Front-end Developer, 15+ Years of Web Development on HubSpot and Various CMSs
September 19th, 2019
One of the biggest, most impactful decisions you’ll make when launching a brand new WordPress website is where you’ll host it.
This is a critically important detail that’s too often overlooked.
Imagine a scenario where you’ve worked alongside your marketing team and developer(s) for months planning out every last detail and, when it comes time to launch, you base your decision on sheer price versus value.
Disclaimer: The links in this article may provide IMPACT with compensation for signups. This is no way effects IMPACTs recommendation of the tools.
Knee-jerking towards price alone is the mistake so many CEOs, CFOs, and marketers make that could negate all your hard work — and what I’m sure is a significant investment of time and money.
Today we’ll compare apples to apples on two popular WordPress hosting platforms: GoDaddy and WPEngine.
Note: If you’re not specifically looking for WordPress hosting, this article is not for you.
What do you mean apples? Isn’t all web hosting the same?
This is a fundamental misunderstanding.
Within milliseconds (optimally less than half a second) of your clicking that link on Google, the site has to lookup the URL, read the WordPress database, perform calculations, and render the page in your browser.
On top of that, there are security implications to ensure that your database and underlying page logic are protected from hackers trying to use them for nefarious reasons
On HTML websites, the content is locked in and any calculations needed, like on-the-fly filtering of content for example, happen after the browser has already rendered or loaded.
Clearly, there are a ton of technical differences, but let’s just say that comparing WordPress hosts is like comparing a restaurant that serves pre-prepared buffet style food to food that’s made to order.
Putting the quality of the product aside, essentially, one (a regular HTML website) is packaged and ready-to-be-served at the moment it’s requested and the other (WordPress) takes all of your requests into consideration before it serves it out dynamically.
You may be thinking: So, why even use WordPress, then? Wouldn’t straight HTML be faster?
The benefit of WordPress is really all about the ability to control your own content using its built-in content management system (CMS), it’s open source nature (meaning it’s free and community supported) and the ability to mold it to your needs using the 1000s of plugins and themes available.
As we mentioned before, with WordPress, all of your content is stored in a database, templates are created for different content types, and the system serves that content based on the requested URL (the address in your browser).
In other words, after your site is developed, you get to control your own content with minimal developer involvement.
What does a good WordPress host do?
With all the things mentioned above going on under the hood, the ability to take those requests, read the database, make the necessary calculations and efficiently process them all while making it unnoticeable to the consumer is the real task when it comes to a WordPress host.
Taking it one step further: caching redundant requests as HTML and preserving those to lighten load time is yet another optimization we’ll be looking at
Speed. Extensibility. Customer Service. Security. Value -- not necessarily price.
These are the main factors we’ll compare in this article and we’ll go through them one by one in regards to WPEngine and GoDaddy.
First, why compare just these two hosting platforms?
There are so many hosting providers out there, and we could spend a ton of time analyzing each possibility, but today we’ll go through two of the most popular which seem to be consistently compared when it comes to WordPress Hosting.
Both are established, well-funded hosting companies and both now offer Managed WordPress Hosting solutions. That means they offer highly-optimized, secure, and consistently maintained environment specifically designed for WordPress sites.
The maintenance is done by the host, so you don’t have to worry about it.
Again, let’s not confuse GoDaddy’s regular shared hosting which is meant for those simple HTML sites with the hosting they offer that’s specifically tailored to hosting WordPress.
There are many factors that can affect the speed at which your web pages load including your ISP (Internet Service Provider), the efficiency with which your site is coded, caching of web pages, and so much more, but for the purposes of this comparison, we’ll take a look at an independent page speed test conducted recently on inlinehostblogger.com.
These tests were conducted using the same site and loading it from different locations -- 3x for accuracy.
Their study, based on three individual tests conducted in separate locations show that, overall, WPEngine clearly bests GoDaddy averaging 2x faster load speeds in most cases.
Page speed has become a super important factor in ensuring that Google places your site high on their search results not to mention how important it is for your consumer’s experience.
You want a partner in your hosting provider that serves that content you’ve worked so hard to produce in the quickest, most efficient manner.
What about a Content Delivery Network (CDN)?
A CDN is invaluable regarding site speed because all of your static media (images, video, and other static assets) can be offloaded to a network of worldwide servers -- each listening for an incoming request from your main hosting server -- in this case WPEngine or GoDaddy.
When a request is sent out, the server closest to your site consumer quickly jumps in and serves the content, thereby, reducing the amount of time it needs to travel across the world wide web. These servers are hyper configured to deliver content with lightning speed.
WPEngine includes a free CDN with all their plans. GoDaddy offers something called CDN Boost with their Managed WordPress plans, but as of June 2019, it’s buggy at best.
Round 2. Extensibility
With the ever-changing landscape of web technologies, updates, and efficiencies it’s so important that you choose a platform that makes it super easy for your developer to make and retract updates, collaborate, and preserve the codebase so you can be sure that your site can always grow no matter who is managing it.
By definition extensibility is the quality of being designed to allow the addition of new capabilities or functionality; you can think of it as scalability.
Both WPEngine and GoDaddy offer tools for developers to make changes to the existing codebase quickly and easily including staging areas (where new site features can be tested, staged, approved and deployed) —but what about versioning, rollbacks, and accountability?
This is where the two WordPress hosting platforms diverge when it comes to extensibility.
Git is a technology that offers all of these functions and is widely used by developers across the globe including version control and accountability for changes made to the site files. For a little more information on what Git is and why it’s important, check out this article.
WPEngine has Git built right into your dashboard and out-the-box.
No complicated setup is needed and your developer’s local version of the site can be synched with the live version is a cinch. Believe me, your developer will thank you for that and you’ll thank yourself if you even need to quickly roll back any changes quickly.
I realize this is a little techier than we usually get, but this is important stuff.
The ability to quickly and easily upgrade your codebase even when using multiple developers at the same time, all while allowing for quick rollbacks in case there’s a mistake will keep your site agile and, well, extensible.
All of that said, if you or your dev aren’t there yet -- that’s ok! With nightly backups on either of the two hosting providers, you can be sure you’ll only ever lose one day’s work -- if that.
3. Customer Service
This is one point that never seems to matter until you need it.
I’ve had experience with both of these platforms and their customer service over the years and I have to say, just to save you a little time reading through a bunch of stats — they’re neck and neck.
They both offer a bunch of different ways to reach out for help including 24/7 phone, email ticket (on WPEngine), and chat support.
Both are also extremely knowledgeable, polite, and responsive. I’ve not had a single bad experience with either one.
Personally, I prefer the chat features which seem to offer the lowest response time. They also allow me to continue working on other things while they resolve any issues being reported -- all free of any sales jargon or hold music.
In terms of restoration, as I mentioned before, both GoDaddy and WPEngine offer nightly backups, so restoring a site that’s down due to an error in an update or, heaven forbid, your site was hacked, is pretty straight forward.
With a few clicks, and a little patience, you can be back up and running in a very short period of time.
Server security is pretty comparable and impressive on either host by way of their consistent PHP updates, WordPress plugin updates and server configuration -- all of that is handled by them.
Godaddy offers a free SSL for the first year on their Ultimate and Pro5+ plans, while WPEngine’s SSL is a free-for-life self renewing Let’s Encrypt certificate on all their plans including the Starter.
An SSL is what tells your users that the site is on a secure connection and that any information they provide on any of your forms won’t be stolen in transition between their browser and your site.
It’s become so important to have an SSL certificate on your site that Google is even preferring secure sites over non-secure in their search rankings for comparably configured sites. In other words, if you had two versions of the exact same site -- one secure and one that’s not -- the secure site would show up first.
Value, by definition for our profession, is defined as the extent to which a service's worth is perceived by its customer to meet/exceed needs or wants.
So what do you value most?
Do you want or need a site that is fully secure, lightning fast, and ready to grow in an environment that’s been tested, configured, and designed to provide the best overall experience for you and your customers?
Both providers claim to have the ability to provide that value.
While the GoDaddy price seems a bit lower at first glance, you might do yourself some good to have a second look and see all the hidden costs that would bring you into the WPEngine Starter price range, if not exceed it.
Even at the introductory prices, is a couple of tens of dollars difference in price worth the potential changes in value over the long haul?
My two cents
Just like with many choices in your professional and personal lives, choosing between WPEngine and GoDaddy for your WordPress hosting boils down to your specific needs.
On the one hand you have GoDaddy with a slew of plans to choose from at various different price points that, ultimately, do fit some customers better.
If you need services that WPEngine does not provide, like email hosting or domain purchasing or DNS registration services, and you want those all lumped into one single monthly payment, I truly believe you could sign up for GoDaddy’s WordPress Hosting today and end up completely satisfied with your choice.
That said, my personal choice, after extensive use of both platforms as a WordPress Hosting provider -- and nothing else -- is WPEngine.
GoDaddy has made a ton of progress over the last couple of years and I have no doubt that they’ll eventually offer an apples to apples product, but today, WPEngine has outlined and worked in all the things that every WordPress website needs and bundled that into a relatively affordable monthly price which delivers an outstanding value.