We’ve recommended WP Engine hosting in previous articles, but haven’t gone through an in-depth review of setting up and managing a WP Engine-hosted website. We decided to remedy that by adding a detailed WP Engine hosting review to our collection here at Sell with WP.
This review will focus on the experience from a user’s point of view in setting up an account, features, support, and ease of use. I know some developers think that WP Engine locks down too much of the server configuration (which is why SiteGround can be a good alternative), but I don’t believe this will be an issue for most sites out there or affect many site admins. I do use WP Engine for most sites that I manage, so I have thoughts and biases of my own, but will try to view this entire process as a new user. I’ll include some of my thoughts about having used WP Engine for the past couple of years where relevant.
To get this out of the way, I know there have been a few recent negative reviews of WP Engine’s services. You shouldn’t take my word or anyone else’s as truth, as only your research can determine what’s best for your business. I can say that after having used WP Engine for 2+ years, I’ve had occasional issues, but they’ve always been solved promptly and support techs have been friendly and knowledgeable, even while dealing with fairly complex issues that required escalation (which I had to pass on to smarter team members of my own as well!).
Though I’ve used WPE for other sites, I’ve opened a new account to write this review. For reference, I’m testing WP Engine using the the Professional plan, which offers 100,000 visitors per month, SSL support, and more.
Reviews always starts with what’s positive about services, so I’m going to flip that on its head. Let’s start with downsides.
First, WP Engine (WPE) can be expensive if you’re starting out. It’s definitely more of a premium option, as plans start at $29 per month for up to 25,000 visits per month and one WordPress site. However, if you need an SSL certificate, you’ll need the Professional plan, which is $99 per month and includes 100,000 visits each month and 10 sites. If I were just starting out, I’d probably sign up for the introductory plan and use PayPal + a payment gateway that doesn’t require an SSL (one that redirects checkout) so you can see how things go before using a more expensive plan.
Second, WPE doesn’t include email hosting. This may or may not be important for you, and there are other options available (like Google Apps or free forwarding from Namecheap if you’re using their DNS hosting). However, some hosts do include this and you’ll incur extra cost (about $2 per user per month) to do it separately.
Third, since the hosting is entirely managed, your developers may be limited in what they can do with the server configuration. Neither myself nor any developers I work with have found this to be an issue for us in the couple years we’ve used WPE, but I know some people have brought it up as a negative point. There are also some disallowed plugins that you won’t be able to install (typically related to caching, which WPE handles for you, or performance).
So with those few negative points, why use the service? One of the biggest benefits to using WP Engine is scalability. In fact, many enterprise clients, such as FourSquare, HTC, Balsamiq, SoundCloud, and Unbounce, all depend on WP Engine to host their sites. Performance will scale with your site as it grows, and you can avoid migrating hosts with increased traffic. You’ll also never be shut down for traffic surges – your hosting simply handles them, and you’ll pay $1 per 1,000 visitors in overages if needed.
Security and support are also excellent in my experience. Live chat is fast and usually resolves most issues. I’ve used email ticketing for more complex issues and typically receive responses within an hour or two. When I had an urgent ticket from my site going down, I even received a response in 2 minutes.
Security is a priority and WP Engine offers free fixes for any site that’s hacked while using their hosting, which is a pretty rare feature. One thing many hosts should do are credits for higher-than-average downtime – WP Engine offers 5% of your monthly bill for every hour of downtime. However, I’ve never had to worry about this credit in two years, as uptime has been above 99.9%.
Just as we stated in our detailed SiteGround hosting review, there are several great hosting speed comparisons available. As the king of all hosting speed comparisons is pretty recent, I feel it would not be beneficial to rehash them myself, so I’m going to omit this section from the review. The speed comparison from Review Signal is the one I’d recommend checking out as it includes details and performance data.
You could test your own hosting with Load Impact or Blitz.io and compare it to these results. WP Engine also provides a free speed tool that will email you a breakdown of site performance and some potential issues (you don’t have to be using their hosting to try it).
As we said before, pricing for WP Engine will be higher than shared hosting but comparable to other managed services, such as Pagely and Pressable. Pricing begins at $29 per month for a single site and up to 25,000 visits per month, while SSL compatible plans begin at $99 per month (which is what I’m testing).
Why is pricing higher than most providers? For a few reasons. First, hosting is entirely managed: WordPress core is automatically updated, backups are taken daily (available 60 days back), and more. Service is also a blend between shared and VPS hosting (dedicated resources are used for Premium plans and up) – you’ll be sharing a server with other sites, but resources are tightly managed and sharing is limited to far fewer sites that other shared services (i.e., GoDaddy or HostGator). Hardware is also high-quality and newer than cheaper companies.
Each WPE plan comes with a number of free WordPress installs – once you sign up and your DNS resolves, you’ll be running on a shiny new WordPress install. As WPE is entirely focused on WordPress, there’s no additional steps on selecting which CMS you want to use or providing more details about your site when creating your account.
As stated previously, I recommend using a Personal plan if you’re getting started, and using payment gateways that don’t require an SSL certificate so that you can test your store and save money while traffic grows. If traffic increases or you need to use an SSL certificate, then upgrading to the Professional Plan would be your next step. The professional plan offers a lot of WordPress-specific features:
- up to 10 sites
- 100,000 visits / month
- 20GB storage
- daily backups (60 days back)
- one-click site restore
- one-click staging area
- free WordPress installation
- supports WordPress multisite
- built-in caching
- SSH / sFTP access
- WP core autoupdates
- SSL compatibility
- staging/live Git access
- security and free fixes if your site gets hacked
One thing that’s pretty cool about backups is that you have instant access to your backups going back 30 days, and backups can include media along with other files so you don’t lose images or other uploads with a backup restore.
I also like that this plan allows you to enable multisite for your install at no extra cost. I know a lot of you that like to create subdomains for your membership sites will find this valuable.
I signed up for my professional plan within a few minutes. While signing up, you have the option to pay monthly, or if you pay annually, you get 2 months free. You also have 60 days to try the service. If you decide to cancel in the first 60 days, you’ll be refunded for any payments you’ve made.
Unlike some services, WP Engine does not include migration services within your plan. There are detailed instructions for those of you that are moving from an existing site. I’m going to go through the process of using a new site rather than a migration.
Once I registered for my account, I grabbed the information needed to point my DNS to WP Engine. When you log into your account at my.wpengine.com, you’ll see your install name and IP address. This is the information you’ll need to transfer the DNS record.
You can also get this information by logging into your new site. This will be a WP Engine subdomain at the moment, but you can still log in and play with your site, as well as start configuring options to be ready for when the DNS records are updated. Log in to
yourusername.wpengine.com/wp-admin with your username and password that you signed up with. The WP Engine plugin will be installed and accessible in your WordPress menu. Clicking on this menu will also provide DNS as well as sFTP information:
Once you’ve set up your DNS information, you can play around with your new site while you wait for records to update. Nothing aside from the WP Engine plugin will be installed, so you can start with theme setup or your preferred plugins.
All WP Engine resources are either in your WP Engine account or within your WordPress admin. You can check out your WP Engine dashboard to find out information on traffic, restoring backups, and more:
The Installs menu will provide any site information, including the ability to download and restore backups, install SSL certificates, and access to developer tools (myPHPadmin, git access, etc). You’ll also be able to add users to your account (great for companies with a tech team) and view all billing details from this dashboard. The experience is far simpler than using a traditional cPanel as some options are moved to the WPE plugin.
Done with the dashboard? Let’s check out the WP Engine plugin in our WordPress site. Some features of the service are accessible from this plugin to make site management easier. For example, we mentioned previously that you can access FTP information and other details from this plugin. You can also restrict access to the WP Engine Admin Bar for specific user roles (i.e., only let admins access these tools), purge your website cache if necessary, and grab error logs.
The best part of this plugin is the staging area tool. If you go to the “Staging” tab at the top of the menu, you’ll see this page:
This will allow you to build a copy of your site with one click that you can access through a separate login, which will be accessible at
http://youraccountname.staging.wpengine.com. You’ll have to login from the
/wp-admin page still, but login credentials will be exactly the same as your site. Time to build the staging site depends on how much content your site has, but is usually quick – the staging area for my site with only a few pages and posts was built within 30 seconds. For most sites I work on, this process only takes a maximum of a couple of minutes.
The staging site will be public, but search indexing will be discouraged so that users will not find this site. Using the staging tool is an excellent way to test out updates, new themes, or plugins before making those changes on your live site. This has saved me several times while updating plugins and running into issues so I’m able to fix the issue before running into it on the live site.
If you’d like to, you can even copy changes back over to your live site when you’re done with the staging area. I don’t usually do this, as deploying the staging site changes will override your live site. If any changes have been made to your live site since you creating the staging area (i.e., new user comments, eCommerce orders), these will be overridden.
The only minor annoyance is that you can’t clear the staging area between each use. Sometimes, this will lead to emails about posts that were scheduled on your staging area but removed or rescheduled on your live site (I sometimes get pingback emails for internal links on my staging site because of this). By default, this is also accessible for outside users if they visit the exact URL for the staging site, which probably won’t be a big deal unless you need your staging site to be private.
Once you’re done playing around with these tools, your DNS records will hopefully be updated. There’s one more step you’ll need to take to complete site setup. In your new WordPress admin, you’ll need to go to Settings > General and update your site URLs. Currently, they’re housed at
yoursite.wpengine.com. You’ll need to remove the “wpengine” from the Wordpress Address and Site Address URLs:
That’s all there is in getting started and using WP Engine’s hosting features!
WP Engine has a Support Garage available as a knowledge base. This is usually a great starting point for any questions or issues you encounter while using their service. They also offer Live chat and ticketed support. You can access support resources from your WP Engine dashboard or from the WPE plugin in your WordPress site:
I’ve referenced the support garage for several topics, such as help on getting DNS records transferred and information on features, and found the articles very helpful. There’s also some great information on using restore points and other tools. I’ve used phone support (Professional plans and higher) as well on rare occasions when I have a quick question, and have never been left without an answer.
Live chat is the method by which I typically get support, and usually leads to successful resolution. It’s very handy for issues that are not overly technical, such as quick questions on features or account issues. My typical resolution time for live chat support is under five minutes, and getting in touch with a representative doesn’t usually take more than a minute.
I’ve also used ticketed support for technical issues. For some urgent issues, I’ve gotten responses within minutes, though most issues usually have a response within a couple of hours. Almost every time I’ve gone through ticketed support, issues are resolved within a few emails back and forth, and support techs are friendly and easy to work with. I’ve had one or two very complex issues that required several emails between our developers and the WPE team, but those issues were escalated and resolved with the same care.
One of the major reasons that I use WP Engine really isn’t actually a “tangible” reason. While many hosts have evolved quickly, began to offer great services at incredible value, etc., WPE has continued to do so as well, but it’s not what makes them unique. Take a look at some of the insights from founder Jason Cohen and their recent post about growth – they’re constantly running into and responding to issues of scale. As a result, the service gets better (though it may have up and down cycles to do so).
WPE’s team evolves at a rapid pace, it’s well-funded, and the team has learned lessons from scaling that many other hosts haven’t always encountered yet. One of my considerations when choosing a company upon which I built part of my business is their sustainability and long-term presence, and I think WPE will be one of the companies that continues to evolve and grow as a market leader.
As with all services, there are issues that will occur while using WP Engine and it’s not a perfect company. However, there are plenty of upsides to using their hosting services that keep me as a customer. As I said before, WPE will scale with your site without issues – they have tons of experience with scaling. Their processes have also evolved as they routinely encounter issues. For example, server failures are a rare occurrence, but when you have over a thousand servers (as WPE does), it turns into a day-to-day job for which you develop strategies and efficient responses. This leads to better service for each customer, as what used to be catastrophic now becomes routine.
The more issues they face now, the better they can respond to them in the future. For example, they recently address an issue regarding backend slowness that they’ve responded to and fixed. No experience with any host will be perfect, but the transparency with which these issues are handled is one reason I’ve stuck with them as a customer.
They also offer some really powerful features and performance – I love using the staging area tools, having sFTP and git access, and benefitting from quality support. Security is also a priority for WPE and I like knowing that my site will be fixed if hacked. While hosting may be on the pricier side for some sites, it’s usually worth the investment for me and is why I continue to use them for most projects.
- As I mentioned before, I really recommend checking out Review Signal’s hosting speed comparison if you want to take a look at performance comparisons.
- Here’s a great comparison of the costs and benefits of shared vs dedicated or managed hosting.
- WP Shout did a large hosting survey at the end of 2013 for which WP Engine came out on top for managed hosting.
- Here’s a handy comparison of major hosts from Elegant Themes.