Case Study – HostGator versus WPEngine

WordPress dominates the internet. And it makes sense that someone out there would create a website hosting company specializing in being the most secure, scalable and fastest WordPress host. I’m very excited as I write this review as at this very moment I am fifteen minutes away from signing up with what has been commonly reviewed as ‘Premium WordPress Hosting’.

I am talking about WPEngine, a company that boasts such clients as FourSquare, AMD, Buffer and GeekWire. Again can you see why I’m excited? I’m fifteen minutes away from using the same server infrastructure as AMD!

So a little bit about why I’m writing this WPEngine review. I’ve been using a basic $60 a year shared hosting account with HostGator for about three years now. It’s been the backbone of my business and at one point I had over 80 WordPress installations running on this account. 80 is way too much and to be honest the Pareto Principal was at work even here. I found that 20% of my sites made me the most income. I have a general understanding of ranking and user experience principals and am aware that site load speed is on of many factors that influences site ranks but more importantly a poorly loading website increases bounce rates and user interaction with your websites.

The plan is to slowly migrate my best WordPress websites onto WPEngine to improve load speeds and ideally the income each of these sites generate.

Now I am a lover of all things data and constantly tout how you should use data to make your decisions online. With this in mind I am running a before and after performance analysis of one of my websites, pogospring.com, before and after the move. This way we’ll be able to see the difference in speed between HostGator and WPEngine first hand.

 

How we’re testing.

To gauge the performance of our test website we’ll be using a handy little website called WebPageTest.org. This website test performance to the object level and provides us with a load of stats. We’re just going to be concentrating on one metric which is load time, however you will be able to view full results here.

WebpageTest Settings for WPEngine performance test

The same test conditions will be used.

 

Current Performance.

I’ve just run my initial test and our WordPress website’s performance is pretty average. 7.685 seconds for a webpage to load is beyond what I would normally put up with.

WebpageTest Before

And this is the original grading they gave us. Absolutely terrible and in need of some improvement.

Original Grade for PogoSpring

Now comes the exciting part. I’m about to sign up to our new webhost and then transfer our WordPress install across to WPEngine. I’ll report back once I’ve completed this.

 

OK I’m back. The sign up process was very easy, just one page to fill in with information. I’ve selected their $99 a month Professional plan. After you’ve done this you’ll have a default WP install to sign into and you’ll receive an email that includes your CPanel information. WPEngine also provide a link to instructions for moving your existing website from a CPanel to their servers. Which is perfect in the case of migrating this website from HostGator to WPEngine. I won’t cover the migration process here as they already do a great job of it.

Alright I’m migrated. All up this took me about 3 hours to complete. I had a 500MB WP-Content folder with 16,000 files and a 40MB MySQL database, so if your website is small it will take much less time. The process was surprisingly easy. One minor hiccup with the SFTP connection error when uploading my WP-Content folder but support was super quick to help. Literally they presented me with a personalized fix in UNDER 5 MINUTES. Amazing! I do have a reasonable understanding of this type of tech though but if you get stuck the WPEngine support is second to none.

 

New Performance.

Now onto the exciting part. I am actually really looking forward to this. I’m re-running the exact same test as before. The only difference is that we are now using premium WordPress hosting with WPEngine and I have disabled a couple of plugins that WPEngine recommended we remove.

And the results.

WPEngine Performance Review

And our new grading.

Grade for WPEngine

So far a reasonable improvement of 2 seconds or a 25% improvement in speeds. Now I’ll be the first to admit that pogospring.com is a pretty poorly built website. Not a lot of thought was put into it’s design and structure, in fact upon further investigation I have discovered that we are getting a real performance hit when we’re loading two objects on our homepage.

Object ErrorsAck! I’ll have to get this fixed asap, looks Adsense related. Thanks WebPageTest.org!A little more tweakingAlright so I’ve done some more tweaking and have taken the site’s load speed down to 4.954 seconds, a 36% reduction in speed. I still have this Adsense issue though and will have to get onto this.

Final Results

Ok so removing Adsense fixed the issue. I’ll now need to find out a good way of putting it back on so it doesn’t give me a hit like this on performance.

 

Final Result: 4.213 seconds. While still too slow it is a 3.5 second reduction.

 

I’ll keep tabs on other metrics like bounce rates and my volume of organic traffic as I’d really like to see how swapping to WPEngine effects search ranks and user engagement. All up I’m happy but not as impressed as I thought I would be. 40+ percent improvement for three hours of work is pretty good but I was expecting more, especially since I am now spending twenty times more for my hosting.

I might run another WPEngine review like this on a website I built for a client recently, I can’t fill you in on the URL but I can on the stats. Subscribe and I’ll be sure to let you know the outcome.

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