WP Engine: Is Managed WordPress Hosting Worth The Premium Price?

I guess you could call me a bit promiscuous when it comes to hosting providers.

As I’ve already said, I’ve personally been though seven hosts and I have probably worked my way through just as many with clients. And let’s just be honest… A vast majority of hosts will meet the demands for many of our sites, especially when you’re just getting started.

But over time, things can get…complicated.

Your site starts to gain some traction, which is awesome, but it can come with a laundry list of side effects.

  • Server resources like database, storage, bandwidth, etc. start to explode.
  • Pages load starts to crawl.
  • Lovely white pages of death like “internal server error” or “error establishing a database connection”.
  • Start spending late nights parsing log files to track down memory, performance, or caching issues with magical combinations of server operating system, PHP, MySQL, WordPress, plugin, and theme configurations and versions.

Yuck.

I don’t know about you, but as much as I really want to dig in and do and know it all, it’s simply not possible. There just isn’t enough time and I know I cannot be an expert at all those things. I just want as much time to work on the things I am great at and leave the rest alone.

Is there any hope? Can managed hosting focused strictly on WordPress really be the answer?

The Case Study

I have been incredibly fortunate to partner with Kristin on Iowa Girl Eats for the past two years. Her site has always been a hit, but it has seen explosive growth from the time I started working with her, especially with things like Pinterest making sites like hers a mecca for foodies.

It has provided me with a tremendous amount of exposure to things that I would have never had to face, learn, and overcome on something like my own measly blog. While it’s been some intense problems, I am always grateful to concur something new that I would not of otherwise had the opportunity to learn.

In the past two years we have:

  • Written a completely custom theme.
  • Been through four hosts, ranging from shared to VPS to cloud.
  • Started using NetDNA as our CDN to offload the nearly 4.5TB of bandwidth usage per month.
  • Scrutinized every plugin and reduced the number used by more than half.
  • Tracked down and killed every PHP error and warning.
  • Optimized the database, converted to InnoDB, and cleaned up a lot of cruft in options and revisions, which still left it with a 500MB footprint.
  • Wrote a completely custom caching system Redis because popular caching plugins couldn’t keep up.

To be honest, I do feel quite proud that I’ve helped keep the wheels on for this long.

But even with all these pieces in place, we were still running up against issues. Issues that I will fully admit are beyond my capabilities, like the WordPress Cron getting hung about once a week which caused a core WordPress error to get thrown hundreds of times…per millisecond…and required a server reboot. Not to mention random site slowness / sluggishness, especially in the WordPress admin, with no rhyme or reason that I or hosting support could discern.

These are exactly the kinds of things me or my client should not need to worry about at this point.

I knew I couldn’t continue to battle this on my own. I needed help. I needed experts.

This led me to WP Engine.

Show Me The Money

There are a few managed hosts out there completely dedicated to WordPress, but without question, one of the most well known ones is WP Engine. Their reputation within the WordPress community is undeniable, especially for their support and expertise. It’s almost absurd how overwhelmingly satisfied WP Engine customer seem to be and they are not shy about letting people know.

So let’s just cut straight to the chase… The price.

Even WP Engine’s entry-level plan will cost you $29 a month for a single site. Compare that to shared hosting, which can be had for $5 – $10 a month at several very popular and reputable companies. On top of that, you can usually run as many sites as you want for that same price on those other hosts. You can also get into VPS and cloud hosting for under a $100 at most of those same places, which is equal to or under WP Engines next two plans. And if you’re doing more than 400k pageviews per month, that can send you into the unsettling “Let’s Talk” price range on WP Engine.

So the question at hand… Is WP Engine worth it?

The Verdict

In short, the answer is a resounding…yes!

I have never been more impressed with a hosting company. I completely understand why their users rave about them so much. They literally are experts, through and through.

Here are just a few reasons why I have been so impressed.

  • I had multiple phone calls, with a real person and with the same person, throughout the setup and customization process. Yes, email is convenient, but it was really refreshing and comforting to talk to a real person.
  • After the setup and customization process, you get access to support via live chat and tickets. I know that other companies do this too, but their live chat people are always and consistently available and wicked smart. I have yet to stump any one of them on anything.
  • Zero configuration, zero hassle. I have literally had to do nothing. In fact, I have had to undo / remove a lot of things I’ve done in the past on my own because they just handle it automatically. Things like advanced .htaccess, CDN integration, and caching. No plugins necessary. Again, it just happens. Their infrastructure is dazzling, even just to read about.
  • We no longer need to use VaultPress for backups. They do all of this automatically, too.
  • You can deploy new versions of your site by simply pushing to a Git repository. No S/FTP. Just push and it’s live.
  • A completely sandboxed staging environment to do all your testing, configuring, tinkering, and client approval before you go live. All with a single click of a button. And you have Git push to deploy access to here too!
  • They audit your codebase for poor performing plugins, notify you, and recommend replacements that perform better. They do this for slow performing parts of themes and error logs too. it’s like having a whole team of developers working with you.
  • The speed is absolutely gross and that is saying a lot for Iowa Girl Eats, which is extremely image rich. No matter what we have tried in the past, the site is the fastest it has ever been.
  • And probably the most impressed I’ve been with them is when we had completed our migration to WP Engine, we were having issues with newly uploaded images. They would display in the WordPress post editor, but not on the live site when previewing the post. I was fairly confident it was a CDN issue, but I assumed something got setup incorrectly on our account. I cannot tell you how liberating it was to know this wasn’t my problem and I could just contact them about it. The best part, it was actually my error. I forgot to change the origin IP address on our CDN account to point to WP Engine’s server, but they figured that out for me and very kindly let me know. They figured out an issue what was my fault in a system that was not even their own!

The bottom line is this…

As a developer, I don’t have to worry about what I don’t know or what I’ll have to become an expert on, especially with things I really don’t want to be an expert on. And my client doesn’t have to worry how her site is performing, how it is impacting her readers, hampering her ability to compose posts, or feel like she is constantly bothering me.

For both myself, and my client, the extra price is well worth the time we save and the stress we no longer have.

What I have really learned is that not all hosting is created equal. If you value your time, it’s most certainly worth every bit more.

You should do yourself a favor, sign up (affiliate link), and give them a try.

Trust me. You will not regret it.

6 Comments

Hey Michael,

Thanks for your timely post. You’ve answered the last remaining one of two pre-sales questions which I have posed to WPEngine as pres-sales inquiries this weekend, but have yet to hear back from them. Based on your post above, I’m thinking that’s an anomaly.

Cheers,

Steve & Sally Wharton | Seattle

    Steve & Sally Wharton : :

    Glad I could help you out!

    Just to clarify on their support a bit… Their live chat is only on from 9:00am – 6:00pm, Monday through Friday, if I recall correct;y. I am unsure if their ticketed support has office hours, but I can say that I have noticed that they’re more quiet on the weekends, unless it is an absolute emergency.

    Having done WordPress support for 3.5 years at 8BIT, I can completely be on board with them taking things a bit slower on the weekends. Support work is challenging, relentless, and exhausting. I fully support companies that can draw some boundaries. We all need them.

    I am sure they’ll be on top of things come Monday. If not, just kindly ping them again in the ticket. I am sure they get a lot of questions, but I am also just as sure they’d love to know they can make a sale if they can just answer your remaining question(s). ;)

    Good luck!

Totally agree with all this. I have a parallel experience and have just switched a site to WPEngine. I’m still in shock at how fast the site is and after I removed all the things I was using to improve the speed. I was on a shared hosting before, but it was with Rackspace… But I removed all the CDN, caching, minifying, htaccess optimizing etc. And it’s still faster than I ever thought it could be. That and I’m literally loving the staging button! I can duplicate the site instantly with no plugins and no database migrations or touching ftps or even without some of the (although impressive) plugins like backupbuddy or the like. Thanks for the well thought article, I’m more confident that WPEngine is the place for more of my sites now than I already was.

Yes i’m having a huge performance boost in my website as well. Check the link to find the tests i have done on this.

http://designscrazed.com/wpengine-hosting/

    allie : :

    The performance boost is real as your article clearly illustrates, but what I would call out even more is the consistency at which it is that performant.

    I have had fast speeds on other hosts too, but it would come and go, usually without rhyme or reason. But with WP Engine, that same level of performance is always there, regardless of how long since the server has been rebooted, a wave of visitors punishing the site, or anything else. It just works and it is unwavering.

    That kind of durability is priceless.

As you mentioned, deploying WordPress websites on WPEngine with git is as easy as `git push production master`, however it always bugged me that you had to open a support ticket to add your SSH key to their repo.

They recently introduced the ability to administer your git developer keys through their web interface, instead of having a technician manually add your key to gain push access to the repo: http://wpengine.com/2014/02/06/wp-engine-introduces-git-administration-user-portal/

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