The best WordPress host? WP Engine vs SiteGround genuine comparison
When you’re trying to find the best WordPress host it can be hard to find genuine reviews. Everyone just wants to recommend the host that pays the biggest commision. That’s no value to people that actually need to find the best WordPress host!
I wanted to know if WP Engine or SiteGround was faster for my WordPress blog (this website!), so I have done some real world testing and have the results for you.
I planned to include Kinsta in the review as well, as they’ve been very vocal about their service recently. They aren’t here though because after I signed up I went to migrate the site over to them, and they charged me $120! This despite saying on their website that they do free migrations. I wasn’t going to waste my time on them after that, so I cancelled immediately. With so many hosts to choose from, flawless support is an absolute minimum requirement.
You will notice that I have not included a review of Bluehost WordPress hosting here. That is by choice. Most bloggers recommend them as the best WordPress host, but only because they pay a crazy big referral fee. I don’t think they are a good option, and I’ll cover why in the review.
Let’s get to it.
How I set up the test
I installed exact copies of this website on both hosts. There were no differences at all, except that I had to install a SiteGround plugin on the SiteGround hosting to get access to their caching system.
Both hosts were configured at the maximum level of caching they provided on the plans I picked.
For SiteGround, I picked their “GrowBig” plan at £3.95 a month. That plan includes premium features such as “SuperCacher”, their in-house caching system.
For WP Engine I picked the “Startup” plan which is $35 a month, but the cheapest plan they offer.
Obviously, there is a huge price difference between the two which you’ll need to consider when picking the best WordPress host for your needs. However, I just wanted speed.
Finally, to get an idea of how much difference using a dedicated WordPress host made, I also installed the site on Dreamhost using their standard $7.95 a month hosting plan.
I want to be clear that while Dreamhost comes out badly in these tests, that is partly because I am not using their specialist WordPress plans. Those plans are much more expensive. My aim here is to compare with a standard hosting package and show you that a dedicated WordPress plan is necessary, not to attack Dreamhost. They may well be a great host for other needs.
With the blogs up and running, I used Pingdom to set up speed tests.
Pingdom is a great little blog monitoring tool and has a free starter plan that you should use. It will monitor your blog and let you know if it starts running slowly or goes offline. If your blog is offline you need to know about it!
I have upgraded to the £33.95 per month plan which allows me to monitor a whole load of extra stuff, including the speed of up to 3 websites over time.
I configured a test for each of the 3 versions of the blog, set to check the speed by loading a page every 30 minutes from Eastern USA and recording how long it took to fully load.
I can then see results over a week or month to see if any of the 3 WordPress hosts had any offline periods or any weird spikes of bad performance.
Feature comparison WP Engine v SiteGround
Before we get into the results of the speed tests it’s worth looking at the services as a whole, as speed isn’t the only thing that matters when picking the best WordPress host for your blog.
When picking a web host for your WordPress site it’s important to pick one that is a specialist in WordPress. It’s a large and complex piece of software, with many thousands of possible plugins and add-ons that can cause chaos.
If you’re using a web host that doesn’t understand it, it’s likely that things will not be optimised correctly and other blogs sharing the server could affect the performance of yours. Some plugins are well known to be very intensive and cause slowdown, and so you need people that know how to handle this. Even if you’re doing everything right, other people using the same server might not be.
Both WP Engine and SiteGround are specialist WordPress hosts and are highly respected for it. That’s why I picked them. They have staff that contribute to the WordPress project and really understand it under the hood.
As WordPress is such a big beast that it’s important to use caching to speed up the performance of your site. Caching just means that the server stores some of your content in memory so that it can be quickly accessed without having to query the database each time. This means that fetching a page for a reader is easier, and therefore quicker.
There are loads of caching plugins that anyone can use for free, but these can be a pain to configure correctly and also be very server-intensive. We don’t want to slow things down further. In my opinion you can’t claim to be the best WordPress host if you aren’t helping your customers with things like this.
Both WP Engine and SiteGround have built their own caching systems, meaning you don’t need to worry about it. They know what to store in the cache and what not to, and provide buttons to quickly delete the cached data if you ever need to (after a design change, for example).
WP Engine was slightly easier as it was all ready to go when I installed WordPress. SiteGround required me to install their plugin and then enable caching in their control panel. A tiny bit more work, but still easy.
A very slight win for WP Engine due to the ease of setup
Websites and blogs are usually stored on a single server somewhere. It’s best to pick a host with servers in the country that most of your readers are from.
However you can’t be close to them all, and that’s where a CDN helps.
CDN stands for Content Delivery Network. They work by storing some of your static files (such as images or videos) in locations closer to your readers. Even if your main site and database is are the USA, your images and videos are stored on servers around the world.
Images and videos are the biggest files you’re likely to serve to your readers and so the slowest to transfer. Therefore the shorter the distance they have to travel across the internet, the better for your performance.
A CDN knows where a reader is based, then picks the server closest to them to serve the files. This means that while your data and text are still coming from your main server, all the big things are coming from a location far closer. It really helps with performance.
CDNs are often limited to expensive hosting plans as they cost more to run.
WP Engine includes a CDN with all of their hosting plans in the price. As WP Engine is at the higher end of web hosting prices, you’d expect them to. The CDN requires no setup, you won’t even know it’s there.
SiteGround does not run their own CDN however they have a relationship with CloudFlare, a company that handles DNS. This is not the post to get into DNS, but know that you will get free access to a CDN by using their services together. CloudFlare offers a lot of other benefits, including improved security, so are worth checking out.
A very slight win for WP Engine due to the ease of setup
Security and SSL certificates for WordPress
An SSL certificate is the thing you need to use HTTPS instead of HTTP with your blog. Over the last few years, it’s become increasingly important to use HTTPS (secure, encrypted connections) for any online content, and Google will punish you in the rankings if you don’t.
As of July ’18 anyone visiting an insecure site in Chrome will get a warning message, and you don’t want that.
It used to cost money to get the certificate required to secure your blog, but these days you can get a free one from an organisation called Let’s Encrypt. Installing them can be a pain though.
Thankfully both WP Engine and SiteGround have integrated directly with Let’s Encrypt, meaning you can make your blog secure with just a single click.
So both offer you the security certificate you need, and both are equally easy.
Draw, it’s equally easy on both
WordPress site migrations
If you have an existing blog and want to move it to one of these new hosts, the ease of switching will play a big part in your choice of host.
SiteGround offer a free WordPress migration service on their GrowBig plan. You provide them with the details of your existing WordPress account and they will move everything over to SiteGround and get it up and working for you.
WP Engine provides a free WordPress migration plugin that moves the site for you. You install the plugin on your old WordPress panel and enter the details provided by WP Engine. The transfer then happens automatically, with a progress bar informing you of how it’s going.
Despite the SiteGound service being handled be people for you, I actually found the WP Engine migration to be slightly easier. I had to find fewer details of existing hosting plans to provide.
WP Engine was slightly better migration process, but both worked well.
With so many WordPress hosts on the market, support is one way that a provider can differentiate themselves from their competition.
Both SiteGround and WP Engine offer live chat support to their customers, so if you ever have an issue or just need a question answering you can pop on to the website and ask them.
I used both quite frequently, and cannot pick one over the other. Support was incredibly good with both WP Engine and SiteGround.
There is a huge difference between the price of SiteGround and WP Engine.
SiteGround costs £3.95 per month for the first payment, then £14.95 a month. That’s for the “GrowBig” plan, their second cheapest and the one I suggest.
That means that if you pay for one month at a time you’ll pay £3.95 for the first month and £14.95 for subsequent months. If you pay for a year at a time, you’ll pay 12 x £3.95 for the first year and then 12 x £14.95 for subsequent years.
WP Engine costs $35 per month. No confusing pricing plans, you just pay the same amount every month.
SiteGround offers a 30-day money-back guarantee so you can give their service a try without risk.
WP Engine offers a 60-day money-back guarantee so you can give their service a try for slightly longer without risk.
The best WordPress host for speed
Speed was all I cared about but depending on how much you’re willing to spend, you’ll have to factor the price against the speed. My definition of the best WordPress host is one that is super fast, reliable, and well supported. You may have different priorities.
I ran my tests for 5 consecutive days, including a weekend. Over those same 5 days, the average page load speeds for the same blog on the 3 different hosts were:
On Dreamhost (for a baseline) 4.76 seconds
On SiteGround 1.89 seconds
On WP Engine 1.32 seconds
So the most expensive is the fastest. You’d certainly hope that would be the case. But is the extra cost worth the extra speed?
SiteGround is significantly faster than Dreamhost, our baseline hosting service. The value of going with a dedicated WordPress host really becomes clear. Both of our dedicated WordPress hosts performed well though.
Let’s look at what that means in the real world.
Here is the “filmstrip” for the most recent load of the blog on SiteGround. A filmstrip just shows you how much of the blog has loaded after a certain time, so you can see how your readers will be experiencing your pages.
You can see that after 1.5 seconds the text has appeared and after 2 seconds the page has loaded. There is a slight delay on the bar at the bottom popping up on purpose, so that’s not counted in the page speed tests.
Here is the same loading speed graphic for WP Engine.
You can see that after just 1 second content has started to load, and by 1.5 seconds it is finished! Again, the bar at the bottom loads at 2.5 seconds because that’s how it is configured to load.
So in these examples, SitGround finished in 2 seconds, WP Engine in 1.5. Both great results.
For comparison, here is the same graphic for Dreamhost.
Oh dear. There is nothing on the page after 2.5 seconds. Hopefully, you’re really beginning to see the value of using a specialist WordPress host!
The best WordPress host overall
The absolute best WordPress host is WP Engine. Yes, they are the most expensive of the options I looked at, but they do justify that cost with better performance than any of the competitors.
With the smoothest migration plugin, the easiest to use caching system, and a built-in CDN, WP Engine is the place to host your blog if you’re laser-focused on speed.
With speed an important factor in Google rankings, you need to be doing what you can to ensure that your blog is fast. There is no point spending ages configuring loads of on-site optimisations if the host you’re using is letting you down.
The best value WordPress host
If you’re just starting out or are not comfortable spending $35 a month on WP Engine, SiteGround is a superb value alternative.
Their performance, while not quite as fast as WP Engine, was still superb. They were miles ahead of Dreamhost, who are themselves a well-respected host.
With a feature list that is very similar to WP Engine (if a little more complex to get started with), SiteGround is the best value WordPress host on the market at the moment.
So which WordPress host did I pick?
When I started this blog I used SiteGround and had a good experience. I had no periods of bad performance and was happy with their service.
When I got to the point where I wanted extra speed at almost any cost, I switched to WP Engine. This blog is currently hosted with WP Engine.
I have had a great experience with WP Engine. Speed has improved, availability has been consistent and in general, I’m delighted with their service. In my opinion, they are the best WordPress host for my needs.
Why I’m not doing a Bluehost WordPress review
It’s unusual for a blog to not recommend Bluehost as the best WordPress host. They pay big referral fees, so most people suggest them by default to earn some more revenue!
The problem is, Bluehost don’t offer a monthly payment plan until you get to their much more powerful levels, and then you’re looking at $39.99 a month. At that price, I wouldn’t use them.
They pull people in with low looking monthly fees, but only if you pay for a year or more. If you want one of their plans aimed at newer blogs you can’t pay for a month, and to get the $3.95 per month price they advertise you have to pay for 5 YEARS! That is ridiculous.
BlueHost makes no mention of having built their own caching layer (even on their WordPress specific plans), and their section about how much management of the system they do is answered with “Our Optimized WordPress Hosting is on VPS servers, meaning our users have full root access to the virtual instances.” Unless you’re an expert you do not want to be messing around with server configuration, you want someone doing that for you!
Finally, they don’t include a CDN on their startup level plans so don’t compare favourably to the specialists I recommend here.
Thoughts on Kinsta WordPress hosting
I wasn’t able to try out Kinsta, so I don’t know if they are any good. I talked to their support about the migration charge and they explained that the free migrations are only available on their “Pro” and above plans, starting at $60 per month. I think their website is pretty misleading about that. A pricing table stating “premium features on all plans” and a check against “free white-glove migrations” is dodgy. What do you think?
It is worth noting that WP Engine migrations are free (using their free WordPress plugin that handles it all for you) on *all* plans. It worked flawlessly for me. Even more impressively, SiteGround offer free migrations even on their £3.95 “GrowBig” plan!
So while Kinsta might have a good service, their website is misleading enough that I’m put off. With plenty of great WordPress hosts on the market that include migrations and top-quality support, I don’t see a reason to try them at the moment.
In conclusion: Which WordPress host should you use?
If you’re starting up and want a good WordPress host to get started but don’t want to spend $35 a month, pick SiteGround. They are a superb value option.
If you’re pushing your blog hard as your main business and want speed at almost any cost, pick WP Engine. They are the fastest and in my opinion are the best WordPress host on the market. I use them and am delighted.
When you’re ready to go, make sure you check out the related article on registering a domain name for your blog.
I strongly suggest that you buy your domain name separately rather than getting the free one that comes with your hosting, as if you want to move to another host in the future it will be far easier. You don’t want your host holding your domain name hostage. Pick the best service for each service you need — the best WordPress host probably isn’t the best domain name registrar!
Note: Some of the links on this page may contain affiliate links. If you buy after clicking through, I may get paid a referral fee. This doesn’t affect the price that you pay, and it has not affected the recommendations I’ve made.
Originally published at Don’t Do An MBA.