Managed WordPress Hosting: Speed Test Case Study

One of the benefits of going with managed WordPress hosting is that it’s supposed to be fast. To put that in perspective, a testimonial on Synthesis’ website from GeekBeat.tv says, “the site’s load time was reduced from 7.5 seconds to 1.4 seconds.” Holy batman!

Now, we can all agree that having a fast website is important. Not only do slow websites drive away visitors and sales, but Google is now including page speed in it’s ranking algorithm!

With your website’s speed being this important, we wanted to objectively compare our top 3 managed WordPress hosts: WP Engine, Page.ly, and Synthesis. To compare three different hosts though, we needed to set some basic ground rules to be used during the speed test.

The Ground Rules

Art of Blog Speed Comparison Screen Shot

All speed tests were done using the same theme, TwentyEleven, with the same content that consisted of a gallery of several images and an embedded Gist from Github.

I used the base configuration for each host. For Page.ly and Synthesis I did use the W3 Total Cache plugin and I even used Synthesis’ recommended configurations for Total Cache. I did not use a caching plugin for WP Engine because they handle all of this behind the scenes.

All speed tests were done using Web Page Test‘s analytical review tool using a server out of Dulles, Va and IE8. I also ran each test twice and took the lowest (fastest) first view time for each web host.

And all speed tests were done with the cheapest hosting level for each managed WordPress host. Therefore, you can expect even better performance if you’re willing to shell out some more cash. WP Engine offers an integrated CDN starting at the professional plan and Synthesis also runs NGINX-only servers on their advanced or enterprise configurations.

Winner – WP Engine

As you’ll see in this screenshot below, WP Engine is stupid fast. Yes, stupid fast is the word for it.

WP Engine Speed Results

1st Place Speed Results – WP Engine

WP Engine does a few things really well. First, they have amazing customer service. Second, all of WP Engine’s optimization and caching happens on the backend, so it’s basically like magic. WP Engine will automatically compress content, minify CSS and JS, compress images, and much more. There’s no plugin or setting to configure. You just worry about writing great content, and WP Engine takes care of everything else. I love this.

WP Engine also does a great job in caching static content. This is very important when you have visitors that view more than one page on your website. Our WP Engine test site had 13 requests for the first view and only 2 for the repeat view! This makes your website super quick for your visitors, which keeps them happy and on your website longer ;)

Due to it’s speed, great customer service, and other great features I recommend WP Engine for everybody. It is a bit more expensive, but as you can see, WP Engine packs a punch and it’s worth every penny.

2nd Place Tied – Synthesis

Although WP Engine was first, Synthesis and Page.ly weren’t that far behind. Although Page.ly was slightly quicker than Synthesis, Synthesis did a much better job of caching content. Therefore, Page.ly would be slightly faster on the first view, and Synthesis should be faster on repeat views. You can make the ultimate decision as to who won.

Synthesis Speed Results

Synthesis Speed Results

Up until a few weeks ago, I hadn’t even heard of Synthesis (Even though they’re owned by Copyblogger Media…). But here these guys are duking it out and doing a great job. As you can see Synthesis had some pretty amazing speed on our test site. They also did amazing when it came to the repeat view. Our Synthesis tests had 13 requests on the first view and only 4 on the repeat view. That’s slightly more than WP Engine, but that’s still great. This will keep your website loading super fast for your visitors.

Synthesis also had great customer service. When I signed up, I put in the wrong URL and was having some problems. DOH! But I submitted a customer support request and Cody hooked it up and had me going quickly!

Also, even though Synthesis uses the W3 Total Cache plugin, they make it stupid simple to get the plugin working by giving you a file with their recommended settings. This means no guesswork for you and great performance! That’s a win in my book.

I would recommend Synthesis for anybody looking for managed WordPress hosting at a great price. They don’t quite have all of the features as WP Engine, but they’ve still got a great service and a terrific price.

2nd Place Tied – Page.ly

Below are the original results for Page.ly, and the most recent with a live domain are below. I want to maintain some transparency.

Page.ly Speed Results

Page.ly Speed Results

Another thing I noticed is Page.ly didn’t do a good job of caching static content. Our test website had 13 requests for the first view and had 12 requests for the repeat view. Page.ly did do well with everything else though as far as compressing text, images, and generally serving up our website pretty dang fast!

Also, Page.ly had great customer support. I had an issue with permissions where I wasn’t able to delete or change files on my account through SFTP. After submitting a support request they had this fixed within maybe 15 minutes. This was probably just because I was using my account right after it had been provisioned, so no worries on the service.

**Per Page.ly’s Request I did a retest with a live domain and the results are below.

Page.ly Speed Results Retest

Page.ly Speed Results Retest

Commentary

As the screenshots show, WP Engine was clearly the fastest managed WordPress host, but Synthesis and Page.ly are not too far behind.

The big difference to me is that WP Engine completely takes care of the caching and other aspects of performance behind the scenes. Page.ly and Synthesis both take advantage of the W3 Total Cache plugin where the only thing WP Engine gives you is a clear cache button. I like this approach because that way I don’t have to worry about if I have all of the settings correct. So big props to WP Engine for taking care of that automatically and still being the fastest.

The results also show that Synthesis and WP Engine both did a good job of caching static content. You can see this for yourself if you look at the difference in requests between the first view and repeat view. Page.ly had 13 requests for the first view and 12 requests for the repeat view. Synthesis had 13 requests for the first view and 4 requests on the repeat view, which is pretty good. WP Engine had 13 requests for the first view and 2 requests for the repeat view! This is an important metric that can help describe the page speed as the visitor navigates through your page.

I’d like to repeat that throughout this managed WordPress hosting speed test case study, that I received excellent customer service from all three hosts. I talked with WP Engine through twitter and Page.ly and Synthesis responded to my support requests within 30 minutes! Not too shabby ;)

Bottom Line

All of the managed WordPress hosts are fast! If you’re looking for the best speed performance, I’d have to recommend WP Engine as they were 1st in our speed test case study. If WP Engine is a bit too pricey for you, then I’d have to recommend Synthesis because they came second and also have the best prices in the managed WordPress hosting arena.

Page.ly is also a great choice. Although they did not have the fastest service they did have some great customer service and very quickly resolved a conflict I had with permissions.

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Written by Eric Binnion

Eric Binnion is a computer science student at Midwestern State University. When Eric is not online, he is usually volunteering in his community or enjoying time with his family. You can find Eric on Twitter.

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Comments

  • Strebel says:

    Try again with a live domain. The pressdns.com domains bypass our cache layer so you are not seeing a true picture of our system performance. We’re probably 3-4x faster then what you tested. We bypass on the test domains do our users can build thier site and see changes in real time.

  • Keith Davis says:

    Hi Eric
    That’s one of the big problems of WordPress sites… speed.
    I’ve been looking at Synthesis for client sites and they have recently reduced their rates.

    Love the idea of the hosting company doing all the optimising and caching in the background.
    Never used the W3 total cache plugin, maybe give it a try.

    • Eric Binnion says:

      Thanks for the comment! Managed WordPress hosting is VERY convenient ;) W3 Total cache is a pretty good plugin.

    • Devin Walker says:

      If you haven’t used any caching or a decent host then that’s why you think WordPress is slow. Get it off GoDaddy hosting and into a real environment like AWS (or one of the WP hosts mentioned above) and you’ll see how snappy it can really be.

  • Hey Eric, thanks for doing these tests. We always love seeing how we fare in independent reviews of our service. Happy to see we’re still keeping our edge ;-)

  • Nick Haskins says:

    Ya nice. I ran some similar tests, and found the EXACT same results as you did. WP Engine kicks ass, and page.ly is just slower hands down. Its the latency is what kills those guys. WP Engine has secret sauce.

  • Jon Brown says:

    Great tests, thanks for doing these! Really awesome to see these compared.

    Id have liked to of seen ZippyKid included and for fun it would have been interesting to throw something like bluehost/gd/hg in the mix for a reference point.

    Not complaints at all, what you did was great, just ideas for the future…

    Oh, and tests run from multiple locations (webpagetest let’s you choose) and test’s showing a more complicated theme/site…

  • Jim says:

    A test of zippykid would be cool. I’m testing ZippyKid right now. I haven’t moved my site out of the staging area to do a perf. test yet, but I can tell you I’ve been pretty unhappy with their Helpdesk service. Maybe its because they changed to a new Helpdesk software a couple weeks ago, but they have completely failed to reply to some tickets within 24 hours without me posting additional tickets and complaining. They didn’t even bother to say “We’re looking into this issue.” I’ve had tickets closed on me when the problem wasn’t even resolved. Its been really annoying. I’m going to give WP Engine a shot.

    • Eric Binnion says:

      Hey Jim,

      I’m sorry about your experience with Zippy Kid. That being said, WP Engine has always had amazing customer service. Heck, I’ve even got help from them when it came to finding a hotel in Austin for the weekend

      Don’t forget that you can get WP Engine for just $4 a month for the first three months using coupon code ARTOFBLOG.

  • LizWil says:

    I wish I’d gone with WP Engine. Synthesis has been a disappointment, not in terms of speed, but in terms of service. Perhaps my expectations were too high, but when I pay someone to migrate my site to their servers, I expect them to stay on the job until all my plugins work, and my google stats and RSS feeds get migrated too. Synthesis responds to trouble tickets promptly by telling me where the problem might. Huh? Their promise to move my site, clean the code and get it locked down appear to be sales hype. I don’t have a good feeling about them at all.

  • LizWil says:

    Yes, price-wise WP Engine and Synthesis seem pretty close, with different schemes that make them difficult to compare. I get the impression that copyblogger media has become too diverse a company to successfully live up to their service promise, whereas WP Engine is focused solely on hosting. When I can find a quiet time to get moved again, they’ll be my next stop.

    • Eric Binnion says:

      Hey Liz,

      WP Engine has always been my favorite. Synthesis used to be a close second because of how cheap they are. But, it seems like Copyblogger has recently raised prices on their products, such as Scribe and Synthesis.