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Meet Leighton Smith, a seasoned webmaster and web designer at Pioneer Media, who has transformed the digital landscape for countless small businesses in and around East Tennessee, United States. With over a decade of experience, Leighton has honed his skills to deliver exceptional results.
Leighton’s decision to switch to Cloudways in April 2021 was driven by one crucial factor: speed and performance. Previously, his websites took an average of 3-6 seconds to load, but with Cloudways, they now load in just 1 second. Cloudways hosting ensures lightning-fast loading speeds, making it his ideal choice.
Leighton Smith shares his firsthand experience using Cloudways as his preferred hosting provider in this case study. He emphasizes the benefits of managed cloud hosting, including improved website speed, seamless migration capabilities, and simplified management through a user-friendly platform.
Cloudways: Could you please provide an overview of your experience and the range of services you offer as a webmaster and web designer at Pioneer Media?
Leighton Smith: I have personally designed and developed hundreds of websites for small businesses in and around East Tennessee, United States, since learning to code in 2006. My primary services are designing and developing websites for small businesses and hosting and managing them. My preferred website design and development stack is WordPress + Divi + Cloudways + Cloudflare.
A typical project is a new website build or a website redesign. Occasionally, a small business already has a functional, attractive website and simply wants a better webmaster, so I will migrate them to Cloudways and manage their website for them.
Ultimately, my standout service is hosting and managing 100+ small business websites. This means I am their personal webmaster who takes care of their website: the hosting, WordPress updates, security, backups, content updates, and support.
Cloudways: How long have you been using Cloudways for your website hosting needs, and what prompted you to choose them as your hosting provider?
Leighton Smith: I began using Cloudways in April 2021 after researching managed cloud hosting providers. I have used the same hosting provider, 1&1 IONOS, since 2006. My loyalties are strong, and I rarely jump ship to different software and services. Switching vendors/providers can be costly and time-consuming, so I prefer to research a product/company, make an informed decision, and stick to it. Switching from shared and dedicated hosting to Cloudways managed cloud hosting has been a dream.
The primary motivation to switch to Cloudways was speed and performance. My websites were loading at 3-6 seconds, and now they load in around 1 second. The difference is dramatic. I exclusively build on Cloudways now; I no longer build new client sites on my old hosting provider.
Cloudways: What specific features or aspects of Cloudways’ web hosting services have been most beneficial to you as a webmaster and web designer?
Leighton Smith: Cloudways aligns perfectly with my professional philosophy: minimizing effort and maximizing profit and efficiency. The time previously spent performing backups, securing websites, troubleshooting downtime, and trying to speed up a slow website was now freed to handle higher-level tasks like attracting new clients and developing websites. Cloudways liberated me from all those tedious technical tasks by taking care of them for my clients. The “managed hosting” platform truly lives up to that definition.
Specifically, the server speed and “managed” aspects of Cloudways are the most important features for my business. I also cut down the 60-minute task of manually migrating a client’s website from another hosting provider to my hosting to about 10 minutes with Cloudways. Migrating sites is a breeze with the Cloudways Migrator — it takes care of everything for you! No more manually exporting the database from PHPMyAdmin and using SFTP to download and upload all of the individual files and folders.
Cloudways: In terms of website performance and loading speeds, how has Cloudways compared to other hosting providers you have used in the past?
Leighton Smith: The difference between my websites’ performance on my previous hosting provider and Cloudways is night and day. My sites were loading for around 3-6 seconds at my previous host (I had shared and dedicated hosting plans). At Cloudways with Cloudflare, my average site loads in around 1 second. The backend of WordPress also loads a lot quicker on Cloudways.
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And with the extremely affordable Cloudflare Enterprise add-on, we easily harness the power of Cloudflare’s enterprise-level CDN. I’ve used Cloudflare Free before, and I know the level of customization at the Cloudflare dashboard can be overwhelming. With Cloudways, Cloudflare Enterprise is a managed add-on, meaning I don’t have to worry about the technical settings, caching levels, page rules, etc. It just works!
Ultimately, the performance of Cloudways means I spend less time working on my business and more time doing what I love — traveling, volunteering, connecting with loved ones, learning new skills, and building relationships — all while increasing my bottom line. Upgrading to Cloudways meant saving time and making more money. What’s not to love?
Cloudways: As a solopreneur freelancer, how has the Cloudways Platform and user interface contributed to your overall experience managing and maintaining your website(s)?
Leighton Smith: I was blown away by the simplicity of the Cloudways Platform. I think everything non-essential has been stripped from this managed platform, so you only see the options you need. This limits distractions and keeps you focused on what’s important: running your business, not mindlessly clicking through technical server configurations. I love how Cloudways focuses on Domain, SSL, Backups, Staging, and Bot Protection (plus a few more). It makes my job of managing websites much easier, especially since I’m a solopreneur (no employees or assistants). I feel like Cloudways truly is a partner in my business!
The Cloudways Platform also loads so quickly. The interface seems designed to free up the amount of time you need to be in it. Other panels and interfaces take a few seconds to load each click, which adds up over a task. With Cloudways, you can fire it up and take care of what you need in a matter of minutes. This thoughtful design is a major time-saver.
Cloudways: Can you share any specific examples of how Cloudways’ scalability options have supported your work as a webmaster, especially when dealing with clients’ requirements?
Leighton Smith: The ability to control the size of the server and scale it up in a matter of minutes is a game-changer. I prefer to load up 15-25 small business client sites on each 4-8Gb server, and that requires some trial-and-error to balance the sites based on how much traffic each receives and the CPU usage. I aim to place just a couple of WooCommerce stores on each server since those sites are generally more taxing on the server load. Cloning, staging, and managing multiple sites on one server is a breeze. In less than an hour, I can balance my servers by migrating a site from one to another.
Client requirements continue to change, especially as their business grows and traffic increases. Cloudways allows me to respond by quickly and efficiently scaling their server, migrating them to another server, or opening up an entirely new server.
Cloudways: Have you utilized Cloudways’ backup and security features? If so, how have these features contributed to the protection and reliability of your website(s)?
Leighton Smith: The security and performance of my clients’ sites skyrocketed after switching to Cloudways. Previously, I was prone to hacks and downtime — not anymore. With Cloudways, I have daily server-level backups, and I can easily restore a site backup. This means I no longer have to upkeep a WordPress backup plugin (I used UpdraftPlus) and a security plugin (I used iThemes Security). Two fewer plugins equal better performance.
The Bot Protection, Cloudflare Enterprise, and dedicated hosting environment (meaning only my clients reside on my hosting server) provide several layers of protection against bots and hackers. Since day 1, I have never had a Cloudways website hacked; I could not say that before Cloudways, even though I had the best WordPress security plugins, such as iThemes Security and Wordfence. I can now appreciate that server-level protection is always superior to plugin-level protection.
All of this ultimately leads to better uptime. My Cloudways sites rarely ever experience downtime, and when they do, the issue usually works itself out rather quickly (typically through an Auto-Heal, which I don’t even need to worry about). Server reliability is a major selling point for convincing small businesses to trust my website hosting and maintenance services, and it’s all possible through Cloudways.
Cloudways: How do you see Cloudways’ pricing structure and value for money compared to other hosting providers you have come across in the industry?
Leighton Smith: Cloudways is a bit more expensive than basic shared hosting options, like GoDaddy, BlueHost, SiteGround, IONOS, etc., but far cheaper than the other managed dedicated hosting platforms, such as WPEngine, Kinsta, etc. My primary selling point is to pay one price for the server and load up as many client sites as I would like. The other managed WordPress platforms (WPEngine, Kinsta, etc.) have tiers based on the number of websites. Cloudways is fundamentally different, and that’s why I chose Cloudways.
As a business, I charge a fee (averaging $100/month USD) for hosting and maintenance (called the “Website Care Service”). I can stack several websites (15-25 typically, determined by how much traffic each receives, the CPU usage, etc.) on each 4-8Gb server, and the more sites I add per server, the better my net profit, which is generally around 92% profit as a freelancer with minimal expenses.
Cloudways: As a webmaster and web designer who values flexibility and customization, how has Cloudways’ support for different CMS and development frameworks benefited your work?
Leighton Smith: My preferred stack is Cloudways + Cloudflare Enterprise + WordPress + Divi. I typically use that on every project, plus WooCommerce for ecommerce projects. Cloudways supports various CMS and frameworks, and I appreciate their built-in support for WordPress and WooCommerce. I also use Elastic Email add-on for email deliverability and Rackspace to host my own email address. These tight integrations are also “managed,” so I’m not wasting time clicking through minute settings and configurations. Plus, those integrations are super affordable, which I appreciate as a freelancer striving to keep expenses minimal.
Having a hosting platform for WordPress means they have already configured my cloud server with the ideal settings to run WordPress. This ready-out-of-the-box setup saves precious time. And, while I am a developer versed in several programming languages, I am not the highest-level technician, so I appreciate not being burdened with root access to the server like you would have if you purchased a server directly from AWS.
This saves me the headache of learning those advanced platforms and potentially breaking something or misconfiguring the server myself. Cloudways negates all those concerns by setting up the CMS/framework for me and letting me focus on the bigger-picture task: creating the client’s website.
Cloudways: Would you recommend Cloudways to other webmasters and designers looking for a reliable hosting solution? If so, what specific reasons would you highlight?
Leighton Smith: In 2020, I created a 20-hour website design business course on Udemy and Skillshare, and in the Hosting lessons, I specifically recommend Cloudways to my 2500+ students across 100 countries. The course is ranked on the first page for “website design,” and the hundreds of reviews have been overwhelmingly positive. I teach and recommend Cloudways for the following reasons:
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