My [probably] over-enthusiastic

WP Engine Review

Stop your search for WordPress hosting… Literally.

I’ve written this review to hopefully help as many people learn from my successes and failures in hosting WordPress sites over the past seven years. To see my thoughts on other hosts, check out this page.

The long story short is that I absolutely love WP Engine!

Top three reasons to buy WP Engine:

  1. The price is phenomenal for the value
  2. Easy-peasy automatic daily and on-demand backups
  3. Seamlessly integrated staging site

I use WP Engine a lot… I’m currently involved with running it at a software company, an events company, an agricultural investment group, and yes, CornerstoneInteractive.com.

So, I’ve seen quite a few different ranges of traffic coming through, and seen its use and usability from very high tech individuals to people who are not very tech-literate.

In addition, I’ve used HostGator, GoDaddy, and Bluehost among many others in the past.

Let me repeat, I absolutely love WP Engine!

Reasons why I love WP Engine

Get ready, because there’s a lot here. Let’s go!

1. The price is phenomenal for all that you get

That’s pretty self-explanatory, but here’s my long-version take on what you get:

The two hosting options I recommend on a regular basis are either WP Engine, or HostGator + VaultPress.

Here’s a quick comparison of the two:

WP EngineHostGator + VaultPress
HostingYESYES (HostGator)
BackupsYESYES (VaultPress)
Security MeasuresYESYES (VaultPress)
Staging EnvironementYESNO
Convenience of One SystemYESNO
Important Email NotificationsYESNO
Price Breakdown$29/mo + $0/mo$7/mo + $15/mo
Total Price$29/mo$22/mo

To me, an extra $7/mo is 100% worth going with WP Engine. You get so much more bang for your buck.

2. Complete Staging Environment

My heart jumped into my throat when I saw this…

Did I just waste the 30 hours I spent creating this new WordPress site by completely blowing it up?

I forgot to manually back up the site, so if hitting the back button doesn’t work, I am totally out of luck and have to start over. Thankfully, I have never had to completely scrap a site where I couldn’t just hit the back button, but I’ve been close way too many times to be comfortable developing a site in a live environment. Potentially blowing up a site is one of the worst feelings in the world as a WordPress admin today.

I saw that terrible site when I added a new snippet of PHP to a page and accidentally missed a “;” and published it to a live WordPress site.

Thankfully, since I’ve been working on sites hosted with WP Engine, I have not had one second that felt like that.

The reason is their baked-in staging environment functionality.

Quick definition for those who don’t know what staging means: a staging environment is an exact replica of your website that is not publicly available so that you can test out new things on your site like design, plug-ins, new code, etc. without letting your website’s normal visitors see. The reason you do this is because if you mess up along the way, or just aren’t happy with the results, you can rest assured that your site’s visitors you care about aren’t negatively impacted. Then, when you are happy with the result, you can flip a switch and push all of your new work to your “live” or “production” site knowing that your visitors will only see the working versions of new updates.

Now, for all of the haters out there who are already thinking “well, why don’t you just develop your site offline and then upload it via FTP?” The short answer is that if we’re being honest, it’s just so much easier to make an edit online, rather than going through the rigamarole of FTP. I’ve worked with FTP enough to be comfortable and efficient with it, but I just prefer online editing. Now, with WP Engine’s staging functionality, there is almost no downside.

This is by far the most underrated and undersold part of WP Engine, and candidly, this is really the key difference between WP Engine and other hosting companies. There is no other competitor on the market today that has a complete staging environment.

There just isn’t… often times, you can find plug-ins that claim to create staging environments, but they don’t duplicate the database, and they don’t work well at all. I’ve tried a ton, and they just do not work how you want them to. WP Engine’s staging environment works exactly how you hope it will.

It creates an exact replica of your site, literally everything that is found on the server is duplicated, including your MySQL database.

Here’s a brief snapshot of the process flow differences between other WordPress options and WP Engine:

The fact is, you don’t have to hold your breath if you want to test something new, like design changes, plug-ins, literally anything!

If you’re like me, and know HTML, CSS, and PHP enough to do what you need to do, you’re not a true developer, the WP Engine staging functionality is so much more user-friendly than using your local machine.

With the push of a button, you can create a brand-new staging site and literally test whatever you want. When you’ve made your changes, simply push a single button and update the live site.

Staging tip: Although you can simply click a button and push changes, I often find myself just using the staging site as a check, then separately update the live version for smaller items. This is really probably just a sign of my reluctance to stray too far from my old ways, but it is an option. You don’t have to only edit on the staging site. Just be sure to regularly create on-demand backups when you’re editing so that you keep your progress if you mess up.

3. Automated Daily backups

My next most favorite part of the WP Engine experience is their 100% full backups that happen every day, by default on all account packages. These backups duplicate both the site’s files and the database where content is stored. This is so critical because it is all-inclusive as opposed to other options.

You might be thinking “why do I need backups?”

Well, there are two main reasons:

  1. Safety
  2. Peace of mind

Safety-wise:

The idea here is that if your site gets hacked, it doesn’t really matter because you can do a simple restore and be back to good.

This is really the primary way that WP Engine keeps your site safe, and honestly, it’s not so much that it keeps it safe, but that it provides a fantastic contingency plan.

You see, the worst thing that can happen to your site is for it to be hacked.

Have you ever seen what digital attackers are capable of?

Search for “buy viagra online”… when I just did, I saw this as the results:

This may look like a perfectly normal result to you, but check out the one that says “EllettsvilleChamber.org” in the link. Why would the chamber of commerce of Ellettsville, Indiana be pushing Viagra on the side? Well, the answer is some loser with hacking skills converted their site into a digital mule for them – without their knowledge. This is the worst kind of hacking there is.

The way this works is the hacker will find a well-known entry point into your site because it’s clear that it’s a WordPress site, and they will do with your site whatever they want to do. WP Engine does not keep your site from being hacked, but if someone does break-in, you can quickly revert back to your site before the hack, saving a ton of time.

The alternative is to not have backups, get broken into, and have to manually remove all of the hacked content. This could be a small as a single link, or I have a literally seen tens of thousands of pages injected into a site’s content.

So, do yourself a favor and keep your site safe with daily backups. If you don’t end up using WP Engine, at the very least you should install VaultPress.

In terms of peace of mind

Even if your site doesn’t get hacked, having daily backups provides a wonderful peace of mind, knowing that if something funky happens, you can go back to what the site was like at a maximum of 24 hours ago. For most sites, that’s not a lot of data lost.

Funky situations can happen when:

  • You have multiple people with admin access and someone edits something they shouldn’t
  • You upload a corrupted file that should have worked, but just didn’t
  • WordPress automatically updates core files and a key plugin crashes because of it

Either way

Regardless of why you benefit from automated daily backups, one thing is for certain: the restore process is phenomenally easy! (Learn more below)

4. On-demand backups

For those times when you are feeling extra cautious about making changes, or just want some added security, you can back up your entire site and entire database as often as you would like… with just a click of a button.

These are the exact same type of full backups as the automated ones, but you can do them whenever you’d like.

(The top backup in the list below was on-demand, the others were automated.)

Some examples of when I use on-demand backups:

  • Adding a new plugin to the site
  • Pushing new features from staging site
  • Updating CSS at all
  • Making any changes to PHP
  • Updating WordPress core files
  • Pretty much anytime I feel like something could go wrong and I want to easily and immediately bounce back

The process is really easy:

Also, it’s really nice that you can name the backups, because then you can even use it as somewhat of an update log.

Also, also, as an added feature, WP Engine will always remind you to do this before you install any plug-in, just to be safe.

5. Incredibly easy restore process

Whether you want to restore an older version of your site because of a malicious hack, or simply because you want to, and whether you are restoring from an automated backup or an on-demand one, the process could not be easier!

Literally all you do is select the backup point, click restore, and your entire site is restored back exactly to how it was:

6. Constantly checking plug-ins

Another thing I love about WP Engine is the fact that they are always reviewing the plug-ins you have installed on your site and making sure that they are up to date, keep your site safe from attacks.

This is another very underrated benefit of WP Engine. They actually care about the plug-ins that you have on your site, as well as the Wordpress core files, unlike every other host I’ve worked with. They will inform you of key changes in WordPress core files that you need to know about, such as when WordPress changed to automatic core updates. WP Engine told me about it.

Further, when a plug-in has a severe security update, WP Engine will check if you have that plug-in installed, and will email you to tell you that it needs to be updated. They’ll even go the extra mile and if it goes too long and you have not updated the plug-in, they will actually update that for you (notifying you first, of course).

This is so #nextLevel, I don’t know of another host that is currently providing that level of service for WordPress users. To be clear here, I’m not naïve enough to believe that they are hand-checking. This is obviously a robot doing this, but it’s a really great added benefit, and something that WP Engine did not have to do, but did in order to delight their customers.

For example’s sake, Gravity Forms (probably my absolute favorite plug-in for WordPress of all time) had a severe security update that needed to happen. WP Engine told me about it immediately when it needed to be updated, so I updated it. It’s impossible to know how many potential threats that made me avoid:

7. They listen

A hidden benefit that you can’t experience until you actually use WP Engine is that they actually listen to feedback. The are clearly interested in doing things that people love based on feedback.

The biggest one that has been completed is that at one point, you could not have SSL on the lowest package. Soon after Google announced that SSL is not a positive ranking factor, they actually added it as a free addition to the lowest account tier.

The other major area where they’re really listening to customers is in their customer service. Check out my notes on this below, as I’m not a fan of their current state of customer service, but they are at least listening.

8. Really nice user management

The final thing I’ll throw out there for the love category is not really a big deal, but yet another example of the ways WP Engine goes out of their way to just make things easy for customers.

Obviously every host has user management and permissions settings, but I just really like how WP Engine’s is set up.

This is the screen for granting access to the generic WP Engine backend:

This is how you create new credentials for both live and staging FTP accounts:

Things I’m not crazy about

Okay, so that was a lot in the love category. Here is a round up of what I put up with in the negative column.

1. Excessive caching

One of the key value propositions that WP Engine pushes is site speed. In this day and age, I’m honestly not that picky about site speed. Not because it’s not important, but because pretty much every host can keep up with customer demand. In my opinion, the most important part of site speed comes from caching.

Caching is simply like your host learning how to tie a shoe, and then remembering how to tie a shoe. If you didn’t have cache, your server would have to relearn how to tie a shoe every time someone asked it to tie a shoe. That can get very taxing if left unchecked.

So, in WP Engine took it upon themselves to create a unique caching system that promotes really fast sites.

You’re thinking “really? this is in the negative category? what a tool.”

The negative part about this is that I think the caching is way too overzealous and causes some negative side effects:

Negative side effect #1: Popover limitations

First off, I wanted to create a popover for a site for a newsletter CTA. I tried a bunch of different plug-ins for this, including my personal favorite (that was a paid plug-in), and none of them worked! The reason? WP Engine’s caching. It would simply not allow for the different states required for the popover to work.

The fix: either use this easy plugin, or manually install the Ouibounce jquery etc to have more implementation options.

Negative side effect #2: Site updates look junky

The other thing is that when you update your site, regular visitors will have to regularly manually clear their cache to see the most up to date version. People kept sending me screenshots of problems that I had already fixed, but they were seeing them because the problems were cached on their machine. This happened so often, that I simply had to find a way to fix this.

The answer ended up being very simple. If you follow the instructions here, you won’t have to worry about this again. When you do make updates though, make sure you clear out the server-side caching in the WP Engine part of your WordPress dashboard like this by clicking on the “Purge All Caches” button:

2. Customer service issues

Issue #1: Slow response

I am a patient man, but I do have certain standards for the customer service I expect from companies today… especially hosting platforms because of the immediacy their problems can cause.

Every single time I try to get in touch with a customer service representative at WP Engine, there’s about a 10 minute wait.

That’s obviously not a big deal most of the time, but it is really frustrating if you’re stuck on something and can’t move ahead and have to wait forever for someone to even respond.

Issue #2: Passing the buck

Once someone does respond, I find that their representatives are not necessarily the most kind and patient people you’ve ever encountered, and most importantly they can rarely actually solve your problem. More often than not, they will have to ask someone else how to do what they need to do or take forever figuring out the problem themselves.

I’ve had this happen numerous times (especially when using their ticket system, rather than the live chat)… where I will end up talking with five or six different reps before getting a good answer. This is super-frustrating because you feel like you have to explain yourself over and over again, like they don’t read the ticket in entirety.

The good news

The interesting part of all of this though is that because WP Engine is such an incredible product, I rarely have to use customer service.

Compared to my other favorite host (HostGator), WP Engine customer service is way worse, but I have to use it way less, so it’s kind of a wash.

The future may be brighter

I am not alone in my frustrations here. It is a well-known issue, but the good news is that they are listening and have acknowledged that this is an issue. Read this blog post about what they’re doing to improve.

Obviously, they are going to have to invest a lot here to keep customers happy, but by no means would I ever compare their customer service to that of cable providers or anything – it’s not quite that bad. Compared to other hosts though, they definitely have a lot of work to do.

3. Plan options

WP Engine is a business. Therefore, they have one of the toughest decisions to make – how to price their product.

That being said, I wish they would change their pricing model to allow you to host as many sites as you want on any plan. Currently, the Personal plan only allows for one site. For the vast majority of people, this is fine, but I personally would like to host multiple sites on the same plan, while staying inside the Personal plan price point.

My argument for why they should allow this is because they also price based on visits. So, if they changed it, it would not inhibit them from making more money. The way I see it, if someone has one site or ten that have the same amount of visits, why does it matter if you’re pricing on visits? I obviously understand that it provides another incentive for higher a higher CLV (customer lifetime value), but I’m picky and it just seems like they are trying to be a little greedy there.

WP Engine FTW + Wrapping things up

If you are serious about your online presence, run your site on Wordpress, and like things that are easy to use, I highly, highly, highly recommend WP Engine. Again, whether you are a growing business, care about your personal brand, or just want to be able to edit your website without having a panic attack when you push updates, I recommend WP Engine 100%.

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