I don’t make hosting recommendations lightly. I’ve been using WPEngine myself for over two years which is about as much time as it takes to convince me they can consistently deliver a high level of service.
Web hosting is a mission-critical service and hosting relationships usually last years. Ideally it’s a service you set up and forget about, but all too often that’s not what happens. Your site goes down, or slows to a crawl. Maybe you get hacked. You try to contact your hosting company for help and you either can’t get through to a person, or you speak to someone who is reading from a script and who knows less about hosting than you do, or you have to wait hours or days for any meaningful response. Meanwhile, your business is on hold. None of those experiences is likely to occur if WPEngine is hosting your site.
Here are the main reasons I advise small business clients use WPEngine for hosting their WordPress sites.
I started my relationship with WPEngine with a comped account that I got at a WordCamp conference. At the time I was redesigning this site and migrating to WordPress, so I ended up with two installations, one on WPEngine and one on another reputable – but much less expensive – WordPress host. The WPEngine site was faster. Not just a little faster, a LOT faster, many times faster. (I wish now that I’d kept the test numbers because they were remarkable.)
I was surprised, and scratching my head. I thought I could match their performance if I was smart about configuring caching plugins and minifying code and smushing images on the other host. I spent quite a bit of time doing all that, and it hardly made the needle move on my speeds. So I scratched my head even harder and called WPEngine to find out what they were doing that I couldn’t do. Turns out it’s a lot. I’m not going to try to tell you what the amazingly erudite support person told me that day because, frankly, I didn’t understand a lot of it.
What did become clear is that server management is not my area of expertise, but there are ways to ace it that I hadn’t fully appreciated and that WPEngine has achieved. Speed alone is incredibly important both for the user experience and as a factor in Google rankings. The speed benefit would by itself make WPEngine worth the cost (more about that below).
To repeat, hosting is a mission critical service. If there is something wrong, I need an intelligent response and I need it NOW. WPEngine has always been blazingly fast to respond to any questions, and the responses have always been direct, on point, and useful. But I sheepishly have to admit that when I look back on the times that I’ve contacted them, it has always been because of something I’ve done wrong (as I now see) or about some non-critical intricacy of their setup. So you probably won’t have to get in touch with them, but if you do, you’ll get very quick response from people who know what they are talking about. For tech companies, customer service is always one of my highest priorities, and WPEngine has provided some of the best support I’ve ever seen.
Here we get into the “things I’ve seen go wrong” with WordPress sites. The platform is so popular, it’s prone to getting hacked. And it’s not just the big guys; I’ve seen this happen to small business sites and it’s not fun to deal with. WPEngine uses best-of-breed security software to scan the sites and guarantees to fix any problems for free. Worries over. They also vet plugins and won’t allow use of those that have known security vulnerabilities. I’m glad someone else is keeping up with that.
Finally, they’ll update your WordPress installation if you don’t do it yourself. While this seems a bit heavy-handed to some people, it’s actually one of the main reasons I particularly like WPEngine for small businesses. I have many clients who aren’t, ahem, as proactive as they could be about monitoring their sites and keeping things up to date. I know businesses will will go many months – sometimes, gulp, years – without logging in to their admin panel, which just makes them a sitting duck for all the hackers who have figured out the vulnerabilities of their outdated installation.
The Down Side
There always is one, isn’t there? There are two negatives to WPEngine. One is the price. WPEngine runs about $30/mo for a small business site, which quite a bit more than many other WordPress hosting plans. The more I think about this, the less I see it as a negative and the more I view it as the result of skewed perceptions.
Where did we get the idea that we should scrimp on one of the most important aspects of web marketing? Let me answer my own question. I’ve been in this business about 12 years, and a decade ago it wasn’t uncommon to spend $20-30/mo on hosting. But lower cost hosts came on the scene who delivered very good service, and suddenly it seemed ludicrous to pay more.
But in my experience, hosting performance by these low-cost companies has declined precipitously, perhaps in direct proportion to the growth in importance of the internet. Outages and downtime should never be tolerated, yet it’s common for many websites these days. If you haven’t got the message yet, hosting is a mission-critical service. Why do we put all the time and expense into creating a viable web presence and then entrust its lifeline to the lowest-cost bidder? As we’ve seen, all hosting is not equal, and for small business owners, the benefits of WPEngine are well worth the cost.
The other downside to WPEngine is that they don’t host email. This has been hard for me to get used to. I’m accustomed to having email hosted by the same company that hosts my website, and it is convenient. But if you’ve spent as much time with tech support on both email and webhosting issues over the years as I have, you will have learned that they are two completely different businesses. It makes sense that WPEngine would not offer a service that is not part of their core competency.
I’m aware of two major alternatives for hosted email (if you know of other good ones, please share them in the comments): Google Apps and Rackspace. I decided to try Google Apps when I switched to WPEngine, and it was a nightmare. I have more than one Google Account which created a layer of complexity that wasn’t apparent when I first set up the account. Their documentation was conflicting and opaque, and it took days to get in touch with a tech support person (more than once they called on a Saturday to say “sorry I missed you!”). I never was able to get resolution to the problems I encountered. Email is also a mission-critical service. It scared me to think that my business email would be hostage to that level of non-service.
More recently I have switched to Rackspace Email Hosting and have been very happy with their service. Their customer service has been exemplary, their pricing is reasonable, and they will migrate accounts for you. Most importantly they have a 100% uptime guarantee. And for privacy reasons, I feel better not giving Google access to my business email along with most other parts of my life.
So there you have it. Does this mean WPEngine is the only good WordPress host? Not at all. It’s just that they are the only WordPress host with whom I have years of experience and whom I can enthusiastically recommend based on my experience with them and working with small business clients.
After I wrote this long testimonial I decided I may as well sign up for their affiliate program, so if you decide to give WPEngine a try you can use this link or check the right sidebar for special offers. But at the very least, I hope you’ll take a moment to thing about where your website is hosted, and how good you feel about that relationship.