Pantheon is our preferred web-hosting platform for WordPress websites. If you’ve talked to us for more than 5 minutes about your site, we’ve probably mentioned it. We aren’t a reseller, we just think it’s an excellent WordPress host. Here’s why.
wordpress hosting in the cloud
Unlike managed hosts like AWS or MediaTemple, Pantheon is a cloud-based platform that is powered by Google Cloud. This means that setup, security, uptime, and other server-level concerns are all Pantheon’s problem. In addition, Pantheon has a ton of built-in goodness that improves site performance with little-to-no work. This includes:
- Varnish page caching: serve cached pages to your users rather than hitting the server each time
- Redis caching: in-memory key-value caching that can greatly improve site speed
- Free, auto-provisioned SSL certificates: can you believe some hosts still charge for an SSL certificate???
Pantheon will also manage any WordPress updates and patches, and provides tools to ensure WordPress, plugins, and PHP are all up-to-date and secure.
foolproof and developer-proof
Pantheon enforces good WebOps practices out of the box. Case in point, it is impossible to edit code directly on your live site. Got an admin that likes to break themes or a junior dev that likes to test in production? No way. Code makes its way to Pantheon through Integrated Version Control. This means in order for any code to make it to the live environment, these steps must be followed:
- Code is either committed via git or uploaded via SFTP to the dev environment. Think of the dev environment as a sandbox, similar to what developers use when they work on their own computers. It’s a replication of the site and its data, but it’s not as powerful and it’s safe to break
- Once on dev, code can be pushed to the test environment. This environment is meant to be a mirror of the live environment, both in content and in capabilities. So if it works on test, it’ll work on live.
- Finally, once on test, the code can be deployed to live.
Pantheon will track each of these steps, along with who took them. This makes it easy to pinpoint mistakes, but also to undo them. Any Pantheon environment can be rolled back just as easily. And while it might seem like extra work, it doesn’t take long as all to move through the deployment process. And following it ensures that care is taken and actions are accountable.
Some businesses go a step further, and use the test environment as they place where their team manages content. This adds an extra layer of safety when making site changes, since no one every touches the live environment directly. Rather their content updates are deployed just like code changes.
take your site and fork it
Pantheon offers Multidev through their agency partners, which allows admins to easily spin up a brand new environment at the push of a button. Let’s say for example you have a big conference coming up and your marketing team needs to prepare a new section of the website in secret prior to the big campaign launch. Use Multidev to clone your live site into a new environment. There developers and content editors can take their time getting the site updates ready, without blocking hotfixes and other changes to the live site. And once you’re ready, merge the updates into the live environment with another push of a button.
Multidev is an excellent tool for sites that are making consistent functionality and design updates but still need quick fixes and day-to-day tweaks. It solves a WordPress hosting problem that competitors fail to even recognize.
excellent docs & support
And finally, it’s just really easy to get help and figure things out. Pantheon offers paid support levels, but we’ve always had great success with chat support and their extensive documentation. It makes a huge difference when you’re having a downtime issue and know that host engineers will reply quickly and help out there they can.
some other goodies
- Terminus, Pantheon’s cli tool. Only developers will care, but still!
- Automatic daily and weekly backups, plus on-demand backups whenever you need them.
- New Relic is built in. Again, developers (and the savviest of marketers) will care, but New Relic is essential for helping large, high traffic sites understand web performance.
and finally, some gripes
We love it, but it isn’t perfect. Below are a few of the issues we’ve found, and areas for improvement.
- The pricing structure is… weird. Monthly cost is based on max visits and max pages served. So if your website is very active but doesn’t lead to ROI for your business, Pantheon will be a tough sell for WordPress hosting.
- A lack of responsibility means a lack of control. As with any cloud-host, you’re on a shared platform, so server-level settings are simply untouchable. Here’s an example: Pantheon ensures tracking parameters added to a URL (like Google’s UTM parameters) don’t cause a fresh version of a page to be pulled from a server. Which is great! But since you can’t control that list, that means if your Marketing Automation Platform uses a tracking parameter that isn’t on their list (like Marketo’s mkt_tok parameter), each of those page hits will be uncached. This can cause significant performance issues, though they do offer a product that gives more control.
- Background processes are subject to timeouts. While you could build background process tasks into your WordPress site (let’s say a nightly lead management task between Hubspot and WordPress), you’ll be better off with a separate microservice that can manage the work without the limitations of an end-user website.