As vsellis.com has continued to grow the need for a very solid hosting platform has become increasingly important. After maintaining my own server for a few years, and not being particularly good at it, I started looking around for managed hosting. About that time, friend Aaron Brazel started work with a specialized WordPress host, Austin based WP Engine.
WP Engine, as described on their site:
“We created WP Engine because we needed it ourselves. WordPress is the best blogging software and community on Earth, we just want to host it. We’re a small team in Austin, TX dedicated to building the best experience possible”
and their homepage proudly states:
“We make WordPress fast, secure, and scalable by hosting your site on our rock-solid platform.”
That about sums it up, the months I’ve been with them so far have been nothing short of impressive.
The platform is solid, the servers fast and customer service responsive; even going above and beyond the call of duty.
In another post, we looked at some website hosting options and learned how hosting impacts our sites. The take away was that quality hosting is critical to your site, and by its very nature, can give a boost to your site traffic.
But let’s back up… how and why did I decide to put VSEllis on WP Engine?
To begin with, if Yoda were here he’d say to me “a server administrator you are not.” I know enough to be dangerous, which means I can get myself into trouble more easily than I can get out of it.
Server management is not core to what I do, as it’s not to most of you. But like you, I want my site to be up, be secure, be uber-fast and otherwise be hands-off. So outsourcing the management of my site hosting was a necessary decision so I can focus on the other stuff.
I’ve also started including “community” as an important criterion of the products and services I choose to recommend. WP Engine doesn’t specifically have a community, but their team is well embedded in the WordPress community. Aaron is a core WordPress contributor and author of the WordPress Bible, and Ben Matclfe has been around WordPress since before it was called WordPress! So not only are they invested in the community, they know their stuff extremely well.
I spent time with Aaron learning about the highly redundant (borderline excessive but it’s a good thing) backups (and I still use BackUp Buddy too), discussing scalability, security and all of the nuances I could about WP Engine. I was quickly convinced that I’d found hosting nirvana for a WordPress site. In fact, I started to think that the $49 price tag for a single site was quite a deal.
A few WP Engine features I’d like to point out include:
- The platform is specifically optimized for WordPress
- They manage security VERY tightly
- They’ve created a very scalable infrastructure for WordPress
- They provide a staging environment
- They’ll help you migrate your site
- They do more backups than I can remember
- Included CDN (content delivery network) <- Freaking awesome
- Curated plugins for things like caching, etc.. are a part of the package
- (see more at WP Engine.com)
Before migrating my site I rolled out the new VSEllis.com theme you see now and took snapshots of the homepage load times. Then, I migrated to WP Engine and ran the same test using Firebug.
Note: No other changes were made besides hosting.
The result of the homepage load times test was significant (screen shot’s below):
- Old server (not shared hosting): 5.7 sec (on load) – Not particularly good
- WP Engine: 2.17 sec (on load). More than 2x as fast.
With a few more tweaks to the theme, I should be able to get that down to below 2 sec, possibly even 1, but the point is that hosing, by itself, made my site more than twice as fast. I also noticed about a 10 – 20% boost in search traffic, validating for me what I have heard about Google paying attention to server response times and rewarding sites that can handle the traffic.
Now, if you are thinking, “Hey! I pay $5 a month for hosting, $49 is a big jump” I’d encourage you to take a closer look at the benefits from speed to security. If you’re running a small personal blog it’s probably not the right choice for you. But for any business or professional blogger, WP Engine is a no-brainer and a great investment in your business at that price. One big outage or site loss and you may wish you had better hosting.
If you have any questions about WP Engine leave them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them, or at the very least I’ll reach out to Aaron and get an answer for you.
Vid Luther says
This is awesome, I’m glad to see the huge increase in performance, one thing you didn’t highlight in your firebug results, and may want to, is that you’re actually downloading more things.. if you see the # of requests has increased once you’re on WP Engine, yet your page load time has decreased.
I’m really happy to see WP Engine doing so well, representing Texas in the tech world :).
Scott Ellis says
Vid – Good observation. I didn’t do an item by item comparison but I did make a couple of other observations myself.
The most important thing to look at is the first “GET” response (not visible in the second screenshot), basically how quickly the server is responding to the request, it’s much faster on WPEngine.
The second thing is that on the WP Engine screen shot, i was not yet using a CDN. Previously I had been using S3 as a CDN (so one thing besides the host had changed, I just failed to realize it). However, in theory that should have been a negative factor but wasn’t (good news!).
Of course now I’m fully functional on the CDN the WP Engine provides so things are still faster.
One last thing, the long response at the end that some people will see is a recurring script that runs for Woopra Analytics so it interacts back and forth a lot, hence the long length (other interactive scripts will look the same). It’s nothing to worry about but I’m sure some will notice it.
Vid Luther says
Scott, yea response time, and time to first byte is very important. We offier a similar service to WP Engine with ZippyKid, the first thing we do, and I believe WP Engine does as well, is put you on Nginx as opposed to apache, nginx can handle much higher volume than apache by default, and it’s very very quick in responding.
Another independent site to run your tests from is webpagetest.org, they can help you figure out what you need to optimize as well.
Lastly, you should also get a google webmaster account if you don’t already, and look at the labs stuff, it’ll give you real world data from visitors in terms of page load time, as it tracks times by people using the google toolbar.
Overall, as long as the website is loading in less than 2 seconds you’re good to go, we had a customer who’s site was taking 6 seconds to load, and google webmaster tools showed that they were only crawling 10-15 pages for them, then when they switched to us, and their page load time dropped to less than 3 seconds, all 1000 pages were indexed in a few weeks, and the crawl rate increased.
If you have a business website, $49/month for WP Engine or $20 for our service is a no brainer, you’ll make that money back 10x once people can actually see and load your website.
First off, I am not affiliated with WP engine at all, but I cannot see how you can say that going with you is a no-brainer. If you are running a very small blog with under 10,000 views a month, perhaps, but anything above that would be cheaper with wpengine.
Vid Luther says
I said either our service, or wpengine is a no-brainer, depending on your needs etc, plus, we charge based on unique visitors, if you have a very busy site, you could hit 50,000 page views, but only have 7k unique visitors. In which case, you’d still be on our $20/month plan.
I see that we don’t do a good job of clearly marking that, that’s my fault, thanks for pointing it out, we’ll fix it tonight :).
My apologies, I misread that. I sent a request for information through your site. If that is 10K unique visitors, and not 10K pageviews, I’d like to sign up.
David Robert Hogg says
Hi Scott. Nice review. I’m thinking of switching myself. You’ve been on WPengine for 6 months now. Anything new to report? How’s your load time these days? Thanks.
Scott Ellis says
Still strong. Been very happy with WPEngine. The load times are good, the service has been very consistent and support responsive. Good hosting really makes such a difference so it’s a worthwhile investment.
If you decide to switch let us know how your experience is. So far, I’ve been perfectly happy.
Hannah West says
I’m a designer, not a developer, and after 4 years of html sites and WordPress blogs for artists (i.e., nothing too terribly complex – my largest site is http://www.soartists.com and its blog, Art Matters! at blogs.soartists.com/ArtMatters/) I made the mistake(?) of taking a job to do an ecommerce site for a startup wine club specializing in So. Oregon wines. What can I say, I was game, and I bit off more than I could chew so now I’m in way over my head. Hooked them up with a non-managed VPS at ipower.com ($89/mo for 60 gb, because the 20Gb they could have gotten away with didn’t have the RAM necessary for the cpanel) and after bloodying my forehead on the setup, had them pay to get cpanel installed ($75 + 10/mo). Much better, but now I’m having a hell of a time with the secure installation of WordPress. The online documentation is sorely wanting on this topic, and my confidence has punched a giant hole in the floor repeatedly in the past 2 months. I did pick up the WordPress Ultimate Security ebook from Packt.com, but following those instructions has resulted in more problems, so now I find myself where I thought we’d be wrapping up and I haven’t even gotten started. And my hair is falling out. Literally.
I’ve learned enough to become very worried about their long-term support, which I know they won’t get through their current host, and I was thinking about suggesting WP Engine, which I just learned about today. Since I’ve gotten nowhere on the blog itself, I think it’s safe to say it would be a fresh install, but my client is very security conscious and needs to pass the PCI compliance associated with his CC merchant account – dedicated (or VPS) server and secure WordPress installation only accessible over SSL. I’ve been scouring the forums for feedback from WP Engine customers, but they are quite new on the scene, so there isn’t too much to read that hasn’t been posted by “professional” (affiliate) review sites. I just want to get them installed and ready for me to customize a theme, add the cart, hook it up to their merchant account and make everything ready for the addition of their products.
In your opinion, would this situation make a good candidate for WP Engine hosting, and would the additional price to include SSL and telephone support ($30/mo more than they’re currently paying rather than the $30/mo savings they’d see by going with the intro plan) be worth pitching to them? I understand WP Engine only gives to the WP admin area – is this going to be a problem for me? Is there a control panel to set up email accounts and such? The support guys in the VPS office at ipower told me when I was getting started “well, have you heard the saying What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” (ipower does not provide support for WordPress at all, though there’s one guy who has been very helpful, I still haven’t gotten the help I need to get everything working correctly. Besides my tear ducts, and I was glad when they weren’t threatening to leak every time I think about this!)) Well, it hasn’t killed me…yet. I really did think that the things I’d learn would make me more valuable as a web designer going forward, but I’m so discouraged I’m contemplating how to make a graceful exit from the whole thing.
Maybe you have information that might help me decide not to do myself and my little web design business in? I would be very grateful for your thoughts.
Scott Ellis says
First don’t give up! Hang in there, anyone that’s done web stuff has been there before.
It’s definitely important to understand your limitations and easy to underestimate how easy/difficult something may be.
Hosting is an animal all it’s own and best left to people that really focus on it. Even my hosting is outsourced in completion to a company that does nothing but that. Just a nightmare that I don’t want to deal with.
I can’t answer all of your questions but I’ll tell you what I can… I don’t believe WPEngine is going to give you what you need (SSL + Cert + PCI + Cpanel,…) but if someone from WPE see’s this and want’s to correct me I could be wrong.
In many cases, specialized hosts are dropping support for things like cPanel because of performance and more importantly security issues. Yes it makes YOUR life easier but it’s not optimal.
PCI is a somewhat nuanced business issue as well so a completely self hosted shopping cart that needs PCI is a big deal. Smaller clients would be better served by using a 3rd party shopping cart service (like 1ShoppingCart [just an example]) or other provider that can provide the guarantee that the meet PCI requirements and that if the PCI requirements change they’ll keep up with it (something you and your client probably don’t have time time, expertise or capacity for).
As for the email piece, I’d strongly recommend going with Google Apps for Business (it’s $50 a year per user but given the critical nature of email to an online business an easily justifiable expense). I suggest because 1) email is yet another monster and 2) some specialized hosts are not doing managed email, they are purely Production Website Environments. 3) If your site goes down and your email is on the same machine that also means your email is likely down, which is rather bad for business continuity reasons. I’d keep them separate. I’ve used Google Apps for years, put a lot of clients on it and it’s treated me VERY well.
Business sites need solid hosting and the average shared host really isn’t sufficient. Cheap but it’s the equivalent of building your house on a foundation of sand instead of concrete.
I love what the guys at WPEngine are doing but I actually needed a bit of a different set up than they offered so I’ve migrated and use Synthesis exclusively now. However I’m not sure if they’re doing any ecommerce stuff now but if you’re clients did go with a 3rd party for the shopping carts either host should work.
Did I catch that right? You moved from WPEngine over to Synthesis? If so, what were your reasons? I’m currently at WPEngine.
Scott Ellis says
I did. WPEngine has a great offering but Synthesis suited me better and I know they guys there really well (so read bias into that if you want). Synthesis is also (at least for now) Genesis only so it won’t suit everyone. They also don’t host email, you’ll need to use Google apps or another service for email. Synthesis is a website production environment only (not dev) and as such is much more similar to a true enterprise architecture. The over arching deal is they’ve narrowed down what WordPress hosting for your production website is to exactly what it should be (IMHO) and nothing more.
The service is fantastic.
Jimmy Tango says
Hey Scott great post.
I am a recent WPEngine customer and I’ve had the same experience with blazing fast speeds but I have had a bit of issue with the Uptime and reliability of their service. Have you been experiencing downtime lately?
Hi, thanks for the article: fairly detailed writeup which is useful. When I’m testing some sites on WPEngine and also your site (which you’ve said is now on synthesis) I’m seeing fast response times and individual file download times, but then a very long page load time (eg. for this page… http://tools.pingdom.com/fpt/#!/FPD7I75b3/https://vsellis.com/reviews/wp-engine-rock-solid-wordpress-hosting/ and also http://tools.pingdom.com/fpt/#!/FPD7I75b3/https://vsellis.com/reviews/wp-engine-rock-solid-wordpress-hosting/) Now repeat tests have given fast page load times but I’m wondering whether the atypical configuration might lead misses of some files and timeouts some of the time.
I’m looking at using a similar server configuration for wordpress cloud web hosting service but reliability is very important. Do you have any comments? Are these artefacts of the testing method or genuine page load issues?
Scott Ellis says
Dallas – There are probably a lot of things that could be the cause of that. Without knowing exactly how the tool tests things I tend to put less stock in them than I do other things like using Firebug, YSlow, PageSpeed (plugin for Chrome).
I’m not really the right person to advise you on the specifics of your hosting configuration but I would recommend aggressive caching strategies and use NGINX as opposed to Apache.
When testing try Firebug in Firefox and open the “Net” panel to watch things load or try PageSpeed (again, in Chrome). I think those will give you a better picture of what is going on.
Others may have suggestions as well but hope that helps…
Thomas Zickell says
I wished to touch on when you said you needed to have a cPanel. Luckily for you that’s not the case you do not need to have a cPanel when using a managed WordPress host they install and control most of the items he would see inside of a cPanel. Having said that there are different amounts of control and you can change that in some ways yourself other ways you must submit a ticket to the host. The other reason you mentioned a cPanel was lack of RAM. That is true some people find that a cPanel slows their system down or requires them to purchase more RAM. This is why you should go without a cPanel you will unfortunately open yourself up to attack and undoubtably slowdown your entire system. Now if you choose a host like WP engine, Zippy kid, Pagely or Synthesis you will not have to worry about using a cPanel all of them hand install WordPress. You may also realize that there are obviously different price categories for the ability to use SSL Certs I have found WP engine to be a wonderful host they do not offer the ability to have a dedicated IP under $100 a month this is not good or bad it is just their method. Zippy kid is an excellent host as well I’ve found their team to be very smart and quick I believe you only have to add $10 a month to the $25 month plan in order to have a dedicated IP address and they will install your SSL CERT. Vid If I’m wrong let me know
Pagely will allow you to pay an extra $5 a month for a dedicated IP address but only if you’re using the business plan or up. So everyone knows and no offense Josh at all but pagely does not offer a CDN for $50 a month you can add the CDN they use edge CDN for an additional $20 month and this is not available if you use the $24 month package.
Web Synthesis is the only one I know of that offers a standard VPS but in the $27 month base package in order to have an SSL CERT you would have to upgrade to the $99 month package. So you understand the base synthesis VPS is a shared VPS so it’s kind of like the other managed WordPress hosts they all use either a combination of dedicated servers with cloud or are running off of a virtual private server that is not your normal server guys please don’t let me confuse you or sound as if they’re just taking a regular set up and managing it. These are all very customized systems not what you would get if you went to a host and ask for VPS hosted solutions out there you will get an outstanding site that is much faster than what you have now impeccable security and support.
WP engine to have a dedicated IP $99 month plus $5 for IP SSL install. CDN included
Zippy Kid $25 month plus $10 a month for dedicated IP and SSL install CDN included
Pagely $50 month plus $5 a month for dedicated IP you must add a CDN $25 month
Synthesis $99 month for SSL certificate CDN not available but can be purchased through Media Temple or third-party ( does not state dedicated IP address but this is something I sure is offered but you might want to check 1st)
all in all a fantastic web hosts you really can’t go wrong with any of them
Hannah West says
Thank you so much for taking the time to write such an informative reply! It’s also good to come back so much later and see that you’ve made changes in your own setup. I’ll keep Synthesis in mind for the future.
My online shop (woocommerce) is on wpengine, and things are not as perfect as it seems. Backups, staging, support, etc, are ok, but i have been having very slow first time byte response, due to configuration issues, sometimes cache that you cant control from used backend. In fact i have contacted them several times for this issue. Sometimes i got 7-12 load page.. lost sales for ecommerce site!.
Scott Ellis says
Thanks for letting us know about your experience. Every bit helps users decide where they want to send their business.