For those of you serious about your blog, there comes a time when you need to invest a bit of money into your site and get some serious web hosting.
Premium hosting solves much more than just reducing page loading times. There is added security, less downtime, excellent support and ‘managed hosting’ means you can pretty much just leave any issues up to them and don’t have to worry about it, perfect!
We want to take you through our experience and explain some of the comparisons we made between two of the leading hosting companies and why we made the decision we did.
Choosing a WordPress Hosting Company
There are quite few premium hosting companies about, but we decided to just test the top companies that specialized in hosting WordPress sites. We were not interested in finding the jack of all trades, we wanted the companies who do one thing and do it well.
Our search narrowed down to two main contenders;
We had a 30 day money back guarantee so we could try it out all we liked without any risk. On the last day of our Synthesis trial we then went ahead and bought WP Engine hosting and again, was given a money back guarantee trial period – this time for 60 days!
During our time with each company we did a lot of page-speed testing using tools such as Y-Slow and Pingdom. We had a difficult decision to make about which company to stick with and we want to take you through some of the arguments we carefully considered on both sides.
The decision we made was based on a number of factors and you may come to a different conclusion based on the same facts, depending on your individual needs.
Actual Page loading time
Winner – WP Engine. This was very close. In fact, so close that you could argue that it doesn’t make any difference at all. We tested a number of pages and always WP Engine would load our test pages around 0.1s quicker.
Winner – Synthesis. Even though Synthesis was actually loading the pages a fraction of a second slower than WP Engine, the Y-Slow score was somehow better. With WP Engine we were scoring Grade A with an Overall Performance Score of 94. With Synthesis we were getting a score of 97.
Ease of Set Up / Migration
Both companies offer a migration service which you have to pay for, and both offer the ability to do it yourself for free with documentation. We opted to attempt to do it ourselves and read through the FAQs and instructions of both companies to work out how to do it for the first time.
Update: WP Engine have now made their migrations much much easier, in the form of a free migration plugin, which does it all for you. You set it up, click migrate and forget about it. A clone of your site is created on the WPEngine platform for you to test and point your DNS if you want to move hosts. You receive an email when it’s finished. The way it should be!
The support with both companies was flawless. We always received a prompt and comprehensive answer to all of our questions and with both companies, it genuinely felt like they really wanted to help. We asked a series of beginner, intermediate and more advanced questions and the support level was consistent throughout for both companies.
Winner – WP Engine. We were originally looking for a hosting company that just does one thing and does it well. We are never usually impressed with bells and whistles and really just want the one job done as best it can be. I’m sure you are the same.
However, we approached this with an open mind and decided to see if any of the extra features offered would be of use to us. It turns out that there were. WP Engine offers three great features that Synthesis does not.
- Staging Area – We didn’t use this at first. We were more concerned with page speed and the fundamentals of hosting. However, once we did, we realised how valuable and time saving this feature is. The staging area basically allows you, with one click, to create a copy of your entire website, making it easy to change it however you want. You can change themes, make customizations to css or php and it doesn’t matter if you break your site – Nobody will see it! In one click you can refresh back to a copy of your live site and do it all over again if you wish. If you create something you are happy with in your staging area, you can click ‘Copy to live site’ and it will replace the live site with your newly changed site. It is perfect for testing new themes, plugins and code.
- Free SSL Certificates – This is new, but a great addition for those looking to sell products through WordPress
One of the differences we found interesting was the disallowed plugins on WP Engine. If you install a disallowed plugin, WP Engine will instantly email you asking you to remove the plugin. Failure to do this in 7 days means they will uninstall it for you. This could seem unfair to some but we didn’t mind it at all. Their knowledge of badly written or incompatible plugins is vastly greater than ours and there is a peace of mind that comes with knowing that all of your plugins are not having some negative effect on your site.
This is what we expect really from managed hosting.
Synthesis offer a slightly different approach by giving you a list of plugins which they recommend not to use. The decision if to use them or not, in the end, is yours.
WP Engine disallow the popular plugin WP-Total-Cache. This is because they do all the caching, etc for you at their end. Synthesis allows you to use this plugin, but gives you the correct settings which you should use for optimum performance.
For us, our preference was with WP Engine. Giving the responsibility of everything that the WP-Total-Cache plugin was doing to somebody else is ideal in our mind. If only we could do that will all of our plugins!
Winner – WP Engine. Both companies take backups very seriously and do a great job. Our preference is with WP Engine as we found it very easy and enjoyable to use. Before now backing up data has always seemed like a necessary, but annoying task. WP Engine automatically makes backups of all of our sites daily and prompts us to make a quick backup every time we install a new theme or plugin onto a site. They also allow you to download a zip file for safe keeping locally.
Here is what the screen looks like with WPEngine. You can see the daily checkpoints automatically backing up our site everyday. They are also constantly making this better.
Synthesis removed the Edit option on the dashboard
It has always been a better idea to edit css or php in a place which allows you to undo your mistakes. Editing the files directly through the WordPress dashboard is generally not recommended, even though it sometimes seems it is the quickest way to do it.
Synthesis have actually removed the Edit option completely, forcing you to edit files via your FTP. This could be seen as a good thing as it removes bad habits and possibly saves time having to correct mistakes in the long run.
WP Engine have kept the edit option there, but have avoided the problem of mistakes not being able to be corrected in a different way. The staging areas mean it doesn’t matter anymore if you make a mistake with your code as you’re never on the live site anyway.
For us this is the best of both worlds. We can quickly edit stylesheets and change around lots of php without worry of ruining our sites. If we do something wrong in the staging area, we just click back and the whole website goes back to how it was. The live site runs alongside without any visitors knowing we were changing a thing!
This is where these two companies differ quite a bit, depending on what you are looking for.
- 1 Install
- 3gb Storage
- 50gb Monthly Bandwidth
- 2500 Daily Traffic
- 2 Installs
- 2gb Memory
- 40gb Storage
- 650gb Monthly Bandwidth
- 20,000 Daily Traffic
- 5 Installs
- 4gb Memory
- 80gb Storage
- 1.5tb Monthly Bandwidth
- 85,000 Daily Traffic
- 5 Installs
- 8gb Memory
- 160gb Storage
- 3.0tb Monthly Bandwidth
- 300,000 Daily Traffic
- 1 Install
- +$19.95/m CDN
- 10gb Storage
- Unlimited Bandwidth
- 25,000 Monthly Traffic
- 10 Install
- Included CDN
- 20gb Storage
- Unlimited Bandwidth
- 100,000 Monthly Traffic
- 25 Install
- Included CDN
- 30gb Storage
- Unlimited Bandwidth
- 400,000 Monthly Traffic
- Unlimited Install
- Included CDN
- Unlimited Bandwidth
- 1,000,000 Monthly Traffic
Looking at them back to back like this, you can quite clearly see the differences and how Synthesis goes up in price pretty sharply after the Starter option.
If you look closely though, you will notice the number of visits also goes up quite steeply as Synthesis is talking about visitors per DAY and WP Engine giving out the figures per MONTH.
For those of you reading who have one WordPress site with quite a lot of traffic, this is where Synthesis may work out to be the better option. If you have more than one site or plan to do so in the future, WPEngine is unbeatable value.
WP Engine vs Synthesis
For us, the best option was the Professional package from WP-Engine for $100 per month. If you have a handful of websites like us, then this is likely the better value price.
We were rewarded two months of hosting for free because we signed up for one year, meaning each one of our 10 WordPress sites are now super-speedy and super-secure for less than $9 per month each. Synthesis simply can’t beat this.
In the end we have continued our membership with WP Engine. We have fallen in love with the Staging Areas as part of our everyday work flow and we are getting absolutely great value. Also, did you notice how fast this post loaded? Try it again!
Seriously, there is a free speed test report, which you can use to see how much your own site may benefit from managed hosting. Sometimes it’s easier to just look at the stats!
WPEngine are now giving out free SSL certificates, making it even easier for you if your looking to sell products/services on your site securely. I recommend trying out their 60 day risk free trial to see what you think for yourself. With the migration plugin, you can essentially clone your entire site on their server to see how fast it loads etc. If you’re not happy, you just cancel before the 60 days. (You’re live site remains untouched unless you decide to continue with them and point your DNS records to WPEngine).
If you’re still not convinced that managed hosting is right for you, there is an interesting, free ebook that explains some of the benefits and finer details, called Every Second Counts.
The main focus of the book is to discover…
- How page speed affects the user experience
- The importance of seconds (and even milliseconds)
- The financial impact of a second load in delay
- Why page speed affects SEO
- The importance of mobile
- The emotional cost of page load times
Looking for a More Complete Solution?
For one of our new projects we are moving our Genesis-powered site onto the Rainmaker Platform. This hosted solution for WordPress actually uses Synthesis hosting, but is a whole new beast and seems to be a complete website solution.
We’re talking no plugins, no theme updates, no hassle, everything built in. They’ve even got their own email service baked in, rainmail.
If you’re an internet marketer like us then it’s definitely worth considering once you realise how much time/headaches you’re going to save (and money if you’re already paying for emails, membership plugins, managed hosting, marketing automation and all the rest of it).
The best bit? The 14 day free trial period now doesn’t require you to give any credit card details. Just click, spin up a new site in five minutes and try out all the features for free. Try it Out