Yet another recommendation for WP Engine

If you have spent any time searching the Internet for recommendations on which host is best for your WordPress blog, you almost certainly have seen that at the top of everyone’s list is WP Engine. Then if you were anything like I was, you check what WP Engine charges, and pick some other hosting company; its least-costly multi-site package is $99 per month. Sure, you get a lot, but compared to the $3.95-per-month hosting services advertised everywhere, there’s a big disconnect.

So there I was: I had five accounts at “cheap” WordPress hosts for my small-to-medium sized WordPress sites, plus one huge WordPress site that from all appearances was overwhelming its hosting server (a dv-grid account at Media Temple). The site loaded slowly; it was typically using 300 percent of its allocated resources; and fine-tuning PHP, MySQL, and Apache config files produced no apparent improvements. Neither did tinkering with the code, caching plug-ins, nor any of the other tricks usually recommended for speeding up your WordPress site. With close to 300,000 unique visitors per month on the one huge WordPress install alone, page load times of more than six seconds were the norm.

In desperation, I turned to WP Engine. As with all other hosting companies, the salesman promised the moon. The difference is that WP Engine delivered.

I moved over a smaller, but still important storefront site built using WooCommerce atop WordPress to get a feeling for the processes involved. The migration (as WP Engine calls it) was mostly smooth, and the stray odds and ends were easily handled.

Still with a bit of trepidation, I started the migration of the huge WordPress site. I had wanted to practice on a couple of other sites first, but our server at the time has crashing every fifteen minutes or so for reasons neither I nor Media Temple’s tech support team could determine. The silver lining was that — as the site wasn’t working anyway — we wouldn’t lose any comments or new postings during the migration.

I have a pretty fast Internet connection where I work, so moving the 15 GB of data from the old hosting server to WP Engine went relatively quickly. Then, WP Engine’s tech team took over the migration process. Within an hour, the site was up and running on WP Engine’s servers — far less time than it took to cut over the DNS.

Once the DNS propagated, I could find only one image that for some reason had not made the journey. I uploaded another copy and that was that.

Oh, and the load time? Generally, it seems to be under two seconds, which considering the complexity of the page is so fast that it happens before I have time to worry about it. The site hasn’t loaded this quickly since it was based on Movable Type. It’s incredibly impressive.

Just as impressive is the tech support you get from WP Engine. They respond quickly, and they almost always have the correct answer at their fingertips.

Now I understand why they charge so much for hosting: They’re worth it.

So, if you’re even close to being in the neighborhood price-wise, go with WP Engine. In addition to everything else, you won’t have to worry about backups or getting an account with Sucuri or setting up a separate CDN or dealing with caching plug-ins. Everything you need is already there.

One feature I was afraid I wouldn’t understand is their one-click staging feature, but it’s a breeze. It allows you to copy an existing site in your WP Engine account to a staging area, make all the changes you want — testing as you go on a separate URL from your main production URL — and then when you’re ready, easily merge all your changes into your production site. It is really, really sweet.

If you’re convinced to migrate your site(s) to WP Engine, there are a couple of caveats.

First, there always seem to be one or two image files that don’t survive the journey. I don’t know why this is, but try to have multiple back-ups so you can find those wayward images and restore them as needed.

Second, the admin section of WP Engine is like nothing else you’ve ever seen. It’s a snap to use once you become accustomed, though, so don’t panic the first time you sign in and nothing looks familiar. You probably had the same reaction the first time you saw cPanel or Plesk. You’ll get over it, and once you do you’ll really appreciate the simplicity and power of the WP Engine control panel.

Third, once you’ve experienced WP Engine, hosting your WordPress install anywhere else is inconceivable. You’ve been warned.

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