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What Is WP Engine?
They do integrate some 3rd-party tools like DNS (from Amazon) and SSL (from LetsEncrypt), and CDN (configured on CloudFlare’s network).
WP Engine hosting runs on a mix of the Google Cloud Platform and Amazon Web Services (AWS). They actively lease computing power & storage on the Google & Amazon Clouds, configure it to run WordPress quickly & efficiently, and manage & support each installation.
In other words, they offer a niche but also a potentially powerful platform. Because of how they mix & match all these services, they don’t compete head-to-head with the best WordPress hosting providers. But they compete indirectly several.
In this WP Engine review, I’ll share the pros and cons, ideal use cases, and WP Engine alternatives, based on my experience as a customer.
How WP Engine Hosting Works
On the surface, WP Engine is like any other web hosting company. You sign up and pay every month. In exchange, your WordPress website runs quickly and efficiently.
But behind the scenes, their setup is a bit more complicated.
As mentioned, WP Engine runs its hosting through Google, so unless Google Cloud goes down, your site is safe. There’s no “crashing” like there could be on a typical web server.
Second, WP Engine cloud access is configured for WordPress with server-side caching, security rules, staging environments, and more so your site runs faster than it would on a vanilla Linux web server.
Third, WP Engine blends several 3rd party services, including DNS (connects your domain to the host), SSL (secures your connection), and CDN (content distribution network) to make everything your website needs to work together.
Here’s my WP Engine review structured with pros, cons, ideal use cases, and alternatives based on my experience as a customer.
WP Engine Pricing
|Free Domain Name
WP Engine Alternatives
Pros Of WP Engine
For the most part, WP Engine lives up to its promise of speed, security, and support.” Here is their promo pitch video:
Their target customer is moving from other hosting companies (i.e., customers dissatisfied with current hosting). Here’s my list of WP Engine advantages.
Many variables go into website speed, but the rule of thumb is that the more complex your site, the slower it runs.
Out of the box – WordPress is lean and fast. If you are running a mostly text site with a few basic plugins and small images, you’ll be fine with an affordable shared hosting plan from someone like InMotion Hosting, HostGator, or Bluehost.
But most website owners run too many plugins, like custom theme files, images, widgets, ads, forms, and more.
All these features, combined with decent levels of traffic, can start to slow down your WordPress installation.
But a slow site doesn’t mean you need a bigger or better server, you just need to increase website speed. It may be as simple as getting a more powerful server, but sometimes it’s more about caching specific resources in a particular order and optimizing your files. In other words – it gets complex.
The point is that WordPress needs help to stay fast as you grow. There are plenty of solutions…but someone needs to implement them.
That’s where managed WordPress hosting comes in. WP Engine takes care of most speed concerns. They have customized servers with extremely aggressive caching and an even more advanced “stack” than a typical web host. They also have a support team trained to access your WordPress install and troubleshoot to get your site moving.
Here are the results of a WP Engine Speed Test I conducted for one of my clients (who has a bloated theme, extra scripts, and too many uncompressed images, among other things.)
Note the Time To First Byte and the Start Render numbers, which measure how quickly the server returned enough data to start loading the page.
It’s nice to achieve those speeds right out of the box – and have it stay that way no matter how big or complex the site gets.
*If you are obsessed with speed, you can get even better numbers with WP Engine than you might get with other services since you are free to focus on speed factors that you can easily control like image compression, usage of scripts, etc.
The last observation on speed – WP Engine provides an integrated CDN and global data centers in case your audience is primarily in Asia and/or Europe.
Since day one, responsive customer support has been a core part of WP Engine’s value proposition. After all, managed hosting is more of a service than a product. It makes sense for them to place a big emphasis on support.
When assessing any web hosting company’s customer support levels, I look at access, systems, and knowledge, because all three require money, time, and expertise.
Based on my own experience, WP Engine checks all three boxes consistently. They maintain a variety of support channels (including phone support for non-Basic plans). They have a fast, trackable ticketing system and are available everywhere on the site via chat.
Their support team is knowledgeable and can solve problems on the fly, something you don’t always see with other web hosting companies. Their resource center contains several helpful tutorial videos and an extensive knowledge base.
Like any large company, WP Engine still has its support issues – especially when its custom platform puts fast, accessible support to the test. But overall, WP Engine seems to know that strong technical support is critical, so they make the necessary investments.
If you run your own WordPress install, the security best practices are straightforward:
- Keep your install & all your plugins updated.
- Only install files from reputable creators
- Run a security plugin to lock down the most common brute-force attacks
- Keep a backup for when things go wrong
- Make sure every WordPress user has a strong password
WP Engine takes all those best practices and does them for you. They run automated backups to keep everything off-site & ready to roll back if something happens. Since you technically have an “install” on their server (rather than an account) – they tackle a lot of security issues globally on the server level.
WP Engine also works closely with top security firms on code reviews and running their team. They also guarantee that if you’re hacked – they take care of it for free.
I have never been hacked on my primary or secondary sites (knock on wood), but have helped clients who have been. It’s frustrating, tedious & a generally expensive situation (even if you use a service like Sucuri). Having a professional security team take care of your WordPress install is a big pro in my book.
WP Engine is not cheap. Their Startup plan is $23 per month (for a 12-month subscription). It includes a single install and handles around 25,000 visits per month.
If you are just starting with a single domain – you can get a shared hosting plan from Bluehost for just a couple of dollars per month.
Both of these allow for more storage & more visits (i.e., as many as you can handle) than WP Engine. I’ve run sites with 60k visits per month on a shared server. I’ve also run dozens of small WordPress sites off low-cost shared hosting.
I’ll cover that pricing disadvantage in the cons of WP Engine, but here’s the thing.
For some site owners – if you break out WP Engine by total value & factor in your own (or your developer’s) time, their pricing is amazing.
Just running WordPress updates every month & QA’ing your installation can take ~30 minutes every month. If your (or your dev’s) services are billed at $50 (or more)/hour, then that’s WP Engine’s entire monthly fee.
And if you lose any visits due to downtime from a bad plugin update, then that could be WP Engine’s entire monthly fee right there.
If you do a hot fix (i.e., without a staging site) on your PHP code and knock your site down…then that could be WP Engine’s entire monthly fee right there.
Losing visitors due to speed issues or downtime costs lost income.
Additionally, premium security can cost ~$16/mo – minimum. Not to mention any personal or developer time fixing issues.
WP Engine adds significant value if your time is better allocated away from technical issues, As a managed WordPress hosting service – that’s their thing. Hosting services are an investment rather than a cost.
And that value-based pricing segues into another pro for WP Engine – their focus on their core markets.
Like I said at the beginning, WP Engine isn’t for everyone. There are three types of customers for whom WP Engine seems to be well suited:
- WordPress developers and designers who want to focus on development and design. The designer/dev builds the site directly in WP Engine’s staging environment, launches it, and then hands it over to their client.
- Growing website owners who don’t want to deal with technical headaches. They’ve outgrown their shared hosting and need to move to a better host. The phone support is a key factor – especially being able to “just call WP Engine and have them fix it.”
- Startup website owners with a budget who want the room to grow. They are comfortable learning WP Engine’s unique backend and plan on launching a near-complete website all at once.
Specialized WordPress Hosting Features
WP Engine excels at creating new, cutting-edge hosting features. Every version of WordPress has rolled out new developer features that WP Engine has been able to integrate.
Even general web development best practices have changed radically since I began in the industry. WP Engine has created tools to match.
For non-developers like me, WP Engine has a one-click staging site to allow even DIY site owners to get away from “cowboy coding” into proper web development best practices.
Additionally, WP Engine provides a free SSL certificate for each domain that’s easy to install and maintain. They have a fairly easy-to-navigate user portal, especially for a managed host.
There are too many other specifics here to name, but WP Engine is generally good at rolling out new, useful hosting features. They provide a lot of other premium WordPress themes & plugins, like their recent acquisition of StudioPress, which makes some of the best WordPress themes on the Internet.
Cons Of WP Engine
Like any service, WP Engine is not the best fit for everyone. There are plenty of WP Engine complaints around the Internet. Some are anecdotal, but many are valid.
For all its strengths, WP Engine has drawbacks that keep them from being a good fit for everyone. I don’t use them for this website because I do not need their features, and I’m comfortable “putting pieces together” with my current InMotion Hosting VPS setup.
Here is my list of WP Engine cons.
To achieve the speed, security, and scale they promise, WP Engine does things differently. And those differences can feel complicated – especially if you have just enough experience with hosting environments to be dangerous.
A few years ago, I wrote the following:
“Somewhere in WP Engine’s sales copy – I wish I had been told that ‘this product is going to be a royal pain to get everything set up perfectly – but it’s going to be well worth it.'”
Since then, their backend setup has improved. It’s cleaner, but it’s still custom. It’s nothing like a traditional cPanel hosting backend. Unlike many hosting companies, they also don’t provide DNS nameservers.
The unique backend can lead to some developers making mistakes ranging from frustrating redirect loops to duplicate content issues to leaving the dev site open to the public or simply not enabling the features you’re paying for.
If it weren’t for amazing support – I think they’d lose more customers than they do.
Like many custom platforms, it makes sense once you get over the learning curve. But WP Engine’s onboarding is very developer-focused & remains so exception-focused that they never explain best practices for the general user.
Here is their video on pushing your site live –
I’ve set up my share of websites from platforms to custom hosts to cPanel hosting sites, but I had to watch that video multiple times to make sure I was pointing the right A record / CNAME to the right IP address.
Again, if you’re a developer, the custom backend isn’t a huge deal (once you get past the learning curve). If not, you may get to know WP Engine’s support team on a first-name basis.
WP Engine never really stops being quirky and complex. In their knowledge base, they have a plethora of website checklists to help troubleshoot all sorts of issues.
And – if you did not setup your DNS exactly how they’ve recommended – your site could go down at any time.
Again – they have reasons why they do all this. And in most cases, their support team will take care of it. However, you don’t get to set & forget your website.
Some WordPress Plugins Are Unusable
In order to run WP Engine’s architecture as fast as possible, all the installs on their platform need to be somewhat uniform.
You need predictable plugins, visitor patterns, and use cases. Every hosting company has rules (or very real physical limits), but WP Engine goes a bit further to define what you can and can’t include on your WordPress installation, in addition to tiered overage pricing to discourage seasonal traffic spikes and local storage usage.
WP Engine has a list of disallowed plugins & admin behavior for good reasons, but those bans limit versatility and experimentation.
For example, Yet Another Related Post Plugin is a common WordPress plugin. It’s resource-intensive, yes, but on smaller sites, it does the job well.
It is disallowed on WP Engine, making WP Engine less versatile.
WP Engine’s pricing model allows for less versatility as well. It’s a positive that they will handle all the traffic you can send, but it’s a high price to pay relative to the number of visits.
If you are running a big launch; are a seasonal business; or just want to drive a surge of traffic to your site – you’ll have to factor additional hosting bills into the mix.
If you are running a lean cached site on a VPS server, you can handle a lot more traffic than WP Engine would allow on a Personal or Business plan. The problem is compounded if your site requires extensive plugins for full functionality.
The same goes for storage. With WP Engine, you are paying for performance – not for storage. So if you want to use a server for media storage…it’s of little use.
Additionally, it’s very difficult to manage email marketing campaigns from WP Engine. I had a client who discovered this the hard way and had to execute a painful migration to another email provider mid-campaign.
There’s also no way to use WP Engine for receiving email or any non-WordPress software project.
With WP Engine, you are paying for performance and not having to think about maintenance, security & speed. If you look at WP Engine’s pricing based on the features you’re getting – you really don’t get a whole lot.
Many shared hosting servers can handle the same traffic numbers as WP Engine – and cost a fraction of the price.
And if you are running a reliable VPS, you can certainly handle a lot more for much less. This very site handles more than 110,000+ visits per month with plenty of room left to spare for side projects, gigabytes of media, email, RSS apps, etc with an InMotion Hosting VPS. I pay for the VPS plus a CDN for less than WP Engine’s starter plan.
Wp Engine is transparent about how they count visits, but “small” website owners are often surprised at how quickly they reach the $290 per month tier. I have a client who started with the Startup plan but rapidly ended up with a custom plan.
And as mentioned earlier, you’re still missing some key features. You can’t run any email from your servers. You have low limits on local media storage. Anything over the limit requires additional costs & technical implementation of Amazon cloud services.
Perhaps most important – You’re limited to the number of sites you can run. If you have a few side projects or low-traffic test sites, you must factor those into the price. You can’t use them to spread out the cost of your plan – especially if you are hitting your visitor cap rather than your install cap.
If you are looking to pay for hosting – ie, a server that will hold & serve up your website files – WP Engine is a pricey option, especially compared to other non-managed hosting options.
Potential SEO Issues When Migrating
I’m an SEO Specialist by trade and have worked with clients on WP Engine since the early days back in 2011.
They have come a long ways in improving the SEO bugs of their platform. The duplicate content issues are largely gone, as are the random crawl issues. There is not a whole lot to fear with SEO when migrating to WP Engine.
However, I still have three items on my SEO wishlist for WP Engine that would make their platform truly SEO-friendly.
- Let site owners define granular CDN rules. It’s really annoying to see site link to WP Engine’s CDN address instead of the canonical file URL. For image-heavy sites, it can be crushing and impossible to optimize for Google Images.
- Let site owners download full 90 day copies of Access Logs (like you can in cPanel). It’s impossible to truly audit a crawl issue on a large site without the raw access logs that show what Googlebot is doing.
- Make sure that site owners know that more goes into “website speed” than just server response time & delivery.
Outside of this, WP Engine is SEO-friendly. They make a lot of SEO tasks easier to manage. In fact, WP Engine does allow one-speed plugin – WP Rocket – which will solve some of the Google PageSpeed site speed issues.
WP Engine FAQs
Is WP Engine Worth It?
Like any service, it’s not about what is best overall, but what is best for you based on your goals, budget, resources & habits.
If you fall into what I consider one of WP Engine’s core markets – they offer a great service with a solid product. As a managed WordPress host, their pricing is competitive. They offer more features than “WordPress hosting” plans from other hosting brands. Their feature-set is unmatched for savvy DIYers, WordPress website developers, or high-traffic sites that don’t want to worry about hosting issues.
They offer a 60-day money-back guarantee and will allow for a test install and see what you think of their backend. Be sure to chat with WP Engine’s support and sales team.
If you are looking for a more budget-friendly and/or traditional WordPress hosting option, check out:
If you’re outgrowing your current host & want more freedom and better pricing than WP Engine – check out Kinsta’s Managed WordPress Hosting plan or InMotion’s managed WordPress option. I’ve appreciated their balance of intuitive backend & responsive customer service.
And lastly – if you are still in research mode – go visit my Best WordPress Hosting guide.