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StudioPress Sites is a managed WordPress host. They are not selling shared, or general hosting.
Before we start this review, I wanted to make this distinction clear. When reviewing hosts I think in order to be fair, you have to get as close to apples to apples as possible. So what’s the difference between a managed host and an unmanaged host? Managed WordPress hosts are optimized to run WordPress and only WordPress. They have a slew of advantages over general shared hosts, including:
- Better Security. This concern will only grow as your site starts to expand. Unless you’re already skilled with coding, most people do not have the technical knowledge necessary to stave off the constant threat of cyber attack. As bloggers, we want to put our focus on quality content. Managed WordPress hosts allow you to have the tightest and best security when it comes to malware, DoS attacks, etc.
- Speed. I can’t stress this enough. Speed is critical. It can mean the difference between ranking high on Google or not ranking at all. It can be the difference between a 90% bounce rate, and a 40% bounce rate on your site. Managed WordPress hosts like StudioPress Sites are optimized to be FAST. Their servers are fine tuned to deliver that.
- Auto-Updates, Backups & Downtime. If something goes wrong, you have nothing to be worried about. Managed hosts take care of backing your site up, as well as keeping it chugging along. Allowing you to focus on just the content.
Now there are cons to managed hosts as well, the main one being price. You can definitely find shared hosting for cheaper. But for the non-tech savvy, the distinction between managed vs. unmanaged needs to be made so they are not fooled into thinking they are getting the same thing.
The Grading System
That being said, StudioPress Sites is a brand new WordPress hosting service offered by Rainmaker Digital.
If you’ve tinkered with WordPress before, you are probably no stranger to StudioPress. Their Genesis framework and associated child themes is the gold standard when it comes to blog design. With their new service, they are attempting to be the gold standard for managed WordPress hosting as well.
For reviewing their hosting service I focused on six criteria: price, value, ease of use, included themes, features, and customer service.
I’m giving StudioPress Sites an Overall Grade of A- based on those 6 criteria.
- Price: B+
- Value: A+
- Ease of Use: A
- Included Themes: A+
- Features: C+
- Customer Service: A
I hope this review will provide some insight into what you can expect with StudioPress Sites and their managed hosting.
Let’s get started.
StudioPress is not the cheapest host out there. That’s for sure. But it’s not the most expensive either. Their pricing is what I would consider pretty middle of the road.
Price is the one area where shared hosting has an obvious advantage over managed hosting. You can get shared hosting for about $100 a year. StudioPress sites starts at about $24-27 a month and roughly $297 when billed annually.
(Here’s a screenshot of the yearly checkout price)
Now why don’t we end the review here and have everyone sign up for a shared host instead? Because you know as well as I do, there’s a big difference between price and value. StudioPress Sites is at market price for managed hosting, but it’s value is sky high (more on that later).
Two direct competitors, WPEngine and Bluehost also offer managed hosting options, and their prices for those services are:
WPEngine: $290 for 12 months
Bluehost: $371.76 for 12 months
Now to be fair, WPEngine and Bluehost do offer different perks. Bluehost gives you a higher monthly max pageview, and WPEngine gives you two months free, etc. But the whole point is this: $297 for 12 months of StudioPress Sites is not overpriced. It’s about market value for comparable services.
The only reason StudioPress Sites gets a B+ in the price category and not an A, is that they are not currently offering domain names for free. This means that in order to get your site up and running, you’ll have to purchase a domain separately through a registrar. My favorite is Namecheap, and it’s the only one I use.
**Good news: most domains are dirt cheap ($10 or less for a year).
$500 is a lot of money… unless someone’s willing to sell you their house for $500. If that were the case, even if you were dead broke you’d find a way to get $500. Price is relative, value is not. Whenever you look to purchase something, you should care more about the value than the price.
So here’s where StudioPress gets a huge win. The value department.
When you purchase a year’s worth of their hosting service, you get the Genesis framework and 21 child themes included for free. If you were to just go with a different host, but still wanted StudioPress’ top notch themes, purchasing it separately can cost you anywhere from $100-$130.
So let’s compare. If you do the math correctly here, the price you pay for StudioPress sites vs. an unmanaged host starts to get really close. Here’s a rough example.
- ~$297 for the year of hosting
- $0 for 21 child themes and framework
- ~$10 for domain name
=$307 total for 1 year of managed hosting
Random Shared Host:
- ~$100 for the year of hosting
- ~$130 for 1 child theme and framework
- $0 for domain name
=$230 total for 1 year of managed hosting
Are you willing to pay $70 more for faster load times, better security and 20 additional themes to switch to if you grow down the line? I’d say so.
Ease of Use: A
Many hosts offer 1-click WordPress installs, which is incredibly convenient. StudioPress Sites is a no-click install. Since their hosting is meant for WordPress only, it already comes ready to go out of the box. The control panel is super simple and very straight forward.
Now, depending on your previous experience with setting up blogs in the past, there might be a small learning curve. It’s to be expected. But the sidebar on the right should answer the majority of your start-up questions.
When I set up my site I didn’t need to refer to the guides at all, but that might not be true for you. The one con from an ease of use factor comes from needing to point your newly purchased domain name to their hosting service. If you’ve never done that before it can get a little tricky.
However this article from Namecheap was extremely helpful, and it shows you step by step how to point your newly purchased domain to your hosting
Side Note: It can take up to 24 hours after pointing your domain before you see your site as live. That’s how long it took for me anyway, so no need to be alarmed!
Included Themes: A+
If you’re even a little serious about blogging, you’re going to want to purchase a premium theme. WordPress comes with plenty of free themes pre-loaded, but to be honest they are free for a reason. Some hosts include free premium themes when you purchase their hosting, and this is where StudioPress really shines.
It’s what ultimately led to me choosing them as my host. Their Genesis framework is light, intuitive, and SEO friendly out of the box. And their child themes allow for unlimited different iterations of style if you want to switch things up.
What this means is that at any time if I get sick of the way my site looks, I can easily change the entire appearance with a click of a button. It just allows for more flexibility down the road. Most of these child themes range anywhere from $30-$50 in price, so it’s a huge value no matter how you slice it.
Take a look at their included themes and see if any of them catch your eye for your future blog.
WARNING: This was the one area where to be honest I felt a little let down. Like seeing a billboard for McDonald’s vs. having the actual thing in your hands… the marketing made it seem better than what it actually was. Many of the plugins they have pre-loaded are just free versions of the same plugins you can download from WordPress yourself.
That’s not a huge knock. The biggest plus on the features end is Design Palette Pro. I use it religiously to edit the format of this site. It’s much easier than having to learn or mess with code. You usually have to pay $49 for that plugin, but since it’s actually made by StudioPress themselves – it was included free. That’s enough value to knock the grade up to at least a C+.
Customer Service: A-
I only needed to reach out once, but the one time I did, I had a good experience.
The one knock here is that currently StudioPress Sites doesn’t offer a phone support option. Sometimes I prefer talking over the phone because it allows me to multitask if I’m driving or doing chores, etc. If they had a direct phone line I would bump them up to A+.
They do however have an extensive library of general support resolutions and an email/ticket system for whatever else you need.
When I opened up my support ticket I was contacted in just a few hours. So I was overall pleased with their customer support. Hopefully in the future StudioPress will offer phone support for those looking for more immediate help.
Final Verdict: A-
This site is run on both a StudioPress child theme, and their managed WordPress hosting. When I was going through my research and decision making process, I knew that I wanted managed over shared hosting, so it narrowed my choices considerably.
Since I use it myself, I highly recommend StudioPress sites for anyone looking for the same thing. The thing that ultimately sold me was their inclusion of the Genesis Framework and 21 premium themes.
I already knew I wanted to use StudioPress for their framework, so it just made it easier to host with them. Having all the themes gave me flexibility to change my design down the line, and I knew that their coding, framework, security, SEO functionality, was all top notch out of the box.
I might have been able to save a few bucks if I got shared hosting and bought themes separately instead, but I did my research and felt like I was getting way more value for a slightly higher price.
Mr. Smart Money
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