Getting started with WordPress is easy. Most web hosting services offer simple one-click installations, and some also provide more capable managed WordPress plans. But although every provider claims great WordPress expertise, these plans are usually just a tiny part of the overall product range, and there’s no way to tell how much experience of the platform a host might really have.WP Engine is a provider of managed WordPress hosting – and nothing else. There are no e-commerce plans, VPS, dedicated servers or anything else to get in the way, just a single-minded focus on delivering and managing the best possible WordPress service. And the results look impressive, with the company trampling over the competition in just about every area.All hosts claim their WordPress plans are optimized for speed, for instance, but typically that just means installing a few standard tools (NGINX, Varnish) and tweaking a handful of settings. WP Engine has its own custom EverCache system, HTTP/2 and PHP 7 support, a free CDN and a choice of data centers in North America, Europe and Asia.Your site isn’t hosted on some cheap and underpowered VPS, either. WP Engine is now using Google Cloud Platform interfaces in many zones, and the company claims these are 40% faster than Google’s previous instances. (We’re not going to try to assess that, but it’s good to have transparency about the hosting infrastructure.)An auto-migration plugin helps to import you existing site, or you might build something new with help from 36 bundled premium WordPress themes.WP Engine does its best to keep the service running smoothly, automatically installing major WordPress updates and testing minor ones before recommending them. There’s built-in malware detection and blocking, and help removing anything that might get through. Even if all that fails, you can still fall back on the automated daily backup (typically a premium extra elsewhere).(Image credit: WP Engine)And the feature list goes on with free SSL, two-factor authentication for logins, extended staging with three environments, Git integration, and 24/7/365 support via live chat.
There’s a price to pay for all WP Engine’s power, of course. And it begins at $35 billed monthly for the Starter plan, with just 10GB storage, a limited 50GB monthly bandwidth (a suggested 25,000 visits) and support for hosting a single site.Upgrading gets you more resources, but that’s not cheap, either. Taking a single example, even spending $115 a month on the Growth plan gets you just 20GB storage, 200GB bandwidth and support for hosting 5 sites.While this might look expensive, keep in mind that many budget WordPress plans are just rebranded shared hosting products, with minimal features, headline prices that only apply if you sign up for years, and hidden extras (backups, malware detection) that’ll bump up the price even more.IONOS WordPress Pro range can’t match WP Engine for features, but there’s enough similarities to make for fair comparison: cloud hosting, daily backups, smart updating, Varnish caching, a CDN and malware detection. Its Advanced plan gets you 40GB storage and unmetered bandwidth for $48 billed monthly ($40 annually), and the Agency plan includes 100GB storage, adds more resources and supports up to 10 sites for $120 billed monthly ($100 annually).Overall, WP Engine’s pricing isn’t unreasonable: it just has far more features than most of the competition, and this is what they happen to cost. If you don’t need those features, there are plenty of capable but lower-priced products around (Bluehost, A2 Hosting, SiteGround.)But if power is your top priority, it’s well worth checking WP Engine out. Not least because the company has a 60-day money-back guarantee which applies even to monthly billed plans. (GoDaddy gives you 48 hours for anything with a billing frequency of less than a year. Remind us: who’s giving you value for money, again?)(Image credit: WP Engine)
The WP Engine website has a detailed comparison table which lists the various plans and makes it easy to locate the right one for you.Make a selection and you’re presented with a range of interesting options.You can add extra sites for $20 each, for instance, potentially getting you some worthwhile savings. One site costs from $35 a month, billed monthly; opt to pay annually, get two sites, and they’ll cost you $22.92 each.The $300 a year a month Global Edge Security add-on builds on Cloudflare’s basic free product with some powerful paid extras: DDoS protection, SSL/TLS at the network edge and a web application firewall.The related $150 a month GeoTarget add-on enables delivering content based on a visitor’s IP address, for example to display country-specific offers in the local currency.After selecting (or ignoring) the extras, you’re prompted to choose where your site should be hosted. WP Engine has data centers in the US, Canada, UK, Belgium, Germany, Australia and Taiwan, a far wider choice than you’ll get with most providers.You’re able to select monthly billing, a welcome plus if you’re short on cash or would like to keep your options open. Alternatively, choosing the annual plan gives you two months for free, effectively cutting the price by around 16%.Payments are accepted by credit card only, with no support for PayPal or anything else.Unusually for a web host, you’re prompted for your card billing name and address, but the site doesn’t insist you provide your phone number. (WP Engine’s dashboard will ask for you it later, but it’s optional.)We parted with our cash 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 an initial URL based on your name (johnsmith.wpengine.com), although of course you can publish this to any domain you like.The page explained that our website was being 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 were able to immediately view our control panel and default site.The signup process ended with the arrival of a final email summarizing details of our site and providing helpful links to tutorials and support pages, a handy reference should we need it later.(Image credit: WP Engine)
Creating a site
WP Engine’s web dashboard opens with a collection of alerts, status messages, a couple of prompts to buy or download assorted extras, and more. It’s not the clearest way to begin, but exploring the dashboard menus quickly pointed us to key service areas.Tapping a link to our new WP Engine plan displayed a panel with more information on our setup: domain, IP address, WordPress version, PHP version. There are also convenient mini-graphs showing you recent histories for your visitors, bandwidth and storage usage, along with some unexpected extras (usage data can be downloaded as a CSV file.)WP Engine is a powerful and professional product, and beginners might be confused by some of the language used: CNAME, Git push, redirect rules, more.The company does make some efforts to help, though. A ‘need help migrating your site?’ points users to a ‘WP Engine Automated Migration’ plugin which speeds up the process of importing an existing WordPress site.They won’t work with providers who don’t support SFTP access – WordPress.com, Wix, SquareSpace and other proprietary services – but should handle regular WordPress hosting without difficulty. (We didn’t try it out, but 28 out of 29 users gave the plugin a 5-star rating on the WordPress site, suggesting it’s doing something right.)(Image credit: WP Engine)If you’re starting from scratch, WP Engine includes 36 Genesis Framework-based StudioPress themes. They’re top quality, but don’t take our word for it, check out the demo sites: Metro, Essence, Ambiance and Magazine.Alternatively, you can simply launch the standard WordPress Admin page with a click and go to work. Everything works essentially as usual, and anyone familiar with WordPress will be able to get started right away.A WP Engine item at the top of the WordPress sidebar includes a mix of useful advice and low-level technical settings.The company recommends you read its ‘How to point DNS to WP Engine’ article before you set up your domain, for instance. Take a look at it, even if you’re an expert: it’s a good example of WP Engine’s support site. The company assumes some level of knowledge, for example a basic understanding of what CNAME and A records are. But that’s not absolutely essential, and overall the articles are well written, detailed, and make a real effort to simplify common tasks. (You’re not just told to ‘update the DNS records with your DNS host’ for instance– there are specific guides for GoDaddy, HostGator, Namecheap, DreamHost and several other providers.)(Image credit: WP Engine)
Evaluating WP Engine is difficult, as the best parts of the service – management, performance optimizations, reliability – aren’t easy to see or measure. Spend some time exploring the interface, though, and clues begin to appear.The service has built-in automatic backups, for instance, typically a chargeable extra with other hosts. These run daily, or you can create a backup on demand, and any of these can be restored as necessary. The site only displays backups from the last 30 days, but you can download them in archived form to maintain your own local copies.A useful Staging feature allows creating a copy of your site for private testing. You could use this to try out a new theme, a plugin or anything else, without affecting the production site. It’s a valuable feature and very easy to use.A built-in Page Performance test assesses your website performance, giving it a score and making recommendations. Our report contained fairly standard advice – combine CSS files, but CSS before blocking JS – but that’s still way more help than you’ll get with most hosts, and beginners will find it useful.In another interesting touch, WP Engine doesn’t allow some plugins where experience indicates they might hurt site performance or cause other issues (read more here). That’s going to be a problem if you need something on the banned list, but overall, we approve. Having an expert advise you which…