyone needless follow-ups.

9. Follow up & Communicate Clearly

A good website designer cannot help a bad client.

What To Consider

  • The website is going to be *yours* so you need to make sure you have all the information you need to make decisions.
  • Make sure you have all the technical documentation in your control.
  • Remember that a lot of design work depends on fast, accurate feedback.
  • Budget for not only time but also money for incidentals (ie, photography) and technical issues.

What To Avoid

  • Interrupting the project plan and micromanaging.
  • Providing the wrong feedback at the wrong stage.
  • Avoid verbal conversations without follow-up written documentation. Phone call notes are essential.

Conclusion & Next Steps

Choosing a website designer does not have to be a daunting process full of frustration and unknowns.

It does require that you clearly understand what you want, when you want it, and to clearly communicate your expectations.

If you are trying to find a good website designer – follow the process and you’ll be set!

Alternate Conclusion & Next Steps

Now – if you have read this post and found it useful…but…

You’re thinking “I just need a website! It’s 2020 – I just need a simple, affordable, quick standard website – not a complicated purchase with contracts and whatnot”

I hear you. I have friends who have been there. And there are options out there – but it’s not a quality custom website designer.

Here’s some options –

#0 – DIY w/ Automated Branding & Design

Many design options (including the ones below) require you to coordinate your branding, even if you are able to purchase assets like a logo or social media photos. But that leaves a lot up to you.

There is one company that focuses on completely automated branding – Tailor Brands. I’ve begun using them for my side projects. They AI and machine learning to create a whole range of design assets & guidelines.

They also have a bundled website builder or you can use them to complement #1 through #3. Check out Tailor Brands here. Read my review here.

Other website builders also bundle a logo designer with their software. Wix has a template driven logo designer as does Shopify.

#1 – DIY with a Website Builder

There are companies that specialize in businesses with a budget and no design or technical expertise. They provide hosting and pre-made templates all for a single monthly subscription. You might not get all the functionality that you want…but you will get a secure, fast, good looking website.

To find the right website one, take my website builder quiz or see my recommendations here.

I also have an online store builder quiz with recommendations here if you need ecommerce.

#2 – DIY with self-hosted WordPress

WordPress is a the most popular, most supported, and most versatile “content management system” on the Internet. It’s free community supported software that you install on a hosting account (ie, you rent part of a server from a hosting company). The software has a learning curve, but you’ll have 100% control and 100% of your options open. You’ll also be able to call in specific experts on specific problems. Or install do-it-all themes / templates.

I wrote a WordPress Website Setup Guide here.

#3 – Purchase Website Design from a Hosting Company

This option is a blend of #1 and #2 – if you want full control over your site with unlimited options for the future…but don’t want the learning curve of setting up a design yourself, then you can sometimes purchase website design services from a hosting company. They are usually able to provide these services much cheaper than an independent website designer since you’re also using their hosting services.

For these projects, I recommend InMotion Hosting – they have great support and are the hosting company for this website. See their design services here.

Other resources include –

  • How To Try WordPress Before Purchasing
  • Choosing Your Website Color Palette
  • Features Customer Want in a Local Website
  • Building Different Types of Websites with Templates

For any specific questions, see my contact page.

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How to Build a Minimally Viable Website

This post originally appeared at How to Build a Minimally Viable Website via ShivarWeb

How to Build a Minimally Viable Website

So you want to get your product/service/thoughts in front of an audience, and you need a website. Time to buckle down and create a massive, beautiful site, right?

Wrong.

When you’re launching anything, the most important goal is to get data. Without data, you can’t possibly make something as good as it can be — and that applies to your website, too.

You need data on what it takes to build & run the site of your dreams. You need data on who actually visits your site and what they do. You need data to decide what to do next.

One of the biggest mistakes business owners make when launching a website is starting too big and too well-designed (especially eCommerce sites).

You don’t need pages and pages of content or a fancy design. What you do need is a minimally viable website.

Here’s how to build one…

Define Your Goals

Before you do anything, you need to decide what you want to achieve with your website. What do you want people to do once they’re there? If you’re looking to make sales, what are your revenue goals?

This part of the process may seem counterintuitive — after all, this article is about creating the minimally viable product — but it’s key to building your site on the right foot.

Defining your goals upfront will help you know what to look for in the data you get and whether or not you’re on the right path, so don’t skip this step.

Choose Your Platform & Domain

Most business owners feel like their website has to use fancy tools and platforms to get the job done. Not so. In fact, a simple HTML template can be all you need (you can even host it for free with a Dropbox hack if that’s your thing).

If you’re into WordPress or some other website builder and can churn out a quick website, then go that route. Weebly and Wix both offer free plans on their subdomain.

The point here is to get your content somewhere quickly and simply but to also keep your options open for when you’re ready to make changes (and to track data).

Some companies like InMotion Hosting have a specific quick start setup service for $99 + hosting (which you need anyway). Companies like NameCheap will also bundle it with your domain.

A custom domain can be important – but remember that you can always change it. Your goal right now is data – not perfection. Go get a cheap domain from NameCheap or GoDaddy.

Set Up Analytics + Goals

Speaking of tracking data… the whole point of an MVP (or MVW in this case) is to capture data so you can find what works and what doesn’t. In order to be able to capture this information, you need to set up analytics and goal tracking.

There are a lot of options, but Google Analytics is the go-to solution (it’s also free).

The key is to make sure you have goals set up based on whatever action you want people to take. If you’re an eCommerce store, you need to be sure you have an eCommerce checkout set up. Make sure it’s a goal. Make sure the whole package is working correctly because you have to accurately track conversions (aka sales) – if you are using a minimally viable payment solution like PayPal or Gumroad – this might mean simply setting the thank you page redirect.

If you’re looking for email opt-ins, make that a goal. Set up any action you’re looking at as a conversion in Google Analytics for tracking. And like eCommerce sales, you don’t have to get fancy. This might mean setting your MailChimp thank you page redirect as the sign-up goal.

If you plan on marketing your website (which you should), you should also link Google Analytics to Google Ads and set up a retargeting audience with Google Analytics.

And lastly, you should set up a Facebook Ads account and place a retargeting (audience pixel) cookie on your website. And learn what exactly Google Analytics does.

Set Up Focus Pages

As I’ve already mentioned, you don’t need a 100+ page website on your first launch. When you’re creating a minimally viable website, you should focus on setting up a few landing pages where you can send traffic for conversion.

In some cases, this can actually be done with a single page.

Take this website: Fix the Electoral College. I built this with a single HTML file hosted on a Google Cloud account. I never wanted to build an entire website dedicated to the structure of American politics with all the security updates and information architecture needs — just a single, shareable resource. This single page website got clicks and shares from hundreds of key state legislators in a very targeted Twitter / Facebook campaign. Mission accomplished!

The goal is to create very specific pages (or a page) that visitors can land on and take action. If you can do that in one page — awesome! Do that. If you need more than one, then take that route. Just remember that this should be as simple and clear as possible and focused around whatever conversion you’re looking to measure.

Test, Test, Test

Once you’ve got your website up, it’s time to start testing and optimizing. The goal here is to keep what works and get rid of what doesn’t.

Keep in mind that everything you do will conform to the 80/20 Principle. I’ve seen lots of analytics profiles across a wide range of industries. In every single one, every metric conforms to 80/20.

  • 20% of the products make up 80% of sales.
  • 20% of content drives 80% of organic traffic.
  • 20% of ad spend drives 80% of revenue.

When evaluating your website, keep your focus on the 20% that matters, and keep expanding the overall amount of opportunity. If you’ve never read much about the concept, check out the original 80/20 Principle by Richard Koch AND the follow-up 80/20 for Sales & Marketing by Perry Marshall.

Next Steps

Now that you’ve got your minimally viable website, it’s time to take some concrete next steps. Remember, this isn’t about more planning. It’s about action. The whole point of launching your MVP site is to get feedback so that you know what to do next.

Check out InMotion’s Quick Start service or NameCheap’s one-pager that will bundle with a domain purchase.

To get that feedback, you’ll need to get people to your site and taking action. Check out this guide to promoting your website (for free) to get started.

Once you’ve gathered data – you’ll need to set up a more permanent website with more options. You’ll want to explore my essential guide to eCommerce platforms or my WordPress website guide or my guide to website builders.

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Kinsta Hosting Review: Pros, Cons & Alternatives

This post originally appeared at Kinsta Hosting Review: Pros, Cons & Alternatives via ShivarWeb

Kinsta Hosting Review

Kinsta Hosting is a rapidly growing, independent hosting company founded in 2013. Kinsta is focused exclusively on managed WordPress hosting with reliable customer support and Google Cloud-driven performance.

See Kinsta’s Current Plans & Pricing

What is Kinsta Hosting?

Kinsta is a non-traditional hosting company only offers one service – managed hosting for WordPress on cloud servers. They don’t offer email, reseller, or any other type of hosting. They do integrate some 3rd-party tools like DNS (from Amazon) and SSL (from LetsEncrypt) and CDN (configured on their Google Cloud network). Here’s their pricing chart.

Kinsta was founded in 2013 to meet the increased demand for managed WordPress hosting services (which I’ll touch on in the next section). They are a remote-first company with an emphasis on global service with support provided in 7 languages.

Their service is provided via Google’s Cloud Platform, and they have an exclusive focus on WordPress.

I’ve had a long-standing client who uses WP Engine (Kinsta’s direct competitor), and have had experience using the various managed WordPress hosting products across the hosting industry.

Background on Kinsta Hosting

To understand Kinsta’s product, you need to understand four concepts.

First, WordPress is the most popular content management system software on the Internet. People use it to run websites. It can run on any hosting setup with PHP, MySQL, and Linux. In other words, it can run on almost any web host.

Second, Web Hosting is space on a computer server that can run web applications and serve data to browsers (aka, it’s where a website lives). Web hosting can come in various setups, depending on the configuration. Shared hosting is the most common where a single server that can run PHP, MySQL, and Linux is “shared” among various hosting accounts. I explain more here.

Third, WordPress Hosting is space on a web hosting account that is specifically configured in some way to help WordPress software run better. I explain more here. The definition of “run better” can vary wildly depending on the hosting company since technically WordPress can run on almost any web hosting account. I wrote about the differences between Web and WordPress hosting here.

Fourth, Cloud Hosting is a large network of data centers configured so that customers can lease computing power & storage for web applications on demand, anywhere in the network instead of using space on a single web server. The largest cloud networks are run by Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Digital Ocean, IBM, and Oracle. I explain more here.

With those four background concepts in place, I can explain Kinsta’s unique position in the hosting world.

Kinsta runs managed WordPress hosting on the Google Cloud Platform. They actively lease computing power & storage on Google’s Cloud, configure it to run WordPress quickly & efficiently, and manage & support each installation.

In other words, they offer a niche but also potentially powerful platform. Because of how they mix & match all these services, they don’t compete head to head with many providers. But they compete indirectly with *a lot*.

How Kinsta Hosting Works

In some ways, Kinsta works just like any other hosting company. You sign up and pay every month. In exchange, your WordPress website runs quickly and efficiently.

But behind the scenes, their setup is a bit more complicated.

First, you’ll technically lease your hosting from Google, so unless Google goes down…your site isn’t going to go down. There’s no “crashing” like there could be on a typical web server.

Second, Kinsta has its cloud access explicitly configured for WordPress with things like server-side caching, security rules, staging environments, and more so that your site is faster than it could be on a vanilla Linux web server.

Third, Kinsta blends several 3rd party services for DNS (connects your domain to the host), SSL (secures your connection), and CDN (content distribution network) to make everything your website needs to work together.

Since they only have one product with no upsells, the signup is straightforward.

1 Kinsta Signup

The entire setup operates from a single account dashboard where you control your WordPress installs.

2 Kinsta Account Dashboard

I’ve been considering Kinsta for a client’s site, and decided to give them a try with a small site that I’m looking to consolidate.

Here’s my Kinsta Hosting review structured with pros, cons, ideal use cases, and alternatives based on my experience as a customer.

Pros of Using Kinsta Hosting

There are a lot of Kinsta Hosting reviews online – usually with user-generated reviews based on anecdotes and personal experience. That’s fine, but I take a different approach.

Like I mention in all my hosting reviews, there is no such thing as a “best” web host. It’s all about the right fit for your project based on your goals, budget, experience & expertise. Here are the pros (advantages) for considering Kinsta Hosting.

Cloud Hosting Benefits

Since Kinsta uses the Google Cloud Platform, you get many of the benefits of cloud hosting without many of the downsides.

Speed

A hosting account can be a lot of things to your business, but the core function of a hosting server is to serve your website files whenever someone requests them. But – the implied adverb there is to serve those files quickly.

In an age of global audiences and multi-device connections, speed matters more than ever. While there are a lot of variables in play with website speed, it’s primarily your hosting server’s job to send the requested files to the visitor’s browser as quickly and as efficiently as possible.

So here’s the thing – Kinsta uses the same servers that you use to access Google.com and YouTube.com. With Kinsta, as long as they are configured well, they are going to be fast.

Additionally, with server-side caching, your WordPress website will be ready to go. Now, there are still plenty of issues that can slow your site down, but they likely won’t be Kinsta’s fault.

Here’s my first test with my Kinsta website –

9 Kinsta Speed Test

Again, if your site is loading slowly – it’s not Kinsta’s fault. It’s something with your site.

Geography

With the Google Cloud Platform, Kinsta can also offer data centers around the world. They have more than 23 at the time of writing ranging from Iowa to Southeast Asia and everywhere in between.

Their CDN runs on a global CDN network (KeyCDN) as well, so website assets can be staged close to any website visitor in the world.

It’s rare and expensive to build & maintain data centers around the world, so using Google’s infrastructure provides an advantage that a traditional hosting company can’t match.

Uptime

Remember the last time Google went down? Yes, it happens. But it’s rare. And when it happens, it’s a newsworthy event. With Kinsta, that means that, outside of a bad configuration on their part, your site is not going to go down unless Google goes down.

Consistent performance and reliability are the main advantages of Kinsta since they can take Google Cloud and make it accessible and WordPress-friendly to regular customers.*

*Yes, you can go to Google and sign up for cloud hosting yourself. In fact, I have a non-WordPress site running there now. But to setup & run a database-driven CMS with integrated file storage takes some…patience and wherewithal. It’s not a simple one-click WordPress install. Also, Google does not provide support or configuration help. So, still a considerable advantage for Kinsta.

Configuration, Focus, & Usability

Kinsta built their Dashboard from scratch. Their signup is simple and straightforward. There are some hiccups that I’ll get to in the downsides, but overall, their configuration and usability is amazing.

Their focus on WordPress and simple plan structure also makes onboarding (i.e., going from a new signup to active customer) straightforward. The design is uncluttered, minimalist, and well-designed.

6 Kinsta Easy Install

Their setup had jargon and technical information present, but it isn’t overwhelming and daunting like other managed WordPress hosting companies.

User-friendly Add-on Tools

While Kinsta does not have all the tools that traditional hosts make available, they do bundle several tools that are critical to running a fast, effective website. And again, unlike other managed WordPress hosting providers, they bundle them seamlessly in their dashboard.

DNS

DNS is the roadmap of instructions that connects your registered domain to your hosting, where your website lives.

Kinsta includes Premium DNS with all their plan levels, which makes setting up your website much simpler. Plenty of managed hosting companies (and even some website builders) leave the DNS up to their customers to figure out – leaving plenty of customers fiddling with TXT records, CNAMEs and MX records in vain.

4 Kinsta Built-in DNS

Amazon provides Kinsta’s DNS. It’s reliable and integrated directly in their Dashboard.

CDN

A content distribution network (CDN) allows you to take the load off your main server by distributing media files and scripts around the world so that your website can load faster and with fewer resources on your server.

Again, not every hosting company includes this option, but Kinsta integrates it directly within their Dashboard.

SSL

An SSL allows your website to provide an encrypted connection between itself and your visitor’s browser. It’s an essential part of every website. Again, it’s something that Kinsta provides directly in their dashboard via LetsEncrypt. It’s not the best or name-brand SSL, but it does the job.

Migration

Kinsta provides website migration services to its platform. It can be confusing enough, moving an existing WordPress website from one shared hosting account to another. But moving it to a managed cloud platform can create all kinds of hiccups.

3 Kinsta Migration

It’s a free service that would typically cost hundreds of dollars with a WordPress consultant.

Developer & Agency Tools

Kinsta provides a range of developer and agency tools that all sound either too dull or technical until you need them & use them.

They have well-implemented basics like built-in staging and user management so that developers can build client sites and hand them over with no hiccups or maverick approval processes.

5 Kinsta User Management

Additionally, they have SSH access, WP-CLI, and allow different versions of PHP.

But the most interesting piece for me is the fact that they don’t lock customers into a single WordPress configuration AND they’ll support non-traditional setups like reverse-proxy configurations.

8 Kinsta Staging Environment

As an SEO consultant, having the flexibility of configurations is critical for working with large clients who want WordPress for their blog…but, not their main site. It makes a big content marketing sell much simpler since developer time can be outsourced to Kinsta.

Customer Support

Most customer support stories are either *really* bad or *really* good. It’s the one-star vs. five-star problem. Like I’ve said in most of my hosting reviews, I try to look and see if the company treats customer support as a cost center, a profit center, or an investment center.

Based on how they’ve integrated their knowledge base throughout their Dashboard (rather than stashing it somewhere), and the fact that they’ve grown their team mainly with support team around the world – it seems like they’ve deemed customer support as an investment center.

And that’s a good thing if you are a customer. You know they aren’t looking to make a buck off you, or push you off. Instead, they are trying to develop goodwill and increase word of mouth. Kinsta’s main “thing” is customer support, since it makes their whole product run.

Cons / Disadvantages of Using Kinsta Hosting

Like any web host, Kinsta has disadvantages. There are plenty of Kinsta complaints online. But remember, that like the pros, these are all in the context of your goals & priorities. With that said, here are the cons that I found while using Kinsta Hosting.

Pricing

Kinsta is expensive.

1-Kinsta-Pricing-Chart

No matter how you measure it – by WordPress installs, visits allowed, storage allocated, indirect competitor pricing, indirect competitor pricing – Kinsta is going to be competitive…but still the expensive option.

WP Engine is its most direct competitor. Kinsta does have more intermediate plans…but WP Engine has a pricing setup that can be a bit cheaper than Kinsta.

Competitors like InMotion Hosting and SiteGround offer comparable products for much cheaper (though they aren’t on Google’s Cloud). LiquidWeb does the same for managed WooCommerce websites.

And other indirect competitors like WPMU Dev do bundled cloud hosting with their plugin subscription that is competitive for agencies / developers.

There are two things pushing back on this disadvantage.

First, Kinsta is super-transparent about their pricing. There are no add-ons or excluded features like on WP Engine. There are no slight apples to oranges comparisons like you’d find with InMotion or SiteGround or LiquidWeb.

Two, expensive is a relative concept to value. Depending on the value that your website is generating, a few hundred dollars may or may not matter. If a few hours of downtime or a support misstep can cost you hundreds or thousands of dollars, then “expensive” is the wrong metric to look at.

On the flip side, hosting is a business cost. Any dollar that you save goes right to your bottom line. If you are on the fence about some of Kinsta’s features or have other website needs (see Feature bundles below), then Kinsta’s price is going to be a disadvantage.

Feature Caps

Kinsta has some pretty low caps, especially compared to non-cloud competitors. Since they are working with leased infrastructure, they have to pass along any and all of their hosting costs.

If you’ve run a rapidly growing website, you’ll know just how quickly visits, storage, and bandwidth needs can escalate. If you are on Kinsta, you’ll never have to worry about needs taking your website offline. But you may have to worry about those needs hitting your bottom-line.

I have one client who built a silly side-project on his website (hosted on WP Engine with similar caps to Kinsta). The silly side-project took off – in a big way.

In some ways, the project brought in indirect revenue with backlinks, brand awareness, etc. But in concrete terms, it single-handedly tripled his monthly hosting costs because it blew past every visitor cap…and then the bots & spammers showed up. He’s on an enterprise plan with the same amount of “real” traffic that should put him on a basic plan.

Now, that’s a good problem to have. But it’s created decisions that honestly would not need to be made if he were using a Kinsta competitor with a managed VPS or managed WordPress hosting product like InMotion or SiteGround.

In fact, some of Kinsta’s features are capped at lower levels than you’d expect with their marketing. For example, think about WooCommerce and membership sites. They recommend PHP Workers that can handle excess queries. Here’s an explainer on how they work. But basically they help with the shopping cart / user roles while the server cache loads the rest of the page.

For their Starter and Pro plans, Kinsta only provides 2 PHP Workers…which is not recommended for ecommerce websites. In comparison, InMotion’s cheapest managed WordPress plan comes with a limit of 4 PHP Workers.

And again – many of these limitations come not from Kinsta (they are transparent about all this) but from their product structure…which is the next disadvantage.

Size & Company Structure

In a lot of ways, Kinsta is my kind of company. They are founder owned & operated. They are boot-strapped with zero investor funding. They are product-focused with a smart, thoughtful marketing strategy.

They are small enough to have direct contact with customers and processes. They are remote-first, global, and diverse. I’m glad to spend money with them.

But the hosting industry is structured the way it’s structured for a reason. And Kinsta is moving in the opposite direction of the rest of the industry.

Web hosting business is built based on the depreciation of fixed assets and high customer retention. It’s similar in many ways to the physical real estate industry. Almost every hosting company is away from pure-play hosting to becoming a hosting “platform” with lots of amenities.

Since Kinsta leases its infrastructure from Google, they use an entirely different business model. They have to have low overhead costs (ie, remote-first is a must), low acquisition costs (ie, their inbound marketing strategy), low labor costs and high pricing. Additionally, they are completely dependent on Google staying competitive & in the Cloud hosting business.

In other words, Kinsta is kind of like the WeWork of the hosting world (in a good way). Kinsta has avoided most of WeWork’s mistakes. But the core business model of sub-leasing servers while adding value via convenience, accessibility, and support is tricky.

WP Engine made it by using investor money to acquire market share and big amenities while building a hybrid data center. But others have failed or have been bought out – like FlyWheel and Nexcess.

Right now, Kinsta is committed to organic, long-term growth. But if you are looking for a 5+ year host, I’d pause and look around the industry before committing.

Feature Bundles & Add-Ons

Most direct and indirect competitors are moving to a “hosting platform” model with bundled plugins, themes, and other amenities. Almost all of Kinsta’s direct and indirect competitors bundle some sort of WordPress amenity with their managed WordPress hosting product.

  • WP Engine bundles StudioPress themes & products.
  • LiquidWeb bundles iThemes plugins & themes.
  • InMotion bundles JetPack and the BoldGrid website builder.
  • WPMU Dev bundles its premium plugins.
  • SiteGround bundles custom amenities like developer toolkits and email.
  • Pressable bundles JetPack and WP101 Training.

The flipside of this disadvantage is that Kinsta is truly focused on WordPress and hosting – they aren’t trying to compete with amenities and bonuses. They are just doing what they promise to do.

That’s great – and certainly a strength. But it’s also a downside for some customers.

Kinsta Hosting Alternatives & Use Cases

Just like cars, houses, appliances, etc – there is no such thing as a “best” host. There are just better & worse hosts for different customers with different needs. Here are some ideal use cases for Kinsta, along with some direct alternatives.

Growing Ecommerce or Membership Site

A growing ecommerce or membership website built with WordPress can create resource strains and technical demands. Kinsta’s architecture and support experience are really made for both types of sites (especially at higher pricing tiers).

Kinsta is a solid, straightforward, but still affordable option for ecommerce / membership websites that can pay a premium to have things “just work” with no troubleshooting. View Kinsta’s plans here.

Developer or Agency w/ Premium Clients

Kinsta is a great option for developers or agencies that build high-quality websites for premium clients with ongoing maintenance budgets.

Kinsta has the social proof, technical specs, pricing, and management tools that will assure brand name clients while still sticking with their budget expectations. View Kinsta’s plans here.

Premium Support & All-in-One Needs

Kinsta is ideal for DIY customers who run a high-margin website that needs premium support and/or all-in-one hosting needs. Kinsta’s monthly costs are high, but nothing considering the costs of hiring a WordPress developer to solve intermediate issues for a day (i.e., installing a new SSL certificate or repointing a subdomain). View Kinsta’s plans here.

Out of all the hosting companies that I’ve used myself or via a client, here’s how Kinsta compares directly with a few select ones.

Kinsta Hosting vs. WP Engine

WP Engine was the first company to offer a managed WordPress hosting product, and they’ve been the market leader ever since. They focus on the same customers as Kinsta. I’ve reviewed WP Engine here.

They have some advantages over Kinsta, including more features & amenities. But they are also more technically oriented with a more confusing backend. Kinsta is cleaner and simpler.

If you are a solo DIYer, developer, or small agency, you’ll likely gravitate towards Kinsta. If you are a corporate-type, you’ll likely gravitate towards WP Engine.

Kinsta Hosting vs. LiquidWeb

LiquidWeb moved into the managed WordPress space with their Nexcess acquisition. LiquidWeb is one of the largest independent hosting companies and has a specific focus on agencies and developers. They run their own data centers and have been around for a long time. They really excel with ecommerce websites.

Since they operate their own data centers, they have major price & feature advantages over Kinsta. But Kinsta’s setup runs on the Google Cloud and has better focus & usability since they *only* do WordPress.

If you are looking at cost but still want a lot of the developer features of Kinsta, you’ll likely go for LiquidWeb. If you like Kinsta’s focus & cloud setup, you’ll likely go for them instead.

Kinsta Hosting vs. SiteGround

SiteGround has been a rapidly growing host in the WordPress space. They have a big appeal among developers. They also have a global reach with data centers in the US, Europe, and Asia.

Since they operate their own data centers, they have a big cost advantage over Kinsta with managed WordPress hosting. They also bundle a lot of the same features as Kinsta including CDN, SSL, DNS, migration service, and user management. But again, Kinsta will likely still have some advantage with speed & performance since they run on Google’s Cloud.

If you are looking to save money but still have a developer-oriented company, SiteGround will likely be a better choice. If you prize speed & performance and have budget for Kinsta, you’ll likely go for Kinsta’s plans.

Kinsta Hosting vs. InMotion Hosting

InMotion Hosting is one of the most consistently growing hosting companies on the Internet. They are independent and have grown organically over the course of 20+ years. They offer a wide range of hosting products, including managed WordPress hosting, with a focus on small businesses.

Since they run their own data centers, they have a big advantage over Kinsta with pricing. They are able to offer much higher caps on features compared to Kinsta. For example, remember the PHP Workers mentioned earlier? Kinsta provides 2 PHP Workers compared to InMotion’s 4 Workers on their cheapest $8.99/mo plan. They also bundle a lot of business-friendly amenities with their plans (like JetPack for security).

If you are looking at the overall value of features & support for the price, InMotion Hosting would be a better fit. If you like Kinsta’s exclusive focus on cloud & WordPress, then they would be a better fit.

Kinsta Hosting Review Next Steps

Kinsta Hosting is an amazing option to have in the world of WordPress hosting. They have a fast, simple, solid product in a competitive field. If you have budget for a managed host and like the appeal of using the cloud, then Kinsta is likely an excellent fit for you.

See Kinsta’s Current Plans & Pricing

If you are looking for other options, check out the ones listed above, or explore my WordPress Hosting page.

Kinsta Hosting

Kinsta Hosting is a rapidly growing managed WordPress hosting service built on the Google Cloud.

Application Category: Managed WordPress Hosing

Editor's Rating:
4

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