What You Get with WP Engine
At the outset of my review, I need to point out that when you purchase hosting at WP Engine you’re getting a pure managed WordPress hosting plan. Unlike most typical web hosting plans that include a domain name, email accounts, etc., WP Engine focuses on providing WordPress hosting exclusively—which makes them ideal for existing WordPress sites that need a fully managed hosting solution with expert support, or for site owners that need an enterprise WordPress hosting plan. That’s not to say that you can’t start out using WP Engine for your first site. But just be sure to have your domain and email available from another source.
Signing Up with WP Engine
When you sign up with WP Engine, you can choose your data center location (United State, United Kingdom, Japan).
After entering my information and signing up, I received my welcome email.
And, although WP Engine states that it may take up to 24 hours for your account setup to be completed, I received my Account Setup Completion email almost instantaneous!
Transferring Your Existing Site to WP Engine
To transfer your existing WordPress site over to WP Engine, you follow their Migration Checklist. You’ll be prompted to start following the process when you click the Activation button in your Account Setup email.
Here is a summary of the Migration Checklist steps:
1. Set up your SFTP access.
2. Enter your current site’s domain name.
3. Backup your site at your current web host.
4. Check to make sure you aren’t running disallowed plugins by WP Engine.
5. Make sure your WordPress Core, Plugins, and Themes are up to date.
6. Export your MySQL database from your prior web host.
7. Download wp-content folder.
8. Import database into WP Engine.
9. Import your wp-content folder into WP Engine using an SFTP client like FileZilla. (They recommend using a zipped version and then you click a button to notify support to complete the process.)
10. Preview your website at WP Engine to make sure everything is correct.
11. Synchronize your site—you only need to perform this step if certain content did not get transferred over.
12. Configure DNS. This is another step that may take some time to complete. Because WP Engine doesn’t use nameservers, the process may be different than what you’ve done in the past. I recommend you contact support via live chat and have them walk through this process with you.
13. Allow DNS to Propagate
14. You can optionally setup URL and domain redirects.
While using the Migration Checklist method for transferring a site to WP Engine was fairly straight-forward, there were a couple of minor issues. First, it was a bit confusing as the first block of tasks on the Migration Checklists lists three steps (i.e. 1/3 tasks completed, etc.). However, there are only two checkbox tasks available.
Also, we’d like to see the process streamlined a bit more. For example, after copying your zipped wp-content folder to WP Engine, you’re supposed to click a button to notify Support to complete process. The first time I tried to do this, nothing happened—not sure what the issue was. Later, I went back and tried the notify button again and this time it worked. I am happy to say that the process took less than five minutes to complete. Support Engineer Jason promptly replied with a detailed response (see below).
Despite the above issues, the WP Engine Migration Checklist method for moving your site is still an effective way of transferring your WordPress website over. With some other managed WordPress hosting plans, I’ve had a lot of difficulty getting my sites moved to the new host. In fact with one particular managed hosting plan, I was never able to transfer my site over. No such problems with WP Engine.
WordPress Themes and Plugins
Although the majority of WordPress plugins and themes can be used with your site at WP Engine, be aware there are some that are now allowed due to a possible conflict with their proprietary technology. For example, since WP Engine uses their own EverCache Technology for increased speed. Therefore, caching plugins are disallowed to avoid conflicts and sub-optimal performance.
Fortunately in my case, the only plugin there was in issue with was the Hello Dolly plugin which had been installed by default on my old site. I actually wasn’t even aware that this plugin was there since it was not activated. After transferring my website to WP Engine, I was quickly notified via email about the disallowed plugin.
Basically, the email says you have 7 days before the disallowed plugin will be automatically deleted. During this time, you can go ahead and delete the plugin on your own and find an alternative. Since I didn’t care about the Hello plugin, I simply went ahead and deleted it myself. The next day, I received an email thanking me for my prompt action.
Free StudioPress Themes
Now that WP Engine has acquired StudioPress, one of the biggest benefits of getting one of their managed WordPress hosting plans is the inclusion of free StudioPress themes based on the Genesis Framework. Click here to see of list of the themes that are included. StudioPress themes are some of the most efficiently coded WordPress themes available. And, the best part is that you can still use the themes even if you decide later to move your website to a different host.
WP Engine Dashboard Interface
Although WP Engine utilizes a more text based control panel interface, it is very intuitive and easy to use. They have even included some animated audio walk throughs on certain topics. Clicking on the Installs tab of the top menu allows you to access functions relating to your website install.
The Redirect Rules option on the left sidebar menu is especially convenient as it lets you specify domain redirects without having to make the changes to your htaccess file. And, you can also access phpMyAdmin and your WordPress Admin area via the links on the left side menu.
WP Engine Backup and Restore
WP Engine’s backup and restore features gets high marks. Your site (database and content folder) is automatically backed up daily. Additionally, the Backup Points function allows you to manually set a new backup point—which is recommended before you make changes to your site. You also have the option to download zipped files of your backups to keep yourself.
In order to restore your backed up files, you need to open a support ticket as you cannot perform a site restore from the WP Engine dashboard interface. Optionally, you could also unzip your data and restore it yourself via SFTP.
Development and Staging of Your Site
Another great benefit of WP Engine’s managed WordPress hosting is the ability to test out changes to your site in a staging area before pushing them out to your actual production website. To copy your live site to your staging area, go to the WP Engine settings area on your WordPress admin dashboard. Click on the Staging tab, then click the Copy site from Live to Staging button.
Depending on the size of your website, it may take a while before the staging area is created. In my case, the process only took a few minutes. When your staging area is ready, you can click on the link to access it. When you’re ready to move your changes to production, click the Copy Site from Staging to Live button.
So far, the WP Engine Staging Area has worked out extremely well for me. It is absolutely one of my favorite features. The process is very fast and efficient. All of my changes in the staging area have been successfully transferred into production with no issues.
WP Engine Utilities
From the Utilities area of your WP Engine dashboard, you get access to additional functionality that includes:
Password Protection – Allows you to restrict viewing of your website. Good for blocking traffic and bots from your website while you’re working on it during pre-launch phase.
Reset File Permissions – Allows you to grant access to files you have uploaded by resetting their file permissions.
Multisite – Allows you to convert your website from a single site to a multisite environment with subsites.
Cache Options – You can enable or disable object caching, plus clear your page cache from here.
WP Engine Security
WP Engine employs some strict security measures with their customer’s websites as well as their hardware environment. Another benefit of their managed hosting services is that they are actively and continuously scanning for vulnerabilities and contract with other security firms for added protection—which allows you to focus on other things like creating great content for your site!
Free SSL Certificates
With your WP Engine hosting plan, you get free Let’s Encrypt SSL Certificates that you can easily request from your Install dashboard.
Performance at WP Engine
There really is a noticeable difference in my website speed using WP Engine. The optimized environment along with their EverCache technology has improved my page loading times. I tested my site over at webpagetest.org and below are my results.
WP Engine Customer Support
WP Engine Support also gets a high score from me. I had to contact support a couple of times when I was transferring my site to WP Engine and I could easily tell that their support engineers know what they are talking about and doing. In addition to their expertise, I was also impressed with their promptness to resolve any issues or questions I had.
WP Engine Transferable Installs and Billing Transfer
In addition to those who need fully managed WordPress hosting, WP Engine is also a great choice for developers who need to work on sites for their clients. With the Transferable Installs feature, you can create an unlimited number of development sites where you can build and test a website out for your client. Then, when you’re ready, you can transfer this site to your client’s WP Engine account. And with the Billing Transfer feature, your clients will be automatically billed via WP Engine.
To access this feature, you click on the Add install link on the left of your WP Engine dashboard. You then click the Create a Transferable Install option and you’ll now be able to work on a development site.
I really think developers will appreciate the Transferable Install feature.
More WP Engine Reviews
Video: Interview with WP Engine’s David Vogelpohl
Here’s an interview I recently did with David Vogelpohl, VP of Web Strategy at WP Engine. David talks about WP Engine, Gutenberg, and WordPress automation tools.
While the managed WordPress hosting field continues to grow with other companies coming out with specifically labeled WordPress offerings, WP Engine remains the leader in this category. Based on my experience using their managed hosting services, I have to concur with many in the WordPress community that WP Engine is the ultimate solution for websites requiring fully managed WordPress performance and support.
WP Engine’s focus is now on their new Digital Experience Platform. The new solutions platform focuses on four areas: Creative Agility, Actionable Intelligence, Enterprise Performance, and Ecosystem Integration. In terms of their web hosting plans, the Digital Experience Platform results in more features being included–albeit at somewhat higher prices.
Here’s a look at the current hosting plan lineup at WP Engine:
Despite the increase in pricing, WP Engine remains the overall leader in premium managed WordPress hosting in our opinion. And, we’re still able to offer you a great discount! See below.
Pros and Cons
- True Fully Managed WordPress Hosting
- Expert Support Engineers
- Easy to use dashboard interface
- Animated audio walkthroughs are included for added assistance.
- Backup Points allow for easy backup and restore of site.
- Staging Area is great for testing out new changes to your website.
- Proprietary EverCache Technology results in faster site performance.
- Transferable Installs and Billing Transfer are great for developers.
- Some restrictions on plugins.