Okay, I’m going to just come out and state what I feel is obvious – WP Engine is NOT the best solution for serious web/marketing companies. First of all (and probably most importantly), you leave a TON of money on the table by not choosing to host websites yourself; but, even more than that, from a technical perspective WP Engine falls short in several areas.
The real tech junkies will speak for themselves (and they do quite a bit if you look online), but I will summarize some basic positions:
- Under-performance – Performance at WP Engine is supposed to be a perk, but over time the service has degraded significantly. For example, many popular sites have seen it take as much as two minutes and 38 seconds to login to WP and approve a comment! That’s enough to make anyone tear out their hair.
- 502/504 Bad Gateway Errors – In the same vein as under-performance, WPEngine often is unable to handle traffic at peak times of the day. It will give cryptic “502/504 Bad Gateway” errors on a white screen.
- Clueless support team – This is a logical outcome of their success, I suppose. As they’ve grown, their support capacity hasn’t kept up and now they have drones with scripts handling their phones and online support.
- Unfamiliar back-end – Said another way: NO CPANEL! This is especially not fun when you can work your way around cPanel in your sleep. Now you have to use an entirely new system, which isn’t nearly as efficient or user-friendly.
- Locked into number of visits per month – Unless you opt for one of their higher (Premium+) packages, you’re going to be locked into 400k visitors per month. I don’t know about you, but we have clients where ONE site gets more traffic than that. If you surpass it, you’re billed huge “overage fees“! So you basically need to elect for one of their Premium+ (“custom price”) packages to make it even worth it (pricing described below) .
- Disk space is a joke – Once again, unless you opt for one of their best packages (Premium+), you’re going to get hosed on storage space. “Sorry, client, you can’t store these high-res images on your account; why not? Well, in this digital era where ‘storage is cheap’ we unfortunately use a solution that charges through the nose for it!”
But don’t just take my word for it. I encourage you to read a great article from fellow tech junkie Matthew Woodward entitled “Why Your Business Must Avoid WPEngine At All Costs” which itemizes the issues above (plus quite a few more), as well as his frustrating experiencing dealing with their support over the course of several months. Short story: it does not end well.
…But over the past 8 months things have really started to go downhill with WP Engine in a serious way. I have gone from singing their praises to everyone I meet to telling everyone to avoid them. – Matt Woodward
Business / Financial Reasons
Ok, so if you’re a web agency worth your salt, you’re probably going to elect for WPEngine’s Premium (150 installs, $1350/mo+), or Enterprise package (150+ installs, $2500/mo+).
NB: The pricing listed (Premium and Enterprise) is just an approximation based on a need for 200-400 installs. This is because most web agencies are going to want to plan for at least 200+ installs — e.g. remember you’ll also need dev sites/subdomains. Another point of minor annoyance: WP Engine sales team forces you into a “customized sales call” to determine how much they can squeeze you for. I personally like transparency in pricing, but that’s just me…
The Math Speaks for Itself
Ok, so let’s look at the math. Below I compare hosting sites with Dedicated and/or VPS cloud servers vs a WP Engine solution:
A REALLY magnificent Dedicated Linux Server w/WHM+Cpanel, off-site backup solution using Amazon S3, RAID10, 2TB of drivespace, unlimited bandwidth, and 64GB RAM would probably run around $969/mo. That setup could easily host 150-250 very active sites without batting an eye. That’s an annual hosting expense of $11,628/yr.
Looking slightly less impressive, even a VPS or dedicated machine at about half the horsepower would run around $425/mo and host the same number of sites if they were for small or medium sized businesses (i.e. no one’s creating super bowl commercials here). That’s an annual expense of $5,100/yr.
Let’s now just compare that to WP Engine’s pricing. Assuming you opt for their Premium package (good for smaller agencies and/or for clients that don’t see a lot of traffic), you’ll be paying around $1350/mo or $16,200/yr.
That’s $4,572 MORE expensive than a souped-up dedicated server (Option A). And in fact a more comparable package is Option B–where you’ve be over-paying by as much as $11,100/yr using WPEngine.
Now if you’re foolish uninformed enough to opt for the Enterprise package of WP Engine’s platform you’re now in the $2000-3000+/mo range for the same level of server you’d find for option A. The price difference is now in the many tens of thousands of dollars you’re OVER-PAYING for using WP Engine. At that difference, you’d be far better off simply hiring a new W2 employee or (better yet) out-sourcing full server/account management to a firm that handles it for your company.
ALTERNATIVE APPROACH TO CONSIDER
WP Engine’s model is one of marginal costs. Meaning – the more sites you host with them the more you pay. But let’s consider an alternative approach for your agency. Instead of giving all that money to WP Engine to waste, why not try this: Host your clients’ websites yourself!
As detailed above, there are dedicated web server costs to consider. But even at the very highest pricing scale (e.g. ~$969/mo) you are paying far less than you would to WP Engine; and you can now mitigate those costs with a handful of clients paying $200/mo…$100/mo, hell, even $25/mo. Also, I recommend bundling web hosting with additional services, such as maintenance, support, SEO, social media management, etc. Most mid-sized companies are more than happy to pay you to handle their website along with other aspects of their marketing. After you’ve established trust, it is not difficult to charge $500 – 2000+/mo to your clients when you bundle additional services with their website hosting. It allows you to get your foot in the door and then keep it there; they will be less likely to decouple themselves from your firm when you host and maintain their website.
More to the point: after you cover the fixed expense of your dedicated server or VPS, every additional new client is GRAVY and increases your revenue/profitability. You don’t need to worry about a new hosting cost with each new site. This model allows you to improve your bottom line, increase client retention, and provide additional value back to your customer!
At first blush WP Engine seems sexy and the perfect fit for web agencies developing websites on WordPress. They offer promises of security, managed support, high performance, and “worry free hosting.” However, the truth is far from pretty; when you dig even slightly below the surface you learn: A) it’s HUGELY over-priced compared to the value you’d get from a dedicated Linux server or VPS, and B) the features and benefits you thought you were paying all that money for quickly dissipate when WP Engine can’t live up to its own hype.
Instead, I recommend you host clients’ websites yourself (partnered with experienced and capable persons in the web/security space), so you can realize greater profitability for your marketing agency.