This post was originally published on November 1, 2016, and has been updated with new insights.
When I launched Compete Themes about 3.5 years ago, I signed up for some cheap $5/month hosting.
I didn’t think hosting mattered that much.
One day I was editing the DNS and unknowingly made a mistake. When you mess up a DNS record, like a CNAME, it brings down your site. Furthermore, DNS propagation takes hours, so I didn’t realize the site was down right away.
I needed to contact support ASAP. Due to the propagation delays, it would take hours even with an immediate fix to get the site back online. There was no phone number and no live chat, so I sent an email.
I read frantically through the documentation trying to figure out what I had done wrong. It took hours of trial and error until I fixed it. I ended the day exhausted and glad just to be back where I started.
The next afternoon, I finally received a response from the hosting company and it was a pre-written email without any relevant information about the problem I had.
I switched to WP Engine the next day.
My Review after 3 years with WP Engine
There are three things I value when it comes to hosting:
- Customer support
I want my site to be fast and to have great uptime. I also want to be able to get help immediately if something goes wrong. Afterall, my business cannot generate income if this site is not online. Lastly, I value the extensive security measures that WP Engine has put in place to help prevent malicious attacks.
Let’s take a look at every feature, point-by-point, in this WP Engine review.
How fast is WP Engine?
First and foremost, WP Engine is fast.
Much of the performance can be attributed to their aggressive caching system, EverCache. Normally, you would need to install a plugin to add caching to your WP site. I always hated configuring the W3 Total Cache plugin because I had no idea what most of the options meant.
WP Engine’s caching requires no configuration on your part and has been designed specifically for WordPress sites. You can read more about EverCache and the performance infrastructure here.
5/8/18 Update: I now use and recommend WP Rocket in addition to WP Engine’s caching.
Now let’s get to the good stuff. Here’s a screenshot from a speed test I just did via tools.pingdom.com.
The site loads in about 1 second and is faster than 89% of websites. Here is one more test from the “Themes” page:
This page loads even faster without the big, animated image on the homepage.
It would be disingenuous to attribute the performance entirely to WP Engine. I optimize all my images, minify JS and CSS files, and concatenate files wherever possible (learn how to do this with WP Rocket). Consider hosting the backbone of your website’s performance. Fast hosting enables you to have a fast site, but you’ll never have fast-loading pages with lousy hosting.
I shoot for 1-2s with load times. Obviously, the faster the better, but in 2018, you really need to be under 3 seconds. That’s the point where people begin to abandon your site.
“40% of shoppers will wait no more than three seconds before abandoning a retail or travel site” – Google
You would need bad performance practices on your site to load in over 3s with WP Engine.
5/8/18 Update: CompeteThemes.com continues to load in 1-1.5s.
Page speed is important, but another valuable quality of WP Engine’s hosting is their ability to scale immediately with traffic spikes.
Imagine the irony:
You work tirelessly building traffic and selling products on your site. One day, someone shares one of your products on reddit and it hits the front page. Your site is flooded with traffic, and the server crashes. All that work getting your big moment just to have your site fall flat on its face.
This kind of thing happens all the time. WP Engine’s infrastructure is built to handle spikes, so your site doesn’t crash and burn in the spotlight.
5/8/18 Update: I have not once had my site go down due to a traffic spike.
While I’ve been enjoying great performance here at competethemes.com from WP Engine, their caching system has been a thorn in my side at times.
If you have a shopping cart or similar functionality on your site, get in touch with the plugin author first and ask about any compatibility issues with WP Engine.
5/8/18 Update: After sorting out some initial issues with EDD, I haven’t had any more trouble with their caching.
How’s their customer support?
The support WP Engine provides is both timely and genuinely helpful. They always work with me to reach a solution quickly.
Over the past two years, I’ve opened 17 support tickets via email, and used the live chat about 5 times (no record, so I’m estimating). Here are some examples of what those tickets are about:
- Setting up an SSL certificate
- Forcing https on all pages
- Error with new site always redirecting to staging site (my fault)
- Staging site no longer updating properly
I usually get a response to a new ticket (email) in a few hours. There is an option to set your submission as “urgent”, but I usually don’t use this option.
Live chat takes about 0-5 minutes to get a response. It works well if you have a more urgent issue.
I’ve never used the phone line, so I can’t attest to their support there.
Here’s an example of a support conversation I’ve had with them, so you can see what to expect:
5/8/18 Update: I haven’t contacted support as much over the last year but continue to get fast and helpful responses
If you’ve browsed around the web for info about WP Engine, you may have found some experiences contrary to mine. There are plenty of people saying the support is great, but also many saying it stinks. This is mostly due to a challenging growth period for WP Engine.
The company’s founder, Jason Cohen, has talked about these challenges multiple times around the web. Basically, they underestimated how many support agents they needed per customer, and didn’t hire fast enough resulting in slow response times and some sub-par responses. I haven’t experienced any issues with their support myself.
What about security?
Furthermore, they work with partners, like Sucuri, to stay on top of the latest plugin vulnerabilities. If they discover a vulnerability and your site is running that plugin, they notify you to update to a secure version right away.
I’ve received 10 of these emails in the last 2 years. Yes, this happens a lot.
Here’s a screenshot of the most recent email I’ve received:
Security always comes at a cost.
WP Engine’s security measures have caused problems for me at times. I recently spent a few hours finding a way around a security update in one of their MU plugins that was blocking customers from getting updates for my themes/plugins.
WP Engine likes to do things their way. Often times, their way is very good, but sometimes it causes problems. If you run a content site, you’ll probably never have any issues, but the more complexity you add to your site, the more likely it is you’ll run into some weird issue.
I’ll admit, some of the things I do with competethemes.com are edge-cases (like delivering product updates to other sites), but in these situations, I often end up at-odds with WP Engine.
More security: automated backups
WP Engine takes security seriously, and part of that security is regular backups. Competethemes.com is backed up every day automatically.
Besides the daily backups, you can also press a button to backup anytime. I always backup before modifying the site including before every plugin and theme update. Backups take about 1.5 minutes for this site.
Restoring your site from a backup couldn’t be easier. You simply select a backup and press the “Restore” button.
Updates go bad and things break. It’s inevitable. I have to use the restore functionality a few times a year and it’s a lifesaver every time.
5/8/18 Update: my site has not been the victim of any attacks or other security breaches.
Safe editing with staging sites
A staging site is essentially a copy of your site where you test new changes.
For instance, you might want to try a new plugin on your staging site where no one will see if you f#$% something up. For a developer, this is especially helpful when working on a custom theme or plugin.
How it works
When running a site with WP Engine, a new “WP Engine” tab is added to your admin menu. I’m kind of sick of everyone putting tabs in my dashboard, but it is fairly convenient. Moving on…
The WP Engine menu has buttons to clear your cache and reset file permissions along with a few other things. More importantly, there is a “staging” tab which takes you to this page:
As you can see, there are two things you can do here.
First, you can copy your live site to your staging site. Then you would make modifications to your staging sites without disrupting any visitors on your live site. Once you’re happy with the changes made on the staging site you can make use of the red button. That one copies the staging site to your live site.
It’s an easy system to work with, and I can’t imagine not having a staging site now.
Is WP Engine right for you?
If you want to focus on your business and making content, rather than managing your hosting environment, you will probably love WP Engine.
While I do have technical issues with WP Engine at times, I love the autonomy I get. I already have too many plugins installed, so I appreciate that backups, caching, and other functionality are handled (and maintained) by WP Engine.
Lightning fast hosting combined with hands-off, premium services make WP Engine a great product. While occasional head-butting with WP Engine’s infrastructure prevent it from being a truly blissful experience, its merits still outweigh its faults.
Find out why I’ve hosted Compete Themes with WP Engine for over 3.5 years.Signup
Additional Details & Experiences
The points above are the most salient in your purchase decision, but there are some other considerations as well.
For Professional plans and up, WP Engine provides a CDN via MaxCDN. This helps images and other files on your site load faster by loading them from servers geographically closer to the visitor.
If you’re not very tech-savvy, adding a CDN for your site can be a little overwhelming. Here’s how you do it with WP Engine:
I had an SSL certificate from Comodo when I transferred to WP Engine, but I eventually switched to RapidSSL which you can get straight from WP Engine. The certificate costs $49/year and the WP Engine staff will install it for you.
At the time of writing this, I am getting a notification in the dashboard about free SSL certificates from Let’s Encrypt.
I haven’t used this yet, but I’m going to try it on one of my sites soon.
5/8/18 Update: I’ve tried the integration with Let’s Encrypt for another site and the process was fast and easy (and free).
Redirect rules manager
Redirects are handy for fixing 404 errors after changing a page’s URL or modifying a folder/category name.
Usually, I’d rely on a plugin for redirects, but it’s nice being able to manage it straight from the WP Engine dashboard. There’s a form that makes adding new redirects easy, and regex is supported.
WP Engine maintains a list of plugins that you cannot install when using WP Engine. This is because the plugin creates a security or performance issue, or interferes with a service WPEngine provides.
I’ve seen people make a big deal about this, but it’s never been a problem for me. Most of the plugins they disallow aren’t necessary because WP Engine already provides the same functionality (e.g. caching, backups, etc.).
It caught me off guard once when I tried to install Yet Another Related Posts plugin, but it was easy enough to find an alternative that didn’t affect performance so negatively.
Page performance tool
A more recent feature added is the page performance tool. It lets you measure the speed of a page much the same way as with the Pingdom tools and provides a detailed report.
There are many alternative tools for reports like this, but it’s nice to have and the scheduling capability is neat. You can schedule a page performance test to run once a week, twice a month, or once a month.
[update January 10th, 2017]
After writing this review I began monitoring competethemes.com’s uptime with Uptime.com. The site has had 100% uptime since I added monitoring on October 30, 2016.
You’ll notice in the screenshot it says the site was down for 12 minutes on November 11, 2016. This is when I put the site into maintenance mode while I deployed a redesign, so I’m not qualifying that as real downtime.
5/8/18 Update: My site continues to enjoy 100% uptime with WP Engine. There was one incident lasting nine minutes in the last year and a half.
Is WP Engine right for you?
Competethemes.com needs to be up and running smoothly at all times.
The performance, scalability, security, customer support, backups, staging site, and other additional services make WP Engine a great value. That’s why I use it, and why I believe it’s a great fit for most businesses using WordPress.
If you think so too, signup with this link to get a 20% off discount on your first billing. It will apply to any plan you choose.
If you have questions about this WP Engine review or want the inside scoop on any features, let me know below in the comments!