Adventure with WPEngine – A Review

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A Review

Actually an ongoing review. As with much of my writing this is a WIP 0r Work In Progress. This time it is intentional as I want to jot down my impressions first hand. On other occasions it is unintentional as I push the WordPress publish button too early because it is placed wrongly in my opinion …bear with me though…

To VPS or Not to VPS?

I first came across WPEngine in fall 2011 while doing research for a my post: To VPS or Not to VPS?.

For your (and my own) info I’ll reiterate the following parts from that post here:

You have to be a Geek big time to be able to manage a VPS!

  • Domain registration management. Do keep it separate from your hosting provider in case you want to move away from your hosting provider. Rather than moving a domain from one hosting outfit to another which can take up to 5 working days, you can easily change the url to where your site is hosted and depending on the TTL you’ve set the propagation can be as fast as a couple of hours.
  • You must always keep a separate e-mail, because if you don’t and your VPS goes down, there is no other way of communicating with the support other than a slow web based ticket system
  • Server management. Anybody know how to login into and manage an Apache server from a command line? I don’t. It is very specific linux stuff.
  • How to secure or harden your server against outside intrusions? I’m not technical enough to give you guidance.
  • How to manage a CDN (a Content Delivery Network)?
  • Control panels for the VPS (the server itself)?
  • Control panels for the programs you want to be run by your VPS?
  • Updating the stuff.
  • Preparing for calamities with backups and so on.

I can assure you it is a steep learning curve and actually much too time consuming to be bothered with. …. Actually I simply want to be able to run my hotel business and occasionally post here and there on my other blogs, without all this hassle.

Alternatives for VPS Hosting

I came across two companies who do dedicated WordPress hosting: Page-Ly and WPEngine. Both take away the above hassle from you.

If you are interested here are some reads about them:

Page-Ly relies on Firehosting. WPEngine relies on its own servers (and not on Amazon as I assumed earlier).

I’m very much inclined to make the step to WPEngine despite the following consideration:

In Which Country do I want to host?

Basically I don’t want to host my site outside The Netherlands. The reason is that I am not familiar with the ins and outs of foreign (mostly Anglo Saxon) law and I don’t want to get involved into another legal system by the mere fact my sites are hosted in a foreign jurisdiction or because the hosting company is a legal entity organized under foreign law. The Netherlands itself has red tape enough.

What stuck with me is that in a comment Jason Cohen Reached out:

(I’m the founder of WP Engine).

Thanks for the kind mention!

Very important correction: We’re not on Amazon. In fact, we’re on dedicated servers where we have 100% of the power of the hardware, SSD drives, the best CPUs etc.. Then we have a LOT of them so we have no single point of failure etc..

We did try very hard to make shared hosting and cloud hosting work, because obviously the IT costs are lower and the attendant services and automation are awesome. In fact we built that automation! But speed and scale for our customers is even more important than that, so we ditched it.

RE: The Netherlands: Of course we can’t help you there. :-) I understand your concerns and won’t argue with them. None of our competitors have physical servers there either.

And then came Synthesis

Another completely new dedicated WordPress hosting company. I wrote about it over at Happy Hotelier in Websynthesis – Coppyblogger steps into WordPress only Hosting

And zippykid

Shortly thereafter I noticed Zippykid

Back to my decision making process re: WPEngine

I noted Aaron Brazell Stepped away from WPEngine… and thought “Hey is that good or bad for WPEngine?”

I noted Yoast made a move to Synthesis…. I’ve followed some of Yoast’s suggestions 3 times:

  1. I migrated to Westhost
  2. Later I migrated to VPS.Net which was a disaster (see the rest of To VPS or Not to VPS?)
  3. Recently I installed his SEO plugin

Verry unhappy with Yoast’s suggestion to use VPS.net and recently a bit unhappy when he sent out an update of his SEO plugin which caused many errors (but granted he applogized: Mea Culpa on a bad Update – Lessons learned) …but I do follow the guy for his deep knowledge of WordPress and use his SEO plugin. However I have my questions about SEO: Do I really need all the views of the occasional bypasser?

Recently, after having experienced several and recurring OOM (Out Of Memory) issues with Chair Blog on my current VPS, I read a reasonable positive March 2012 review by Hugh Hancock with many many comments still flowing in till July 2013.

On WordCamp SFO Mark Jaquith mentioned WPEngine having a very interesting feature: A staging area where you can run a fully functional shadow installation of your WordPress installation where you can experiment and test without impact on your production site.

My choice for WPEngine was also influenced by the fact they have a server in London which has less latency to a major part of my readers, those in Europe. Finally I’m a bit more confident with UK law than with US law, although it is a setback that WPEngine is a US company which has to comply with US law.

So I’ve decided to try out dedicated WordPress hosting with WPEngine for Chair Blog and will be jotting down my first experiences with them on the go.

  1. Signing up takes only 5 minutes….

    and I had a blank WordPress blog at (name).WPEngine.com, however I couldn’t find out how to login into the blank WordPress install as an admin…stuck for what proved to be a couple of hours….and then? Well see my next observations.

  2. I Expected a Welcoming e-mail pointing to a WPEngine User Interface

    But that did not occur. Actually it’s simple: You’ll have to sign in into my.wpengine.com and give the name and password you signed up with. My advice to the reader is (what I forgot) to print the document with which you signed up, My advice to WPEngine is to extend their welcoming e-mail a bit more than just a thank you for signing up.

  3. So I filed a support ticket

    This is an adventure in itself: Instead of simply sending an e-mail to support, they want you to register in a zend based forum. I lodged a question and didn’t get an answer at all for 3 hours….I would not have expected such delay in view of the reports on their good support.. Update: But once the ticket is filed you can reply to answers by the support team with a reply e-mail.

  4. Data Base Migration to WPEngine

    This is a pain in the ..s:
    You have to manually export your Database from your working blog and then import it into your WPEngine hosted blog. However, in my case I also had to manually rename all my tables, as in the past I had done away with the wp_ prefix of them based on security advice. While doing this I realized the wp_user table was wrong as the New install had me as the user I couldn’t figure out at first and also a WPEngine user (with Admin) rights which raises an eyebrow from, especially in view of some comments to the review that WPEngine sometimes does things to your blog without consulting you first….
    Anyhow I decided to drop support two lines to ask them whether they could append the newly installed users to my existing install wp_users and wp_users meta tables. I had taken the precaution to create a staging instance for both database import and media upload. The guy in question seems a young not so experienced tech and answered – only again after 3 something hours! – that he had run a script and had reinstalled the “new users”. He didn’t catch the staging instance and I found the production instance unchanged…..
    Update: After fiddling a bit backward and forward, I found out that you can use a Database with a different prefix. You just adjust the Database prefix in the the wp.config file. and the

  5. Migrating media

    Is even a bigger pain in the ..s as the only way they let you do that is via SFTP which is soooo very slow. I have over 20K images on Chair Blog…
    Even after creating a tar and downloading a tar (which off course was incomplete) I’m a day further …

  6. Could Vaultpress help anyhow?

    Well theoretically it can, but I tried to circumvent the hassle of manually migrating database and media and… to no avail: two times I got an error there…I filed a ticket with Vaultpress, but the error shown prompted the Vaultpress Support desk to advise to manually download one of their backups and manually upload it to the new site. So I did, which has cost me approximately 2 days with hiccups and all….

  7. Banned WordPress plugins on WPEngine

    Contrary to some moaners and complainers I’m totally agree with WPEngine to ban certain plugins that do not function correctly or create too much fuzz (too many MySql calls or to much memory gobbled up) on your installation.
    Some of those have caused me headaches already on my VPS.

    Besides: Matt Mullenweg indicated in his state of WordPress for 2013 that WordPress 3.7 will be a core revision and 3.8 will be focused on design and bring us theme 2014. However he also indicated that development is moving more toward plugin development, because that can go quicker and more concentrated than core development goes….In my humble view that goes the wrong direction. 16.000 plugins and counting with many obsolete and no proper evaluation and testing. Even for those with some experience with WordPress like me it is impossible to sift through all the crap there. But Matt also hinted that better review mechanism will replace the current one.

    For instance: they have installed their own alternative for W3 Total Cache which is okay with me.

    Their suggestions for alternatives for the Redirection tool are less nice. I downloaded Sleuth and got a lot of rubbish included which caused me another 1,5 hours of cleaning up my computer…

  8. We will update your WordPress installation

    In the meantime version 3.6 of WordPress was launched and while migrating I updated already. Now I get some automated e-mail that they will update my WordPress version…Huh? Can’t they see I’ve updated already?

  9. WPEngine experience with multi language plugins?

    Chair Blog has an issue with a Multi language plugin: It had Global Translator Pro installed which created a huge number of double content in the Google Webmaster reports..For some time I tried to prevent Google to crawl other language content with a lengthy robots.txt, but also the plugin messes around with memory and database. So I’ve disabled it…now Google reports all sorts of 404 errors, because it cannot find static translations of posts anymore….again I’ve put the lengthy robots.txt file up.
    I filed a ticket with WPEngine, but the guy answering the ticket has no experience with multi language plugins…..Uhm they are supposed to be the experts… I’ve tried another multi language plugin, but it simply doesn’t work…

  10. Documentation Documentation Documentation

    WPEngine’s documentation is definitely insufficient.

  11. Automattic is a stakeholder in the company.

    Is that good or bad? I’m not sure: Automattic is the company of Matt Mullenweg who doesn’t earn a lot with its free software (WordPress), but does earn a lot from hosting WordPress based sites and consulting about the software….I have a feeling the old IBM days are back: WordPress gets more complicated every day. In the IBM days you needed to expensively lease a new mainframe (which then had the power my PC has now) whenever a software update was released. Would WordPress earn affiliated money from the hosting providers community???

  12. Fair Overages Policy

    In a post on their blog of August 8, 2013 they explain their policy for overages. There is a considerable gap between their personal plan of $ 29 (1 WordPress Install, 25,000 visits / mo., Unlimited Data Transfer 10 GB Local Storage) and their professional plan of $ 99,- ( 10 WordPress Installs, 100,000 visits / mo, Unlimited Data Transfer and 20 GB Local Storage). They count visitors not in the same way as Google Analytics does, bots crawling your site are affecting their visitors count… They charge $ 1 per 1,000 visitors over your plans number, before they ask you to upgrade to a higher plan. I believe this is fair.

  13. Update August 11, 2013: Hurray they managed to install a Multi Language Plugin

    They asked for my feedback and I gave support a link to this post. Then they came up with the suggestion they would try to clean up the error I got with the Transposh plugin I had chosen to replace Glbal Translator pro, as there is already for 3 years no maintenance on that plugin. I wasn’t able to install transposh properly. Their support was. I’m glad.

  14. Are their visitors your visitors?

    Their plans are based on number of visitors. I noted already that my visitors according to Google Analytics are much lower than how they count. Although their overages policy seems reasonable, I have a little doubt about the total I will be facing the end of the month. This concern was increased by this post of Naked Capitalism..Ah and the visits count can be awkward as the WPEngine blog post shows..

Preliminary conclusions

  1. WPEngine support is not as I anticipated and am used to with my current provider Dediserve
  2. It’s server response time is faster than I’m used to, but the overall loading speed is not faster than I’m used to.
  3. As they claim they support Vaultpress, they definitely should work with Vaultpress to get the integration seamless.
  4. All in all I’m not sure I would like to stay with WPEngine, because they curtail the possibilities I’m used to with a VPS more than I like. On the other hand I still would love to have some of the hassle of diving into hosting with a VPS taken away from me…So not sure yet.
  5. Since they managed to get the multi language plugin in the air I might be inclined to stay with them when I’ve sorted out the visits count.

Alternatives? (update August 13, 2013)

  1. Actually there are 9 Dedicated WordPress solutions

    See Vandelay‘s post about it

  2. Use a non WP dedicated WordPress hosting company with outside WordPress management

    This thought came up when seeing WP Sitecare+

Final Conclusion

After 10 days testing and looking at what happened I concluded to leave WPEngine as their Visitor count is much too steep for me. It would entail much more costs that I want to bear.

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12 Responses to Adventure with WPEngine – A Review

  1. Thanks for preparing a thoroughly research and independent review. I’m fed up of so many biased hosting reviews laced with affiliate links. Currently with ZippyKid/ Pressable but a change in pricing structure is forcing a move (BTW, I’d love to stay with them but $25 for 15,000 page views per month isn’t competitive.) Since I’m on Genesis I’m considering Synthesis.

  2. Good article

    Wpengine is fantastic but as you rightly point out the visitor count issue is a HUGE PROBLEM!

    i’m looking at an alternative now myselve as i keep getting hit with over usage which is not right at all :-(

  3. I just wanted to chime in to include a managed WordPress host that isn’t mentioned a lot, and one I just switched to. It’s called Lightning Base, and so far, I am EXTREMELY impressed.

    I hosted my site with Zippy Kid/Pressable for over a year, and in the beginning it was great, and their service was awesome! I somehow landed a deal where I only paid $15/month for about 6 months, until it changed to $25/month for I think over 100,000 page views. However, like Martin mentioned, they recently changed the pageviews to 15,000 for the $25 plan, and this is one of the various reasons I decided to leave.

    Other reasons? I felt I was too “small ball” for them and my questions to support were not taken seriously. They also didn’t support a few things I wanted to do like301 redirects, meaning I couldn’t take advantage of Yoast’s SEO plugin sitemaps among other things I wanted to do.

    Also, many times it would take 24 hours or more to hear back after submitting a ticket. And, there were also lots of times I’d notice my site loading SUPER SLOW which made updating my it PAINFUL.

    Of course the “straw that broke the camel’s back” was that I started experiencing an issue where I’d have information just randomly vanish upon updating a page, and after days of waiting for a possible explanation with no answer, I just gave up.

    Enter Lightning Base. My initial contact was answered in less than an hour by Chris (the founder), and he replied to each and every question I had with detailed and thoughtful answers. And when I finally made the plunge, he took care of the migration himself for free, which was a huge plus for me as I am a bit strapped for cash! The migration was absolutely painless. I experienced no problems at all, and Chris sent me an email detailing any changes he made, etc during the migration. Did I mention it was free? Still can’t get over that.

    BTW, I was still awaiting an answer to my problem from Pressable AFTER my site had already been migrated to Lightning Base. Needless to say, I cancelled the Pressable support ticket AND my account.

    Upon switching, I’ve noticed my site is much faster than it ever was on ZippyKid/Pressable, AND the problem I was having with stuff getting deleted is no longer an issue.

    Anyway, I just wanted to give Lightening Base a little props. I think they are one of the best kept secrets in managed WordPress Hosting. They may not be as big as Pressable, WP Engine, et al. , but bigger isn’t always better!

  4. Thanks for the honest review. I was with WP Engine before but I left them because google decided to derank my site instantly killing it in a matter of days. Now I’m planning to go back with a new site. But it seems that WP Engine changed a lot since then. I don’t have any problem with how they handle pageview before. But it seems that they have become very strict about it. Anyway, what can you suggest right now? I’m looking at Media Temple, LightningBase, I’m also considering SiteGround’s GoGeek but they don’t have a monthly plan. Any suggestions? Thank you!

  5. I’m with WPE right now, and while the site itself runs quite fast, the WP Admin has been a constant issue since we switched over (VERY slow, lots of timeouts, etc). I would definitely stay away from MediaTemple (unless you go big with a dedicated option), as their shared databases are painfully slow for a WordPress install. I’m currently looking into LightningBase and Synthesis.

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