Well, the headline gives away the the punchline...
Now, unlike a lot of blogs out there that would do a point-by-point comparison of these two companies, I simply want to go through my decision process and my experience in making the switch.
Table Of Contents
Does WPEngine Suck Now?
Look, like almost any hosting company on the planet, you're going to find happy customers and a trail of pissed off former customers. That's just the way this stuff works.
WPEngine is one of the original managed WordPress hosts. They've got great marketing and it has developed into a well-established force. And while you will find some people out there bashing WPEngine around now, let me just give my experience...
I stuck with WPEngine for several years for one reason: They were a perfectly good host for me.
Did I ever have issues? Of course. For instance:
- I was a bit annoyed when they increased my monthly rate.
- I did have some load issues at times. Some times when other sites on the same server were hogging resources and slowing me down. Also...
- Those kinds of instances would lead to 503 errors and disconnections within the WP admin. There would be times when the connection to the server would be lost while I was writing a post, or clicking a link would spin for awhile and then produce an nginx error and white screen.
- The fact that they didn't support email meant I had to use other means to run my email accounts. Which is an extra hassle I shouldn't have to have given what I pay for WPEngine hosting.
Basically, WPEngine is shared hosting with a lot of caching and optimizations tacked on. But, that's pretty normal. Even WPX works the same way.
Overall, however, WPEngine was fine.
One of the things that really kept me around for awhile was access to live chat support. I'm an impatient dude. When I have something on my mind, it is REALLY annoying submitting a traditional support ticket and then having to wait. Being able to get somebody in live chat on demand really suits me.
And their support people are actually pretty good. All in all, it was pretty rare that I encountered a support person who didn't seem to know what the hell they were doing.
So, Why Did I Switch From WPEngine?
My hosting bill was $115 per month. It used to be $99, but they increased it in August 2018.
Now, a $115 hosting bill isn't a problem for me. During my years in this business, I've had every kind of hosting you can have... and monthly bills topping $600. So, $115 isn't really any issue.
I kept on reading reviews from people saying they were getting better performance from other hosts that cost quite a bit less. Simply put, I'd be rather stupid if I didn't look into that. 🙂
Managed WordPress hosting can be expensive, but some hosts overcharge for it, IMO. WPEngine happens to be one of them. Flywheel (who WPEngine acquired) is the same. Considering the amount of traffic you can host and the number of sites you can put on their platform, I think they're a bit expensive.
WPEngine was also hitting me up about switching to the Google Cloud platform. I asked about the cost and the ballpark cost would have been over $400/month.
These companies put an insane premium over top of what the resources are costing them. I think WPEngine is outsourcing servers from Linode and the pricing is significantly cheaper. Obviously, I understand profit margins. I also understand the costs of their support staff, the proprietary layer they put over it, etc. But, still.
Calling hosting a "digital experience" doesn't make it worth more, guys.
So, I Went Shopping For Hosting. Here Are The Companies I Looked At...
My readers know that I am a fan of Siteground. And yes, they're a solid hosting company. They also offer WordPress managed hosting and that's what I want here.
So, why not Siteground? Mainly...
- The reviews I read about their managed WordPress hosting were fine, but... average. It looks like it will get the job done, but that's about it. Plus...
- I like the feeling of a company which focuses on WordPress. Siteground does a bit of everything, and that's just not what I want.
I will continue to recommend Siteground for my entry-level students just starting out. They're solid and they have good support - and I know this from personal experience. But, for my sites (and the fact that I'm not trying to cheap out here), I wanted something more purpose-built.
Another company I looked into was BigScoots.
In fact, not only did I look into them, I signed up for an account and moved my stuff from Siteground to BigScoots. Main reason is because:
- More affordable than Siteground, and what I was doing with Siteground was just for some tiny stuff. Once the entry-level pricing term expires and you're renewing at the full rate, I just felt Siteground was a bit much for what I needed it for. BigScoots's basic plan was cheaper and it stays that way.
- BigScoots is a small company. I was having chats with one of their co-founders, in fact. I like that. Service is more personal.
Basically, I like BigScoots quite a bit. Performance seems awesome. They even have a table of comparisons to other hosts and it looks like they run circles around WPEngine. The cost is also favorable.
Then, I looked into WPX Hosting (formerly Traffic Planet). I noticed that Thrive Themes really likes WPX (and you guys know I really like Thrive Themes). The reviews, yet again, are through the roof. The pricing quite favorable.
More on WPX in a bit (seeing as that's who I ultimately chose)...
But, I also looked into another option...
Gridpane is interesting. The way it works is that you get a virtual private server (VPS) from something like DigitalOcean. A VPS server gives you free reign to run your own server the way you want to. Resources are not shared. And, done right, the performance is awesome. In fact, one guy managed to make a $5/month VPS out-perform a WPEngine account. Yikes!
Gridpane makes it so that you can manage your VPS without having to deal with all the geekery of the VPS. Essentially, they're aiming to provide managed WordPress hosting like the others, but on top of a VPS that you own.
Seeing as I'm definitely not immune to geekery, this was an attractive option. Cloudways does something similar (they've been around longer, through).
Also, the founders of Gridpane just seem like fun guys. 🙂
Gridpane has a free level of account that allows the simple setup of one VPS. In theory, you could have a nice WordPress-ready software stack on a $5/month VPS and get pretty rock-solid performance. If you want more management, though (things like staging, backups, etc.), then you're paying $30/month for that plan. Couple that with your VPS (and a really solid one might run you $20/month), you could have a $50 hosting bill that would blow the bejeezus out of WPEngine.
So, why didn't I choose Gridpane?
I may switch to Gridpane and VPS in the future as the solution matures, but right now it just seemed like it was too young and immature. It still felt... nerdy. I never even want to have to think about something like the command line, or SSH keys. Even though I'm a nerd myself, I just want something that... just works. Without me having to think much about the tech.
I have a business to run. I shouldn't be thinking about the tech innards.
I have little doubt Gridpane is going to upset the managed WordPress hosting space. It will mature. I may switch to it in the future because it sure is an attractive solution. But, for now, I kinda want the hand-holding and "all done for you" aspect of a more established managed host.
So, why didn't I choose Bigscoots for my WordPress hosting?
Bluntly... lack of live chat support.
Bigscoots has great support. And they're fast. But, I'm a really impatient dude when it comes to support. 🙂 So, when I'm staring at a support ticket system, I'm not a happy camper. Even if they get back to me within 5-10 minutes, it still means WAITING.
I like being able to hop on live chat right then and there. And have somebody who is looking at my situation RIGHT NOW. And I can see them typing back to me.
I want instant gratification. Not gratification in a few minutes. I want it NOW.
And Bigscoots doesn't currently have that. Who does?
All things being equal (and for the most part, the two companies seem to pretty much be on par with each other), it was the truly live chat that put me over the edge for WPX.
How WPX Hosting Differs From WPEngine
When you switch web hosts, there are always those little things that they do differently. You're used to one way of doing things... and you need to adapt to a new way.
The main point of difference is, of course, the cost. I'll be using the $49.99/month plan with WPX. For that, I can host 15 sites. Plus, unlike WPEngine, I can run my email addresses through WPX so I don't have to use Google Apps as a middleware. My WPEngine plan was running $115/month to host 5 sites.
So, here's the real deal (and the main reason I'm switching)...
I get MORE functionality with WPX Hosting... and I will be saving $65/month. Do the math. That's $780 per year! With no sacrifice in functionality.... and actually BETTER performance.
That's why I left WPEngine. Right there.
Now, here's the big differences to be aware of when switching to WPX from WPEngine:
- Obviously, the interface is pretty different.
- A staging site takes up a spot on your account. With WPEngine, you either used "Legacy Staging", or their new version. Either way, I had 5 spots but those were 5 actual sites. With WPX, I have 15 spots, but if every site has a staging site, technically I can host 7 sites (which would take up 14 site spots).
- WPX doesn't make any alterations to your WordPress. No proprietary plugins installed, no big changes to your config.
- With WPX, you can (and they will actually recommend to) use W3 Total Cache. This plugin was banned by WPEngine because it conflicted, but WPX uses it. In fact, there are no banned plugins with WPX.
- WPX doesn't have server-level redirects in the admin panel like WPEngine does. If you use those, you will need to set them up using other means (like a plug-in).
The interface is not as polished as that of WPEngine. There are some elements to it that just are not that intuitive. And the color choices on those buttons are a little... funky. 😉
So, there are a few minor things missing. The interface isn't as nice. You cannot easily re-deploy a staging site to re-sync it (you have to delete the staging site then re-create from scratch, which is honestly kinda stupid).
But, WPX does mostly all that WPEngine does. Plus... some things WPE does NOT do (like email).
WPEngine has a big, corporate vibe to it. WPX does not. WPX is a company based in Bulgaria. This is likely one of the reasons their costs are so much less than a company based here in the United States. One may think that's an issue, but keep in mind almost all these companies use server resources from the same cloud providers (Linode, Digital Ocean, etc.). So, you're getting the same infrastructure regardless where company headquarters are.
About WPX Hosting Support
And really, REALLY fast.
They advertise on their site about getting a response in less than 40 seconds over live chat. And, it is accurate. I pretty much never had to wait. No live chat queues where you had to wait your turn in line (common with WPEngine). With WPX, it is almost like I have a member of the team on constant chat line, 24/7.
They also know what they're doing. It isn't as if you get some entry-level person who barely knows anything who will then need to escalate you up to a senior tech. Of the people I have dealt with, they all seem to know their stuff. I had one guy who, at first, seemed like he was giving me generic responses that weren't very helpful. But, I called him on it and suddenly it was like he turned into a senior tech. 🙂 All in all, support has been stellar.
Obviously, I've been chatting with support quite a lot as I learn the ropes and get sites migrated. And they've been really fast to deal with.
No exaggeration... so far, I have found the support from WPX Hosting to be more real-time and accessible than any host I've ever used over my 20 years in the business.
Color me impressed.
The Migration Process
WPX Hosting offers free migrations for all your sites. And, I used them. I didn't migrate a single site on my own.
There's a button in there for submitting a migration request. You give them the URL, your WordPress login details, and logins to your hosting. In my case, I just gave them access to my WPEngine account and told them which install to migrate.
For each site, you just:
- Submit the migration request which then creates the ticket for it.
- Wait for them to do it. They have a 24-hour turnaround, but it was faster than that for me for all sites I moved.
- Once you get confirmation of the move, you switch your DNS over.
- Once DNS is switched, install your SSL certificate (it's free and takes a few seconds).
- Check your site and it should be working just fine like nothing ever happened.
After a site was migrated, it was a little odd logging into WordPress and not seeing the proprietary WPEngine plug-in anymore. Plus, unless you ask them not to, WPX will set up W3 Total Cache. That plug-in was forbidden by WPEngine.
The most involved migration for me was THE LAB. Since it is an active membership site with renewals and sales happening, I wanted NO downtime. Otherwise, I could have an issue where a transaction was processed, but it was recorded in the wrong database.
I wanted them to do the migration when I was sitting there monitoring everything. So, I told them when I'd like to do it and we confirmed it like an appointment. Sure enough, they started the migration right when I asked them to. It did take longer than I thought it would. And I did have an issue where some of my settings for AffiliateWP were lost. I still have no idea why, but I simply re-built the settings by comparing to my staging site on WPEngine.
All in all, the migrations were fairly painless. There's no way to get around the hassle of moving a website. Simple blogs are easy-peasy to move, but others have more moving parts.
As of now, my primary hosting is now WPX Hosting. For a few auxiliary things, I now use BigScoots.
I leave WPEngine with no negative vibe. They've been good to me. But, I can't ignore getting better performance and saving $780/year.
Actually, the savings were greater than $780 when you consider I no longer need to use other services for email.
One thing overall, however...
This process of looking around at different hosts really showed me something.
MOST of these companies are actually pretty good. And hosting is a very competitive space. There are so many different options now and you, as a site owner, are in full control. These hosts compete hard for your business and most of them do a pretty good job.
For that reason, if one was looking for some black & white case of which host is best, you'll never find it. Most are good. I mean, I'd stay away from EIG companies, but most of these hosts are fine.
I'm happy with WPX Hosting. I have no doubt BigScoots would be great, too, but that live chat was the deciding factor for me for WPX.
And, I'm going to keep an eye on Gridpane. A VPS with dedicated resources is likely to blow away the performance of any of these managed WordPress hosts. As soon as they're able to fully remove the "geek factor" from that option, I may look at it more strongly. Cloudways looks to already, perhaps, be there. But, I have not personally tried Cloudways.
I know web hosting is highly competitive. I'm sure everybody reading this post will have an opinion. I'm sure even people from the companies mentioned here will read this and think I missed something. Feel free to reach out if you like, but keep in mind...
This is my experience. And my thought process for making a hosting change. This isn't supposed to be a point-by-point comparison of these companies. They're all good, really. You can't shop hosting based on features alone anymore. You have to decide on what feels right.