WP Engine Addresses Critics Following Damaging Exposé of Its Customer Support

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Yesterday former WP Engine customer Matthew Woodward posted a lengthy, illustrated review of his experiences with the company’s managed WordPress hosting and support.

Though initially impressed with the host’s support when he signed on 18 months ago, Woodward detailed his assessment of its decline over the past eight months, citing poor performance, slow and uninformed support staff, and questionable practices, such as injecting links into customer homepages without their permission. Many of the 200 comments on Woodward’s post are from customers who have experienced a similar decline in service from the host.

This isn’t the first time WP Engine’s hosting has been called into question by its customers. A couple months ago, Audit WP exposed potential SEO and privacy concerns with how the host structures its subdomains for staging. These concerns, though brought to the company’s attention multiple times by other customers, were roundly ignored until publicized by Audit WP’s founder, Jacob King.

WP Engine Responds to Customer Dissatisfaction: “Growth is Hard”

Mounting criticism of the company following these reviews has prompted the response penned today by WP Engine founder Jason Cohen, titled: “Growth is Hard.” The statement explains what the company has been doing in response to its slipping customer satisfaction rate.

In January 2014, WP Engine raised $15 million in funding to supplement its rapid expansion. Cohen’s statement today indicates that the first priority for those funds was to hire additional staff:

We closed our Series C financing in January and immediately put it to work in hiring in the Support Team. We’ve increased the team by 50% since then. It’s very hard to hire quickly and yet maintain our standards of both attitude (culture) and aptitude (ability).

Cohen’s post contains a rundown of how difficult it has been for the company to deal with its growth and enumerates what they’ve done to address the growing customer dissatisfaction, much of which has centered around the issue of support.

A host that promises “hassle-free WordPress hosting” and caters to WordPress developers will need to deliver expert WordPress support in order to justify its pricing. In the early days of WP Engine, its customers raved about the top-notch WordPress experts available to assist them. Woodward’s review, however, indicates that this is no longer the case, illustrated by screenshots of WP Engine’s responses to tickets.

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Cohen concludes the article by apologizing and petitioning his customers to have some understanding for their growing pains:

“To anyone that has had a support issue in the past, or is having one now, I would like to say I’m sorry for your experience. But as you can see, we’ve been busy.”

WP Engine seems to have gone into damage control mode, as Woodward’s critical review has been shared liberally on social networks, causing many early fans of the host to voice similar concerns. Woodward suspects the company’s recent funding as a potential cause for the decline in the quality of support:

Now instead of dealing with actual WordPress experts, you’re dealing with customer service staff that have had minor WordPress training and fail to understand the basics…Then you have to consider the $15 million investment by venture capitalist firm North Bridge which pushes the focus towards money and profits rather than passion and innovation.

Is the company growing too fast to maintain its former sterling reputation? The statement and apology issued today isn’t likely to have been motivated by a single bad review. WP Engine is currently fighting an uphill battle in order to regain the consumer confidence it commanded in the early days, while the managed WordPress hosting space is getting more competitive. Customer reviews make it clear that a company’s dedication to innovation means nothing if it cannot deliver the support to back it up.

37 Comments


  1. I’ve been ready to make a switch elsewhere, but after their article today I’m willing to give them one more shot. But first time I’m let down I’m probably gone.

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  2. Support is the pain-point for all the managed WordPress hosts. They all promise great support, but then have to price hike to scale it. I left WP Engine when they hiked prices, and then Pressable lost most of my business when they did the same.

    Now I’m on GoDaddy and content with accepting that there will be less support – I’d rather pocket my money and call in additional resources when an emergency breaks out. Managed WordPress is going to persistently be a pain-point in support, and people should just be used to it at this point.

    You can’t give unlimited, hands-on support for free. WP Engine and Pressable shouldn’t try, in my opinion.

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  3. At CyberChimps we experienced almost exactly the same issues as detailed in Woodward’s blog post.

    We moved to Pagely a few months ago on their new Amazon based hosting platform and couldn’t be happier.

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    1. Pagely looks really nice except that you need the $400 plan to have git & SSH :(. If they had these as add-ons for smaller plans it would be a lot more appealing!

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  4. re: Is the company growing too fast to maintain its former sterling reputation?

    Not to sound snarky but I think we already have that answer, and it’s obvious.

    The better question is: Now what?

    Cohen was smart to suck it up. The next step is a solid road map for how they’re going to get back to the top of the table.

    Finally, he / they would be wise to start a “committee” made up of a sample of real customers. Those customer would represent the greater whole, but also pledge to be the eyes and ears of WP Engine. I’m not exactly sure of the details of this idea, but it does make some sense to consider.

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    1. Actually we’ve thought of a customer committee and certainly have conversations with customers often. As an example I call two customers a week no matter what at a minimum. We’re probably going to explore more of that in the future. We listed some items we’re working on and are working on more of course. I think the important thing however is we’re trying to stay humble and have an open dialogue.

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  5. I have been with LightningBase for a year now and I’ve never had any issues with them. Customer support is awesome and fast.

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  6. It would seem obvious the company is growing far too fast.

    They were once considered the gold standard of WP hosting. It’s too bad they sold out.

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    1. Hey John, I don’t believe it’s a sold out thing and I’ve been here since far before the growth round came into play. Lots of people in the space from Automattic to Flywheel have raised money but the key is we’ve doubled our support staff and tripled our engineering staff. We simply couldn’t do that without more runway in a way to scale. I truly believe the funding enables us be even better but I love hearing everyones thoughts on it.

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  7. I got a little vocal about some of the problems we had with client sites we migrated there a while back. I stayed pretty quiet however due to friends I had made that worked there and simply because I was trying to give them the benefit of the doubt. We had SERIOUS speed problems with the admin panel… some extra queries here and there but nothing that would cause that sort of long load. Then we had major issues with the caching and speed of that… you turn it off and queries go up and speed literally quadrupled. They kept ‘automatically’ turning it back on too. Was painful for a while until we ejected and got a large account migrated off and a handful of medium-sized ones.

    I understand growing pains but it was clear to me that the major underlying problems were overlooked for quite some time and eventually compounded on them. It’s good to see Jason publicly addressing the issues now but me and my clients and it sounds like a lot of others have already pulled the ripcord. It is what it is.

    They’ll recover. Sell. Move on. Best of luck WPE. Cheers

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    1. Chuck, I’m sorry to hear about any problems you had. Thank you for being with us and if you ever need anything feel free to reach out to me personally.

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  8. For me the worst part is that they would put a link on the footer. How dare they do that!.

    If I am paying you $29-$249 per month. You will NOT link to your site from my footer (or any part of my website), if you were providing me with FREE space then yes you can link. However no, you can not!

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      1. Review, linked on top of this post, mentioned link getting added to regular account [mistakenly].

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  9. I’m not sure “we’re busy!” is a great response to concerned customers. Especially savvy concerned customers with social media. The capital WPE has received has moved them from #teamDavid to #teamGoliath, and that takes a certain amount of grace to pull off.

    We left WP Engine several months ago, mostly because of cost, but I can confirm that support was less than stellar. Not consistently, we worked with some great, friendly people too, but there was more than one time when we received pretty terrible support, from folks who seemed to know a lot less than I do about WP (which isn’t all that much.) Crappy support is kind of the norm everywhere, though. We got bit by an image that was hotlinked I didn’t catch, it was viewed over 5m times, our WP Engine bill would have been over $4k in a month, had we not been in the three month money-back trial. (Which worked out great for us, I’m not throwing any shade there.)

    We moved to Synthesis, the price is perfect and the site runs great, and while their customer support is quick, it’s had its moments, as well. At the price we’re paying, I’m willing to learn more about fixing the issues that come up myself. I almost don’t want to say how happy we are with them too loudly, for fear they’ll face the same growing pains as WPEngine if they get too popular.

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    1. I’ll put in a word for Synthesis too. Have been with them for almost 2 years, absolutely no complaints at all.

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  10. We have also been experiencing quite a few issues with WP Engine. The most annoying are the intermittent 502 errors that we have seen during the last couple of months. Several support tickets later this is still not fixed. We changed the comment functionality to be available for logged in users only and even hardcoded a navigation menu in the footer since the support team told us that wp_nav_menu was causing the issue (?!?).

    The frustrating thing is that there are quite a few fanboys that viciously attack anyone who dares to criticize WP Engine in public (probably because WP Engine received funding from Automattic), although during the last couple of days that sentiment has fortunately changed.

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  11. If you have that much traffic you might look at a dedicated host that works with publishers mostly like http://www.presslabs.com/ They are not cheap, but there’s a chance you’ll get a lot more bang for your buck.

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  12. The idea of a hosting company geared towards one single CMS just sounds like a bad idea.

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  13. Months ago I posted a summary of my issues with WPEngine (very similar to Matthew Woodward’s) and within hours I received an email from a “Customer Happiness Manager” with a heartfelt apology. This feels like more of the same. Really great PR is not the same as really great service and support.

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  14. Inserting links on customer pages without permission? That’s enough in and of itself. I would have begun migrating the same day I discovered the first one.

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  15. First rule of selling “Don’t promise what you can’t deliver”

    For the prices that WP Engine charge you don’t expect excuses after the event – difficult to recover your reputation from something like this and a huge disappointment for those of us who looked to WP Engine as the gold standard.
    #feetofclay

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  16. Considering that you can get a decently spec’d Managed VPS for like $40 a month, WP dedicated hosting should be 1000x more responsive and knowledgeable than anyone else.

    This is pretty sad.

    I’ve noticed WooThemes having lots of trouble with their site as well lately (aside from the hack) and they are hosted on WPEngine as well.

    Maybe its time someone starts reselling a well set up Digital Ocean droplet for ~$50 a month.

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    1. I’ve been wondering if a service like that would pop up some time. I suspect the cost would need to be more than US$50 though, as server maintenance and support would add up quickly.

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    2. Why on earth would anyone do that, there is already a WP droplet with the push of a button.

      Hosting is not about setup, it;s about maintenance and there are tons of companies that do lamp stack maintenance for VPS or cloud servers, they are in the 30-100 range/month, which basically puts them on pat with managed VPS’s.

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  17. I remember, recommending WPE to several clients. One of them had a blog with heavy traffic but wasn’t very much convinced to move over to WPE. I now thank myself for not being pushy.
    Promises aren’t easy to be kept.

    PS: Tomas, I would like you to pay attention to your billing system. It has loopholes, which are definitely not good for your business. I have been watching that for quite some months, even after raising a ticket it wasn’t resolved. I kept quiet and didn’t wish to talk about it on social platforms. But, it’s high time now.

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  18. I know its kinda off topic, but, where is WP Tavern hosted?

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  19. I would leave WPEngine in a heartbeat if I knew where to go?!!! I’ve been having the exact same problems as described. Slow site, comments not loading in dashboard, server not found errors, etc. For a host that prides itself on being “hassle free”, it has been a severe disappointment!

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  20. Unfortunately one of our clients had terrible experience with WPE. We host most of our clients and one time we decided to recommend WPE to a client that needed ftp and more access than we like to give on our servers. We heard about the great support of WPE and recommended them over many other companies that the client was considering. Boy that was a huge mistake. I would cringe when I would get down pingdom alerts and monthly reports. Over the course of 6 months their site went down a few times per week. Although the downtime was not long it was just too much for the client to handle. We ended up losing a 3k monthly seo deal just for a bad recommendation. To be transparent the client was a huge d!ck but 3k monthly is still a big loss. Our policy has since changed and now we just give clients that don’t want to host on our servers a list that they can choose from on their own. My recommendation would be to run your own vps. I know that its tough to manage your own servers but the investment in time to learn is more than worth it. We are a web design and digital marketing company but we make about $4500 monthly in pure profit on hosting. This is after server costs and time spent upgrading and basic support. It’s a win win for everyone.

    I hope WPE gets it together but it seems like they need to work on their servers before they address customer service issues. If their servers ran smooth they would get a fraction of their current support tickets.

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  21. HOW CAN ANYONE RECOMMEND A SERVICE THAT CLAIMS EQUAL OWNERSHIP OF EVERYTHING YOU POST IN-PERPETUITY? WHY IS THIS NOT DISCLOSED AS AN ACTUAL COST OF USE?? ARE UNRESTRICTED RIGHTS TO YOUR MATERIAL JUST BECAUSE YOU POST IT ON YOUR PAID BLOG REALLY NOT WORTH WORTH MORE THAN $30 A MONTH?
    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!

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  22. For what it’s worth, did a ton of hosting research to begin 2014 and decided on WPEngine to host our high-traffic WP client websites. Support has been stellar (for a new customer I’ve sent them a ton of requests) and the speed/uptime is exactly as advertised. Can’t say I experience WPE prior to 2014 but I can’t imagine how it could have been much better.

    I read *every* horror story about WPE and it’s competitors and am happy to have made the switch to WPE

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  23. There’s an old joke about Texans being nothing but a belt buckle and BS – wpEngine seems to have never bothered with the belt buckle. They are all hype, no delivery, and expect to both prevent you from engineering your own site and go in and muck with your code at the same time.

    If you have ever developed and installed a WordPress site (I’ve been doing it continuously for 8+ years), you will discover the game they’re playing very quickly. If not, you’re in for a silent and over-priced reaming.

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