One of the web hosting providers I always wanted to write a review about is WPEngine. It is a fairly new player in the web hosting industry.
It is pretty niche as it caters only to managed WordPress hosting; promising fast, scalable and secure hosting service. But at $29/mo, it is definitely pricey.
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A Little About WP Engine as a Company
The focus of WP Engine is undeniably WordPress hosting. The keyword is managed. So, unlike other general web hosting companies, WPE makes a serious effort to support and assist customers with all issues related to WordPress, with the core WP Engine team provides much of the maintenance and upkeep services.
This Austin, Texas-based company was co-founded by Jason Cohen and Ben Metcalfe. Metcalfe is of course well known for developing BBC online blogging system when he was employed by the media company.
In the year 2011 when the company was founded, it achieved $1m revenue inside the first 12 months of operation.
WPE has gained fans from thousands of WordPress customers in particular, and the WordPress community in general, but not all are happy (the number one grouse among customers is the apparent lack customer support offered by the company).
Hosting Plans $ Pricing
Altogether there are four WordPress hosting plans on offer. The company does not exactly pinpoint what a Premium plan is, but it seems to be more of a custom plan that can be tailored on demand.
The remainder 3 managed WordPress plans have unlimited bandwidth on offer, but storage is finite; only a pre-set amount of storage and limit on the number of visits each month are made available to individual customers:
- Personal – $29.00/mo
This most basic plan includes a single instance of WordPress installation with visits capped at 25,000 per month.
- Professional – $99.00/mo
The Professional plan includes up to 10 installs and 100,000 visits per month.
- Business – $249.00/mo
The Business plan allows for 25 installs of WordPress and 400,000 visits every month.
The company has its own formulation of counting visits, and it works differently from the other systems out there; in fact, the company put it categorically that certain statistics packages (like Google Analytics) may not agree with the visitor counting as done by WPE.
In their world, a visit is classified as a unique IP address inside one 24-hour cycle.
So beware that visits from bots and crawlers are going to work against you as far as visitor counts go, and partial page loads could be just as detrimental.
How About Uptime?
This may not look obvious in their Terms of Service, but they actually provide 100% uptime guarantee.
For every downtime hour customers may experience, a credit of 5% of their monthly bill would be assured.
But without looking at the service level agreement (SLA) document in greater details, it is impossible to say if credits can be claimed manually.
The company does not keep a record of its uptime history, but from a quick look through the blog on the website, it is apparent that WP Engine was not spared by Amazon’s EC2 outages in the past. It is easy to access the system status blog and RSS feed on the website.
Their data centers are deployed across 3 cities: Texas, Tokyo and London and customers are at complete liberty to decide on the data center for them.
Even if a customer later changes his or her mind on the existing site and fancies a move to a different data center, this can be done without upsetting their original plan.
Do note that all 3 data centers are locked down, and even staff from WPE may not be granted access to these facilities. Scans on servers are done automatically for potential viruses and hacks.
It also employs 2 security firms for regular auditing, in order to assess risks.
Backup can be easily performed via the control panel (through the creation of ‘Restore Points’). This allows the system to roll back to an earlier WordPress instance as and when they wish.
Moreover, there is also the facility to create complete clones – a useful feature for users to conduct backstage testing – and to download their entire database whenever they desire.
Daily backups are done automatically with the copy retained for 60 days.
Each installation of WordPress here is kept separate. These involve different database systems with markedly different security credentials, thus cutting down the risk of being hacked significantly.
It is possible to request even complete hardware separation, but obviously, this is not going to be cheap.
Knowledge base (or commonly known as the ‘Support Garage’) serves as the backbone of WP Engine support. It covers a comprehensive range of topics but I find that some really basic concepts (like the meaning of uptime guarantee) are not so well defined.
Additionally, there is also a discrete password-protected ticketing system. Access is possible through a variety of input options: email address, Twitter account, Facebook login or Google account.
If telephone support is important to you, take note that this is available from 9am to 6pm, CST, although the company says they do entertain emergency calls on 24/7 basis.
It is not immediately clear to me as to what constitutes as an emergency, or if any call outside those standard hours is going to get answered at all.
The company describes their support staff as WordPress ‘experts’. The motto of the company is to defend every WordPress installation proactively from hackers, and in the event of being hacked, they would fix any corresponding problems for free.
Personally, I find this is a huge ask for them (not just exclusively my idea), I would rate their support system as less than decent, to even being really poor!
WP Engine is no normal hosting company, so an ordinary control panel like cPanel or Plesk does not work here.
Consistent with WordPress practice, most site admin is done via the WordPress dashboard.
The company also makes available a secondary custom control panel. Called the User Portal, it facilitates most account-related tasks; e.g. creating backups, adding new WordPress installs, creating redirections and the list goes on.
I would advise you to check out the Support Garage knowledge base if you are new to the system.
Extra Stuff Offered by WP Engine
WP Engine really keeps those advertising gimmicks and marketing vouchers to the minimum. When it does, those would be nice bonuses that advanced WordPress users would love.
From the Professional plan up, a content delivery network (CDN) service is bundled in. The whole purpose is to speed up page loading times without calling on the WordPress cache plugins. But if you are on Personal plan, you would have to pay for it.
On the Business plan up, there is a choice to include a dedicated IP address in the plan. But if your account falls within the Professional plan, then this is a paid extra. The company decides to exclude this option from those on the Personal plan.
Its 60-day money-back guarantee looks clean as there does not seem to have any string attached or cancellation fee.
Other Reviews of WPEngine Hosting
I have read lots of web hosting reviews left by other users and just like any other host, here too opinions are divided, but it is easy to see that the scale is tipping more towards positive reviews, that said, there are those who are not entirely happy.
To be fair, I tried to gather as much opinion as I could, but including every single one of them here would require a wholly dedicated website. So, I pulled out the most important and common points made about WPE by both sides.
It is fair to say WPEngine has achieved much support considering the fact that it first started the business in 2010.
What are the things it did right to get so popular within such short timeframe?
The key advantages are summarized as follow:
Managed WordPress Hosting
It ability to focus on single WordPress solution has really worked well for WPE.
Besides not being distracted by an array of products to manage, its singularity in business apparently has made the company looks more professional than its competition.
But you have to give merits where merits are due; its hosting is 100% compatible with WordPress. So far it has been able to keep pace with the various WordPress releases, and it can handle the latest PHP 5 and MySQL 5 with ease.
The multi-locations of their data centers (Newark, London and Tokyo) mean that customers could make choices based on their locations, so as to leverage closer proximity.
With multi-server clusters, wicked-fast hardware with in-RAM caching, and a content delivery network, these are all critical factors that make pages get loaded in the soonest possible time.
Strong Reliability & Security
The company is not into overselling its servers. Rather it custom build and subsequently tune them individually in order to achieve robust reliability and security.
By putting a cap on some plugins, the chance of conflicts across plugins could be greatly minimized, which is so helpful in ensuring against accidental sites crashes.
Regardless of the plan, they do provide daily backups and 1-click restore points. These further mitigate the risk of hosted sites going down.
The advantages of this web host are clear by virtue of it being a quality and professional WordPress hosting provider. But there are also many disadvantages not to be overlooked, in the context of the competitive WordPress hosting industry.
Some of these disadvantages are listed below:
There are 3 level plans on offer: Personal for $29/mo, Professional for $99/mo and Business for $249/mo.
The three can be categorized into 3 customer segments respectively: customers who are getting started, those who have multiple sites, and those having professional blogs & large businesses. As most WordPress hosting services start from a $10 charge in general, WPEngine is so costly.
Doing the math, you would soon realize the company charge 634% more than BlueHost professional shared web hosting service at $3.95/mo, and even a more decent BlueHost managed VPS plan is cheaper, starting from $14.99/mo.
Limited Websites & Local Storage
All of their plans support limited domains & storage; for Personal that is just 1 site and 10 GB space, for Professional – 10 sites and 20 GB space, and finally for Business – 25 sites and 30 GB space.
If customers transcend these limits on a number of websites or amount of storage space, they will have to pay more, or possibly go for customization, which costs even more.
It is ridiculous that the company does not cover Email in any of its hosting packages, given the popularity of email application. Customers would have to turn to other providers if they need email services.
Their support staffs are their self-styled WordPress “experts”. But these experts are definitely a rare resource as you cannot tap their minds on your problems, concerns and questions.
If you are really peeved with their FAQ, you can go with their Business plan, starting from $249/mo. Rip off!
Should You Go with WPEngine?
When a comparison is being made across generic shared web hosting businesses, WP Engine is pricey. But its unique proposition is that it has packages revolving around people who rely on WordPress.
Some may be compelled to believe that the extra investment is necessary, perhaps to have a peace of mind so that their WordPress install can be secure, speedy and well-supported.
The lack of 24/7 support and the peculiar way of counting ‘visits per month’ would not make WPE the most popular choice. But if you are determined to find a host capable of helping you make the most of WordPress (and competent support in time of trouble with WordPress), WP Engine is not really that bad of a choice!