Switched Hosting Providers from BlueHost to WPEngine
Last Updated: 08/07/13
I recently decided it was time for me to switch from my current web host. This was a rather sad event as my site is still only a few months old. There was really only one reason why I switched, and that was speed. I previously used BlueHost, and in their defense, I was using their cheapest hosting scheme, a shared hosting plan.
Before using BlueHost, I used to host my own site. After dealing with that hassle, I decided it was time to scrap that site completely and start over. I chose to create a WordPress site primarily because I wanted to have the support for dynamic content without having to do much of my own coding. This is somewhat humorous, because once I created my site I ended up adding lots of support for static content (you may have noticed that all of my techtorials are pages, while documents like this one are posts). Anyway, after deciding to build a WordPress site, I looked around at my various hosting options and determined BlueHost should be a good choice as they have cheap prices and are a WordPress recommended hosting solution.
Pros: Cheap, 24/7 phone / chat / email support, unlimited email accounts / space / bandwidth, easy to use, full control of site through SSH / SFTP / cPanel, full pro-refund
Cons: Slow, no notices of server down time
Overall: Decent budget hosting if speed is not a concern
As soon as I registered for BlueHost I set out to building myself a new website from “scratch”. I was pleasantly greeted with how easy it was to set up a new WordPress site on BlueHost. I went to my cPanel, clicked on WordPress, and that was pretty much it. I did not have to do any messing around with the database nor change any configuration files. The site just worked. This for me was a huge plus; not having to contact support showed me that they were doing their job correctly.
After creating my site, I got a call from BlueHost, the following day, telling me that I needed to verify my account / site. I thought this process was odd, but sure, why not. Needless to say, it was basically just a way for them to try to sell me on more options. I decided to hear them out. It was explained to me that the price that I registered at would not be the price I would see upon renewing the following year (I had only signed up for one year). I was quite disturbed by this. The individual went on to explain that those are promotional prices and that come renewal the prices would be higher. I do not remember the details, but nonetheless he had my attention. I was then informed that they offer a full money back guarantee for unused months if you leave early. I figured I might as well, as if I decided to stay I would save money in the long run. I ended up spending less than $178.2 for three years of hosting. At just under $5/mo, I was thrilled.
After setting up the site I then checked out some of the other features, such as email, SSH, and SFTP. Having SSH was a huge plus as it gave me tons of control over the actual site. SFTP is an obvious requirement for any host, and it worked as desired. Setting up email accounts was simple and it worked as expected.
As time progresses, I learned a lot more about WordPress, and per usual start mucking around with its internals. I ended up modifying my theme, adding features, changing some of the core functionality, etc…. At this point, I started doing some extensive site analysis. I noticed my site took forever to load. I went through the process of setting up caching, using W3 Total Cache, I reduced my image sizes, I setup a free CDN using CloudFlare, I made sure my generated HTML was W3 compliant, etc…. By now, I have spent many hours working on getting my site to be as clean and fast as possible. I primarily relied on the following tools: Pingdom, GTMetrix, and Google’s PageSpeed. I was able to get my site to have relatively high scores all across the board.
Despite all of those efforts, I was still having performance issues. When I have three separate tools telling me that I have a code optimization / SEO level in the 90/100 range and yet I have to wait more than three seconds for my pages to load, there is a problem. I started heavily monitoring my sites performance. Sometimes I could not even access my site. CloudFlare would politely tell me that my site is offline and that they are serving me a cached version.
Every time I would have a major speed issue I would login to BlueHost and check my server status and it would report that it was online and that everything was good to go. This was probably the most frustrating aspect. If you are hosting my site and there is a service issue I expected to be notified immediately via email and kept up-to-date of the issue. At the very least, I expect to see some sort of obvious notification in my panel that my site is having issues.
During one of these troublesome times, I decided to contact tech support. I used their chatting service and was told that I would have a wait time of 15 minutes. This was fine, I was using chat, had I called I would have expected a faster response. When I was connected to a representative, I was told that there was some unplanned maintenance and that I should just be patient….
I do not think I need to go into any more details into the speed issues that I was having. Bottom line, I gave BlueHost a chance, and they let me down. As I mentioned before, I was on their cheapest plan, so maybe the higher up plans are better. Either way, not being informed of connectivity issues put a really bad taste in my mouth, so I decided it was best to leave.
I should state that they do hold true to their word, with regards to their refund. The entire process was very simple. I started an online chat session with the billing department. After a short 5 minute wait, I told the individual that I was cancelling my services. I had to fill out a quick form. About 10 minutes after filling out that form I received an email saying that they have issued a credit of $168.45, charging me for just under two months of usage.
The Search for a New Host
I currently do not have the largest, nor most popular site; however, I do have a good bit of unique content. That unique content is what is part of the reason why I am already seeing traffic coming in from Google and Bing. Since search engines take into consideration speed, it is vital that your site be as fast as possible. Furthermore, if a page takes longer than just a couple of seconds most visitors will close the page before even viewing the content. This means that not only do you need to have a fast site to be visible on the internet, but you also need a fast site to even have potential viewers comes to your site. With this in mind, having a fast website is undeniably one of the most important factors of how good the site is.
As I plan on growing my site, I could not take any chances that I would get looked over by even one visitor because my site was slow. This is considerably more important for a site whose domain is “techtorials.me”. One would expect a nerd to have a blazingly fast website. I mean why would you trust my tech advice if I cannot even do a simple task like serve you a webpage?
I began to search for the fastest WordPress host in the business. I figured managed was probably the best way to go. With a managed site, the host provider handles all of the stuff underneath the hood. This means that the efforts I placed into using tools like W3 Total Cache would earn me nothing more than a “Great Job!” from the host provider, as they will have their own fancy tools. I figured that despite my nerdiness I am still only getting my feet wet with WordPress, and am probably better off letting someone else deal with all of the technical aspects.
After some quick internet searching I stumbled upon WPEngine. I did my homework on them and they appeared to be a good solution. My number one concern was cost. As you can see, I currently do not use any methods to generate income from this site. Despite this, I decided to bite the bullet and shell out the cash. After using a coupon, and prepaying for the whole year, I was able to get one year’s worth of hosting for $261. This means that I am now paying just over 4x more than what I was previously paying. But was it worth it?
Pros: Speed, managed, security
Cons: Price, no SSH / email / etc…, no tech support via chat
Overall: Very fast WordPress hosting solution, but if you want more than just serving a WordPress site, you may be unhappy.
After downloading my site’s contents and database from BlueHost I proceeded with building it on WPEngine. I uploaded my tables to their database using phpMyAdmin. I immediately discovered that I had completely borked my install. I was not off to a good start! I looked around for a good support method, but only saw an option available through support tickets. Expecting that to be quite slow, I called the number on their main site and after a short 5 minute wait I was connected with tech support.
I soon learn that BlueHost used a non-standard prefix for the WordPress tables. I also learned that the process was not exactly as simply as uploading the tables. Thankfully, my phone call allowed me to gain access back to my site through the WordPress login screen. I continued along with the process by uploading my files via SFTP. So far, so good.
I then tested out my site using my temporary URL, which was set to be used correctly from my initial phone call. The site looked OK overall, but I noticed a big issue with my category pages. With my category pages, I have code to dynamically generate thumbnails using a script called TimThumb. After some debugging, I realized that portion of code was no longer working. I had to reset the file permissions, tweak the code, but eventually got it up and running. Now my site looked exactly the way it should, but how does it compare speed wise?
Keep in mind that I had to remove my caching plugin, my backup plugin, and my image shrinking plugin. Oh well, they should know how to handle that better than me anyway…. Looking at the same three tools, the site performed better in most aspects. GTMetrix favored the BlueHost configuration; however, it was nominal and the main difference was that I did not have my CDN configured.
At this point, I was now finally ready to flip the switch from BlueHost to WPEngine. I decided to take the long route and switch my DNS servers back to my domain registrar, disabling my CDN. I did that because CloudFlare has a wonderful feature of auto detecting what DNS settings I should use; thus, allowing me to not have to manually type them in. I changed the domain name in my WordPress setup, configured my redirects, updated my DNS, and waited patiently for the changes to take effect.
Once the site was now hosted by WPEngine, I went back to CloudFlare and had it auto-configure my DNS records. After waiting for the DNS changes to update, I went back and re-ran all of those speed checking tools. My site’s performance now exceeded the configuration that I had on BlueHost. On top of that, I was able to serve my homepage in less than half a second!! I have the results shown below.
BlueHost is a good WordPress solution for people who are running personal blogs and are not too concerned with speed or the occasional down time. For people who provide unique content and desire to become ranked in Google and Bing, I would recommend finding another solution.
WPEngine is a great WordPress solution for people who are willing to pay for it and desire to only host their WordPress site. If you are looking for features like SSH, then you will be disappointed. If you want to have 100% control of your installation and make low-level tweaks, then you may run into complications. WPEngine is designed to do all of that for you, and they do a good job. One of the side things that will most likely need to be purchased outside of WPEngine is some sort of email server; however, you can usually get a cheap one directly through your domain registrar.