WordPress’ Recommended Hosting page is a hotly contested piece of online real estate, and has recently come into focus again following the removal of SiteGround from the listings. When the change was highlighted during a recent Meta team meeting, Audrey Capital-sponsored contributor Samuel “Otto” Wood said, “Matt asked me to remove SiteGround because that page is getting revamped. I know no more than that.” Bluehost and Dreamhost are the only two hosts remaining on the page at this time.
The process for being listed on the Recommended Hosting page has historically been shrouded in secret, causing contributors to speculate that large sums of money were required. Although the current criteria is posted on the page, the process of getting listed and de-listed is not transparent. It’s not clear if and how the criteria is being applied, as it states that listings are “completely arbitrary:”
We’ll be looking at this list several times a year, so keep an eye out for us re-opening the survey for hosts to submit themselves for inclusion. Listing is completely arbitrary, but includes criteria like: contributions to WordPress.org, size of customer base, ease of WP auto-install and auto-upgrades, avoiding GPL violations, design, tone, historical perception, using the correct logo, capitalizing WordPress correctly, not blaming us if you have a security issue, and up-to-date system software.
WordPress co-creator Matt Mullenweg has recently hinted at the possibility of re-opening the survey, inviting contributors in WordPress’ Hosting Slack channel to weigh in on questions or data the survey should collect “to help us discern who we recommend.” He linked to questions from the survey used in 2016 when the page was updated to include Bluehost, DreamHost, Flywheel, and SiteGround.
The new draft for the survey states: “It’s time to loop back and give every host an opportunity to be on the recommended page, and also make it international because we never really got recommended hosts in non-English countries right.”
The WordPress Hosting team has been working on a related effort called “Project Bedrock” that aims to create a directory in which any hosting company that meets a series of predefined requirements can appear as recommended hosting or compatible with the WordPress CMS.
“Yes, project bedrock is a goal,” Hosting team rep Javier Casares said. “Some months ago we left the project in stand-by to create a pre-version of the project, creating a list of hosting companies inside the Make/Hosting, a ‘everyone can be on the list’ (if criteria) as a complement for the /hosting), but the idea is that /hosting, this pre-project or the project should have the same criteria (the base).
“We know Matt is the responsible for the /hosting, our idea is creating a ‘longer list’ for the Hosting Handbook / page at Make/hosting. The idea is having the same criteria. So, both are complementary.”
Although contributors to the project view it as complementary to the official recommendations, it may be confusing for WordPress to have multiple similar hosting resources with the same criteria but different listings. These appear to be conflicting efforts that have a lot of overlap but may ultimately be at odds with the goal of simplifying the host selection process for new WordPress users who don’t know which ones to consider.
Casares suggested a few technical criteria that the survey should focus on, including PHP versions, database versions, SSH access, automatic updates, one-click WordPress installation, free TLS certificates, backup, and more.
The 2023 survey is still in the early stages in draft form. WordPress Hosting team contributors suggested that requirements for revamping the page would be a good topic for discussion at WordCamp US’ upcoming Community Summit next month.
In the Post Status hosting channel, Namecheap co-founder Matt Russell suggested Mullenweg leverage WPHostingBenchmarks performance data.
“[WPHostingBenchmarks is] probably the most open, fairest, and long-term performance evaluation in the WP space,” Russell said. He also recommended Mullenweg revamp the page as more of a directory with options to select budget, regions/country, and more.
Review Signal founder Kevin Ohashi, who publishes the WPHostingBenchmarks site, shared concerns about transparency that he has had since the last time the page was updated:
Who is reviewing this information? What criteria will be used in evaluating them? I know last time you said you were involved, as were other folks from Automattic. Automattic is a competitor in the hosting space, and no matter the hat being worn, there is some concern over sharing sensitive business info with a competitor.
Getting listed on that page is likely worth millions of dollars to any company in terms of business generated. I think the process and criteria should be transparent and clear from the beginning. I also think who is involved with evaluating should be known beforehand as well. At least give companies, and consumers, the information they deserve to evaluate participating and the outcome.
Ohashi recommends that no person employed by a hosting company should be involved in the evaluation of submissions. This would eliminate bias from competitors in the space trying to suppress those they deem to be a threat.
“I’d like to see more ethics and accountability, a code of ethics for any company getting listed would be a positive in my mind,” Ohashi said. “Companies should be competing on quality and product, not on astroturfing, deceptive billing practices and other shady behavior we often see in the space. In my benchmarks, I push measuring default performance because I believe that benefits the greatest number of customers. I think there’s an opportunity to push for a better ecosystem here and would love to see you take it.”