Comparing Web Hosts

The best web host is the best one for you and your specific needs.

All web hosting companies are not created equal, but that doesn’t mean one webhost is always better than the other. Like anything, it depends. It depends on what you’re expertise is, depends on what you need it for, and depends on how much you’re willing to pay.

I’m currently using three different web hosts: Kinsta, Cloudways, and WPEngine. I have moved away from the cheaper shared hosting plans like on GoDaddy and HostGator due to the lack of speed and security on those services.

Like any hosting review or comparison post, this post and site includes affiliate links.

The Players

First off, all hosts being compared here do managed hosting. This means the host takes care of the server and possibly WordPress keeping your server up-to-date so you don’t need to worry about it. In other words, you won’t see 10 year old versions of PHP on these servers.

Also, all three hosts are faster than your average web host. Your milage may vary but this how the response times looked when moving to one of these hosts:

Response time during the switch from a MediaTemple VPS plan to Cloudways

All three hosts also have their own caching system. WPEngine developed their own system called EverCache. Kinsta has their own called Kinsta cache. Cloudways developed Breeze which is also available in the WordPress repository. The main reason they have their own caching systems is to keep it simple for the user. Most of the settings are minimal with minimal setup. Like any caching system, they help reduce the load on the server while speeding up loading times for your visitors.

Shameless plug: You may find it difficult to immediately see your updates using any caching system. This is why I developed a plugin to clear the cache after a variety of updates.

WPEngine was founded in 2010 and employs 251 – 500 employees at the time of this writing according to Crunchbase. They are located in Texas, USA and are very well funded. Automattic, the company behind WordPress was an initial investor in this venture. WPEngine at one time used Linode servers, but I believe they are now using Google Cloud Engine servers. WPEngine does shared hosting where they host a number of websites that share a pool of resources. They are still faster than those cheaper shared hosting services like on GoDaddy because their servers are optimized for WordPress and they have aggressive caching. In addition to that they use Google Cloud Engine so websites are not stuck on outdated physical servers that never get updated. I have been using WPEngine since 2014.

Kinsta came onto the WordPress managed hosting scene in 2013. They are a small company employing 11 – 50 employees and are located in California, USA. Kinsta uses Google Cloud Engine and is a blend of shared hosting and VPS. Their resources are shared over their websites, but the software that runs each site is only for that site. They also allocate a set number of PHP workers to each site which prevents your site from going down because of a bad neighbor. I started using Kinsta in 2019 after some horrible 502 errors could not be resolved on WPEngine.

Cloudways started in 2012. They are also a small company with 11 – 50 employees and are located in Mosta, Malta. Where is that? Somewhere in the Mediterranean Sea below Italy. Cloudways is basically a reseller of Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud Engine (GCE), Lindoe, and other cloud services, but limit your resources like a VPS. Why not just go directly to the cloud services? Cloudways sets up the WordPress, Joomla, Magento server for you and keeps the server up-to-date. They also make it much easier to use those cloud services with their own control panel. Cloudways basically offers Managed VPS hosting, but on cloud servers. This means your site will be more reliable and flexible than a traditional VPS because it’s not just on one physical server. They are similar to Kinsta except they offer a plans based on resources vs plans per website. I decided to look for a host that used cloud services like Kinsta, but at a cheaper rate and found Cloudways.

The Good

WPEngine is one of the first managed WordPress hosts. They offer the most user-friendly hosting with CDN, caching, backup/restore, and multiple environments all with a few clicks. The more WordPress installs you have the cheaper they get. WPEngine is constantly adding to their feature list with Content and Page Performance tools, git repositories, Genesis Themes, and now a Devkit that allows you to setup a local environment that can push and pull from WPEngine.

Kinsta’s logging interface and speed are outstanding. If you thought WPEngine was fast, Kinsta is faster, especially for websites which have a membership or logged in area. Because Kinsta dedicates at least 2 PHP workers to your site, you constantly get speedy responses when doing operations that require PHP (like a search or add/update/delete operations). Kinsta has similar one-click staging, CDN setup, caching, and backup/restore like WPEngine. However, it exceeded my expectations in its logging interface. Logs show you instantly in a graphical way if you have any 5xx (500, 502, 504, etc), 4xx, 3xx, and 2xx responses and what URLs reported them. See here for how beautiful this all looks and how easy it is to identify. This along with having a set number of PHP Workers (not variable like WPEngine) allowed me to resolve 502 errors which I couldn’t do on WPEngine.

Cloudways is the cheapest solution of the three. For $10/month you could have multiple small websites running. If you need more, you pay for what you need. Cloudways’ moto is all about having choice. They have tiered plans to increase RAM and number of CPUs but if you just need bandwidth or storage you can do that separately and only pay for what you need. Cloudways like Kinsta uses Google Cloud Engine, but you can also choose other cloud services too. Their pricing structure allows customers with 1 website to thousands of websites to have very cheap hosting and a set amount of resources.

The Bad

WPEngine used to have superb support with quick response times and a knowledgeable staff. Now, WPEngine’s support can only answer basic questions and at times there is a long queue.

Another issue with WPEngine is that they are a shared hosting environment. Computing resources are becoming scarce as neighboring sites on your server take up all the processing (php workers) and leave you with 502 or 504 errors. I’ve had one site that was crippled by these errors right after upgrading to PHP 7. Hence the trying out Kinsta.

I’d have to say Kinsta is the best host out of the three… oops, not yet, we’re still in the bad section. Kinsta’s cost is probably the worst thing about them. Their multiple website plan isn’t as affordable as WPEngine’s.

Cloudways is cheap for a reason. They don’t have tools that WPEngine or Kinsta have and a lot of the one-click setup like cache, CDN, or even viewing logs is not there. To view logs you have to use SSH/SFTP and download the log file. To setup caching you’ll need to install their plugin and do some simple setup. Setting up a staging site is a bit more involved than clicking a button, but doable. No command line knowledge is needed, just a bunch of clicking and going through some tutorials.

Another issue I had with Cloudways is the discrepancies between support and the knowledge base. On multiple instances I had to inform support that their knowledge base was conflicting what they were telling me. I guess on the plus side they corrected it the next day.

The Recommendation

If I was so happy with one host I’d probably not have this review page comparing three different hosts. So each host is recommended depending on your situation.

Use WPEngine if

  • You have 5 or more websites (or don’t mind the high cost)
  • Want things already setup and pretty
  • Don’t have a membership site. You have a mostly static site that is cacheable.
  • Want more dev tools
  • Want a larger company managing your server.

WPEngine has the most tools and is the most funded company of the three here. If you don’t care for the dev tools they offer, I’d recommend one of the other two choices. WPEngine is fast and reliable for the typical non-changing business or informational website. If you need a lot of dynamic processing I would go with one of the other two. Visit their pricing page.

Use Kinsta if

  • You have 5 or more websites (or don’t mind the high cost)
  • Want good logging
  • Want a set number of resources for your website
  • Want things already setup and pretty
  • You have a more dynamic website that can’t be cached and want it to be fast

Kinsta is faster than WPEngine in terms of processing dynamic pages. The WordPress admin dashboard for example is noticeably faster.. you’ll realize instantly how fast they are. Their logging interface will allow you to debug your website better. The set number of PHP workers for your environment prevents the “noisy neighbor” problem. Be assured you won’t have your resources taken by other websites. Visit their pricing page and see what hosting your site is like on the Premium Tier of the Google Cloud Platform.

Use Cloudways if

  • You want the cheapest solution
  • You like choices
  • Don’t mind doing a little setup
  • Want to pay based on bandwidth, CPU, memory

Cloudways allows customers with any amount of websites to have a very affordable hosting solution. You can have as many installs as you want on your server and pick from AWS, GCE, Linode, and others. You more or less pay for what you need. If you only need a set amount of resources you can get the cheapest plan and upgrade when you need more. At Cloudways you pay for the resources you need, not by the amount of websites. Visit their pricing page.