WP Engine Managed Hosting Review: Feature-Packed and Hard to Fault
There are lots of managed hosting companies around for WordPress these days. Five years ago, you could count them all on one hand. Not anymore.
We get asked all the time for web hosting recommendations and do our best to point members in the right direction, but who you go with ultimately comes down to your site’s needs – and also how much you’re willing to spend.
To help make the decision a bit easier, we’ve put some of the biggest WordPress managed hosts to the test, with a focus on customer experience. There are already plenty of reviews out there that look at speed and stability, but the ease of use and support capabilities of a company are just as – if not more – important because you’ll run into trouble sooner or later and a great host will always go above and beyond to help you out when disaster hits.
With all that in mind, this is the first of eight reviews and it puts WP Engine to the test.
Since launching in 2010, WP Engine has dominated as the biggest and most well-known managed hosting company for WordPress. For a company that lists “do the right thing” as one of its core values, the bar is set pretty high. In this review, we’ll see if WP Engine can hold up to its own standards.
Check out the other posts in this managed WordPress hosting reviews series:
- Excellent quality of service
- Fantastic WordPress-specific feature set
- Awesome backend dashboard – I was very impressed!
- Site migration. Copying an existing site over to WP Engine is a breeze
- It would be great if there was a price point between the $29 and $99 account, maybe, could be space for $50 account
The Bottom Line
Overall, I was pleased with my WP Engine experience. I only found a couple of things out of place, mostly minor matters. According to hostingreviews.io (which is fed by social media), WP Engine performs much higher than average on all counts, except for value – which seems a bit odd to me. I particularly like WP Engine's admin area and how easy it makes managing multiple WordPress websites. The most annoying thing when using their service, though, was how I had to double-acknowledge installing any plugins from the WordPress Plugin Directory, which is not that big of a deal. I can heartily recommend WPEngine as a great managed WordPress hosting service. If you’re a regular user with a personal account you’ll benefit from the speed and stability, if you’re a power-user you’ll find the WordPress specific tools a huge help!
WP Engine: Company History
WP Engine was founded in 2010 by Jason Cohen to fill the managed hosting void just before it started to become extremely popular. During those five years, the company opened three branches (San Francisco, San Antonio, and London) in addition to the original Austin- based location.
The company has raised more than $18 million in funds from venture capital and angel investors over the years, including Automattic.
WP Engine puts customer care and corporate culture front and center and has done so consistently, right from the beginning. In the company’s very first blog post announcing WP Engine, one of the first things mentioned is:
“Talking to potential customers from day one has been our highest priority.”
The About page includes quotes from five senior staff members and every single one is about doing their best for customers. There’s no mention of speed or security. I find this refreshing because I think that it should be a given that a company does the best that it can for its customers.
This people-centric view has earned WP Engine awards, including the best places to work in Austin. The company has a beautiful office in downtown Austin, a chef, unlimited time off and all the traditional company perks.”
In putting together this review and others in this series, I tried to look at each host’s website through the eyes of a moderately experienced user – someone who knows the difference between VPS and shared setups, but not a programmer or someone intimately involved in hosting details.
To be honest, it’s difficult to gauge a host by the information on their site. Just like its competitors, WP Engine has plenty of filler text that essentially means nothing. For example:
“With a full-time engineering staff and dedicated labs team, we’re defining the bleeding edge of WordPress technology. Unlock your brand’s full potential by leveraging our innovations.”
I’m personally not interested in this sentiment because a host should have full-time engineering staff. I have no idea what “dedicated labs team” means, and the general user doesn’t know about or care for innovations (or buzzwords). You want a fast and secure site and how this is done is of no consequence to the average website owner.
I was not too impressed with the stock images and videos used on most pages (even if these are actually from WP Engine’s offices). I would much rather see something more down-to-earth as this would strengthen my belief in the company’s user-centric attitude.
All that aside, what actually matters is: Can I easily find the information that I want and is it presented in an easy to understand fashion? On that count WP Engine does well.
The website could be better from a visual point of view, but I have a feeling that it was built following research guidelines, and it may well be optimized for the average user, which is not me. Information was easy to find and clear, apart from some minor points.
I had a bit of a chuckle at the text “Risk-free for 60 days,” which immediately prompted me to think that after 60 days they introduce some risk. Perhaps prepending the sentence with “Try” would help clear things up.
Plans and Pricing
I like that they have three well-defined plans and the fact that you can add modules for extra functionality is not pushed up your nose right away. If you scroll down you can compare all plans, which is where the word “shared” made me raise my eyebrows a bit. You have to find the not-so-obvious Our Infrastructure page to find out that this is actually a VPS environment, so it’s all good.
The Personal package is $29 a month, which is a pretty fair deal I think. It does only give you one install, but for many people that’s all that is needed and you can buy upgrades of course.
The next tier up is called Professional, which allows for 10 installs and 100K visits. It sets you back $99 a month, which is building up to be a sizable amount, but if you have 10 installs and you come near filling your 100K quota you’re probably making it back a few-fold at least.
The largest non-custom tier is Business which costs a considerable $249 a month. It gives you 25 installs and 400K visitors. This is a sizable investment but as long as website speed and security are never an issue I would have no problem forking this kind of money over. At 400K visits, you should have bigger things to worry about on your site anyway.
WP Engine is not the cheapest option out there if you want more than one install but it’s nowhere near the most expensive either. There are three tiers which, are best summarized using the company’s own comparison table.
They also have Enterprise levels which I’m sure will cost an arm and a leg, but if you need that much volume, you probably have some arms and legs to give.
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You can pay a little extra for more visitors and installs and I recommend you do some maths before you go for higher tiers. As I mentioned earlier, all things equal, you would need to pay an additional $70 in overages before it would make sense to switch from Personal to Professional. You should keep this in mind when choosing a plan.
Overall, I think WP Engine’s pricing is reasonable. It caters for newcomers with a low-end plan while accommodating larger sites with its more expensive options.
The sign-up process was very pleasant. It’s extremely straightforward – once you choose a plan you fill out your details, click continue and off you go. I don’t know if this is standard practice or just laziness from my bank, but my card was charged about two days after my signup. If this is standard practice, it did help speed up the registration process and no doubt also helps cut back on refund times for mistakes and quick trials.
The setup complete email took about 5 minutes to arrive, at which point I had a ready WordPress installation to use. The only cloud in the sunny process was that WordPress 4.3 had been out for eight days but WordPress 4.2.2 was the installed version. One-click upgrading was available, but I would have been much happier to see 4.3 in action already.
All-in-all, I enjoyed the setup process and the fact that I had a workable website within 5 minutes. Apart from the WordPress version issue – which is negligible – I was very happy with this part.
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Ease of Use
As a regular user you probably won’t be logging into your host’s panel every day, but when you do need to, you want to get where you want to go as efficiently as possible and have the most important information at your fingertips.
The admin area for WP Engine customers is well-thought out and a breeze to use. The initial view displays a bit too much clutter for me, but I understand the need to share this information. The most important information – installations and plan status – takes center stage, which is what really matters.
The one confusing area I found was that the “Installs” top level menu doesn’t take you to a page listing your installs, rather it shows you your first installation’s details and allows you to switch between the others with a dropdown. This was not immediately obvious to me but it does make sense once you get used to it.
The installation detail page shows statistics, version information, and FTPS access details. It also lists a bunch of sub-sections like CDN, backup points, Git push, SSL, domains, utilities and more.
I had one “wow, this is awesome!” moment in the admin when I was looking at the backups for a site. I pressed a link which read “What is included in the backup points?” An in-place presentation opened up with a pleasant voice over and a pointer that used my actual backups and on-screen controls to tell me what’s what – awesome!
In a nutshell, the admin area is super easy to navigate. You can find what you need easily, especially with access to installation sub-sections from the initial dashboard view. The one downside is that it isn’t responsive. I’m sure that 99% of the time people access this page on large enough monitors, but in this day and age, even admin screens should be responsive, just in case I want to check server status and some basic stats on my mobile.
Creating New Installs
Creating a new installation is so easy I can’t even write a proper paragraph about it. Click the “New Install” link at the top of the admin area, fill out a short modal window and you’re done. You’ll get a ready to go email in a couple of minutes and you can start setting things up then and there.
As you can see, sites can be completely copied (or just their setup), which was a huge help for me while doing some comparative testing.
WP Engine offers a bunch of features, although nothing that would make a developer jump around in excitement (except, perhaps, for the Git push feature).
You can do things like:
- Set up a CDN
- Add redirect rules from the WP Engine admin
- Create and restore backups
- View error logs
- Set up Git push for Git-based deployment
- Set up SSL
- Add password protection
- Reset file permissions
- Enable/disable the cache
- Migrate your site
- Use phpMyAdmin to fiddle around in your database
While the list isn’t huge, it’s solid and I’d like to point out the usefulness of two particular items.
The backup feature is as easy to use as everything else on the admin. You can see daily backups, in addition to backups that were created due to specific actions, like updating the core. This gives me peace of mind and the knowledge that a rollback is just a click away.
The Git push feature allows you to deploy your whole application with the use of Git. WP Engine has a great tutorial about what this is and how it works. For developers, it allows you to set up your application on WP Engine – or anywhere else – extremely easily, and in a modular and team-friendly way.
Since all web hosts have some sort of limit on resources, my standard pre-sales question was: what happens when my quota runs out? In the case of WP Engine, I asked what happens if I grab a personal account and my visitor count spikes above the 25,000 limit?
A live chat window contacted me automatically on the Plans page of the WP Engine website so it seemed like there was someone there already. I said “hi” and got an answer within a minute.
It turns out WP Engine charges you $1 for every 1,000 visits beyond your limit. This is not a tragedy, but it would have been nice to see this somewhere on the Plans page. The representative also mentioned that upgrading to the professional plan was, of course, a possibility.
This prompted me to be a bit evil. The personal account costs $29/month, the professional one costs $99. That’s a $70 difference, which means I could purchase 70,000 visitors before it’s financially advisable to switch to the professional account (all other things equal). So I asked when he would recommend making the change. The support person said that he would recommend it anywhere above 30K visitors, which is completely wrong, of course, and this irked me a little.
On the other hand, support was lightning fast and apart from that nasty hiccup, they did just fine answering me. If you prefer, you can get in touch with them via email, phone or even regular mail if that’s your thing.
As this review is focusing on customer experience rather than speed, I won’t get into a super-deep speed review because there are just so many factors here that it would be unfair to judge any company based on casual tests.
I installed three websites:
- Vanilla Twenty Fifteen theme filled with demo content – 1.49Mb, 53 requests
- WooCommerce shop running on Twenty Fifteen, Shop Page – 0.479Mb, 55 requests
- Out of the box Avada installation using the Cafe demo – 24.3Mb, 134 requests
When uncached, vanilla Twenty Fifteen will load in about 3.2 seconds. The WooCommerce shop loads in around 1.9 seconds and the Avada demo loads in 8.1 seconds.
When cached, vanilla Twenty Fifteen loaded in around 1.2 seconds, the WooCommerce shop took a hair over 1 second, and the Avada Cafe demo clocked in at 2.8 seconds.
More important than my own test is the community opinions of WP Engine. The company’s hostingreviews.io page shows that users are more than content with the speed. On average, 52% of all users mentioned their host favorably when talking about speed. A whopping 93% consider WP Engine to be fast, which is great!
Stay tuned for the last article in the series, which will compare all services side-by-side to decide which one is best!
Disclaimer: In putting together this review, we bought our WP Engine review account just like any other customer – via the sign-up link on the homepage. We didn’t let WP Engine in on the fact we were reviewing their services to avoid any special treatment.
Have you used WP Engine? Tell us about your experiences in the comments below.