Over the last couple of weeks I have been optimizing a number of websites and I ended up with a website hosted on Web Synthesis and another website hosted on WP Engine. This gave me some updated insight into how each of these “WordPress Optimized” Managed Hosts work.
As an optimization specialist it is very important for me – that I can efficiently carry out my work with the relevant level of access to alter configurations in order to achieve the highest possible score on Page Speed as well as ensuring the site loads as fast as possible within the confines of what is available to me.
This is the first time I have received work from two clients hosted on two competitors at the same time and so I am going to share my observations and experience of both hosting companies.
I will be looking at a number of key areas and some of them are standard expectations that every webmaster considers as well as the level of simplicity in regards to optimizing a website – which is something that I expect.
So let’s get started with some of the desirable features that concern all webmasters.Note: I am not affiliated to either hosts so you will not find a single affiliate link in this post.
While both companies have similar pricing structures – which has been mentioned before in similar comparisons, I felt that simply looking at price alone is not a realistic analysis – “it’s what you get for that price that counts”.
For this comparison I will be looking at the Professional plan as the price is very similar – $97 a month for Web Synthesis and $99 a month for WP Engine – so what do you get for your money.
|Web Synthesis ($97)
||WP Engine ($99)|
|Number of Websites||2+ (up to 10)||up to 10 WordPress Installs|
|Number of Visits||Limited by Bandwidth||100,000|
|SLA (Downtime Compensation)||Unknown||5% off monthly bill per hour of DT|
|One Click Restore||Unknown||✓|
|Migrations||Fixed Fee||Self Migrate or 3rd Party|
|CDN||Extra (3rd Party)||✓|
|Brute Force Prevention||✓||Unknown|
|Built in Cache||Included with W3TC Pro||✓|
Both hosts have similar offers in terms of features. Features marked as unknown may change depending on who can verify them – so feel free to comment below on anything that I missed and please provide information regarding missing items.
The most notable point about “what you get for the price” is the number of installs allowed. I feel this is something that users will regard as an important factor when deciding which host to use.
Another major point is Storage Space – I feel that Web Synthesis has a more generous allocation of disk space “something I hope WP Engine will look into” as disk space is generally quite cheap.
The details above don’t necessarily give you the full picture – each host uses a different method to present their allocations and limitations within a fair usage policy so we will need to dig a little deeper before you can decide which one provides better value for money.
Storage space is a factor that every website owner needs to consider.
Web Synthesis offers 40GB of disk space and I think this is quite generous considering the price while WP Engine offers 20GB which I think is something they should certainly consider raising to match that of Web Synthesis.
If your site is going to contain a lot of Images then you obviously want more disk space. To give you an idea of how much 40GB and 20GB is in terms of storage space – let’s look at how many images you would be able to store.
Let’s assume that average Image on the web is 100kb.
|Number of Images||Required Disk Space|
Quite a lot of images right?
Given the above figures – it’s safe to assume that your not going to fill your disk space any time soon – assuming you follow standard web practices when uploading images to your site. I often see sites with images that are around 1mb – so when it comes to disk space allocation, it is important to remember to optimize your images to get the most out of your available space.
It is also important to note that WordPress will create (by default) 3 versions of every image you upload – more if you have custom image sizes as well.
Web Synthesis allocates 650GB of Bandwidth per month compared to WP Engine who have unlimited bandwidth – but there is a monthly limit to the total number of visits (100,000 per month) so we will need to do some maths to work out which is a better deal.
For this test we shall assume the average page size to be 1.7MB. Posts are often embedded with Images which increases page size and this number is the current web page size average according to HTTP Archive.
These values are approximate values for easier reading.
|Bandwidth (MB)||Bandwidth (GB)||Page Loads|
So according to these metrics you would get a better deal in terms of bandwidth from Web Synthesis – but hold on there a second!
Read what it says – 100,000 visits / month
So how do you define a visit?
This is part of what WP Engine defines as a visit.
When a human being first arrives on the site and loads the page, staying there for 31 seconds, that’s a visit.
If that same human then clicks a link and sees another page, that’s not a new visit; that’s part of the same visit.
If that same human loads the site with a different browsers, that’s still not a new visit; that’s part of the same visit.
If that same human bookmarks the site, then 11 days later comes back to the site, that is a new visit…
You can read the rest of the article here.
This changes everything – the metrics now are not as simple as before. As far as WP Engine is concerned once a user visits your site – their IP is logged and that user can return as many times in a day on any browsers and view as many pages as they want – and it still counts as one visit.
So with an average page size of 1.7MB a user would need to visit your site 3.8 times (approximately) in order to match the bandwidth allocation provided by Web Synthesis.
But then the question is what if your site isn’t the average website?
What if your average page size is 2.2MB which I see commonly across the web – then you would need users to on average visit 2.95 pages per day.
The way that WP Engine counts visits is quite interesting. Another example is your house – if you have 3 computers and everyone visits a website hosted on WP Engine – it still counts as one visit. This also applies to offices or communal spaces where multiple users are connected to the same router sharing the same IP. Theoretically a thousand people could connect to the site from the same IP and it would still count as one visit.
Web Synthesis – although you get 650GB of bandwidth per month (Which is a more than enough for most) – you are limited to 20,000 visitors per day. Why this is the case I am not sure as you would usually be allowed as many visitors in a day as long as you remain within your Bandwidth allocation.
Don’t get me wrong, 20,000 visits per day is a lot! But my question would be what happens if your website is to be featured on a very popular website read by millions. 20,000 visits no longer seems out of reach – so would users no longer be able to reach your website after that point?
If so that would certainly have an affect on those who tried to visit your site – “first impressions count” right?
I think that both Hosts offer a reasonable amount of Bandwidth and both certainly fall within what should be expected for the vast majority of websites. You can vastly improve your Bandwidth allowance by optimizing your website.
I optimize websites on an almost daily basis and in almost all cases I can reduce page size by 50% or more.
Each host (for the less than a $100 price mark) offers a good amount of resource availability and and each has their pros and cons – but you can rest assure that most of you will not exceed your limitations each month.
Both WP Engine and Web Synthesis offer security as a part of their package. How effective their measures are can only be summed up by long terms users of either host. However I do know that WP Engine will fix your site if it is hacked which is always reassuring. If Web Synthesis offers the same, please let me know below.
WP Engine does have a firewall which blocks all known attacks.
Both hosts scan for malware but Web Synthesis includes Securi as part of their packages.
If you have experienced a malicious attack on your site on either host please feel free to comment on how each host dealt with your situation.
There isn’t really much to say here – from reviews and testimonials, both hosts seem to provide excellent support to their clients and that is a very important factor.
Performance & Efficiency
So far each host appears to be about the same in terms of what the user can expect. Things get a little more interesting when we begin to look at performance and efficiency.
Those who visit my website often know that I am an avid inciter of improving performance and so for me – this is the most interesting part of my comparison. You can learn a lot about a host by how they configure their servers and believe me I was surprised by the results.
The best way for me to look at the performance of each host is to look at their clients testimonials and test their sites.
The conditions for testing are as follows:
- Tests will be carried out on the Front Page
- The sites Front Page must be devoid of adverts (they screw up results)
- The sites Front Page must be devoid of social sharing (they also screw up results)
- Each test will be performed from Vancouver, Canada – this will test performance at a distance.
I will test 4 sites from each host.
Although performance and efficiency is largely down to the user – there are some aspects of performance that are dependent on the servers configuration and there are a couple of issues that I noticed with Web Synthesis.
The two issues that cropped up time and time again on websites hosted with Web Synthesis were:
- Specify a Vary: Accept-Encoding header
- Gzip compression
It’s no coincidence that the two are related because they are part of the same configuration.
Specify a Vary: Accept-Encoding header & Gzip Compression
The Vary Accept-Encoding header is missing from Web Synthesis and I know this because I looked at the core configuration file to see what was in there.
gzip on; gzip_disable "MSIE [1-6]\.(?!.*SV1)";
This is the bare minimum required to enable Gzip compression as well as disable it for older Internet Explorer browsers that don’t support compression.
What was striking to me was that according to the back-end Gzip Compression is enabled – yet it does not appear to be working.
Prettydarncute.com could save 271.5KiB if Gzip Compression was working.
I found this issue to effect most of the sites I tested from Web Synthesis – which means that each site will consume more bandwidth than it needs to, after all compression is about saving bandwidth by sending compressed resources across the web rather than the standard uncompressed version.
Things got even stranger when I looked at the headers.
What in the hell is going on?
Here is what we know:
- Gzip is turned on – according to the config
- The First header (Figure I) clearly shows that the main style sheet was sent compressed
- The second (Figure II) shows it was sent uncompressed
At first I thought – perhaps GTmetrix is doing a number on me and flagging false negatives – after all it does that for serving scaled images on websites wider than 1024px.
So I checked Page Speed.
Page Speed only confirmed what GTmetrix was saying.
Basically the server is being a little picky about whether it should send compressed or uncompressed resources – but why is this the case?
Well it is fairly simple-ish…
Simply enabling Gzip compression is only one half of the story – the clients browser must also ask for it when making a request via the Vary Accept-Encoding Header. If this is not included in the servers configuration file then you will get these random responses in regards to whether the server will send resources compressed or not.
The precise solution for Web Synthesis is not something I can write about because I would need to know all the details in regards to how the servers are set up – but I do know that the configuration is not correct and should be rectified as soon as possible.
I pondered why Web Synthesis didn’t notice this issue and the only logical answer I can give is that by default
gzip_vary is disabled.
According to the documents from Nginx they say
Enables response header of “Vary: Accept-Encoding”. Note that this header causes IE 4-6 not to cache the content due to a bug.
Perhaps this bug is the underlying reason, but that doesn’t make sense because IE 4 – 6 are all but dead (if not dead already).
But they include
gzip_disable "MSIE [1-6]\.(?!.*SV1)";
Which is basically saying disable Gzip compression for IE 1 – 6 as well as Service Pack 1 so that doesn’t make sense either.
Why it isn’t configured correctly isn’t the most important thing – what’s important is that it gets corrected.
As far as I can tell both hosts provide a Good service – but I am inclined to say that at the time of writing WP Engine seems to be the better of the two.
The built in CDN and Caching as well as the server being configured very well makes my job of Optimizing websites hosted on WP Engine a whole lot easier as i don’t need to configure the server, caching or CDN. That means I can focus solely on the front of the site ensuring the client gets the very best results within a reasonable amount of time.
Unfortunately I cannot say the same for Web Synthesis at the moment – the simple mistake of misconfiguration with the possibility that users may of been charged (couldn’t find an over usage policy) for over usage when they could have been within their limits is simply not acceptable to me.
Looking at the 4 sites I tested above you can see the impact of this misconfiguration on efficiency in general.
Before anyone asks – I am aware that Yoasts website is very efficient and loads fast on Web Synthesis – Yoast values the importance of an optimized site and so I would not expect anything less than high performance from him. His site also uses a CDN so his resources are coming from the CDN and not the server – which explains why his site isn’t flagged for the issue raised above.
A final point
Web Synthesis does not allow Thesis 2 on their servers. I am not aware of any technical reasons for this and their site doesn’t clearly state any reason for this exclusion which leads to people simply guessing. I would assume it to be a marketing ploy and a means to promote Genesis over Thesis 2 which would make sense because Web Synthesis and Genesis have the same owners.
If this is true – then I would never be able to recommend Web Synthesis as most of my client use Thesis 2 – but from a personal point of view I find this to be reminiscent of the days of AMD and Intel – where Intel attempted to aggressively market AMD out of the market and it almost worked. If this is the case then the only people that would suffer is the end user. Market domination is never a good thing as it often leads to a slowdown of innovation. Competition is healthy and good for you and me – it allows for a steady stream of progression towards better ideas at affordable prices.
The statement on Web Synthesis:
(Note: Synthesis does not currently support Thesis 2.0+. We do support Thesis versions prior to the 2.0 release.)
Implies to the unknowing user that something is wrong with Thesis 2 and that is why we can’t allow it on our servers. I think that this is unfair and it is just one more reason why I would choose WP Engine over Web Synthesis as WP Engine doesn’t limit you in any way when considering which Theme/Framework to use.
I firmly believe that hosting companies should never interfere in another market for there own gain. It is not for one market to determine who is the top dog of another market – no matter who owns what.