A little over a year ago IdeaMensch made the switch to WPEngine. I remember it like yesterday. We were at the beginning of IM48, our 48-state cross country road trip, driving over some pass from California to Oregon. We were in the midst of preparing for our upcoming Portland and Seattle events. One of our speakers for the Seattle event was Rand Fishkin who was gracious enough to promote his participation by tweeting such to his followers.
It was awesome, as he literally drove thousands of people to our website. With every tweet that went out, I figured we could sell dozens of tickets. Hence, I logged into Eventbrite and waited for the sales to come in.
Unfortunately, every time Rand tweeted IdeaMensch went down. Not only did we not sell any tickets, we also looked pretty darn stupid.
Our hosting solution had failed and it was literally costing me hundreds of dollars every minute.
Let me take a step back and give you a ride down memory lane of IdeaMensch’s hosting history.
When I first started IdeaMensch, my friend Ben at Mad Fish SEO was kind enough to host this little project for free. He had rented a server some where and it wasn’t a big deal to take on our site. That worked amazingly well for a few years as Ben did an incredible job of keeping our site up and took care of any system administration issues that came up. Actually, I had no idea how often he ended up dealing with some sort of IT maintenance issue affecting our site. He just did it.
At some point Ben got rid of his “friend” server and it was time to move on. Ben was gracious enough to help me transition the site to the same hosting company that previously was home to his server. One thing to point out is that moving from one hosting company to another is a huge pain in the neck and not something you can do easily or correctly without an IT background. Ben helped and I was excited about the move. They did a great job with his hosting needs, so I expected no less. I didn’t quite need my own server, so I opted for some sort of shared server solution. I am not sure exactly how much I paid, but I think it was something like $600 per year – not cheap, but seemed fair since IdeaMensch had grown quite nicely over the last couple of years.
This decision was a disaster. See, when you outgrow your average $5 per month Bluehost hosting plan – you’re bound to have to move to something a bit more sophisticated. That probably means you get more potential capability – if you know how to use it.
IdeaMensch is a one person business. I don’t have an IT person, nor do I want one. I want to worry about getting great interviews and putting them up on a site that looks nice and is easy to use. I am not a system administrator.
Turns out, I needed to be one. IdeaMensch went down just about every time I had any kind of surge of traffic. If it wasn’t going down because of increased traffic, it went down because I didn’t update some plugin. Or, because some plugin got hacked. Also, I had a shared server in Chicago. That meant IdeaMensch probably loaded pretty quickly in Illinois, but everywhere else it was slow as snail. I obviously was clueless when it came to setting up a network of geographic caching resources. Whatever that might mean. Also, whenever I did have a problem, I ended up having to interact with some ticketing system. Once my site got hacked and then shut down by my hosting company. When the customer support team learned that the issue had been resolved (which took me a day), they still couldn’t re-start my site because it had to be done by their security team which apparently was operated by a different ticketing system. Three days later IdeaMensch went back up. I was lucky that Google didn’t start delisting my links, but it might have been a close call. Let me tell you, those were maybe the three most stressful days of my life.
Long story short, hosting a website seems easy but really isn’t. IdeaMensch is run on WordPress which is easy from a user-experience perspective but actually quite complex when it gets into the database end of things. Things are easy when you first get started (that $5 per month Bluehost plan) but get significantly harder once you outgrow it. So if you’re always going to have a small website, they work. Actually, at this point I tell people to just use Squarespace for a limited low traffic site. I use Squarespace for my personal blog (themarioblog.com) and those guys are amazing. But frankly, for IdeaMensch I needed something a bit more powerful with more flexibility to customize and grow.
I had heard of WPEngine, as I met their community manager Austin Gunter at some sort of SXSW event. They only did WordPress hosting but pretty much promised they’re best of breed in such.
Fast forward to our drive from Cali to Oregon. I emailed Austin to ask about what I need to do to switch to WPEngine. Easy.
He referred me to a tech partner of theirs who could help with the site migration and within a couple of days, IdeaMensch was hosted with what I now consider to be the best WordPress hosting company in the world.
Almost 15 months later, I can tell you that I have been 1000% satisfied with their service. For once, the next time Rand Fishkin tweeted about speaking at our Seattle event, IdeaMensch stayed up. Second, IdeaMensch loaded about 40% faster than it did before, and not just in Chicago. And most importantly, they’ve been in there every time I needed them. See, once you start receiving more traffic, crap starts happening. For reasons inexplicable to me, people try to take down IdeaMensch on a regular basis. Every time that happens, WP Engine fends of those attacks and makes sure I never even lose a minute of sleep about it. They also update all those crucial plugins for me and let me know when there’s a potential security issue which they then help resolve.
In a nutshell, they’re amazing.
Here is why.
1. They’re your system admin
IdeaMensch is a passion of mine. One that pays for itself, but it’s still just a passion project. Our traffic has grown considerably over the past few years. Yet, we’re nowhere near the size where we can hire a system administrator, or employee of any sort. With WPEngine, they pretty much take care of all the IT admin work necessary to host your site. They also do stuff like backing up your site on a regular basis. My old hosting company would send me annoying reminder emails about how I should back up my data – with absolutely no directions on how to do it. So I didn’t. Hosting with WPEngine is like having a system administrator.
2. They make your site load fast
When I was hosting IdeaMensch, it took all kinds of sweat, tears and money to just keep the site from going down. I knew IdeaMensch was loading very slowly but there was no way that I’d be able to figure out how to make it faster. When I switched to their service, IdeaMensch loaded 40% faster pretty much overnight. I am not smart enough to explain to you why that is, but their hosting infrastructure is optimized for WordPress. They only host WordPress sites. So if your site is on WordPress, they’ll make it faster. A lot faster. They have a free tool that allows you to check how much faster they’d make your site - http://speed.wpengine.com/.
Btw, I am not an SEO expert but according to Matt Cutts – load speed is a factor in how well your site ranks in search engines. Here’s an article about that – http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/site-speed/. Apparently they like things that are good for users – a faster loading site certainly is.
Our incoming organic search engine traffic certainly backs that up, but maybe there are other factors as well.
3. They keep your site up and running, always
I guess this is benefit of my first reason for loving WPEngine. But with them your site is always up and running. I’ve been with them for over a year and we’ve never been down. That means a) I don’t have to respond to emails from people complaining that they can’t see their interviews and b) we’re always able to make money. Because if you’re running a business online, you’re losing money every minute your site is down.
4. They protect me from … me
For someone as technically inept as me, I run a pretty popular website. But I really am clueless about anything other bolding a word or inserting a link. So left to my own devices, I’ll take down IdeaMensch on a weekly basis by installing malicious plugins and messing with my function.php file. Well, I’ve learned my lesson with that function.php file and WPEngine won’t let me install any plugins that might keep my site from functioning at its best. They also do automatic backups and fix things when IdeaMensch gets hacked by outsider mean people.
5. Their customer service is top notch
That brings me to my last point. WPEngine’s customer service is top notch. Every interaction I’ve had with them has been a pleasant surprise. Every problem I’ve had gets resolved ASAP. They have real people working for them, chatting with you and taking care of your site. Their team cares and speaks my language – in more ways than one.
So, is WPEngine right for you?
Here is what I tell people.
If you’re launching a website that you know will be forever small (like my personal blog), use Squarespace. They’re the by far easiest tool to build and maintain a great looking website without spending thousands of dollars on web design, development and hosting. I love them. Really.
If you’re building an online business focused around content or commerce, you more likely than not will be using WordPress. As a platform, it gives you the most flexibility and room to grow. And if that is the case, then you need to be using WpEngine as your hosting company. They’re simply best in my humble opinion.
Their plans start at $29 per month. While that’s significantly more than your run of the mill cheap hosting company, you get what you pay for. If you’re serious about building an online business, then $29 per month is nothing. Plus, you’ll know that you’re with the best WordPress hosting company there is and will never have to switch – which turns out, is a complete pain in the neck. Last, they’ll save you thousands of dollars by not having to hire a system admin for a long time.
If you do sign up, I would greatly appreciate if you could use this WPEngine affiliate link.
And if you have any questions, hit up my buddy Austin Gunter on Twitter (@austingunter) who is their community manager and one of the best and nicest people I know. Or if you have any other questions, please feel free to email me directly. I vouch for them 100%.
1. As part of a sponsorship trade surrounding our 48-state tour, WPEngine has hosted our site free of charge.
2. When you do click through to WPEngine via this post and sign up, IdeaMensch will receive a commission. Since we don’t accept advertising, that helps us pay our bills. I evaluated WPEngine for a full year before writing this post, so my endorsement for them is true and heartfelt.
3. That’s a nice picture we found on Flickr. Image credit.