WP Engine Managed Hosting Review: Feature-Packed and Hard to Fault

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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:

WP Engine

The Good

  • 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

The Bad

  • It would be great if there was a price point between the $29 and $99 account, maybe, could be space for $50 account

Our Verdict

  • Price:
  • Ease of use:
  • Features:
  • Support:
  • Speed:
  • Overall:

WPMU DEV Rating

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.”

First Impressions

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.

Personal plan for WP Engine
The layout of the Personal plan for WP Engine

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.

WP Engine's current pricing (September 2015)
WP Engine’s current pricing (September 2015)

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.

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.

Getting Started

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.

registration-small

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.

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 Dashboard

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.

WordPress installations in WP Engine
WordPress installations in WP Engine

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.

Adding a new install in WP Engine
Adding a new install in WP Engine

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.

Features

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.

WP Engine backups for a site
WP Engine backups for a site

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.

Support

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.

Speed

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.

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17 Responses

    Curtiss

    For me, the most-used feature in WPEngine’s hosting is the one-click staging environment. It is ridiculously simple to copy your entire installation to a staging environment so you can do various testing. If you so desire, you can then use the one-click feature to push your changes from staging back to production.

    Also, one additional feature (especially nice for freelance/agencies) that’s worth mentioning when creating a new install is the “transferrable install”. Those installations are set up in such a way within WPEngine’s system that they can be easily moved out of your WPEngine account and into someone else’s account. If you’re setting up a new site for a client, and plan to offload that site to a new WPEngine account specifically for the client, you can create it initially as a transferrable install, and the process of offloading it to the client’s own WPEngine account is much less involved.

    On a related note, it should also be noted that you can have easy access to multiple WPEngine accounts at a time. I am an administrator for 5 separate WPEngine accounts (one for my personal stuff, two for work, one for a volunteer organization I help manage, and one for a client), and I can switch between those WPEngine accounts within the WPEngine portal just as easily as I can switch between installs in the portal.

    Also, obviously, since WPEngine is managed WP hosting, they will automatically apply core updates for you. When they do so, they email you ahead of time, letting you know that they’re going to run the update (I think they usually give you a 7-day lead time for major updates). You obviously have the option to run the update manually before then, but if you don’t do so, they’ll capture a snapshot, run the update, then run a simple check to see if your website is throwing any errors. If they encounter an error on the website, they rollback to the way the site was before the core update, and then email you letting you know that the update failed, and recommending you run it manually. A few months ago, they also introduced the option to defer a core update (if you are aware that the new version of WP core is going to cause issues on your site, and you’re working on fixing those issues, you can check a little box in the WPEngine portal saying that you don’t want them to run the current core update).

    Finally, I’m not sure if this feature had been added by the time you were drafting this review (and this is a somewhat small feature, so I understand it not being mentioned), but the Backup Points area in the portal also indicates when a backup was manually initiated, and lets you know who initiated it (for instance, a backup I initiated yesterday has the label “Pre-Updates 2016-01-27 — initiated by: [email protected]” (where “Pre-Updates 2016-01-27” is the label I manually assigned to the backup point, and [email protected] is the email address I use to login to the WPEngine portal, which was automatically appended to the backup label).

    KDC

    Hi, just a personal option:
    As mentioned about the shift of plan; even if the maths workout to us the personal plan till 70K visitors!

    One must also look at the add-on advantages that get associated with the Professional plan. Visitors count may be one of the elements but the call on shifting to the higher plan also improves/enhances the performance better by including the CDN and (this point is extermly personal preference) allow 3rd Party SSL Certificate!!!

    Hugo

    Well, being respectful here. This review was aimed to rookies or non technical users. If you go back 2 steps and see it from another perspective , a little wider, you’ll is not a good deal at all. Unless of course you are not a technical person and by this I mean a developer , sysadmin or just geek enough. First of all WPEngine is offering you a shared environment , any regular shared hosting with CloudLinux and Cage FS is probable more secure. Second: They implement plugin limitations, search for “disallowed plugins wpengine”.

    There are plenty of security plugins both free and paid, plenty of excellent cache plugins, plenty of excellent management enhancement tools and plenty of better hosting providers (shared, vps or dedicated // both unmanaged or managed). Skip EIG companies, kiddie hosting providers and GoDaddy and you should be set. Hint: WebHostingTalk.com forum and do your research.

    Now in relation to this review, wow this was a vague review. Next time go into more details. Go deploy a vps in a provider like DO and Linode put some nginx or apache with nginx as front and some caching on it and compare to WPEngine. Do some load tests, stress it hard, do some security tests then do a wonderful review explaining why WPEngine is so “wonderful”. BTW $1 dollar per visitor , considering how many bots are there, is totally a ripoff. Is 2016 people wake up.

      jeff148apps

      I couldn’t agree more. I like the hands off approach – I deal with enough without worrying about server admin. But their opaque and honestly unauditable billing really pissed me off. Should have been expected, but I saw bills 2x what pre-sales told me to expect based on my Google Analytics.

    William Beem

    I signed up for WP Engine a couple of years ago. I’m really impressed with the service I get. Friendly people and I always get an answer. When someone tries to attack their servers, they move you over to another site, let you know to change your DNS, and the issue is over. It doesn’t happen often, but they respond quickly when something threatens the server where you’re hosted.

    My only gripe was recently resolved. The number of visitors you’re allowed used to include bots. That’s no longer the case. However, imagine if you wanted to run some kind of test or metrics on your site from a 3rd party host on a regular basis. Every test counted against your quote. Glad that’s over. Bots no longer count.

    I’m happy with WP Engine and recommend it to my site visitors.

    Greg Davis

    I have been a happy WP Engine customer for several years now. Even more so now that they have updated & changed their method of calculating visits so we don’t get punished by visits by bots.

    Their help desk service has been consistently outstanding on a range of topics from simple to complex.

    I even had a chance to visit the Austin, TX office when I was in town for a business trip back in Oct. They greeted me, gave me a tour and spent time talking with me and answering questions.

    +1 from me!

    jmbullis

    I was accepted into the WP Engine Developer program. I decided to try it out and I liked the ideas of some of their solutions. Unfortunately, I absolutely hated the experience. I planned on using WP Engine to build dev sites for my clients, but I wasn’t able to use any of my normal tools. It was a nightmare for my users to collaborate with me. My clients aren’t ready to be sold into their own WP Engine account and required me to move their ready to launch site away to another host. When it came time to transfer away it was the biggest hassle ever. You have to do it completely manually.

    I agree that this is a great solution for non-technical people, but as a developer, I would never use this service.

    Tyler

    We’ve been using WP-engine for about a year now – and start every single one of our wp clients on wp-engine.
    I can’t say enough good things about WPengine’s product as a whole. We especially recommend it to folks that come from a non-technical web development background. Though $29 per month may seem steep compared to a $5.99 or less for standard hosting their 9-5 chat support team effectively works as a WordPress dev support team for minor issues – theme problems etc. It saves the team, and our clients, a lot of costs that may require paying developers $60 – $120/hr.
    That said – two things that you might want to look out for.
    1. Copying Existing installs
    – Usually we have to wait for them to move a site to a new server with more space before it can be copied. This requires changing the original site DNS and waiting for the support ticket to come through before we can actually copy the site.
    2. The Plugin limitations
    – Some plugins don’t play nice. As long as you aren’t using any of these https://wpengine.com/support/disallowed-plugins/
    you’ll be square!

    Valentin

    Sure thing, go ahead and tell the bastErds they have to pay $300 per year for domain + hosting on top of your $30 bucks per hour services. They’ll be thrilled and nothing less :D I am pretty sure you can squeeze a-like quality out of Digital Ocean or SiteGround for a lot less. Unless you buy yourself a pro package and host 10 small client sites to WP Engine. This would make a perfect sense. Even if you don’t ask your clients to pay more than the actual price of $10 per month.
    Overall – the managed hosting might be a good idea if you are using mostly free themes with free plugins in your wordpress installations (which I highly doubt anyone will do). And if you are not, you just might be screwed, because no one is going to get you out of the deep shit when the site goes “white” after an update. And as stated in one article about the freelance job (on this blog again) – when something goes wrong, clients will call you. And without any matter of the host – managed or not – it is the very same you, who is going to troubleshoot and make the things right again.
    In my opinion the best case scenario is a VPS + CDN. This is when you have full control :)
    Just my 2 cents of couse :)

    Gayann

    5 stars

    I do work for a non-profit and we recently had our site hacked and were unable to clean it up and get it going :-( After looking into different ways to protect our main website, we decided to try WP Engine.

    Within one day, their support team removed the malware that had been installed on our site and had it back online for the public. Within a week, they sorted out issues with the CiviCRM plugin and had us up and working at full capacity. Even though we live on the other side of the world and could only do live chat for the first part of the day, their support ticket system and 24 hour support team continued to make steady progress day and night. We’re really impressed!

    We’re also enjoying the increased speed on our site and how easy it is to do backups and restores.

    Our only wish is that they had a mid-range price for hosting up to 5 sites.

    Randy

    I’ve been a WP Engine customer for a couple years. They used to the the best-of-the-best, and in many ways still are. But I’ve noticed recently that the frequency of getting a support rep that is – how do I say this – somewhat incompetent – has gone from 0% to about 25%. Perhaps this is because they’ve grown quickly and can’t train or hire as before. I would also add a couple more Pros and Cons:

    PROS:
    On-demand backup points and storage of at least 25 of those
    Escalated tickets almost always get first rate knowledgeable support

    CONS:
    No 24/7 chat support (since this was a con for Flywheel also, it’s only fair)
    No email hosting service included
    Restrictions on specific backup and other plugins
    Long ticket times for after hours and

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