WP Engine was first launched in 2010 by Founder Jason Cohen and Ben Metcalfe in Austin, Texas. The service was met with critical acclaim and had revenues of over $1 million in its first year. They currently have over 40,000 customers across 138 different countries and operate data centers in the US, UK, and Japan.
They have raised $18.2 million from institutional investors including from Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com and Vaultpress. In addition to their Texas office, they have offices in San Fransisco (since 2012), San Antonio (since 2014) and London (since 2015).
Their sole focus is on Managed WordPress hosting. As such, you may only use the service for hosting sites using WordPress. The service is fully managed, meaning that you do not get access to the hosting back-end, and all hosting issues are taken care of for you on their highly optimized configuration. Furthermore, they will support and assist your with the maintenance of your WordPress install, taking care of backups, updates, and security.
One thing to note is that Managed WordPress Hosting can be much more restrictive than unmanaged WordPress Hosting. WP Engine has restrictions on which plugins may be used, due to both security and resource usage concerns. We will cover the restrictions later in the article.
Suffice to say, while they are, in our opinion excellent, Managed WordPress hosting, in general, is not for everyone (but that is ok as you can try them out for 60 days with their money back guarantee).
WP Engine WordPress Hosting Review
An advanced WordPress Hosting Company that takes care of everything. With their advanced Highly Scalable architecture and advanced custom caching, these are a great choice for busy sites that demand ultimate performance.Jonathan Griffin, Editor
The Different Plans
They have two different types of plans; those that work in a shared hosting environment, and those that work in a dedicated hosting environment. For now, we will just look at the former (we will cover the Enterprise features and plans later in the review):
Of the plans utilizing a shared environment there are three:
|24/7 Chat Support||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Free development Installs||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|CDN||+ $19.99 pm||Yes||Yes|
|Wildcard SSL||$49.99 /yr||$49.99 /yr||$49.99 /yr|
|3rd Party SSL||No||Yes||Yes|
|24/7 Phone support||No||Yes||Yes|
|24/7 Ticket Support||No||No||No|
|Price per month||$29||$99||$249|
Personal Plan – Great introductory pricing for a Premium Service
The “Personal” plan is suitable for one website, with fairly limited traffic (just 25k page views). If you are worried you may breach this limit but don’t want to have to upgrade to the $99 plan, don’t worry. You will simply be charged $1 for each 1,000 visitors over your limit.
Despite being a much cheaper introductory plan, and only allowing one site, you still get all the features that make WP Engine great. Their Evercache (a sophisticated RAM based caching system), Site Staging, along with SSD Storage are all included as standard. The only thing you might miss is the Content Delivery Network included as standard, but you can still get this for $19.99 per month.
- Suitable for one WordPress site
- 25k Page Views
- CDN (at additional $19.99 pm)
- Site Staging
- Daily \ on-demand backups
Professional Plan – More Resources + Features
If you require 3rd Party SSL (i.e. EV SSL), have more than one site, Multisite installs or have significantly more page views than the Personal Plan will allow then you will need the Professional Plan.
As per the Personal Plan plus:
- 100k Page Views
- Up to 10 WordPress Installs
- CDN included
- 3rd Party SSL Support
- 24/7 Phone Support
- Multi-site Installs
Business Plan – For Busy Sites + More Features
This is their largest plan hosted on a shared environment. If you a require larger plan, you will need to speak to their sales team to enquire about their custom solutions.
The main reason to choose a Business Plan is
As per the plans above, plus:
- 400k Page Views
- Up to 25 WordPress installs
A more detailed look at their Premium Features
Evercache is their custom caching system that runs on Apache and Nginx (pronounced “Engine X”), making your website, according to WP Engine, “four to six times faster”. The caching system works by saving a cache (copy) of the page at the server level into RAM (memory), so that when it is requested again in the future (within the cache time limit) it is served to the user much more quickly.
EverCache is fully integrated into your WordPress installation, so you don’t need to install or configure any third-party caching plugins. Furthermore, the cache is automatically refreshed when you make changes, and you can clear your cache manually if required.
EverCache is designed to work with shopping carts, but if you find you need any special rules, their support team is more than willing to set these up for you.
Coupled with their other speed optimizations including browser caching and content delivery network, the performance and scalability of WP Engine is phenomenal.
The only caveat is the cache time. We believe it is set to just 10 minutes. This means that after 10 minutes, the cache is cleared, and the initial page load will be slower while it loads that page into cache. While this is fine for busy sites, a slower site might not get the full benefit of their excellent caching system.
2. Site Staging
This allows you to create a copy of your website instantly for development purposes. You will be able to test changes, and only push those changes to live once you are happy with them. You can access the Site Staging functionality directly from your WordPress dashboard:
Once you click the Staging tab as shown you can then copy the current version of your site to a staged area, which you can then alter and test before pushing live. The following screenshot shows how this can be done (either way) in just one click:
One issue with staging is that you may publish new posts or make other settings on your “live” site simultaneously while making changes on your staging site. Fortunately, when publishing your staging site back to “live” you can choose what database tables to overwrite:
If you have any difficulties with understanding which database tables to transfer back, their support will be happy to assist.
Also, WP Engine introduced backups for your Staging sites earlier this year, making it much easier to revert unwanted changes to your development version.
While your hosting comes with a reasonable amount of high-performance SSD storage, you have the ability to connect your Amazon S3 account for unlimited storage. This is a technology that was developed by WP Engine back in 2012. LargeFS works in the following way when activated:
- Content is moved from the server’s file system onto Amazon S3. This happens at off-peak times and is fully automated.
- Only older files are moved so that it won’t interfere with the server or plugin operations.
- WP Engines front-end caching load balancers can distinguish between file location, so will serve the content no matter where it is located.
- Uploading new files or modifying files are available instantly; there’s no lag and no caching delay.
- Larger files are 301’ed directly to S3 for better throughput and scalability under traffic loads, with URL rewriting also taking place to avoid the need for those 301 redirects where necessary. This makes it fast.
- Smaller, frequently accessed files are cached by their load-balancers and CDN automatically to ensure no speed issues arise.
To setup LargeFS you just need to setup an S3 account and configure the credentials within the admin area.
MaxCDN is one of our top choices if you ever want to implement a content delivery network (along with CloudFlare).
You can see a world map showing the MaxCDN server locations below:
The main features of the CDN are as follows:
Global Presence – Your static files are served from locations close to your end users with their high-speed global edge locations.
Smart Acceleration – Your content is delivered via the fastest route possible with their exceptional traffic shaping logic and wholly-owned routers.
Smart Network – MaxCDN has over 600 ISP peering agreements, meaning there are no obstacles for your end users when loading your site.
Enabling the CDN is as simple as clicking a check box from within your User Portal.
This allows you to serve different content based on where the user is located. Some examples of how you might use this feature is as follows:
- Create a personal user experience on your website, by showing content especially useful to visitors in their particular location.
- Create marketing campaigns that target only a particular region; if you’re running a business with different branches, you can also use this to direct customers to branches in their area.
- Maintain your website’s speed and performance by getting rid of both the need for third-party plugins, and also eliminating the need to exempt pages from caching is using GeoIP.
- Comply with regional legal regulations by making sure you can adjust your content to your visitors’ countries. For example, you can now show users the required cookies notice for the UK, but as you don’t need it in the US, you can eliminate it from that region.
Unfortunately, GeoIP is only available on their Business plan or higher. You will also need a developer to help implement any functionality on your site for you.
6. Free Development Installs
This is a great feature for developers. You can create a free account during development, and transfer it to a paid account only once you are ready to launch the website.
7. Premium Security
One of their biggest strengths and one of the main advantages of hosting with a managed WordPress provider is security. WP Engine has partnered with Sucuri (a well known, and recognized security company) to ensure that your website is protected from hackers or bogus traffic (important when you are charged by the page view).
As a customer you will be protected by the following features:
- Managed patching and updates – They will automatically ensure that your site is running the latest versions and automatically upgrade it with minor version updates. For major updates, they will test it thoroughly before recommending customers upgrade.
- Real-time security threat detection – They block millions of attacks each day with their comprehensive WAF and Firewall. Not only do they mitigate a variety of DDoS and brute force attacks with their Firewall, but have a Web Application Firewall (WAF) that contain thousands of rule sets specifically tuned for WordPress identify and prevent attacks before they happen.
- Enterprise-grade infrastructure – At the server level, all customer accounts are separated from each other at the kernel and filesystem level. In addition to their firewall and WAF, they also utilize network analysis monitoring tools to guard against any malicious behavior from within the network itself.
- Finely tuned technology stack – In addition to the speed benefits, their technology stack includes limitations to protect against scripts known to contain vulnerabilities.
- Security audits and code reviews – They partner with independent security firms to carry out code reviews and security audits to ensure best practice security measures are always in place.
- Free fixes for compromised sites – It is always possible your site may be hacked, and if it is, they will eliminate any rogue code \ malware for free.
A summary of all the new features in 2015 \ 2016
To get an idea of just how progressive WP Engine is in developing new features, and improving their WordPress Hosting platform, it is useful to take a look at some of the new features they released in 2015 \ 2016 (as of May 2016):
- Removed Bot Traffic from Overage Calculations – We discuss how they count page views in a little more detail below (or read our full coverage of this here), but very briefly, they no longer count spammy traffic from bots towards your monthly allowance of page views.
- Made it easier to implement HTTPS – They improved the management of SSL implementation within the dashboard, made it easier to purchase SSL certificates from them, as well as implement 3rd party SSL certificates. You can read more about the improvements here.
- Launched GeoIP – This allows you to customize content (such as pricing denomination, adverts, etc.) based on the user’s location. We discussed this in more detail above.
- Updated the User Portal – Significant improvements were made to the customer admin area. You can read more about the changes, and see in detail the various aspects of the new admin area here.
- Launched WP Engine Search -This is a project based on Elasticsearch that significantly improves your website’s search capabilities. The main benefits include reduced load on the server, Autosuggest results, and Fuzzy matching (improved matching for misspelled terms), and enhanced user experience
- Improved Site Backups – While they always had automatic backups being taken, improvements have been made to ensure greater encryption \ security, the inclusion of the Uploads directory, and websites stored in the EU will now be backed up locally. You can read about the changes in detail here.
- Easier migration – By using their automated migration WordPress plugin, you can transfer your website to them within 5 or 10 minutes. Full details here.
- Safe one-click WordPress Core Upgrades – They employ a sophisticated system to automatically test your site both before and after any upgrades to ensure your site is working as intended. Furthermore, backups are taken of your site to allow you to revert as necessary. Now with the new changes, this process can be run on demand with a simple click. Read more about the upgrade process, and new instant upgrade feature here.
- Allowed deferral of WordPress Upgrades for up to 60 days – You can now defer the upgrade of your website for up to 60 days.
- Introduced PHP7 in Mercury Vagrant (Enterprise plan) – The latest version of PHP7 has now been implemented on their Enterprise solutions, via Mercury Vagrant.
- Introduced Backups for Staging sites – Before, you could only backup your main production (live) site. Now you can also do instant backups of your staging sites.
How WP Engine Counts Page Views
Until recently, one of the issues that caused the largest number of complaints is about the way they count page views. While many hosts, will set aside a portion of CPU and instigate fair usage policies, they do it differently. Instead, you will get a fixed number of page views allowed under the plan. If you go above the number of page views, then you will be charged an overage (currently $1 per 1k page views).
Fortunately, the reporting system is very transparent, and you can see your usage, and any overage charged from the main dashboard:
In October 2015, all bot traffic was removed from the page view calculations. That being said, the new rules are not 100% black and white, and you can read our full commentary of what constitutes a page view under the new rules here.
One of the major drawbacks of Managed WordPress Hosting, are the limitations on the ability to modify and tweak the server configuration and capacity to install any plugins you want. Managed WordPress hosting is usually subject to a very strict (and highly optimized) environment, and to ensure the smooth running of your installation (for security and resource usage), many of the most resource intensive or insecure plugins are prohibited.
This is something that is common with Managed WordPress Hosting (not just for WP Engin), and as such, either something you must accept it, or choose unmanaged WordPress hosting (an excellent choice, with comparable features, is SiteGround).
Here is a summary of the restrictions:
- No email – You must set up private email. Some popular providers are Microsoft Exchange or Gmail for Work.
- No Server Access \ set server configuration – The server is highly optimized with Nginx, and their custom built RAM-based caching system called Evercache.
- Prohibited WordPress Plugins – This includes most caching plugins (they do all the caching for you, so they are not needed), and some backup plugins. The only third party backup system they allow is VaultPress (not surprising as the owners of VaultPress are also one of their investors). There are many other plugins that use a lot of resources or are just insecure. You will find a full list here.
- No Post Revisions – By default post revisions are disabled, due to “performance issues” that sometimes occur. Fortunately, if you reach out to them, they will allow up to three revisions to be kept.
They advertise themselves as WordPress specialists. However, it is important to know the full scope of their support. Like many hosting providers, their support does not extend to customizing or other development of your website. A full breakdown on what they cover can be
A full breakdown on what they cover can be found here, and can be summarized as follows:
- Caching (EverCache)
- Automatic WordPress Updates
- Content Delivery Network (CDN)
- Server maintenance and security
- Performance audits
- Domain Mapping
- Git Push
- Onboarding and migration
- Secure FTP
- SSL certificates
- Site Staging
- Slow WordPress performance
- Customer User Portal
- Site design issues and customization
- Web development and plugin customization
- Debugging custom code for WordPress
- Search engine optimization (SEO)
With more general WordPress matters, you would expect specialist WordPress hosting to offer more comprehensive help. Fortunately, WP Engine goes some way towards this:
- Themes & Plugins – They provide limited support regarding third-party plugins and themes. This includes help diagnosing errors and providing information that may assist the theme or plugin developers in rectifying any issues with their code.
- WordPress Configuration and Features – They will help you with basic help with any configuration questions relating to the core WordPress functionality, including help with setting up WordPress to ensure it works correctly within their environment.
The level of support offered makes sense. Any issues with core code, themes, or plugins should rightly be addressed by the original developers.
So how good is their support?
The feedback we have read about their support has been mixed. When they first launched, they were very highly regarded, which ultimately led to a significant number of new customers joining them. Unfortunately, this resulted in a degradation of their support service (lack of staff) around May 2014 which led to a few complaints by some highly popular websites. As a result, they were forced to confront these issues and acknowledge that their fast growth has caused some problems.
Unfortunately, with this being a new review, we have a lack of user opinions at present. Despite that, it is very clear from their support Twitter account, that they are actively responding to issues extremely quickly (10 minutes here for help with a password reset) and showing an active willingness to help their customers out:
— Phil Simon (@philsimon) May 1, 2016
@WPESupport Just got off the phone with you guys. Thanks.
— Phil Simon (@philsimon) May 1, 2016
We suspect the issues suffered in 2014 have been resolved, and cannot find evidence of any issues with the level of support now being provided.
Our only “gripe” is that they do not offer 24/7 ticket support, and that only with the Professional Plan do you get 24/7 phone support. If you just choose the Personal plan, the support times are much more limited to office hours. For such a premium service, this is quite disappointing. That being said, with the environment so tightly controlled, we suspect any issues with the hosting uptime will be dealt with for all customers no matter what time or day of the week.
As of the 26th April 2016, they announced the availability of 24/7 live-chat support. With this, direct initiation of support by Ticket will be stopped meaning all initial requests must be via either live-chat support or telephone. How easy will it be to now report downtime or some issue? The difference between waiting for a live chat or telephone call and dealing with multiple questions \ verification vs logging into the support area and making a quick support request via ticket could be significant. That being said, we suspect the time taken to resolve issues is significantly reduced, with many issues being dealt with immediately.
WP Engine Review – Final Thoughts
Managed WordPress hosting is one of those things that you will either love or hate, depending on how much flexibility you want to “tinker” around with your code or server settings. For those that want everything taken care of, then they are a solid choice, and when it comes to Managed WordPress Hosting one of our favorites.
The only thing we would say, especially for those with very low traffic sites, is that the caching period for Evercache is extremely low (just 10 minutes). While this works extremely well for sites with reasonable levels of traffic, you won’t see the same improvement if the amount of traffic to your site is very small. That being said, by implementing their CDN, you will still see some good website load times but this is something you can do anywhere.
Essentially, if you have a busy WordPress site, and want ultimate scalability and performance, then they are an excellent choice if you want everything managed for you. You can currently get 20% off your first invoice with our exclusive deal.
If you do not like the idea of a fully managed product, then we would recommend SiteGround, who has similar functionality, but is unmanaged, and with our special deal, you can currently receive 60% off. Both are great products, and both are recommended by us, so ultimately, it will be down to your personal preference.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does WP Engine make any changes to your WordPress install?
Yes, it is common for managed WordPress providers to integrate their admin into your install. They will make some minor additions so that you can control various settings, such as Site Staging, CDN and caching from within your WordPress dashboard.
Where are their Datacenters located?
They have data centers in Texas, London, and Tokyo.
Will my WordPress site be compatible? I use lots of plugins.
The problem with Managed WordPress hosting is that they have many restrictions and prohibited plugins. If you are unsure, it may be worth speaking to them and having them take a look at what plugins you have installed. Some sites won’t be suitable with their hosting, and you should test your site thoroughly during the Money Back Guarantee period. We had issues with a previous version of this site, for example, and had to refund.
What is their money back guarantee?
They have a 60-day money back guarantee, which should be plenty of time to know if their hosting is suitable.
Does WP Engine have an Uptime guarantee?
Yes, you can find their service level agreement here. Their guarantee provides for a 99.95% service availability. If they fail, then you will receive a credit of 5% of your monthly fee for each hour they do not comply with that guarantee, up to a maximum of a month’s fee.