StudioPress Sites is a premium, all-in-one WordPress service that combines Genesis themes with managed hosting. StudioPress is part of the popular CopyBlogger family - you can read the CopyBlogger guide to StudioPress sites here. You can use it to create a fresh, new site, or move an existing WordPress site over to StudioPress sites. It is a pay-monthly service. Think of it like Squarespace, but it's Genesis WordPress instead!
Genesis, StudioPress' wildly popular theme business, is already the most frequently used WordPress framework online. Combining that with managed WordPress hosting and you've potentially got a powerful site on your hands. But I'm not one to take things at face value, so let's dive deeper into StudioPress Sites and see if it's really worth paying for.
In this guide, I'm going to cover:
- What's StudioPress Sites?
- The good stuff
- StudioPress Sites vs Squarespace
- Speed tests
- The bad bits
- Final verdict, how to sign up
What is StudioPress Sites?
StudioPress Sites is a hosted WordPress website service. For a monthly (or annual) subscription fee, StudioPress Sites will act as an all-in-one WordPress hosting platform. Members can select from a choice of premium Genesis WordPress themes, or use a different theme if required. StudioPress is best known as the company behind Genesis, one of the world's most popular WordPress theme frameworks. According to BuiltWith, there are approximately 15 million WordPress sites live online at this very moment, and about 300,000 sites are using Genesis themes. This site happens to be one of them (!), and I've been a fan of Genesis for WordPress since I switched to them several years ago.
As an existing Genesis user, I'm very curious to find out if hosted Genesis offers any additional benefits. Is site speed going to be fast enough? Is it easier to manage than shared hosting? How do I switch and how can I switch back if I ever want to leave the service?
The good stuff - what you need to know
There are so many website hosting options, and specialist WordPress managed hosting, so in a nutshell, what does StudioPress sites really offer, and is it what you really need for your new (or existing) website?
1. Setup in <5 minutes
For anyone who prefers not to get too technical with their website setup or maintenance, StudioPress Sites makes your life a lot simpler - just sign up, select a few options and your site is up and running. In fact, you can sign up and have your site live in less than 5 minutes.
2. Premium themes galore
Once you're in, you get one-click installation on many themes and plugins. Plus, you'll have free access to 20 top Genesis premium themes, something that would normally cost you $130 each (prices recently went up). Find out exactly which themes you'll get here.
3. Free SSL certificates
SSL can be hard to implement, but StudioPress Sites bundles a one-click Let's Encrypt solution into their package, so you can setup SSL almost instantly and enjoy the SEO benefits and give your users secure website forms.
4. Migrate existing WordPress sites
Thankfully, StudioPress made it easy for us to move our existing WordPress website to them. Great news for anyone that's fed up with their existing host or needs something more powerful than cheap shared hosting. A word of warning - you will need install a WordPress migration plugin and transfer it on your own if you don't want to splash out an additional $39 to get Fantasktic to do the transfer for you (service is usually $99 so StudioPress have haggled a discount for members).
5. Great out-of-the-box SEO
This is a feature that's specific to Genesis themes, rather than just StudioPress sites, but with Genesis you can make meta title edits etc without any bloated SEO plugins (yes, I'm talking about Yoast SEO). The site speed and SSL-friendly nature of StudioPress Sites only add to the SEO benefits.
6. Fast WordPress hosting
Read more about this in detail below. StudioPress knows a thing or two about coding for WordPress and their hosting service seems to offer fantastic speeds, something which is hard to achieve, especially in the low-mid price range.
7. Bundled premium plugins
In addition to 20 premium Genesis themes, StudioPress also bundles a bunch of premium plugins into their dashboard. Some of these are the 'lite' versions (upsell warning!), but a several are the full version and worth using. Most notably, you get Design Palette Pro (worth $49), which makes it easy to make changes to your themes without knowing CSS etc. StudioPress are the creators of Design Palette Pro, so it makes sense to bundle it with their hosted service.
StudioPress Sites vs Squarespace
Squarespace has grown in popularity in the last 12 months, thanks in part to its all-in-one simplicity and relentless podcast advertising (if you listen to any podcasts, you know what I'm talking about!). Squarespace is very simple to understand, with hosted website prices from $12 to $46 per month. BuiltWith estimates Squarespace usage at over 1 million live sites worldwide.
WordPress is 15 times more popular than Squarespace, but there are tons of different hosting options, some are great and others are horrendous. Compared to StudioPress Sites, Squarespace tends to be cheaper, even for its unlimited or ecommerce packages, plus they offer a free domain, which you'll have to buy separately for StudioPress Sites. Squarespace also offer unlimited traffic, whereas StudioPress may charge for additional traffic, and their limits are unclear:
"After you’ve chosen your plan, don’t worry about things like RAM, GB, and bandwidth … we’re not going to nickel and dime you. Ever. If you see a consistent rise in traffic, or downloads, we’ll let you know that it’s probably time to upgrade your plan." - StudioPress Sites FAQs
The thing is, and I am biased as a WordPress user, Squarespace is quite limited when it comes to adding site functionality. If you want anything more than a basic website with static content, then you'll outgrow Squarespace very quickly. If the idea of managing a website terrifies you, it's probably best to go with the easiest option and start with Squarespace. But, if you're looking for a robust website platform that can grow with your website, WordPress is by far the CMS of choice. Now, that still does not mean you need StudioPress Sites, as self-hosting may prove cheaper. Let's take a look at how StudioPress Sites perform in terms of WordPress site speed.
I've spent many, many hours (probably too many) tweaking WordPress code to make sites run quickly and efficiently on cheap hosting, and it's no easy task. I assume an experienced WordPress dev company like StudioPress know what they're doing, so how quickly do StudioPress Sites run?
The above screenshot is the Pingdom speed test result for a blog hosted using StudioPress Sites with a premium genesis theme. The homepage is fairly weighty (almost 2MB), but it still loads in less than 1 second. This is completely out-of-the-box, with the standard StudioPress Sites setup and no caching plugins etc. For me, this is the fast WordPress site dream and worth every penny of the $30ish monthly cost.
The bad bits
- You'll need to buy your own domain separately
StudioPress Sites covers everything you need to start a website... except for the domain!! This seems weird, and maybe it's a feature they'll think about adding in the future, but for now you'll need to buy your own domain before signing up. I recommend using NameSilo or NameCheap for <$10 domains (don't forget to use the NameCheap coupon page for 10% off domain registration), with free WHOIS privacy. It is actually a good idea to register your domain at a separate company to your hosting account, as it makes it much easier to transfer or make changes if you ever need to in the future.
- You must configure your domain nameservers manually
Since you have to buy your own domain, you also have to set it up yourself. This is very simple, but could be daunting for beginners. StudioPress has a guide to help you out with this step, or you could look for help editing nameservers from whichever domain registrar you went with. This needs doing even if you're using an old domain you've had for a while.
- Costs for high traffic sites unclear
As mentioned earlier, StudioPress Sites is NOT an unlimited traffic host. This is actually not a bad thing, because cheap hosts that pretend to provide 'unlimited traffic' usually cram their servers with websites and load speeds become terrible. What's more, if your website gets a sudden traffic spike (for example, if you have an article go viral), cheap hosts will just take you offline, which is very bad for your site and its visitors and should be avoided at all costs. StudioPress Sites claim they will never take your site down because of traffic spikes, but they might charge you a higher rate if you consistently get a lot of traffic, and these rates have not yet been published.
- Premium pricepoint
If you're looking for a cheap 'let's see how it goes' website, then StudioPress Sites is NOT for you. Prices start at $27/month, rising to $37 depending on your package. The minimum term is 3 months (billing is quarterly or annually), so don't think about signing up and committing $81+ unless you're sure it has everything you need.
If you want to use cheap shared hosting but still get all the benefits of Genesis WordPress themes, you can buy the Genesis framework for under $60, but premium themes will set you back almost $130.
Is StudioPress Sites worth it?
FINAL VERDICT: StudioPress Sites is a premium hosted WordPress service. It's great for anyone running one or two sites, blogs or ecommerce websites who can afford around $30/month for hosting per site. It's not the cheapest website solution on the market, nor is it quite as simple to use as Squarespace. However, in my opinion, it's worth the price thanks to super fast speeds and the bundled premium Genesis themes (worth $130 each). StudioPress also have a long-standing reputation for creating solid WordPress products and providing top support. When you sign-up, you'll also get a 30-day moneyback guarantee. View plans, pricing, FAQs and more on the official StudioPress Sites website.
2018 UPDATE: Wellness Mama now using StudioPress Sites
Since writing this StudioPress review last year, I've discovered that WellnessMama.com (the hugely popular wellness food blog) now uses StudioPress Sites! Since the blog gets over 5 million monthly pageviews (as of Jan 2018, according to SimilarWeb estimates), it's probably safe to assume that the service performs well! I haven't yet heard back from Katie, the Wellness Mama herself, as to which plan she is using, but it's most likely a custom one, based on the popularity of her site. Still, it's nice to know that big names are behind WordPress, the Genesis Framework and StudioPress' own hosted service.