When I got into hosting trouble last year, I found help with Anne Corcino at SEO Praxis to carry me over the busy months before Christmas. I told myself that March next year (that was last month) I’d decide on a permanent hosting solution. I had figured out just how tough WordPress hosting can be if you’re a stickler for details and I was seriously considering going for dedicated WordPress hosting. However, I did not want the hassle just when my sites were making me more in a month than they do for the rest of the year. That’s a slight exaggeration, because make most of my money on Squidoo, but you know what I mean.
Fast forward to march this year and I had found out that Anne’s idea of how to host a WordPress blog and mine were not exactly compatible. We both wanted a secure fast blog, but I had never had security plugins on my sites, while Anne had done away with caching plugins on hers. Over the past months we found out there is good reason for not doing both: caching plugins and security plugins crash each other regularly. In fact – I had pages that loaded empty, RSS feeds that didn’t work and redirection problems as well. We were debugging my sites almost weekly.
Come march I took the plunge and once again researched hosting on platforms devoted to exclusive WordPress hosting. The name that comes up again and again in that field is WP Engine. Runner up: the new Synthesis, recommended by fellow Dutchy Yoast. However, Synthesis – while a bit cheaper – is run by the people who created the Genesis theme. Since I don’t run that theme, I thought it was probably not a match for me. (Hey, you have to decide based on something, don’t you?)
WP Engine is 5 times more expensive than I was paying at SEO Praxis and 10 times more expensive than Hostgator. Still, I took the plunge for 20 of my WordPress blogs, this one included. Ultimately paying a bit over $10 per blog per month is reasonable – even if way more than what you’d pay on ordinary shared hosting.
I loved the following WP Engine features before signing up and will give you the run-down on my impressions over the past weeks after:
- Security built in
- Fast, with caching built in
- Great helpdesk (but see on that below)
- Dedicated to WordPress, with personnel that knows the platform
Security and speed, WP Engine Review
Let’s tackle those in one go, as they’re related.
There is a simple reason why that security plugin clashed with my cashing plugin: both have to access the server to work. In other words: they’re built to do things that should really be handled by the server.
Since most of us aren’t sys-admins, this means we’re running plugins that do things that our host should be doing. It’s that, or go the VPS route and BECOME a sys-admin. I’m too busy to learn another trade, and you probably are too.
WP Engine and their competitors handle cashing and security on their end.
I was very impressed, for instance, that WP Engine took an old routine in my older Thesis themes and replaced it with a more secure recent one, automatically. The newest Thesis theme has an update function, so it probably handles this stuff itself, but the older ones don’t and I haven’t bothered updating them all by hand. WP Engine did it for me, without breaking the themes.
They also have a ‘limit login attempts‘ plugin built in and guarantee that your blog will be unhacked if it should be hacked. How’s that for security? I love the automatic backups as well.
They automatically update WordPress to the latest securest version, but they do NOT update plugins unless they’re on their security list. They also wait a bit before automatically updating WordPress on their newer versions when it’s not a security release.
I think this policy is a decent compromise between safety and keeping blogs working. After all, updating stuff sometimes breaks sites, but you do want the latest version of WordPress because it’s the most basic form of WordPress security there is.
My verdict: fast as hell and very secure
Great Helpdesk, WP Engine Review
Is their helpdesk as great as advertised? Well, no, not in my experience. Remember, while I make a living online – I’m not a famous pro-blogger, so their helpdesk treated me the way they would any new client.
The fact is: on some issues they were as fast as I could have expected. On others they took over 24 hours to even respond and the result was NOT that the issue was solved. I’ll go into what I learned below – and yes, in the end the bugs I ended up with WERE resolved, but it took some thinking on my part that I don’t think every mom-and-pops blogger would have been able to figure out.
Let’s face it: tech personnel was never known for it’s communication skills. I did not call them, as I’m in a different time zone, so we had to rely on mail and their ticket system (which IS excellent btw) which also ads a level of potential mis-communication. I think perhaps WP Engine is growing their business so fast that it’s getting hard to get enough personnel with the patience to really explain things. Still – as I said – I did get everything sorted, so it’s ultimately not a big deal.
My verdict: GOOD helpdesk and they do help with plugins more than you’d expect from an ordinary host.
Dedicated to WordPress with personnel that knows the platform
Yes, WP Engine definitely delivers on that promise. I had trouble connecting Jetpack and they solved it. It turned out that I needed to re-install it on several of my blogs. I also like that on any WP Engine install there’s an added wp-engine admin, which the helpdesk will use when you get into plugin trouble.
And yes, they do ask permission to access your dashboard in advance. And yes, despite not promising to, they WILL help with plugins. They probably don’t help with every arcane plugin out there, but you can expect help on the common ones.
My verdict: Helpdesk personnel knows more about WordPress than on any host I’ve experienced.
Some tips on h0w to get your blog working on WP Engine
I’m loving it on WP Engine, but it’s a very different host from what you will be used to. Here’s some tips on getting things working:
At first I had trouble uploading images and deleting, updating and installing plugins. This turned out to be the result of their SFTP (that’s SECURE FTP) setup in combination with the fact that the blogs were new. The solution:
- In the WP Engine menu (added to each blog WordPress dashboard) go to > WP Engine and there reset file permissions.
You probably need to do this after each time you upload things to your blog using FTP. I do recommend using the built in WordPress uploading system wherever possible after the first install.
- In your ordinary WordPress Settings > save your permalinks (don’t change them, just save them).
Saving permalinks is one of those things you need to do after most WordPress moves, but I guess I forgot that.
Plugins that work on WP Engine
Most plugins work on WP Engine. However, they do have a list of about 20 plugins they do NOT allow. Think related posts plugins for instance. Fortunately they also have a replacement recommendation: Nrelate.
Other plugins they automatically delete include security plugins, backup plugins and caching plugins. Well of course they delete those: WP Engine handles that stuff themselves. I’m glad they get rid of them as well.
Disclaimer: The links to WP Engine in this hosting review are affiliate links.
And no, I won’t be using their refund option (end the contract within 60 days and get your money back).