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First off, let’s address the elephant in the room. It certainly goes without saying that WP Engine is the biggest thing going on in the managed WordPress space.
With more than 36,000 websites to its name, it can almost feel like WordPress is strategically pushing some of its users to go for WP Engine.
However, I have to admit that there’s a solid reason behind this impressive dominance. Although there’s always that category of first-time users who would choose to join the most popular bandwagon, WP Engine continues to attract signups simply because of its relatively good features.
With that said, let’s face it. Even market leaders have their set of weaknesses. And WP Engine’s principal one, to say the least, is its pricing schedule.
Ok, I guess there are more weak points but we’ll discuss them as we progress. For now, let’s look at that one primary thing that’s increasingly drifting some users away from WP Engine.
If you’ve used it before, you might have experienced the frustration if you have, say 115,000 site visitors per month. The problem with such a traffic size is the simple fact that it falls squarely within the no-man’s land range, which essentially stretches from 100,000 to about 250,000 visitors per month.
Why, you ask?
Well, look at this set of packages and their corresponding prices. Pay close attention to the number of site visits applicable to the respective price points.
I think you’ll agree that 25,000 and 100,000 are relatively close, and the price difference seems to make sense. With 40,000 visitors per month, therefore, you’ll end up paying $85 more than a site with 25,000 visitors. Consequently placing you in the second category of subscribers.
Now that doesn’t sound so bad, does it?
Wait, you think it does? Ok, fine. I know how it feels. $85 might be a substantial bump to small enterprises. Especially when we further extrapolate the monthly payments, and consider the cumulative difference per year.
You have a point. But, hold your horses for now, and switch to the third package. Notice anything strange?
$290 all the way from $115 is quite the jump. That’s double the mid-package price plus a top-up of $70. And it might make sense at first when you compare the respective traffic sizes of 100,000 and 400,000.
Now, let’s go deeper and try to look at things from a practical point of view.
Shifting from $115 to $290 per month when your traffic surges from 100,000 to 250,000 or more is arguably fair. Since 250,000 is basically the midpoint between 100,000 and 400,000.
Well, let’s switch back to the first case I mentioned- about a site hosting 115,000 visitors per month. This is noticeably close to the mid package traffic allocation of 100,000 hits, and quite far from the third package limit of 400,000.
Interestingly, and rather sadly, it turns out WP Engine don’t see it this way. As far as they are concerned, 115,000 visitors per month are conveniently equal to 400,000. That means you’ll be forced to upgrade your subscription package to pay at least $290 every month.
Astonishing, isn’t it? Well, if you thought $85 sounded expensive, how about $185 for extra features you don’t need?
Evidently, the no man’s land is a rip-off.
That’s why I thought of trying out other services. After all, WP Engine is only leading the pack in usage. Nobody has mentioned anything about the corresponding features.
All things considered, I was seeking an alternative solution with not just a favorable pricing schedule, but also great features. If I couldn’t find anything that can beat WP Engine, I was willing to settle for a cheaper service that would at least match up to WP Engine’s provisions.
We’ve all been at this point on different services. When you feel an undying urge to find a better alternative.
And it’s not easy at all. This process might sound simple at first, but deep down you know it takes a lot of effort to mine for legitimate competitors, before analyzing their respective features.
And you know what? My journey took me through several seemingly promising solutions. Each with unique a set of strengths and weaknesses against WP Engine.
I’ve already written about some of my experiences. And today I’ll focus on yet another prominent alternative I’ve tried out- Flywheel.
So, how does Flywheel weigh against WP Engine? Which of the two provides the best possible features at a favorable price?
I’ll help you figure that out. By going through the critical analysis in detail, with genuine pointers on each of these solutions. But first, let’s begin at the base with a review of their respective fundamental objectives.
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Right of the bat, it’s hard not to be impressed here. Flywheel’s main site is refreshingly elegant, and seems like a pretty solid solution you can entrust your business website with.
The team behind it started laying the groundwork in 2012. Their principle mission was simple- reach out to the global audience, and improve the lives of millions of developers and web designers who work on WordPress-based sites.
True to form, they’ve achieved quite a lot over the last 6 years, including impacting the lives of not just developers and designers, but also entrepreneurs.
That said, it’s worth noting that Flywheel primarily targets designers and creatives at both individual and agency levels.
And to effectively cater to them, the solution is built to offer user-friendly managed WordPress hosting. This is done through an intuitive system, which is coordinated from a beautiful, informative central dashboard.
The solution’s principal focus, however, is flexibility and scalability. Its core provisions have been optimized to grant different levels of users just the requisite resources based on their individual needs. Thanks to this, designers can select suitable hosting plans, then build content as they continue designing for their clients.
All in all, it’ll be interesting to see how this Omaha, Nebraska-headquartered solution stacks up against WP Engine.
WP Engine, to begin with, is older the Flywheel. But only by two years. The service, therefore, has been around since 2010- but is seemingly five years or so ahead of Flywheel, going by its exponentially growing user base.
Based in Austin, Texas, WP Engine essentially coordinates and maintains WordPress resources for its clients across 120 countries. Some of the prominent users on its corner include governments, Fortune 50 companies, and international corporations.
They increasingly adopt it for its ability to prioritize on all the critical aspects of WordPress hosting, consequently delivering well-optimized websites. To achieve this, WP Engine capitalizes on a team of highly skilled developers, who also provide support around the clock.
Overall, in addition to web security, WP Engine safeguards a site’s conversion rates, SEO and page loading speeds. Pretty much what’s required to boost business and brand reputation.
WP Engine and Flywheel have both provided managed WordPress hosting solutions for several years now. While the former launched in 2010, the latter came into the industry only two years later, but has since lagged behind in market penetration.
While Flywheel is optimized for user-friendliness and scalability, WP engine is focused on safeguarding SEO, security, conversion rates and page loading speeds. This has seen the former attract designers and creatives on both individual and agency levels, while WP Engine works with governments, Fortune 50 companies, and international corporations, among other users.
The first thing you’ll possibly notice about Flywheel’s dashboard is the beautiful minimalistic design. Refreshing, but it’s an element I assume is often overlooked by many users.
Moving on to more important matters, I also find Flywheel’s dashboard highly functional and very rich in information. And that’s what fundamentally discerns dashboards that have been optimized for users, from ones that are largely ceremonial.
From that vantage point, you can effortlessly access a wide range of useful features and statistics. In addition to viewing collaborators, you can set your system password, and track the site backups.
And speaking of the site, the process of creating a new WordPress installation should not take you longer than 60 seconds. If you already have a site, migrating it is as simple as clicking on a button. Otherwise, you should fill out the form to get started.
Well, I added numerous sites to conclusively assess the service’s capabilities. The subsequent list was displayed sequentially, and in multiple pages.
That’s a reasonably simple and straightforward system of organization, I admit, but excluding a search button complicates things here. To locate a specific site at the bottom of the list, I had to keep clicking “Next” to scroll through several pages.
Over to the blue corner, and you’ll have to agree with me here that WP Engine’s interface is not as beautiful as Flywheel’s. But, at least it makes up for this by optimizing functionality and navigation.
It’s built to help users move around easily, and access all the primary features with one click. On the left of any site install, for instance, you can comfortably jump into anything through the single menu- from SSL to error logs, redirects to CDN management, etc.
Overall, the dashboard here is seemingly more advanced than Flywheel’s. It supports many functions, including clearing the cache and creating staging sites.
If you’re particularly concerned about exporting logs, you won’t see any button to request for a corresponding email. WP Engine has made things much easier by automating the whole procedure. And that, of course, simplifies the whole process of troubleshooting in case of a problem.
When it comes to collaboration, however, coordinating and controlling things here is not as straightforward as we’ve seen with Flywheel. You’re forced to establish a new SFTP login each time you’re extending a collaborator’s privileges to another site.
Flywheel’s interface is simple and beautiful. WP Engine’s, on the other hand, is seemingly more functional with the primary commands placed at just the right spots where you need them. This is a huge plus compared to Flywheel, which hides some critical features behind tabs. Setting up SSL, for instance, would take you at least two clicks of navigation from the dashboard to get started.
On the B-side, Flywheel also packs some functionalities that WP Engine lacks. In addition to switching to development mode straight from the control panel, Flywheel makes it possible to grant collaborators access to multiple sites without additional SFTP logins. All things considered, we can call it a tie on user friendliness.
Now, we can be all diplomatic about this and go by what each of the solutions promises you. But, it turns out that site speed and performance is the last thing I would compromise on. I particularly insist on verifying the facts and figures when we review these aspects.
So, how about we make this a little more interesting by running performance tests on both Flywheel and WP Engine?
And for conclusive results, we’ll maintain similar parameters for both sets of tests.
Flywheel was the first patient in the performance test hot seat. And I proceeded without turning the CDN option on for conclusive results.
On GTMetrix, the site version supported by Flywheel managed a page load time of 3.8 seconds. Quite remarkable, but it still falls short of Google’s John Mueller’s page load time benchmark of two seconds.
Now, that’s a solid 1.8 seconds above the benchmark. Consequently placing the expected average bounce rate somewhere between 11% and 24%.
Fair enough. But the test is barely halfway done. Now, have you heard about YSlow? If not, it’s another speed rating system which essentially assigns scores according to Yahoo’s rules for high-performance sites. Great performance here translates to a high score.
That said, the average YSlow performance was slightly north of 73%. Well, that’s not so bad considering the CDN was off. Not bad at all.
Moving on to other test parameters, the total web page size recorded was 1.22MB. Not what I hoped for, but at least it’s almost half the average global web page size of more than 2.3MB.
And to conclude the tests, the number of requests recorded here was 106.
It’s no secret that WP Engine is repeatedly praised for its optimal performance. So, I was more curious about this set of results. Would it be able to live up to its reputation?
On the same web page as Flywheel, the page load time recorded on GTMetrix was 2 seconds. It fell right on the benchmark time. The corresponding average bounce rate expected with such a delay is about 6%.
With that page load time, I assumed that WP Engine would also win hands down on YSlow. It should be able to effortlessly beat the 73% we’ve seen with Flywheel, right?
Surprisingly, the WP Engine version of the site could only manage 67%. Come to think of it, I guess the lower score had something to do with the fact that YSlow does not only analyze speed, but also other factors relevant to the overall page performance.
Even more surprising was the fact that the total page size on WP Engine was 1.3MB. While the number of requests stood at 142.
Flywheel generates better requests than WP Engine. It also manages to compress content more than WP Engine, consequently resulting in slightly smaller web page sizes. This, along with other related factors, seemingly catapult Flywheel past WP Engine on the YSlow scale.
However, everything ultimately boils down to page load speeds. And, going by the tests, WP Engine proved to be 50% faster than Flywheel. That translates to significantly lower bounce rates, and better site conversation rates. So, we’ve got to give it to WP Engine on site speed and performance.
Flywheel’s primary data centers are positioned in New York City. This is where the bulk of the servers are concentrated.
So, what does that mean?
Basically, unless you specify otherwise, your website will be hosted in New York by default. Well, of course, this option is particularly favorable to sites that are principally targeting US-based traffic.
But, if you’re seeking to optimize your content for traffic based in other locations, you might be interested in seeking alternative Flywheel data centers. Thankfully, the service has managed to extend globally, with servers in Europe, Canada, and Asia.
The precise locations are:
For optimal efficacy, WP Engine leverages advanced server facilities from Google Cloud Platform and Amazon Web Services. This not only boosts performance, but also drives large scale integrations, intelligence, and agility.
And guess what? AWS and Google Cloud Platform will also help you maintain third-party certification on several compliance levels including SOC 1, SOC 2 and SOC 3 (internal controls documentation), ISO 27018 (cloud privacy), plus ISO 27017 (cloud security).
Each of these data storage powerhouses manages numerous data centers scattered around the globe. WP Engine, on the other hand, runs a couple of servers in the US, Australia, UK, Taiwan, Germany, and Belgium.
Sounds like a buffet, right? But, where exactly does WP Engine store your site?
Now, WP Engine allows you to select preferred data centers based on your subscription package and primary traffic sources. For the best possible results, the service advises its users to test latency levels of the respective data centers.
And since Google and Amazon will never let you get close to the well-guarded fortresses, you should take advantage of GCPping to assess Google servers, and CloudPing for AWS.
Ultimately, you could settle for these locations:
Both Flywheel and WP Engine have a solid set of data centers scattered around the globe, in all the core web traffic sources. However, it’s pretty evident that WP Engine is slightly ahead of Flywheel. It has more data centers not only in the US, but also globally. While Flywheel manages servers in Europe, US and Asia, WP Engine has a secure foothold in all these areas plus the continent of Australia.
Additionally, by availing AWS and Google Cloud facilities, WP Engine is substantially reducing round-trip latency for your web traffic, while improving compliance levels at the same time.
Flywheel and WP Engine basically come with more or less similar sets of features. In addition to one-click staging deployment, they both provide CDNs for increased site speeds; firewalls, malware monitoring, and SSL certificates for security; site backup; uptime guarantee; site cloning and migration; 24/7 technical support; multiple server locations; activity tracking and reporting; server cache; and several other shared features.
But, make no mistake, while the basic features may be identical, the precise details are quite different when we dive deeper. Since Flywheel’s features are essentially optimized for creatives and developers, their functionality scale is limited to freelancers, agencies and enterprise teams. WP Engine, on the other hand, is more dynamic, with features that not only extend to support multiple industries, but also varying user levels- SMBs, enterprises, agencies, and individuals.
Flywheel, unfortunately, does not offer a free trial. But then again, I guess that comes with the whole managed hosting concept. And it makes sense, considering the fact that its team of developers swings into action the very moment you introduce a new WordPress installation.
Sounds fair? Then let’s proceed to the details.
Now, Flywheel comes in six different packages. Three for users running single sites, and three more for multiple sites.
With a single site, you could subscribe to:
Tiny – $14 per month billed yearly, or $15 per month billed monthly
Personal – $28 per month billed yearly, or $30 per month billed monthly
Professional – $69 per month billed yearly, or $75 per month billed monthly
If you’re a reseller with many sites, on the other hand, Flywheel offers the following packages:
Freelance – $92 per month billed yearly, or $100 per month billed monthly
Agency – $229 per month billed yearly, or $250 per month billed monthly
Custom – Negotiable
WP Engine, to begin with, is also not open to free subscriptions. Well, it might seem like it offers 2 months free with annual prepay, but that’s just a clever strategy to encourage pull you in for the long haul.
The only difference here with services offering discounted annual prepaid packages is the mathematical approach. WP Engine has summed up the cumulative cost for an entire year minus two months. So, essentially, it’s pretty much the same thing when you come to think of it.
However, at least WP Engine offers a 60-day risk-free period to annual prepay subscribers. Now that’s something worth commending.
That said, here are your subscription options:
Startup – starts at $35 per month
Growth – Starts at $115 per month.
Scale – Starts at $290 per month.
Custom – Negotiable
While both solutions have considered single and multiple site users, Flywheel has a more flexible pricing strategy with packages ideal for all types of users. And WP Engine isn’t taking this lying down. It fights back with a 60-day risk-free period for annual prepay subscribers.
Needless to say, Flywheel is still the cheapest at the end of the day. Not only on cost per package basis, but also due to the simple fact that it doesn’t hold you down in costly intermediate zones.
Overall, WP Engine and Flywheel are both excellent options for managed WordPress hosting solutions. Both having extensive offerings and features that, depending on your business, one may be a better fit than the other.
Over to you now. Your thoughts?