This article has originally been published in 2015 and since updated.
It’s not that we were unhappy with the service WP Engine provides. Their servers are fast, they have every comfort you can imagine, a proper staging area being one of them, and their support usually answers promptly.
Their prices: when you have between 100,000 and 250,000 visitors per month, you find yourself in a pricing plan no-man’s-land – and it’s expensive. For us, there is pretty much only the Growth plan, which is $115 for up to 100,000 visitors. If you go over it, it means a steep rise in charges – $1 per 1000 visitors. It wouldn’t be so bad if their numbers roughly matched the Google Analytics visitor count. Unfortunately, that’s usually significantly higher due to bots and other crawlers running around the site. (Update 16 Oct 2015: Fortunately, WP Engine is not counting bot traffic any longer).
For us it sometimes doubled the $115.
We were on a yearly contract and I figured that handing in a cancellation would at least lead to a friendly call from them with a better offer; but all I got was a canned response with instructions on how to migrate the site.
We needed to find a different solution.
Flywheel to the rescue
A couple of friends mentioned that they are using Flywheel and that they are very happy with it. Here’s an example of what we heard:
“I’ve been using Flywheel as my provider for the last 6 months or so. They have had near perfect uptime, best server response time of the hosts I’ve used, and great support for the most part.”
“WP Engine support is good, but Flywheel’s is great. Plus Flywheel will move your site for you. No brainer.”
All in all it just made sense to give Flywheel a try. The free migration also came in quite handy. Let’s go for it!
WP Engine vs. Flywheel: a Comparison
|Cost per month||$115||$92 (billed yearly)|
|Visitors||100,000||150,000 – more if you negotiate with them|
|Backups||Automatic daily backups, one-click restore||Automatic daily backups, one-click restore|
|Support||24/7||9am – 5pm CDT & emergency support|
Cost, Visitors and Installs
Their $92 Freelance plan costs less as WP Engine’s Growth option but with 50% more visitors included. I was even able to negotiate a significantly higher visitor allowance. When I tried the same with WP Engine it was always the same reply: “We hear you but sorry, can’t do that.”
Another advantage for us was the fact that Flywheel allows payments via PayPal, which, as a European company, saves us currency conversion fees.
Winner: (clearly) Flywheel
Staging Area and Backups
WP Engine has a solid staging area where you can do tests and when everything works, you push your changes live. It works perfectly and is very handy. A staging area is one of the things that you typically don’t get with a regular hosting company that isn’t WordPress-only.
Flywheel’s staging area also works very well. No real difference.
Winner: a draw.
Loading Speed and CDN
This test was carried out in 2015.
This was my first surprise with Flywheel. I thought there wouldn’t be a difference in loading speeds, especially since both hosting companies use MaxCDN for worldwide caching. I used Pingdom to perform several tests and the result was very clear: Flywheel instantly almost doubled the loading time of our website.
When I tried similar testing tools the results weren’t quite as clear but it was still always WPEngine that came out as a clear winner.
Winner: (clearly) WP Engine
WP Engine’s support is very fast and usually also very helpful. You can really expect a reply within hours. Or you can just call them or chat with them.
Flywheel on the other hand doesn’t offer 24/7 support, which is a problem if you are far away from the Texan time zone as we are. But even when we expected to have a reply in our inbox the next morning we were sometimes disappointed. In a few instances we had turnaround times of 24 hours+. Pro tip: grab them via live chat if you can!
Winner: WP Engine (but they are not completely free of faults either as we found out here)
So, by now my enthusiasm to actually go through with the switch had already faded a little. The loading speed is a particular downer – we don’t really want to risk worse Google rankings because of a slow site.
But now that we had already set up the new site on Flywheel, I wanted to at least give it a try. If we don’t like it we just set our domain’s nameservers back to WP Engine.
The one big issue that made us cancel the whole thing
We gave our developer the green light, the go ahead to update the Flywheel installation to bring in our latest updates – added after Flywheel had done the migration. But then we experienced an issue that made us do a 180-degree turnaround.
Uploading the 250 MB WordPress installation via SFTP took almost 1.5 hours and produced endless errors. Here’s a screenshot of our developer telling us about it:
Flywheel is working like a cheap hosting. Seriously?
We thought maybe it’s our (remote) developers internet connection, so I tried it myself and experienced exactly the same errors and warning messages.
As a comparison, we did the same upload on WP Engine – it took only a few minutes.
For me that was it. I emailed Flywheel and asked for a refund. Of course, it’s possible that we caught them on a bad day as usually they do seem like a solid solution.
Since our business is ultra dependent on a functioning website I am not willing to risk any serious complications even if it would save us a significant amount of money.
In the end I will be crawling back to WP Engine with my tail between my legs to ask them to cancel the cancellation.
Want to give WP Engine a try yourself? Click here to find a plan that suits you. They offer a 20% discount with this voucher code: WPE20OFF.
To try out FlyWheel, click here. Maybe your experience will be better than ours.
Update Jan 31, 2019
We are still customers at WPEngine and mostly happy with their service. I’d say that approx. once every two years our site goes down for about 30-60 minutes because another website on our shared hosting receives too much traffic (‘noisy neighbor’ as they call it). Not great but so far they have always issued a compensation (like a $150 credit).
We are now on their Scale plan, which is $290 per month but we are exceeding the limits of 400,000 visits pretty much every month. The next tier would be the dedicated hosting and starts at $600, which is considerably more than what we are paying right now including overages. I wish there was more flexibility on their part. Kinsta, for example, also has a plan for up to 600,000 visits for which they charge $400.
There are also companies like Cloudways, who sell managed WordPress hosting. With them you can even choose what underlying hosting platform you want to use (e.g. AWS, Linode or Google Cloud Platform). WPEngine don’t have their own servers either, by the way, they use Google Cloud Platform. With Cloudways your traffic is only limited to what your server is able to process so you’ll need a bit more tech-savvy than with the other hosting companies.
But back to our WPEngine story. To have less traffic on our WPEngine account we even moved a few of our smaller sites to Siteground. They are pretty decent and so far we haven’t had any issues that their support couldn’t fix. But, of course, it’s not the same quality of service (in terms of server performance and the level of convenience).
Another thing I noted is that WPEngine has become a lot more corporate over the years, with salespeople regularly asking for my “opinion” on their service when all they really want is to sell the expensive $600 plan. Overall I would say that I am still reasonably happy with WPEngine with the exception of a few minor annoyances.
Update May 8, 2019
Flywheel is now using Google Cloud Platform and apparently, they have rebuilt their architecture to be more resilient and faster. There are new pricing options that you can find here. All new plans have CDN, staging, as well as 24/7/365 support. There is also a new service to manage plugin updates for their customers.
Had any positive or negative experiences yourself? Please let us know in the comments!