WP Engine review

WordPress is the backbone of web hosting that supports millions of websites, so it’s not strange that many web hosting services focus mainly on hosting one of the world’s most popular content management systems – WP Engine among them. WP Engine is a more than competent host that boasts excellent uptime, WordPress-specific security, and other excellent features. On the other hand, WP Engine also has some flaws – the lack of domain names and email hosting. This is our WP Engine review.

Getting started

The website of WP Engine has a detailed comparison table that gives an overview of the different plans and makes it easy to find the right one for you. Make a selection, and you will be presented with a series of exciting options. You can add additional sites, for example, for $16.67 per month (on the annual plan).

The $1,000 per year Global Edge Security add-on builds on Cloudflare’s free base product with several powerful paid extras: DDoS protection, SSL/TLS on the network perimeter, and a web application firewall. The related GeoTarget add-on of $500 per year enables content to be delivered based on a visitor’s IP address, for example, to display country-specific offers in local currency.

After selecting (or ignoring) the extras, you will be asked to choose where your site should be hosted. WP Engine has data centers in the US, Canada, UK, Belgium, Germany, Australia, and Taiwan, a much wider choice than you will get with most providers. You can opt for monthly billing, a welcome addition if you are short of money or if you want to keep your options open. Or you can opt for the annual plan and get two months free, reducing the price by about 16%.

Payments are only accepted with a credit card, without support for PayPal or anything else. We said goodbye to our money 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 a first URL based on your name (johnsmith.wpengine.com). Of course, you can publish it to any domain you want.

The page explained that our website was 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 immediately viewed our control panel and our standard site.

The sign-up process ended with the arrival of a final email summarizing our site’s details and providing useful links to tutorials and support pages, a helpful reference in case we need them later.

WP Engine review: Features

Evaluating WP Engine is difficult because the best parts of the service – management, performance optimization, reliability – are not easy to see or measure. However, spend some time exploring the interface, and clues begin to appear.

The service has built-in automatic backups, for example, usually an additional cost to other hosts. These are performed daily, or you can make a backup upon request, which can be restored if necessary. The site ‘only’ shows the backups for the last 30 days, but you can download them in archived form to maintain your local copies.

A handy Staging feature allows you to make a copy of your site for private testing. You can use this to try out a new theme, a plugin, or something else, without affecting the production site. It is a valuable feature and very easy to use.

A built-in Page Performance Test evaluates the performance of your website, gives it a score, and makes recommendations. Our report contained fairly standard advice – combine CSS files, but CSS before you block JS – but that’s still a lot more help than you’ll get from most hosts, and beginners will find it useful.

Another exciting aspect is that WP Engine won’t allow some plugins if experience shows that they can damage the site’s performance or cause other problems (read more here). That will be a problem if you need something on the banned list, but generally, we approve it. Having expert advice on which plugins can help is an advantage you rarely get with other providers.

WP Engine review: Creating a site

WP Engine’s web dashboard opens with a collection of alerts, status messages, a few prompts to buy or download various extras, and much more. It’s not the most precise way to start, but exploring the dashboard menus quickly pointed us to the essential service areas.

By tapping on a link to our new WP Engine plan, a panel was displayed with more information about our setup: domain, IP address, WordPress version, PHP version. There are also handy mini charts that show you the recent history of your visitors, bandwidth, and storage usage, together with some unexpected extras (usage data can be downloaded as a CSV file).

WP Engine is a powerful and professional product, and beginners may get confused by some of the languages used: CNAME, Git push, redirect rules, more. The company does make some effort to help. A ‘help needed to migrate your site’ points users to a ‘WP Engine Automated Migration’ plugin that speeds up the process of importing an existing WordPress site.

This will not work with providers that do not support SFTP access – WordPress.com, Wix, Squarespace, and other proprietary services – but should handle regular WordPress hosting without any problems. (We didn’t try, but 28 out of 29 users gave the plugin a 5-star rating on the WordPress site, suggesting it does something right).

If you start from scratch, WP Engine 36 contains Genesis Framework based StudioPress themes. They are top quality but don’t take our word for it, take a look at the demo sites: Metro, Essence, Ambiance, and Magazine.

You can also launch the standard WordPress Admin page with a click and get started. Everything works as usual, and anyone familiar with WordPress can get started right away. At the top of the WordPress sidebar, a WP Engine item contains a mix of useful advice and low-level technical settings.

WP Engine review: Performance

Uptime is essential for any website, but it is crucial for the professional market WP Engine focuses on. To measure the site’s reliability, we have had Uptime.com monitor a simple WordPress blog over seven days. Every five minutes, Uptime checks our site’s availability and response time and records the results for later analysis.

That’s more than 2,000 checks, but there were no breakdowns, and our site achieved 100% uptime during the test week. The average response time of WP Engine was surprisingly low at 700 ms. Most hosts are in the range of 200-400ms (even free hosts), and since the slowest response time of WP-Engine during our last review was only 221ms, we have trouble seeing how it could be that slow this time.

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

Two tests; two very different results. Given the excellent performance of WP-Engine in previous reviews, we suspect that the low response time results were due to an error or a temporary problem, but we can’t say for sure.

WP Engine review: Pricing and plans

Of course, there is a price to pay for all the power of the WP engine. And it starts at $25 per month billed annually for the Startup plan, with only 10GB of storage space, a limited 50GB monthly bandwidth (a suggested 25,000 visits), and support for hosting a single site. Upgrading gives you more resources, but it’s not cheap either. Taking a single example, even spending $95.83 per month (billed per year) on the Growth Plan will only give you 20GB of storage, 200GB of bandwidth, and support for hosting ten sites.

WP Engine review

While this may look expensive, keep in mind that many WordPress plans rename shared hosting products, with minimal features, prices that only apply if you sign up for years, and hidden extras (backups, malware detection) that push the price even higher.

WP Engine Review: Customer support

WP Engine emphasizes support as one of its significant advantages, and it is clear that the company has a lot to offer. The official support site has some useful links to essential documents about the WP Engine portal, migrating your website, troubleshooting, optimizing your site for speed, and much more. These do not always provide the simple step-by-step ‘click this, click that’ solutions you usually see with other providers, but the expertise of WP Engine is exact.

Fortunately, WP Engine also offers 24/7 live chat support. We have tried this and are connected to an agent in less than a minute. They responded quickly and in detail to our request, could escalate our question if we asked them something they didn’t know, and even then, we only waited a few minutes.

Final words

WP Engine prices seem high, but there’s a good reason for that – features like backup, update service, custom caching, staging, integrated CDN, and malware scanning are premium extras at many providers, if any. Performance tests gave quite mixed results this time, but the company still deserves a compliment on the hat from us due to the excellent track record. If you need real WordPress power, give it a try.

7.5 Total Score
Our Verdict

This provider is an expensive proposition for the casual user, but more demanding types will love the power of WP Engine and high-end premium features. However, the results of our speed tests were very variable, and although we suspect there is a temporary problem, you need to test the performance carefully to make sure the engine delivers what you need.

PROS
  • Excellent uptime.
  • Good customer service.
  • Daily backups.
  • Real-time threat detection.
  • Useful Staging Area.
CONS
  • Above-average prices
  • Significant resource limits with all plans
  • Could be intimidating to newcomers
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