WP Engine Review – Expensive & Underpriced

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When I launched Compete Themes about 2.5 years ago, I signed up for some cheap $5/month hosting. I didn’t think it mattered.

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 received a response from the hosting company. It was completely unhelpful and clearly a copy & paste boilerplate message. I switched to WP Engine the next day.

My Review after 2 years with WP Engine

WP Engine offers managed WordPress hosting. Basically this means you get dedicated hardware/resources for your site. So what does that mean?

It means the your site will be lightning fast.

If you’re used to seeing $5 or even $1/month for hosting, $29/month might cause sticker shock. As a managed WordPress host, WP Engine is certainly more expensive than a shared host, but it is a better value.

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 need to setup a plugin yourself 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.

screenshot of the W3 Total Cache settings
Do you know what all this means?

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.

Now let’s get to the good stuff. Here’s a screenshot from a speed test I just did via tools.pingdom.com.

tools.pingdom.com screenshot - homepage
You can verify these speeds 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:

tools.pingdom.com screenshot - themes page
This page loads in just 0.7s

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. 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 2017, 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.

Traffic Spikes

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.

Caching woes

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.

I used to have a shopping cart feature on the site, and it took a while to figure out why it was always empty after viewing a new page. After talking to Pippin from Easy Digital Downloads, I got in touch with WP Engine support and found it was due to the caching. The solution they provided was to disable caching on all affected pages, but this would mean turning caching off on all the pages. I ended up writing some Javascript to reload the shopping cart data on each page which worked pretty well aside from a brief delay where the cart was empty upon page load.

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.

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

Response Times

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:

screenshot from a WPEngine support ticket

Mixed reviews

Now, 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 experienced a new set of technical issues they had never faced due to their scale. It seems they’ve since rectified these issues as I don’t see many complaints anymore about the support, nor do I experience any of these issues myself.

Signup here to get 20% off your first billing with WP Engine.

What about security?

WP Engine goes to great lengths to create a secure environment. Beyond measures that outright prevent your site from being affected by malware, they also routinely scan sites for signs of infection.

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:

screenshot of email from WP Engine about a plugin vulnerability

Overprotection frustrations

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.

Comparable functionality can be purchased from Sucuri for $16.99/month.

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.

screenshot of the backups page in WP Engine dashboard

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.

Comparable functionality can be purchased from VaultPress for $9/month.

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. The Compete Themes staging site.

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:

screenshot of the WP Engine staging 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.

Comparable functionality can be purchased from CoachPress for $12/month.

Wait, $29/month is underpriced?

If you’ve been following along, I’ve been posting the cost of some of these services from other businesses. This is an easy way to quantify their worth.

Currently, the market values the backup, staging, and security services at a cost of $37.99/month. In other words, you save $9/month with WP Engine plus, of course, you get the hosting.

If you get a lot of traffic, need hosting for more than 1 domain, or need to use multi-site, the professional plan will likely suit you best ($99/month).

Competethemes.com currently runs on an annual subscription to the Professional plan which costs $1,000/year ($83/month). It includes support for 10 domains, a CDN, and up to 100,000 visits per month (I use it for a few other sites as well).

Who should get it?

WP Engine will serve you best if you let them handle everything 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.

Signup now to get 20% off your first month.

Find out why I’ve hosted Compete Themes with WP Engine for over 2 years.

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Additional Details & Experiences

The points above are the most salient in your purchase decision, but there are some other considerations as well.

Free CDN

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:

Enabling the CDN in WP Engine

SSL installation

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.

SSL Labs scores the certificate as an “A”. For reference, Wells Fargo gets an “A-“.

At the time of writing this, I am getting a notification in the dashboard about free SSL certificates from Let’s Encrypt.

screenshot of Let's Encrypt offering

I haven’t used this yet, but I’m going to try it on one of my sites soon.

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.

Screenshot of the WP Engine redirect form

Disallowed plugins

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.

screenshot of a WP Engine page performance 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.

Uptime monitoring

[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.

Uptime monitoring screenshot from uptime.com

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.

Is WP Engine right for you?

Competethemes.com needs to be up and running smoothly at all times, or the business will suffer.

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!

When you subscribe to WP Engine through a link on this page, I am financially compensated as an affiliate at no additional cost to you. I would never recommend a product I don’t love or do so at the expense of a reader.

One Comment
  1. I ran some similar tests, and found the EXACT same results as you did. WP Engine kicks ass, and page.ly is just slower hands down.

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