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WP Engine was definitely the first, or at least one of the first, hosting companies to specialize in wordpress hosting. WordPress has several very special requirements so it makes sense for a host to cater to these needs since WordPress powers a full third of all websites.
This strategy has paid off amazingly well for them. They are now worth almost one billion dollars and they are now buying competitors in the WordPress hosting space like Flywheel.
Clearly they are successful and they were one of the first, but are they the best wordpress hosting company? Read on to get the details…
WP Engine Security
WordPress powers so many websites that it’s a prime target for hackers. Whether you know it or not, your site is constantly under attack. You have to make sure that you har
But there is nothing inherently insecure about WordPress that is not an issue with all software. WordPress has the upside of being open-source with a very large community releasing updates & testing vulnerabilities.
If you run your own WordPress install, the security basics are fairly straightforward –
- Keep your install & all your plugins updated
- Only install files from reputable creators
- Run a security plugin to lock down the most common brute force attacks
- Keep a backup for when things go wrong
*Aside – I use JetPack for the last two. It’s made by & powered by Automattic, the commercial arm of WordPress (the ones who run WordPress.com).
You’ll notice that even though security on WordPress is straightforward – the responsibility is still on you to keep things secure. Just like having a deadbolt does nothing if you don’t lock it – keeping your website secure is still ultimately on you.
And like speed & performance, WP Engine basically takes all those best practices and does them for you. They run automated backups to keep everything off-site & ready to roll back if something happens. Since you technically have an “install” on their server (rather than an account) – they tackle a lot of security issues globally on the server level.
WP Engine also works closely with top security firms on code reviews in addition to running their own team. They also make the guarantee that if you’re hacked – they take care of it for free.
I personally have never been hacked on my main /or secondary sites (knock on wood), but have helped clients who have been. It’s frustrating, tedious & a generally expensive situation. Having a professional security team take care of your WordPress install is a big pro in my book.
WP Engine Support
Customer support has been a core part of WP Engine’s pitch since they were founded. After all, they are really selling more of a service (ie, managed hosting) than a product (ie, hosting). It makes sense for them to place a big emphasis on support.
Here’s a screenshot from one of my first contacts with support back in 2012 –
Look at the response time – that wasn’t an autoresponder either.
Now – the company has grown & changed a lot since then. They went through a stretch where they were getting a lot of criticism about over-promising on support.
That said – the tough thing about customer support is that so much of the judgment is anecdotal. Everyone has a story, but you never know if the story is because they talked to the one rockstar-vs-rookie having an awesome-vs-terrible day. Like I mention in every hosting review, the important part is to see if a company treats support as an investment or a cost.
I like to look for access, systems, and knowledge – all three require an investment of money, time and expertise.
Based on my recent interactions and research, they are doing much better hitting all three boxes. They maintain a variety of support channels (including phone for non-Basic plans). They have a fast, trackable ticketing system and are available everywhere on the site via chat.
Based on their tutorial videos and extensive knowledgebase, they tick the knowledge box. Every support that I or my client has interacted with actually knew the fine workings of WordPress and has been able to problem-solve on the fly.
The most impressive (yes, this is anecdotal, but still) experience was a three-way call between my client, myself and WP Engine during my client’s transition to HTTPS / SSL. The rep was not only able to get on (and stay on) the phone, but he was able to adeptly help us “flip the switch” quickly in addition to taking care of several issues (ie, uploading a non-HTTP sitemap and fixing insecure image links) within WordPress for us.
I’m sure that WP Engine still has support issues – especially because their custom platform puts a lot of pressure on fast, accessible support (as I’ll show in the disadvantages). But they seem to know that support is core to their value and do make the needed investment.
WP Engine Speed
There are a lot of variables that go into website speed, but the rule of thumb is that the more complex your site is, the more complex the solutions to speed become.
Out of the box – WordPress is fairly lean and fast. If you are running a mostly text site with a few basic plugins and a few small images, you’ll be fine with an affordable shared hosting plan from someone like InMotion, HostGator or Bluehost.
But few website owners keep their WordPress install lean. There’s usually additional plugins, custom theme files, lots of images, widgets, ads, forms and more.
All these features combined with decent levels of traffic can start to slow down your WordPress install.
But a slow site doesn’t mean that you need a bigger, better server. It does mean that you need to get smarter about speed. Sometimes it’s as simple as getting a more powerful server, but sometimes it’s more about caching certain resources in a certain order and optimizing your files. In other words – it gets complex.
Imagine you are trying to haul a trailer with a pickup truck. Imagine your trailer keeps getting heavier. It’s pointless to keep complaining that your truck is not big enough when you may just need to remove the emergency brake, install a turbocharger, refresh the transmission fluid and consolidate your load.
The point is that WordPress needs help to stay fast as you grow. There are plenty of solutions…but either you or a developer must implement them.
That’s where managed WordPress hosting comes in. WP Engine takes care of (nearly) all speed concerns. They have customized servers with extremely aggressive caching and even more advanced “stack” than a typical web host. They also have trained support who will go into your WordPress install and identify the exact chokepoint to get your site moving.
They don’t even allow caching plugins on their installs because they have such a customized caching setup.
The interesting thing is that even unoptimized WordPress installs still do well on their platform because their platform does the extra work.
Here’s the speed test for one of our sites on WP Engine (who has a bloated theme, extra scripts, too many uncompressed images, among other things) –
Note the Time To First Byte and the Start Render numbers. That measures how quickly the server returned enough data to start loading the page.
Now here is the speed test of a standard WordPress install. WP Engine not only gets solid TTFB times but note how similar the First Byte and First Render are to the Unoptimized site.
It’s nice to have that kind of speed right out of the box – and have it stay that way no matter how big or complex the site gets.
*Note that the other point here is that if you are obsessed about speed, you can get even better numbers with WP Engine than you might get with other services since you are free to focus on speed factors that you can easily control like image compression, usage of scripts, etc.
The last observation on speed – WP Engine not only provides an integrated CDN, but they also provide global data centers in case your audience is primarily in Asia and/or Europe.
If you are trying to get top speeds without messing with layered caching plugins – the WP Engine does exactly that.
WP Engine Pricing
WP Engine is not cheap. Their Startup plan is $35/mo and includes a single install and only up to 25,000 visits per month.
For benchmarking – you can get a powerful, reliable VPS (ie, your own not-shared server) for the same price from InMotion. And if you are just starting out with a single domain – you can get a shared hosting plan from Bluehost for just a couple dollars per month.
Both of which allow for more storage & more visits (ie, basically as many as you can handle) than WP Engine. I’ve run sites that have had 60k visits per month on a shared server. I’ve also run dozens of small WordPress sites off a low cost shared hosting.
But I’ll cover that pricing disadvantage in the cons of WP Engine, but here’s the thing.
For some site owners – if you break out WP Engine by total value & factor in your own (or your developer’s) time, their pricing is amazing.
Just running WordPress updates every month & QA’ing your installation can take ~30 minutes every month. If your (or your dev’s) services are billed at $50 (or more)/hour, then that’s WP Engine’s entire monthly fee right there.
If you lose any visits due to downtime from a bad plugin update, then that could be WP Engine’s entire monthly fee right there.
If you do a hot-fix (ie, you don’t use a staging area) on your PHP code, and knock your site down…then that could be WP Engine’s entire monthly fee right there.
Losing visitors due to speed issues or downtime costs lost income.
Additionally, premium security can cost ~$16/mo – minimum. Not to mention any personal or developer time fixing issues.
Basically, if your time is better allocated away from technical issues, then WP Engine makes a lot of sense on value. As a managed WordPress hosting service – that’s really their thing. Hosting services are an investment rather than a cost.
And that sort of value-based pricing segues into another pro for WP Engine – their focus on their core markets.
After carrying out testing, we feel it’s fair to say that WP Engine deliver on their promises of offering a stable, high-performance WordPress hosting environment.
The extra features, such as automatic backups, security scanning, and WordPress updates, should take some of the stress out of managing a website. Also, having access to more than 35 high-quality premium WordPress themes helps to offset some of the cost of hosting your site with WP Engine.
The easy-to-use developer-friendly features, such as the development and staging environments, as well as the ability to transfer sites to clients, are more reasons to consider WP Engine.
The only real drawback of WP Engine is the price of the plans. Although in the same region as many of the other leading managed WordPress hosting providers, paying $35 per month or more isn’t justifiable for every website. However, if your site generates revenue, is important to your business or is outgrowing your current host, it makes sense to add WP Engine to your shortlist. There’s also a competitive 60-day money-back guarantee that lets you try out WP Engine without risk.
Used/using WP Engine to host your site? Experiences? Thoughts?