Over the past two weeks I’ve reluctantly completed the arduous and stressful task of migrating 30+ websites to a new web host. Most of these sites run WordPress. In this post, I’ll share some of my lessons learned and the specific reasons why, after 8 months as customer of WP Engine, I switched to Site5 as my exclusive web host. (Full disclosure: Most of my links to Site5 in this post are “affiliate links.”) Hopefully some of this information will be helpful to you if you pay for web hosting and/or are considering making changes to your web hosting situation.

I’ve been publishing content online since 1994, when I became a graduate student at Texas Tech University and started learning HTML using TextEdit (the Mac version of Notepad for Windows). I started by using a university-provided web hosting account, and in 2002 started using commercial web hosts. Over the years, these included .Mac (which become MobileMe), PowWeb, Siteground, Bluehost, WP Engine, and Site5. I created the following image collage (using Seashore and Skitch) to highlight the times and approximate costs for these services over the years, which overlapped at several points. A big jump in the money I paid for web hosting happened in 2008. Another big jump in costs happened in November 2012 with WP Engine, which triggered this latest move to Site5.

For details about that 2008 price jump, which corresponded to my move from $80/year “shared web hosting” to $100/MONTH VPS (virtual private server) hosting, see these posts:

  1. Is this web hosting extortion? (11/13/2013)
  2. Siteground insists: Pay up now or be cut off! (11/18/2008)
  3. Negotiations with Siteground for alleged shared hosting account “abuse” continue (11/15/2008)
  4. Restored blog access and reflections on the psychology of daily blogging (12/19/2008)

One of the biggest milestones for me as digital content creator was the registration of my main blog (Moving at the Speed of Creativity – speedofcreativity.org) in 2005. Since then, I’ve shared 5,587 posts on the site and approved 11,483 comments. Over the past decade I’ve learned quite a bit (some of it the hard way) about web hosting and sharing digital content online. You’d think I’d have known better, but I actually forgot to backup my MobileMe account in the summer of 2012 and lost all the movies and photos I had posted there. I suspect that content is saved on old external drives somewhere, but it’s not readily at hand. Losing online content can be physically painful, even though the information is virtual. My friend, Kevin Honeycutt, calls a hard drive crash a “digital stroke.” Thankfully I’ve had to replace hard drives over the years but never lost a large quantity of valuable content. (A lesson I learned around 1986 writing programs for fun in BASIC drove home the importance of backups.)

The list of web hosts I provided above isn’t entirely inclusive, since I continue to (for Storychasers) pay for webspace with Ning. I’ve also used a wide variety of wiki and blogging platforms (free as well as commercial), but the focus of this post is commercial web hosts so I won’t detail those others. I share this collage to let you know that I’ve had quite a bit of experience working with different web hosts over the past decade, and moving web content from one host to another.

One of my biggest lessons learned is to ALWAYS register your domains (with a “domain name registrar“) which is DIFFERENT than your web hosting company. That way, when or if you ever need to move your content, you can readily do so without incurring additional domain transfer fees. Using a third-party registrar (I use GoDaddy) is a wonderful thing when “it’s time to move.”

If you don’t want to mess with technical details (which can be very stressful, at times) or rely on other more “techie” people to assist you with hosting issues, it’s a great thing to pay for a managed blogging content publishing service or use a free, managed content publishing service. WordPress.com and EduBlogs have both free and paid options. Blogger and Tumblr are both free, managed services. SquareSpace is a commercial service. With all of these blogging options, technical hosting issues are handled FOR you by the company providing the service, but (especially with the free options) you generally have fewer customization options than you can have with a self-hosted WordPress site or web host generally.

This past May, I had some technical problems with my main blog’s WordPress installation which I couldn’t figure out and Siteground support staff couldn’t help me with either. My server was consuming more bandwidth than my VPS account could support, and they wanted to “solve” the problem by elevating me to a more expensive plan. After the problems I had with them in 2008, (detailed in the previously provided links) I decided I wanted to change web hosts to resolve this problem. I thought I had more problems than just needing more bandwidth, but Siteground tech support couldn’t help me figure out what the problems were or how to fix them.

I think I had some corruption issues in the mySQL database my blog used, but I’m still not entirely sure. I ended up deciding to switch web hosts and go with the more expensive, but WordPress support-friendly service of WP Engine. I read quite a few articles and reviews about different options, and WP Engine sounded like the best bet. I ended up paying around $300 for “expedited service” for WP Valet to migrate my main speedofcreativity.org WordPress blog to WP Engine, and all my podcasts (dating back to 2005) to the Amazon S3 cloud. WP Engine is not a “normal” web host, which is both good and bad. In this case it was inconvenient because they only host WordPress installs, they don’t host podcast content. Users have to host their podcast content elsewhere, which is why I chose Amazon S3. It’s very affordable, but I had over 5 GB of content to move. This process was a hassle and caused some stress, but the fact that WP Valet experts were taking care of things was GREAT. They did some optimizations to my WordPress mySQL database, and the main challenge was that all my old podcast links had to be individually updated both in their respective blog posts AND in the separate podcast feed I maintain using FeedForAll software. Part of my problems, which dated back to 2008 and charges of CPU cycle overages from my web host at the time, were with the PodPress plugin for WordPress. I liked the statistics which PodPress generated on the number of downloads my podcasts received, but evidently that placed a large strain on my web hosting server. I switched to the Podlove Web Player WordPress plugin for my podcasts now hosted on AmazonS3, changed my podcast links for the last 100 podcasts, and after several weeks of migrating and updating my web hosting situation stabilized. Because I have several websites which do NOT run WordPress, however, and WP Engine won’t host different installations and “just” host static HTML content, I needed another (less expensive) web host for those sites and apps. I chose a $34 per month “web host reseller account” with Site5 for those sites.

Having to make all these web migrations was pretty stressful and troubling. We all have a limited amount of attention and energy to expend each day, and I really didn’t have any extra time to dedicate to a major website migration project. Sometimes in life, however, things happen which we don’t choose and we have to deal with them as best we can. That is what I did in May.

Fast forward to November. I’d been pretty happy with WP Engine and the performance my blog seemed to have on their service, but the way WP Engine counts “visits” to sites was making my site look WAY more popular than it actually was according to Google Analytics. Apparently this had a lot to do with “Robots” which scour the web, often for positive purposes, but sometimes for nefarious ones. The bottom line was that instead of paying WP Engine $100 for web hosting in November 2013, I paid $170 which included $70 in “overages.” Coming as this did on top of a major family financial crisis in October (which I’ll write a bit more about later) this was something which could not be sustained. As much as I didn’t want to do it, I had to change web hosts. The screenshots below show my “web visits” on WP Engine in both November and December. I had (at that time) four sites on WP Engine: Moving at the Speed of Creativity, Playing with Media, Mapping Media to the Common Core, and MacBook Maestro.

This screenshot shows my “visits” in the past month/billing period on WP Engine:

The over 1000 page PDF file WP Engine provided, reporting on my website “overages” in November, included this chart breaking down the number of “billable visits” for my website. You can see that for my main blog, speedofcreativity.org, WP Engine recorded over 120,000 “billable visits.”

Contrast this with my Google Analytics reports for the same period, shown below. Eliminating web robots, Google Analytics recorded 16,361 unique visits in November and 18,483 total visits.

The numbers were about the same, but down a little, for December.

The WP Engine “overages report” included some very interesting data, including the most requested static files on my site. When I had my site on a VPS with Siteground, I used the WordPress plug-in WP-Super Cache. It offloaded static WordPress files like these to Amazon’s Cloudfront service, which cut down on the server load on my web host. WP Engine provides its own web caching as part of their service, but you pay them for it.

I’m really glad my blog and other websites are receiving a lot of readers and users, and it’s disappointing to learn what a drain on server resources web robots have become. I have a limited budget, however, which has become even more limited with my return to the K-12 classroom this past fall as a STEM teacher. WP Engine staff recommended I step up to their “second pricing tier,” which is $250 per month. There’s no way I can afford or want to pay that much for web hosting. I also need to have a fixed price for my hosting costs, and can’t have a situation where a financial disincentive exists to write popular posts that generate more traffic. I simply couldn’t afford WP Engine with it’s pricing structure and “overage” charges.”

So, I’ve FINALLY finished the transition of all my websites to a VPS with SITE5. I’ve opted for their “fully managed” VPS3 tier, which is $100 per month. Why Site5, you ask? I went with them because they are highly touted / recommended by iThemes, the creators of BackupBuddy. I worked as a consultant for six months in 2012 for iThemes, and think VERY highly of both their products and their staff. If Site5 was the top web hosting option for iThemes, that was good enough for me. So far I’ve been VERY pleased with Site5 and their staff. I’ll report down the road as I have more experiences with them. I had about 25 different sites hosted with them on a “reseller plan” for the past 8 months, and just transitioned over to their VPS this past week.

I hope the information I’ve provided in this post has been helpful to you. I’d like to say managing your own WordPress websites on commercial web hosts is all a bowl of cherries, but I’m an honest guy so I can’t. I will say, however, that it’s GREAT to be able to read about the experiences and recommendations of other people when it comes to web hosting. (WordPress user groups, like we have here in Oklahoma City, are also GREAT!) We have a competitive global marketplace for web hosting, which is a good thing on balance. Deciding who you go with for web hosting, as it does in many other contexts, is a matter of trust. For reasons I’ve explained here, I’m trusting Site5 with all my websites. It might be a great choice for you to consider as well!

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If you're trying to listen to a podcast episode and it's not working, check this status page. (Wes is migrating his podcasts to Amazon S3 for hosting.) Remember to follow Wesley Fryer on Twitter (@wfryer), Facebook and Google+. Also "like" Wesley's Facebook pages for "Speed of Creativity Learning" and his eBook, "Playing with Media." Don't miss Wesley's latest technology integration project, "Mapping Media to the Common Core / Curriculum."

On this day..

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  • BenSite5

    Thanks for the kind mention :)

  • eduleadership

    Moving servers or hosts is no fun at all! I agree a VPS is the way to go in your situation – I have at least 2 at a time, plus a shared hosting plan with MT that I haven’t gotten around to dumping yet.

    If you are having WP DB corruption issues, one option is to save your theme and maybe the settings table for it, export your posts and comments in WXML, and start with a fresh install (saving your wp-content files too, of course). Hard to trust an 8-year-old MySQL database, especially if you test out a lot of plugins like I do.

    I never pay more than $50/month for a VPS, but you may be getting a lot more bandwidth than I am. If you’re running cPanel/WHM, all companies offer very similar things when it comes to a VPS, because they’re all powered by one or two virtualization suites.

    A shame so many companies charge overages for reasonable usage and count it in unfair ways. Thanks for sharing all this detail.

  • http://ryancollins.org/ Ryan Collins

    Take a look at adding Cloudflare. Their free service saves me 50% of my bandwidth a month. (http://ryancollins.org/2011/09/29/speed-up-your-website-and-get-ipv6-compatibility-for-free/

  • Bubba

    We’re currently using wpengine and I’ve noticed a really downward trend in their support. I have 2 tickets open and they have yet to actually read the details and give me a non-canned response for several days. They’re good and bad, but I am sensing what used to stand out for them is going downhill. We’ll see. We may also be moving soon.

  • Darrell Johnson

    Very complete discussion. Wesley, did you have a specific procedure getting off of WPEngine? I’ve noticed they pack their sites with all kinds of custom code in the WordPress config, and I’m having a difficultly doing a migration. Thanks.

  • http://www.speedofcreativity.org Wesley Fryer

    I had some difficulty with this too, Darrell… I tried to use Backupbuddy from iThemes but it wouldn’t function because of the scripting stuff they have turned off, I also tried using Infinite WordPress’ cloning option. As I recall I think I got some of my sites to move off with IWP, but others I had to use the “Moving WordPress” instructions from the main codex, moving my mySQL database separately and then moving all my files:

    http://codex.wordpress.org/Moving_WordPress

    The big trick for me was moving the mySQL file because it was so big. See this post for details on what I found and ended up doing.

    http://www.speedofcreativity.org/2013/12/30/restore-or-move-a-large-mysql-database-with-mysqldumper/

    This was a BIG pain and I’m so relieved it is over! I’m now setup with regular backups using Backupbuddy and since I’ve restored multiple sites with them now I’m confident this can work if I have a real emergency. I’m also paying $10 per month to my web host for their remote backup services, so I think I’m protected… but I hope I never have to use those backups!

    http://ithemes.com/purchase/backupbuddy/

  • http://www.speedofcreativity.org Wesley Fryer

    I added Cloudflare and appreciate this recommendation, Ryan!

  • http://avgjoegeek.net/ avgjoegeek

    Wesley – Thank you so much for your honest insight into WP Engine. It was exactly as I had feared. I’m a (very) small blogger and that would have killed it for me!

    The Robots/Spider issue has become a personal vendetta now. I’ve tweaked my robots.txt, had to go into .htaccess and play around with blocking multiple spiders and robots who are eating up unnecessary bandwidth and do not provide any type of benefit to myself or the visitors.

    Unfortunately there is a fine line with performance/bandwidth saving when doing it this way. You can only block so much through .htaccess before the server starts taking a hit – especially for popular sites.

    I wish there was a more effective way to block ip address ranges coming from the robots/spiders that I don’t want accessing the website.

    Anyways – sorry for rambling. I’ve been shopping around for new hosting and I think I’ve found my new home thanks to your article!

  • http://www.angusmckinnon.com angusmckinnon

    Thanks for the info. Was looking at Wp Engine, but had some doubts this article helped confirm. Had been considering Siteground but some tests I ran on some of their client sites didnt score so well. Have you tried Pagely.com at all ?

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