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WPEngine Nightmare: 60 Secs To Load A Page?

   |  28 Nov, 2015  #

It’s been said many times over the years: “build it, and they will come.” I’m not sure if this is accurate, but I definitely know that offering a quality product to a market where demand already exists is nearly always a sure bet.

The truly rewarding thing about running LittleBizzy is that it really doesn’t require much marketing. By partnering with some of the best technology companies and SaaS services on the web, and then adding some very clear “education” and “organization” elements into the mix, we are able to attract both individual webmasters and design agencies looking for simplification and performance improvements in the realm of web hosting and digital marketing.

Of course, it never hurts to come across a client who is both extremely open-minded, yet also very informed.

Vanessa Harris is one such client. Vanessa is truly a rare gem, as far as “customers” go; not only has she been encouraging and complimentary since the first time we met, but she has also been overly patient and understanding when I’ve not been at the top of my game. But more than anything, she has positively challenged me to remain ever-vigilant when it comes to staying informed on the latest trends, controversies, or tricks of the trade within the vast world of website performance.

But rather than me re-telling her story of ditching (over-hyped) WPEngine and migrating to LittleBizzy… its probably better to read it in her own words, as she recently published the experience on her blog, Technology Poet. In short, WPEngine was slowing down one of Vanessa’s websites so horribly – for weeks on end – that she came to me in “emergency” mode:

“It started innocently enough. A little hiccup in one of the more popular sites I run. As page load time spiked to more than 15s I reached out to the WP Engine Support team to get it fixed. Page views had remained stable, and nothing significant had changed in my WordPress configuration. For weeks I had been battling extremely slow load times on the admin interface – sometimes even cresting 1 minute, but I hadn’t prioritized fixing it. After all, as long as the site loads fast for visitors I could put up with the occasional ‘slow enough to get coffee’ loading moments before configuring a plugin.”

It doesn’t take a genius to conclude that 15 second frontend loading times and 60+ second backend loading times are utterly shameful when it comes to “premium” WordPress hosting (let alone any type of web hosting).

“But 15s page load time for visitors was unacceptable. Page views were plummeting along with ad revenue. To all intents and purpose the site might as well have been down. Three years ago I chose WP Engine because of their good reputation. I was willing to pay the higher price for the ‘speed, security and reliability’ they [allegedly] offered.”

Vanessa’s terrifying tale of hosting with WPEngine ended with her site being “down” for over 96 hours — yes, you read that correctly — without even a single acknowledgement or helpful response from the WPEngine support team. Surely, that goes against even the most conservative definition of “managed hosting” thought possible…!

Now, to be somewhat (very somewhat) fair to WPEngine, much of the slow-down in Vanessa’s high traffic website was due to a bloated MySQL database which had an overloaded wp_options table, years of uncleaned “settings” from now deleted plugins, and one particularly poor membership plugin that was active on the site. Still, as a “managed” WordPress hosting provider responsible for server performance, surely WPEngine could have quickly diagnosed this situation within a few hours of receiving a support request from their client? (Or, apparently, NOT.)

You see, rather than EDUCATING customers on best practices — or understanding that no amount of “child-proofing” will avoid the need for true performance monitoring and website optimization — WPEngine takes a GoDaddy-like approach by simply “caging” their customers into a misleading, locked-down system which, at the end of the day, doesn’t resemble open-source WordPress values in the least. And, reserving an in-depth criticism of WPEngine’s system for another time, suffice it to say that encouraging WPMU installations, banning several WordPress plugins, manipulating the WordPress database and core file system, and relying on a custom-made cache/CDN/staging/permissions environment are just some of the reasons why WPEngine creates so many problems for their “managed” (pff) hosting clients. (Even good old WooThemes is hosted at WPEngine, which has proven to embarass them on more then one occasion.)

Ultimately, WPEngine is a perfect example of affiliate marketing programs gone astray: by offering a whopping $200 per referral, it has become nearly impossible to find an honest, critical look at their web hosting setup as bloggers and developers are all too tempted to simply recommend the company to readers, and collect a monthly affiliate payout in return.

But on the positive side, LittleBizzy is honored to acquire yet another former WPEngine customer, and as a result, I personally have become more passionate about database optimization than ever before (thanks, Vanessa!).

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