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WP Engine review

WP Engine WordPress hosting offers a quality service and extensive features

21:9 Hero
(Image: © WP Engine)

Our Verdict

This provider is an expensive proposition for the casual user, but more demanding types will love WP Engine's power and high-end premium features. Our speed test results gave very mixed results, though, and while we suspect some temporary issue, be sure to test performance carefully, make sure it delivers what you need.

For

  • Loads of premium features
  • Responsive 24/7 chat support
  • 35+ quality StudioPress themes
  • Automated plugin imports existing WordPress sites

Against

  • Above average prices
  • Significant resource limits with all plans
  • Could be intimidating to newcomers
  • Mixed results in performance testing

Getting started with WordPress is easy. Most web hosting services offer simple one-click installations, and some also provide more capable managed WordPress plans. But although every provider claims great WordPress expertise, these plans are usually just a tiny part of the overall product range, and there's no way to tell how much experience of the platform a host might really have.

WP Engine is a provider of managed WordPress hosting – and nothing else. There are no e-commerce plans, VPS, dedicated servers or anything else to get in the way, just a single-minded focus on delivering and managing the best possible WordPress service. And the results look impressive, with the company trampling over the competition in just about every area.

All hosts claim their WordPress plans are optimized for speed, for instance, but typically that just means installing a few standard tools (NGINX, Varnish) and tweaking a handful of settings. WP Engine has its own custom EverCache system, HTTP/2 and PHP 7 support, a free CDN and a choice of data centers in North America, Europe and Asia.

Your site isn't hosted on some cheap and underpowered VPS, either. WP Engine is now using Google Cloud Platform interfaces in many zones, and the company claims these are 40% faster than Google's previous instances. (We're not going to try to assess that, but it's good to have transparency about the hosting infrastructure.)

WP Engine does its best to keep the service running smoothly, automatically installing major WordPress updates and testing minor ones before recommending them. There's built-in malware detection and blocking, and help removing anything that might get through. Even if all that fails, you can still fall back on the automated daily backup (typically a premium extra elsewhere).

Free SSL

Free SSL certificates are just a click or two away (Image credit: WP Engine)

And the feature list goes on with free SSL, two-factor authentication for logins, extended staging with three environments, Git integration, and 24/7/365 support via live chat.

Pricing

There's a price to pay for all WP Engine's power, of course. And it begins at $25 a month billed annually for the Startup plan, with just 10GB storage, a limited 50GB monthly bandwidth (a suggested 25,000 visits) and support for hosting a single site.

Upgrading gets you more resources, but that's not cheap, either. Taking a single example, even spending $95.83 a month (billed annually) on the Growth plan gets you just 20GB storage, 200GB bandwidth and support for hosting 10 sites.

While this might look expensive, keep in mind that many budget WordPress plans are just rebranded shared hosting products, with minimal features, headline prices that only apply if you sign up for years, and hidden extras (backups, malware detection) that'll bump up the price even more.

IONOS WordPress Pro range can't match WP Engine for features, but there's enough similarities to make for fair comparison: cloud hosting, daily backups, smart updating, Varnish caching, a CDN and malware detection. Its Advanced plan gets you 40GB storage and unmetered bandwidth for $40 per month and the Agency plan includes 100GB storage, adds more resources and supports up to 10 sites for $100 per month.

Overall, WP Engine's pricing isn't unreasonable: it just has far more features than most of the competition, and this is what they happen to cost. 

If you don't need those features, there are plenty of capable but lower-priced products around (Bluehost, A2 Hosting, SiteGround.)

BBut if power is your top priority, it's well worth checking WP Engine out. Not least because the company has a 60-day money-back guarantee which applies even to monthly billed plans. (GoDaddy gives you 48 hours for anything with a billing frequency of less than a year. Remind us: who's giving you value for money, again?)

Plans

The plans aren't cheap but they are packed with features (Image credit: WP Engine)

Account setup

The WP Engine website has a detailed comparison table which lists the various plans and makes it easy to locate the right one for you.

Make a selection and you're presented with a range of interesting options.

You can add extra sites, for instance, for $16.67 a month each (on the annual plan.)

The $1,000 a year Global Edge Security add-on builds on Cloudflare's basic free product with some powerful paid extras: DDoS protection, SSL/TLS at the network edge and a web application firewall.

The related $500 a year GeoTarget add-on enables delivering content based on a visitor's IP address, for example to display country-specific offers in the local currency.

After selecting (or ignoring) the extras, you're prompted to choose where your site should be hosted. WP Engine has data centers in the US, Canada, UK, Belgium, Germany, Australia and Taiwan, a far wider choice than you'll get with most providers.

You're able to select monthly billing, a welcome plus if you're short on cash or would like to keep your options open. Alternatively, choosing the annual plan gives you two months for free, effectively cutting the price by around 16%.

Payments are accepted by credit card only, with no support for PayPal or anything else.

We parted with our cash in the usual way, and the website redirected us to a Welcome page with links for our WP Engine account, the admin page for our WordPress site, and an initial URL based on your name (johnsmith.wpengine.com), although of course you can publish this to any domain you like.

The page explained that our website was being created, but this didn't take long. Seconds later we received an email inviting us to set a password for our WP Engine account. We followed the link, entered a password and were able to immediately view our control panel and default site.

The signup process ended with the arrival of a final email summarizing details of our site and providing helpful links to tutorials and support pages, a handy reference should we need it later.

WordPress

Build and manage your site from the WordPress dashboard (Image credit: WP Engine)

Creating a site

WP Engine's web dashboard opens with a collection of alerts, status messages, a couple of prompts to buy or download assorted extras, and more. It's not the clearest way to begin, but exploring the dashboard menus quickly pointed us to key service areas.

Tapping a link to our new WP Engine plan displayed a panel with more information on our setup: domain, IP address, WordPress version, PHP version. There are also convenient mini-graphs showing you recent histories for your visitors, bandwidth and storage usage, along with some unexpected extras (usage data can be downloaded as a CSV file.)

WP Engine is a powerful and professional product, and beginners might be confused by some of the language used: CNAME, Git push, redirect rules, more.

The company does make some efforts to help, though. A 'need help migrating your site?' points users to a 'WP Engine Automated Migration' plugin which speeds up the process of importing an existing WordPress site.

This won't work with providers who don't support SFTP access – WordPress.com, Wix, SquareSpace and other proprietary services – but should handle regular WordPress hosting without difficulty. (We didn't try it out, but 28 out of 29 users gave the plugin a 5-star rating on the WordPress site, suggesting it's doing something right.)

Themes

There are 36 premium Genesis Framework themes available (Image credit: WP Engine)

If you're starting from scratch, WP Engine includes 36 Genesis Framework-based StudioPress themes. They're top quality, but don't take our word for it, check out the demo sites: Metro, Essence, Ambiance and Magazine.

Alternatively, you can simply launch the standard WordPress Admin page with a click and go to work. Everything works essentially as usual, and anyone familiar with WordPress will be able to get started right away.

A WP Engine item at the top of the WordPress sidebar includes a mix of useful advice and low-level technical settings.

The company recommends you read its 'How to point DNS to WP Engine' article before you set up your domain, for instance. 

Take a look at it, even if you're an expert: it's a good example of WP Engine's support site. The company assumes some level of knowledge, for example a basic understanding of what CNAME and A records are. But that's not absolutely essential, and overall, the articles are well written, detailed, and make a real effort to simplify common tasks. (You're not just told to 'update the DNS records with your DNS host' for instance-- there are specific guides for GoDaddy, HostGator, Namecheap, DreamHost and several other providers.)

Performance Test Results

WP Engine includes a built-in Page Performance test (Image credit: WP Engine)

Features

Evaluating WP Engine is difficult, as the best parts of the service – management, performance optimizations, reliability – aren't easy to see or measure. Spend some time exploring the interface, though, and clues begin to appear.

The service has built-in automatic backups, for instance, typically a chargeable extra with other hosts. These run daily, or you can create a backup on demand, and any of these can be restored, as necessary. The site 'only' displays backups from the last 30 days, but you can download them in archived form to maintain your own local copies.

A useful Staging feature allows creating a copy of your site for private testing. You could use this to try out a new theme, a plugin or anything else, without affecting the production site. It's a valuable feature and very easy to use.

A built-in Page Performance test assesses your website performance, giving it a score and making recommendations. Our report contained fairly standard advice - combine CSS files, but CSS before blocking JS - but that's still way more help than you'll get with most hosts, and beginners will find it useful.

In another interesting touch, WP Engine doesn't allow some plugins where experience indicates they might hurt site performance or cause other issues (read more here). That's going to be a problem if you need something on the banned list, but overall, we approve. Having an expert advise you which plugins might help, and which really won't, is a benefit you rarely get with other providers.

Support

There are helpful tutorials on the support site (Image credit: WP Engine)

Support

WP Engine highlights support as one of its major advantages, and it's clear the company has a lot to offer.

The official support site has some useful links to key documents covering the WP Engine portal, migrating your website, troubleshooting problems, optimizing your site for speed, and more.

These don't always deliver the simple step-by-step ‘click this, click that’ solutions you'll typically see with other providers, but WP Engine's expertise is obvious. For example, the full set of ‘speed up your site’ videos and pages feel more like content taken from a professional training course, rather than the usual basic content seen at other providers.

An integrated search engine should help you find the documents you need, but it displayed little intelligence in our tests. Searching for 'import WordPress' returned 700 matches, but made no effort made to list the most likely articles first (the top articles on our list were 'Important WordPress 5.0 Questions Answered', 'Automate Marketing for your WordPress site with Pardot' and 'Integrate WordPress with Zapier'). There's quality content here, but you have to use the correct keywords - 'migrate WordPress', in this case - to find it.

Fortunately, WP Engine also offers 24/7 live chat support. We tried this out and were connected to an agent in under a minute. They responded to our query quickly and in detail, were able to escalate our query when we asked something they didn't know, and even then, we were only kept waiting for an additional couple of minutes. There's no way for a single review to assess how support will perform in the long run, but WP Engine did all we could have asked in our tests, and the experience was a notable improvement on most of the competition.

Performance

We used Uptime.com and Domain Tools' Website Speed Test to measure the performance of our WP Engine site (Image credit: Uptime.com)

Performance

Uptime is important for any website, but it's absolutely critical for the professional market WP Engine is targeting.

To measure site reliability, we have Uptime.com monitor a simple WordPress blog over a 7-day period. Every five minutes, Uptime checked our site availability and response time, logging the results for analysis later.

That's more than 2,000 checks, but there were no outages, and our site achieved 100% uptime over the test week.

WP Engine's average response time was surprisingly poor at 700ms. Most hosts are in the range 200-400ms (even free hosts), and as WP-Engine's slowest response time during our last review was just 221ms, we're struggling to see how it could be so slow this time.

We ran Dotcom-Tools' Website Speed Checker to get a second opinion, and this time the results were very different. The test loaded WP-Engine's default WordPress page in 2.0 seconds, while Liquid Web, #2 in our response time tests, lagged fractionally behind at 2.3 seconds.

Two tests; two very different results. Given WP-Engine's excellent performance in previous reviews, we suspect the poor response time results were due to some error or temporary issue, but we can't say for sure. 

Final verdict

WP-Engine's prices seem high, but there's a good reason – features like the backups, update service, staging, custom caching, integrated CDN and malware scanning are premium extras with many providers, if they have them at all. Performance tests gave very mixed results this time, but its great track record means the company still earns a thumbs up from us. If you need real WordPress power, give this outfit a try.