Moving to PHP 7.4 and Discontinuing Some Old Versions

posted on June 3, 2021


A large part of our service involves keeping server-side and client-side software up to date, secure and fast. One of the key elements of our server stack that requires expert maintenance is the PHP programming language, which is a prerequisite for the functioning of the majority of the websites. PHP is an extremely popular and well-supported language and, as any software, its development involves the continuous release of new versions. New versions introduce new features and important performance and security enhancements. As a managed hosting service provider we keep track of how each PHP version evolves, especially how fast it is adopted by the leading application developers, and we make proactive efforts to make sure our customers get all the benefits of the newer versions as soon as possible. Here is our latest PHP maintenance update.

Moving to PHP 7.4 as the server default

As of June 2021, we will be switching the default version on our servers to PHP 7.4. This means that all new sites will be using 7.4, unless manually switched to a different one. PHP 7.4 has been around for more than 2 years now and has already become widely compatible with different CMS’s, themes and plugins, where PHP 7.3 (our current default) is already out of active support and will get out of security support too by the end of this year. Keeping your PHP version up to date has undeniable performance and security advantages and that is why we are now helping you switch to PHP 7.4.

All websites using our Managed PHP service will also be upgraded to 7.4 in the period June 10-21, 2021. PHP 7.3 will still be available on our servers and can be set up manually for any site by our clients from Site Tools > Dev > PHP Manager.

Discontinuing support for 7.2, 7.1, 7.0, 5.6 and lower at the end of the year

At the same time, the security support for all PHP versions below 7.3 has been officially over for quite some time, and given the exploits that leak out once in a while, we believe the risk of using them is growing higher. Additionally, the performance of websites using old PHP versions is considerably lower compared to sites using newer versions. That is why we are starting a process of discontinuation of PHP 7.2, 7.1, 7.0, 5.6 and lower on our servers. After June 21, 2021 we will be gradually updating the sites using old PHP versions to PHP 7.4. PHP versions below 7.3 will no longer be supported on our servers after December 31, 2021.


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What to do if you are using an old PHP version?

This PHP update will affect many websites on our platform. That is why we have started communicating the update one month ago and we strongly encourage you to evaluate the impact of upgrading to 7.4 on your site as soon as possible by using this tool:

To see if a site will work properly after the upgrade, please type the above URL using your own site domain in the browser and browse through the site, its subdomains (if any) and its admin area. If anything does not look or behave as expected, we highly recommend that you further investigate your site compatibility with PHP 7.4 and fix any issues before the update. If you have broken plugins or a theme, consider updating or replacing them. If that’s too hard, or the problem is elsewhere, contact your developers for assistance.

Note: By opening your website through the link above you will browse it using PHP 7.4. This change affects ONLY your current browser session. All other visitors will continue to access your site with its current PHP version. To stop the compatibility check browsing mode in your own browser, please close the browser and access your site again via its standard URL.

Magento special case: Sites using Magento 2.3.6 or lower are not compatible with PHP 7.4 That is why, if you have such a website, we strongly recommend you update it to 2.3.7 as soon as possible, so that it is compatible with PHP 7.4 and ready for the PHP upgrade.

We are aware that sites currently using PHP version 7.2 or lower may need longer time to fix possible incompatibilities with PHP 7.4. That is why, the owners of such sites were provided with a link for possible opt-out in the email about the update, sent over the past few days. By opting out through this link, clients confirm that they do not want us to update their site PHP version for them, but are aware that this version will nonetheless stop functioning after December 31, 2021.

For clients using PHP 7.3, we strongly recommend that they do not postpone their PHP update, but in case this is really needed they may simply switch to manual PHP version management, until their site is ready for PHP 7.4.

Looking forward to seeing more secure and much faster sites after the update!

author avatar
Daniel Kanchev

Enterprise Cloud Solutions Architect

My challenging job is closely related to all kinds of Free and Open-Source Software products (some of my favorites are WordPress, Joomla!, Magento, Varnish and Apache mod_security). As a Web security and performance freak I am always hyper focused on solving all kinds of issues and improving our services.

How Website Speed Affects Your SEO Rankings?

posted on June 3, 2021


Even though website speed itself has not been an official ranking factor in Google’s SEO algorithm until now, experts have largely proclaimed its importance for good SEO. With the upcoming Core Web Vitals update planned by Google for May 2021, which adds 3 new metrics to the Page Experience signal, website speed officially becomes a ranking factor. So now many webmasters wonder what the immediate impact of that change will be on the SEO searches. Looking for an answer to this question, we turned to top SEO experts and organized a #SiteSpeedForSEO Twitter chat where Aleyda Solis (@aleyda), AJ Ghergich (@SEO), Craig Campbell (@craigcampbell03), and Hristo Pandjarov (@pandjarov) shared their insights with us. Here’s what we learnt from them.

Website speed effect on organic searches after the Core Web Vitals update

According to Aleyda Solis (@aleyda), an expert in international SEO, speaker and author,Speed is already a ranking factor along many others, as the page experience one will be and we shouldn’t expect an “extreme” shift in our rankings due to it.“ Arnout Hellemans seems to agree with it and even says “Hardly any imho, it’s a PR play and it’s already in the algorithm. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore this.”

Overall all the experts who took part in the chat agree that we shouldn’t expect a dramatic immediate shift in our SEO rankings as a result of the Core Web Vitals update for a number of reasons. These new metrics are just 3 out of 200 other ranking factors and they will not get special priority so their relative weight will be low. Furthermore, Google will roll this update slowly starting in May till August 2021 to gather data, so any changes would not have an immediate impact.

Hristo Pandjarov, SEO Strategist and WordPress Initiatives Manager at SiteGround expects that this update will have “a bigger impact on small-volume keywords, local searches and niche ones where there aren’t big, authoritative sites that have already optimized their content.” If your site is already fast, you have fewer reasons to worry.

The optimal website loading speed

It’s good to know that major shifts are not foreseen as a result of the new Google update, but still if your site is not really well optimized, or if you are not sure where it stands, you are still bearing a risk and Google is sending you a message to get to work. A good start for this is to figure out how your website currently scores on the 3 new metrics – Largest Contentful paint (LCP), First Input Delay (FID), and Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) and what to aim for.

According to Nikola Baldikov, SEO Manager at SiteGround the ideal page loading time is around 1 to 2 secs, while Hristo Pandjarov’s advice is to look at the #TTFB of 200ms for traffic in the same continent and Aleyda Solis adds that her preferred thresholds are LCP of less than 2.5 seconds and FID of less than 100 milliseconds. 

If your site is already fast though, it doesn’t make a huge difference if it loads for 1 second or 1.3 seconds in terms of SEO, according to Craig Campbell. Obsessing about it is of no use, but you should definitely care to optimize website speed if you are not close to the recommended values yet.

Useful website speed test tools

There are a lot of website speed test tools, which you can use to check your page loading times. Some of the most common ones are Lighthouse, PageSpeed Insights, Search Console > Core Web Vitals report, and more. Big thanks to Aleyda Solis who shared with us her all-inclusive list of tools to test website speed. 

Take a look at the list she has prepared and figure out which particular areas of improvement to focus on. When looking at the reports, make sure you follow Aleyda’s advice “to identify what’s hurting your own speed the most vs. cost of change” so that you focus resources on getting big wins in a short time.

Website Speed Optimization Suggestions

Here’s a concise list of simple ways to optimize performance, nicely summarized by AJ Ghergich. We have elaborated on his overview so that our clients could easily put the suggestions into action:

Lower Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) under 2.5s 

  1. Optimize your images

The most common problem for website performance and LCP in particular are the large images that need to be loaded simultaneously and slow down the page. That is why you should consider the following optimizations:

Add lazy loading of images – that way not all images will be loaded at the same time upon opening the page. AJ Ghergich strongly recommends to implement it only for resources BELOW the fold. SiteGround clients with WordPress sites could enable that from the SG Optimizer plugin.

Use caching for static assets – at SiteGround we use NGINX direct delivery which is enabled by default on our servers, so if you are a client you get this caching effect out of the box.

Serve an alternative image format –  WebP. This is a very useful way to reduce the size of the images on your site. For WordPress users hosted on SiteGround, you could enable this as an automatic service via the SG Optimizer plugin.

2. Minify your CSS and JavaScript

One of the easiest ways for big performance wins in this case is to use compression like Brotli or Gzip. Another possibility is to use plugins for WordPress sites. If you are a SiteGround customer, Brotli is enabled by default on our servers and you don’t need to do anything to use it, and the SG Optimizer plugin for WordPress will help you with the minification of CSS and JS.

3. Limit 3rd party scripts

The more scripts that need to be loaded on the page, the slower it will open. Third party scripts are for example tracking software, advertising scripts, heatmaps, and other. Once they serve their purpose, make sure you removed them so they don’t pile up slowing the website.

4. Get a faster web host

Having a fast server helps a lot for boosting the LCP metric. So if you have done all of the above and your site is still loading slow, see what’s happening with your hosting and how your provider can help optimize the environment for more performance.

At SiteGround we constantly upgrade our platform to make it faster and more efficient and we believe that’s a never ending process. For example, at the end of last year we launched our new Ultrafast PHP and we see performance gains up to 30% across sites hosted on our platform. More recently, this year, we revamped our MySQL setup to boost its processing capacity and thus improve the database performance, which though not directly mentioned in this article impacts the performance of dynamic sites like WordPress.

5. CDN

Since website speed tests are greatly affected by the speed of the Internet connection, where sites with international traffic are most hurt, experts suggest that you use CDN. 

In case you wonder which of all those optimization suggestions should be the first on your list, take a listen at the users’ opinion. According to a different Twitter campaign where we asked users to pick their favorite website speed optimization tip, we clearly see that Media (images) & front-end optimizations together rate as the most effective ways to improve performance with full-page caching and CDN coming up second and third. 

Get First Input Delay (FID) under 100 milliseconds 

If you score poorly on this one, it is most likely that your JavaScript is the culprit. Minify and defer JavaScript to fix the issue. For SiteGround clients with WordPress sites, that could be done in a click of the mouse from the SG Optimizer plugin.

Get Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) under 0.1 

The CLS is largely a web design issue. According to AJ Ghergich, the most common reasons for it are:

  • Images without dimensions  
  • Ads, embeds, and iframes with dimensions  
  • Dynamically injected content 
  • Custom Web fonts – AJ suggests to use “swap” in CSS and instruct the browser to show the browser font first until the custom font gets loaded to avoid users seeing blanks on the page.
  • Actions waiting for a network response before updating the DOM 
  • Infinite scrolling 

In this article we focused entirely on optimizing website speed for the 3 new metrics that will become ranking factors in Google’s algorithm. But your optimization efforts should not stop with LCP, FID, and CLS. There are other things you can do that will improve your performance overall and have a positive impact not only on your SEO, but on your user experience and business results. So once you have mastered the tips mentioned in this article, take a look at this list we have gathered with the 9 most effective ways to boost performance: We’d love it if you comment under this post to tell us about the optimizations you try and how they impact your page loading times.

author avatar
Hristo Pandjarov

WordPress Initiatives Manager

Enthusiastic about all Open Source applications you can think of, but mostly about WordPress. Add a pinch of love for web design, new technologies, search engine optimisation and you are pretty much there!

Geographically Distributed Backups for Enhanced Data Protection

posted on June 3, 2021


Geographically Distributed Backups for Enhanced Data Protection

e are excited to announce that as of this month we have deployed a system for geographically distributed backups, which minimizes the risk of data loss and ðllows for fast data recovery even in case of a serious incident that may affect a whole data center. 

Backups are stored in a different physical datacenter from the one hosting the live account

As of this month we started backing up accounts in a datacenter different from the one hosting the live account as follows: 

  • Iowa, US servers are backed up on machines in Virginia, US
  • London, UK servers are backed up in Eemshaven, NL
  • Frankfurt, DE servers are backed up in Eemshaven, NL
  • Eemshaven, NL servers are backed up in Frankfurt, DE 
  • Sydney, AU servers are backed up in Singapore, SG

This service is not available for accounts hosted in Singapore for now. These accounts are backed up on different servers within the Singapore facility.

Enhanced data protection

Data storage and safety is a key component of our service and there are multiple risk factors and threats that we keep in mind when coming up with data security solutions. The most common ones are human errors, hardware failure, and hacks. For those occasions, we rely on our daily backups stored on different servers independently from the live account. But then, there are the less likely, yet more damaging risks such as fire, power outage, or a natural disaster that may shut down a whole data center facility. Hosting the backups in a different location means we improve the chances for saving your data and putting it back online even in case of such a serious incident.

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Faster service restore

Now imagine your website goes offline due to a massive power outage and the ETA is unknown, which most often means hours of downtime. Or, a hurricane completely destroyed the facility and all servers are lost beyond recovery. That was a very real threat we experienced with Katrina hurricane back in 2005 and is a growing risk in some areas given the climate change and the growing number of natural disasters all over the world. Or, maybe a fire burns the datacenter and a lot, if not all, servers are hurt. That one happened quite recently to a third-party data center in France.

Thanks to our new system, we now have you covered since we have your data safely backed up not more than 24 hours ago in a different data center. In case of an incident we would be able to put your website back online in the new location that is fully operational.

Thus the distributed backups not only save your data, but allow us to restore service in the new DC much faster than any optimistic ETA would forecast for restoring in the original DC.

The distributed backup strategy has been something we have considered for a long time. However, it became practically possible once we started to use the Google Cloud infrastructure. The use of one and the same provider for all our geographical locations, with a super fast interrelatedness between its different data centers and a wide network of facilities around the world, allowed us to distribute data across regions, countries and continents in a way that was not possible before.

We have to recognize the fact that before switching to Google Cloud infrastructure that strategy for distributed backups was not possible in such a sophisticated way. Google Cloud has given us easy access to all their worldwide facilities, including networking capacity and that generated various new possibilities to distribute data across regions, countries and continents.

Same level of data privacy

Our Privacy Policy and DPA continue to apply in light of our new geographically distributed backups. Our clients’ data will be protected in the same way as before, as promised, and under our DPA.

While we are hopeful that no natural forces will affect any data centers, our team prefers to be prepared for the worst and provide our clients with reassurance for their websites.

author avatar
Hristo Pandjarov

WordPress Initiatives Manager

Enthusiastic about all Open Source applications you can think of, but mostly about WordPress. Add a pinch of love for web design, new technologies, search engine optimisation and you are pretty much there!

SiteGround Hosting Review

posted on March 21, 2021


SiteGround is a popular shared hosting provider that offers its users multiple different hosting options.

These include WordPress hosting, cloud hosting, and even dedicated servers.

siteground hosting start

We’ve been monitoring SiteGround’s cheapest “Startup” shared plan for over three years now.

We paid for a shared hosting account, set up a live test site, and have been closely tracking their performance with a third-party tool to provide this unbiased, transparent review.

Overall, SiteGround ranks near the top of all web hosting companies for both uptime (99.99%) and speed (756 ms). Their customer support team is knowledgeable, fast, and friendly. All plans come with a CDN, SSL certificate, and email accounts.

However, there are some downsides too.

Let’s dig in.

General Info & Hosting Overview

Our Rating:

Our Verdict: 5.0


756 ms (February 2020 to January 2021)


99.99% (February 2020 to January 2021)


24/7 Live Chat, Phone, Knowledge Base


Supports more than 500 applications


Unmetered bandwidth, 10 GB storage, website builder, and free email, free SSL and CDN, daily backup


Shared, WordPress, Cloud, Reseller, Enterprise, and Dedicated Servers


Not free


Starting at $5.99/mo (renews at $12.99/mo)

Pros of Using SiteGround Hosting

SiteGround starts strong with 99.99% uptime, above-average speeds, and tons of extra features that are perfect for both beginners and power users.

1. Good Performance – 99.99% Uptime in Last 12 Months

SiteGround’s uptime performance has been nearly perfect over the last year. Their 99.99% average puts them among the most reliable hosts we’ve reviewed.

Strong uptime like this keeps website visitors happy. But more importantly, it means your site is almost guaranteed to be working around the clock so you won’t miss out when your customers want to make a purchase, either.

SiteGround’s average uptime

Last 12 months average uptime:

  • February 2021: 99.99%
  • January 2021: 99.90%
  • December 2020: 99.99%
  • November 2020: 100%
  • October 2020: 99.99%
  • September 2020: 99.99%
  • August 2020: 99.99%
  • July 2020: 100%
  • June 2020: 99.98%
  • May 2020: 100%
  • April 2020: 100%
  • March 2020: 100%
  • February 2020: 99.99%

2. Above-Average Load Time (756 ms)

Site speed is easily the second most critical factor when choosing a host.

For starters, research by Google shows that 53% of people will leave if your pages don’t load within three seconds.

Furthermore, you can’t do much to fix a slow host. You might be able to compress images to lighten their weight. You might be able to load them through a CDN to take some pressure off your server. But once a slow host? Always a slow host.

Fortunately, you don’t have to worry about that with SiteGround. Their above-average loading time of 756 ms isn’t the fastest we’ve seen, but it does place SiteGround in our pros section (so far!).

3. Good Customer Support Experience

SiteGround provides a knowledge base for customers to find their own quick answers. Otherwise, you can call in over the phone or use the 24/7 live chat.

For this latest test, we opted for the live chat option and we were connected with their customer rep in less than a minute.

Unlike other hosts, there was no noticeable delay in answers. So it seemed like he knew what he was talking about and didn’t have to look up answers each time we sent over a new question.

In total it took us less than three minutes to get a reply to our questions.

4. Free Site Migration for One Website

Whenever we see web hosts come out with a “DIY migration” option, it makes us a little anxious. That’s because most of them aren’t great, and they end up putting more burden on the customer.

SiteGround might be the exception to this rule, though. They’ve created a free WordPress Migration plugin that you can upload to any site.

There aren’t any long and boring walkthroughs, either. You simply generate a token from inside your SiteGround hosting account and the plugin will quickly help do the heavy lifting.

Yes, it still requires you to do a little work. But the good news is that you can migrate as many websites as you want with this option. (In comparison, some hosts that offer “free migrations” cap it after only a few, forcing you to pay after a certain point.)

If you’d rather have some professional, hands-on help, SiteGround will throw in the free service on their higher-tier plans (GrowBig and up).

If you exceed the limits on each plan, they charge a nominal fee of $30 for each additional site.

5. Free SSL Certificate and Content Delivery Network (CDN)

Google Chrome has started actively warning people if the site they’re trying to reach doesn’t have an SSL certificate set up.

SSL helps to protect any information sent back and forth between the user’s device and the website, including personal details like IP addresses or credit card numbers. If left unsecured, hackers and others could easily intercept this information. So Chrome is looking out for web users’ best interest here.

In other words, that basically makes SSL certificates a requirement on all websites today. And thankfully, SiteGround throws these in for free on all plans.

The other bit of good news comes in the form of a free Cloudflare CDN (Content Delivery Network). CDN stores large files, like images, on many servers in different locations around the globe. This helps to make sure that the files are stored as close as possible to site visitors, making them faster to access.

SiteGround has servers spread out over three continents, which helps to keep loading times fast and provide a good customer experience.

6. Beginner-to-Advanced Features Available

SiteGround has a little something for everyone.

Beginners and bloggers will like that you can install popular website builders like Weebly in just a few clicks. Weebly features a simple drag-and-drop editor so you can take full control over the look and feel of your site (without having to dive into code).

Other than Weebly, SiteGround also has deep integrations with WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal. Each of these apps can be installed quickly and painlessly. No need for a developer to help you out.

However, if you already are a developer, you’re in luck, too.

You’ll get Git pre-installed on bigger plans, along with SSH, WP-CLI, SFTP, and phpMyAdmin. They have multiple PHP versions at your disposal. Multi-level caching is available. And you can also get access to staging environments for sites to prep or test before pushing new features into production.

SiteGround also helps out with security, using a proprietary, AI-bot prevention tool that tries to snuff out new attacks before they hit. Their data reports that anywhere from 500,000 to two million brute-force attempts are blocked on their servers each hour.

So you’re not left alone to deal with these headaches, either.

7. 99.99% Uptime Guarantee

Remember that solid 99.99% uptime average? Well, there’s a reason SiteGround doesn’t falter here – it would cost them a lot of money.

Often, when you dig into a web host’s terms of service, there’s only bad news buried in the fine print.

SiteGround surprised us in a good way. Under their Service Level Agreement, they guarantee “network uptime of 99.9% on an annual basis.” If they ever dip below that threshold, you will get compensated with free months of hosting.

Now, there are a few conditions to how the uptime is calculated. Any scheduled or emergency maintenance issues are exempt. If something you do causes the downtime (such as exceed resources, install applications that don’t work, or violate terms), then SiteGround does not take responsibility. Any major external attacks on their systems could sidestep this policy, too.

8. 30-Day Money-Back Guarantee

SiteGround features a full 30-day money-back guarantee on all shared hosting plans. In comparison, their cloud, VPS, and dedicated hosting plans only come with a 15-day refund.

Like many other hosts, domain name fees and any other “extras” are usually not refunded. And this refund policy only applies to brand new customers. So you can’t get refunds on renewal plans.

Cons of Using SiteGround Hosting

SiteGround impressed us with near-flawless uptime and their guarantee of free service if uptime dips below 99.99%. Their loading speeds are quite good, even if they’re not the fastest out there. Also, SiteGround offers a variety of apps to make both beginners and advanced users happy.

However, there are a few drawbacks to consider before signing up. So here are some of the bigger issues we ran into during our hands-on test.

1. Higher Renewal Rates

SiteGround’s cheapest plan, StartUp, features a low $5.99/month advertised price on their website.

This deal looks a little too good to be true because it is. Almost every web host we’ve reviewed to date uses the same trick. They catch your attention with a low introductory rate, only to double (or even triple) the price when it’s time to renew.

For example, that $5.99/month rate jumps up to $12.99 when you renew. SiteGround’s other plans hike up to $22.99 and $34.99/month respectively.

The best solution to this is to lock-in the longest term possible (36 months on SiteGround) to take advantage of that low rate for as long as you can.

2. Limited “Cheap” Plan

SiteGround’s pricing on their lowest plan is comparable to the competition so it seems like a good deal when you first look at it.

However, the plan features don’t line up exactly.

For example, you get one website and only 10 GB of web space to handle around 10,000 monthly visits. This plan also features unlimited traffic (or unmetered bandwidth). However, if your site is getting anywhere close to those limits, performance is going to suffer.

That means it’s good for smaller sites that might not hit those thresholds for a while. But if your site starts becoming bigger, you’ll probably have to upgrade and pay more for increased resources.

3. No Free Domain Name

Most web hosts throw in ‘freebies’ to attract new customers.

That often includes the low introductory rate and additional services like email or migrations.

A free domain name for the first year is almost always on that list, too.

SiteGround, unfortunately, doesn’t do that. If you don’t already have a domain name, they’ll charge you for one from day one, starting at $13.95/year for .com.

SiteGround Pricing, Hosting Plans & Quick Facts

SiteGround has three shared hosting tiers. Here are the costs and highlights:

StartUp Plan

GrowBig Plan

GoGeek Plan


Renews at $12.99/mo

Renews at $22.99/mo

Renews at $34.99/mo













Email Accounts




Other Features

• On-Deman Backup Copies
• Speed Boosting Caching
• Staging
• Add Collaborators

• White Label Clients
• Ultrafast PHP
• Priority Support

Quick Facts

  • Domain: No. Domain prices start from $13.95
  • Ease of Signup: Very easy, one-page sign-up process.
  • Money-Back: 30-days money-back guarantee.
  • Payment Methods: Credit Card (there are other options available through chat)
  • Hidden Fees and Clauses: They charge a $14.95 setup fee if you pay for their shared hosting plans monthly instead of annually. Renewal rates are also higher. And you have to pay for a domain name (no freebie).
  • Upsells: A few… but nothing too bad.
  • Account Activation: Quick account activation.
  • Control Panel and Dashboard: cPanel
  • Installation of Apps and CMSs (WordPress, Joomla, etc.): Quick and easy install of popular apps and CMSs using Softaculous.

Do We Recommend SiteGround?

Yes, we do.

SiteGround has delivered solid uptime for a few years now. And their uptime guarantee makes sure that you’ll probably never have any major downtime issues.

Their site speed is pretty good, too. That’s thanks to their servers spread out over three continents and free Cloudflare CDN account. They also give you free SSL on all plans.

Moreover, their pricing is good if you take advantage of the longest term possible. Otherwise, you’ll end up hitting those high renewal rates sooner. Bring your own domain, too, to escape another fee.