This post has been a long time coming, because when it comes to hosting performance, it takes a while to do the real-world, hands-on testing. I did not want to write yet another linkbait regurgitation of sales copy, because you can read that for yourselves and wonder what’s true and what isn’t.
HostGator ain’t what it used to be, and Bluehost never was.
The two most common 800-pound gorillas we’ve worked with in the hosting space, besides SlowDaddy, have been owned by the same giant conglomerate, Endurance International Group, since June 2012. I don’t know about you, but when I see large competing businesses being bought up by the same giant holding companies, I feel it’s never good for the consumer. In the past year, my beloved HostGator has experienced serious downtime and over 24-hour turnarounds on support tickets.
I find that I often have to scream at them on Twitter these days to get them to escalate my tickets, and in my book, that’s no way to handle customer service.
I remember that back in 2009, a HostGator rep told me, “We want to be as big as GoDaddy” and I nearly wept – given that a GoDaddy rep had used “we’re the largest hosting company in the world” as an excuse for why I had to wait an hour for a database to be created – something that took a single mouse click on HostGator. It looks like the writing on the wall was in permanent ink.
Before this acquisition, HostGator took really good care of me and my clients, with fast turnaround times on support requests and going the extra mile to provide WordPress-specific support even though they really weren’t required to. As a matter of fact, I started to recognize several of the names of support team members. In that interim, I had several clients move over from Bluehost because their support just wasn’t keeping up with HostGator’s.
Now…not so much.
What is managed WordPress hosting?
For over a year now, I’ve been investigating managed WordPress hosting companies and trying to reconcile myself to the additional cost, since we include hosting for nearly 100 of our clients via our WebMistress Service.
Because of the premium services these companies provide, their cost really doesn’t scale for us to “throw it in” like we had been doing in the past, without increasing the cost of our maintenance plan. Plus there’s the email hosting issue, and I’ll get to more on that later.
What managed WordPress hosts do is configure their servers for optimum performance when running WordPress – which is actually a BEAST when it comes to scalability versus load speeds, if you don’t know what you’re doing. The one-size-fits-all hosts can’t do this – not for $5/month – but it’s the bread and butter for managed WordPress hosts.
These guys also make it their business to go above and beyond when it comes to backups, security, and support for their clients – again, something the big boys simply can’t afford to do.
Why WPEngine is worth the money
There are two major players in the managed WordPress hosting biz right now – one is WPEngine, and the other is Synthesis, offered by Copyblogger Media. Both have great reviews, but I recommend WPEngine because of the price. If you compare pricing grids, you’ll see that each company will host one site for around $30/month. But when you get to the $100/month second tier, WPEngine gives you 10 sites, whereas Synthesis only gives you 2. Moving farther up the grid, the disparities become even larger.
What Synthesis DOES do is offer a LOT more traffic on their $100/month plan than WPEngine does – it amounts to 600,000 visits/month across two sites. If you run high-traffic sites, that might be the option for you. For most of you, however, traffic like that is a mere fantasy – which is why WPEngine is more economical for mere mortals.
<nonsequitur> I’m sitting on my back deck writing this, and I SWEAR I hear a GOAT bleating. Who around here has a goat? </nonsequitur>
Scorching Speed. The clients I have launched on WPEngine over the past six months have sites that load RIDICULOUSLY fast. Some of them are quite complex, design and code-wise, but the difference in their site load speeds versus those for our clients on HostGator (and ourselves, because we’re still there) is amazing.
Also, only one client is on a plan that includes the content delivery network (CDN). The $29 plan doesn’t include that, but because of their server configurations, the speeds are still out of this world. For those of you who have found that cabbage leaf WAY too shady to come out from under, Google counts site load speed in its site ranking algorithm. Plus slow load times lead to more abandonment by prospects.
Protection from performance hogs on the same server – including yourself. WPEngine curates WordPress plugins, and they blacklist the performance hogs – although usually not without suggesting alternatives. If you install a blacklisted plugin, they’ll send you a friendly warning, and if you don’t take it down, they’ll either suspend your site or they’ll deactivate the plugin themselves.
While this can be mildly annoying if you do have some favorite plugins on their blacklist (we do), the payoff is that they protect you from people who load every plugin they ever read about in a blog post – and this means you, too. That frees you up to run your own business instead of researching which plugins are causing more harm than good. Many of the services they build in render those plugins – like WP Database Backup – obsolete anyway.
Insanely responsive support. I have found that WPEngine’s ticket support is SUPER-responsive, and they will often help new clients who need help to get started on the phone (they just don’t advertise it). I rarely waited more than an hour for responses to some issues I was having with our first site launch. HostGator does have “24/7 support” but what I find is that often the wait time on a ticket is 6-8-10 hours these days, which doesn’t really qualify.
Over the years in working with HostGator, what I see is that their 24/7 online chat is useful for more simple matters, but once they get complex, they “create a ticket” and then there you are in that queue. If I had to guess, I’d say that they put the newest, least experienced people on the phone, and then the next or same level on chat, and then they have the really experienced support techs responding to tickets. With WPEngine, EVERY SINGLE support tech is a WordPress expert.
Caching without having to break your brain. Most hosts, like HostGator, strongly recommend (or require) that you run a caching plugin to avoid getting those nastygrams that you’re using up way too much server processing time. The problem is, caching plugins can be tricky to get the settings just right, and they often conflict with other plugins, like WishList Member and some video players, which will just quietly stop working.
WPEngine takes care of all that caching stuff FOR you – you don’t even have to think about it.
Forget about backups, WordPress updates, and watching out for the bad guys. WPEngine does backups DAILY, and you can restore your site and database it with a few clicks. Most hosts do them weekly and it’s a bit of a hassle to get a restore.
You also get one-click restore points, which you can create right before doing something risky like updating plugins or trying a new layout. You even get your own sandbox for tinkering without having to do it in front of a live audience.
WPEngine runs malware scans and security checks for you, through their contracts with industry leaders like Sucuri.
Freedom to grow without worrying about site downtime. Have you ever experienced having a site summarily shut down by the host due to a spike in daily or monthly traffic? You hit the preset limit and your site goes down at the speed of electrons. WPEngine doesn’t do that to you – they look at your site usage OVER TIME, kind of like the budget billing plan for your electric company. If you need to upgrade due to a permanent uptick in traffic, they’ll work with you to make that happen. Like human beings. Imagine.
You WILL need to do something else about email, however. WPEngine doesn’t manage DNS, which means no email hosting on the same account, and you’ll point your site from your registrar using the IP address rather than nameservers (they’ll explain that to you.) For some, that may be a dealbreaker, but it’s actually a GOOD thing to be forced to host your email somewhere else – either on your own Exchange Server or using a cloud service like Google Apps, which we recommend.
That way, if your site DOES go down, your email doesn’t also go down. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have my site down for a couple hours than have my email down for a couple of minutes!
For the price, it’s a no-brainer.
When you look at the administrative overhead, lost hours dealing with website issues, and stress of having to basically be your own IT support, managed WordPress hosting looks like a great deal to me.