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This hosting article compares WPEngine and Synthesis in detail including page load speed comparisons of both hosting services comparing 2 of my sites (multiple pages to get a nice snapshot of performance across several types of content).
Like many people, I started with the cheapest services, namely Bluehost (which I still recommend for hosting when starting out and for lower traffic sites). As my traffic increased along with revenue, I’ve increased my hosting budget.
Both WPEngine and Synthesis are not the cheapest options. In fact, they’re higher end WordPress website hosting. Both are excellent. Both have advantages. This comparison covers advantages and disadvantages of both.
This comparison review of WPEngine and Synthesis will be organized by hosting features and performance.
Both Synthesis and WPEngine are WordPress website hosting services. As far as I know, they only host WordPress websites.
I don’t know much about WPEngine’s background, but I know Synthesis is owned by the company that owns StudioPress WordPress themes (a theme company I’ve used for years and still use – this site is built with a StudioPress theme).
My History with Both Hosting Services
- June 2014: Signed up with Synthesis for the first time. Migrated 2 of my larger sites to their hosting platform.
- May 2015: Signed up with WPEngine (1 site plan). Migrated 1 site from Synthesis to WPEngine.
- November 2015: Migrated all sites from Synthesis, Bluehost and GoDaddy hosting to WPengine (upgraded my WPEngine plan to a Premium plan which is 1 million plus monthly page views and up to 150 installs.
A. Page Load Speed Comparison
Testing and Comparison Methodology:
My method of comparing page load speed is as follows.
Before migrating my first site from Synthesis to WPEngine (site A), I tested page load speed for the site while hosted with Synthesis. After migrating to WPEngine, I tested page load speed for the same URL.
I then did the same for another site I migrated from Synthesis to WPEngine (site B).
In all, I test 3 URLs with 2 online page load speed testing services (one URL from site A and two URLs from site B). Each URL tested is a different type of page. They are as follows:
- Site A: Homepage
- Site B, URL #1: Long post (with plenty of images)
- Site B, URL #2: Category Archive Page
Page Load Speed Results:
Screenshots of the page load speed tests performed:
Site A on Pingdom.com (Synthesis):
Site A on GTMetrix (Synthesis):
Site B, URL #1 Tested on Pingdom (on Synthesis):
Site B, URL #1 Tested on GTMetrix (on Synthesis):
Site B, URL #2 Tested on Pingdom (on Synthesis):
Site B URL #2 Tested on GTMetrix (on Synthesis):
Site A on Pingdom.com (WPEngine):
Site A on GTMetrix (WPEngine):
Site B URL #1 Tested on Pingdom (WPEngine):
Site B URL #1 Tested on GTMetrix (WPEngine):
Site B URL #2 Tested on Pingdom (WPEngine):
Site B URL #2 Tested on GTMetrix (WPEngine):
Synthesis does not offer website migration. You either do it yourself or hire a service to do it. I used Fantasktic to migrate sites from Bluehost to Synthesis. It costs $99 per site. I believe Fantasktic offers multi-site discounts.
WPEngine has a free migration plugin that pretty much automates migrating your site from current hosting to WPEngine.
I’m not terribly technical (I still have trouble with FTP), yet I was able to migrate 15 websites without a glitch. The plugin worked perfectly. I did rely on technical support for much of it, but overall it went quickly and smoothly.
Using the WPEngine migration plugin saved me $1,500 in migration fees if I had to hire Fantasktic to migrate the sites.
Winner: WPEngine by a landslide. The fact they have a free plugin that makes site migration easy makes WPEngine the winner when it comes to comparing migration between Synthesis and WPEngine.
C. WordPress Installation and Set Up
Synthesis: When I needed a new WordPress installation, I simply submitted a support request and it was done within 8 to 12 hours. I really liked this customer service touch. Setting up installs, while not terribly difficult, is boring. Often hosting interfaces aren’t easy to use.
WPEngine: I had to set up the install for each website in the backend of my WPEngine hosting account. I was stepped through it by WPEngine’s customer support. The downside is I still had to do it, which cost me time.
Winner: Synthesis. While I had to wait for their support team to set up the install, I’d rather wait a few hours than do it myself. I always have other work I can do (or take a few hours off).
As an aside, there really isn’t a backend to Synthesis. You don’t have to manage anything, which is really nice. When you need something set up, you simply submit a support ticket and they’ll take care of it.
For example, if you need a CSR for an SSL certificate, you don’t have to generate it with Synthesis. They’ll do it for you. WPEngine on the other hand has a self-service platform on which you generate your own CSR. The advantage of WPEngine is you get what you need immediately. The downside is you must do it yourself.
D. Customer Support
Customer support (especially technical support) is an important feature I look for when it comes to hosting services.
I have several high traffic sites. Sometimes I need knowledgeable help immediately. When there’s a problem, I’m not patient.
Synthesis only has a ticket system. This was very frustrating. While their support team works hard, is extremely knowledgeable and handled every problem I threw at them, I had to wait. For non-urgent matters, support responses can take 8 to 12 hours. That’s a full day. Sometimes problems would go back and forth which would end up taking 1 to 2 days to resolve an issue.
If your site is down, your support ticket will be handled immediately. You obviously can’t abuse this. I never abused it; however, I did have to use this urgent ticket system a few times (often because I did something super stupid with the functions file… not because there was a problem with the hosting). Not once did I wait longer for 15 minutes for a response when my site was down. This isn’t bad, but it still would have been nice to be able to pick up the phone or have a live chat conversation.
In my view it’s too bad Synthesis doesn’t offer 24/7 telephone and/or live chat support. If they offered this, I may still be with them. I found it frustrating they didn’t have these options for hosting.
That said, and you’ll see under pricing below, Synthesis pricing is better than WPEngine. I suspect their pricing is lower is due in part to their restricted customer support.
Also, as mention above, Synthesis manages every aspect of your backend. There really isn’t a user portal. If you need anything done, just submit a ticket and they’ll take care of it for you. It’s pretty cool, but you have to wait for support to handle it.
WPEngine invests a lot in support and it shows. They have 24/7 telephone support. Nearly 24/7 live chat support and a decent ticket system.
I like having support contact options. If something isn’t urgent, I submit a ticket. If it’s urgent I call or use live chat. Sometimes it’s easier to solve a problem on the phone. Sometimes it’s easier and more efficient for me to use live chat. I’ve used all support mechanisms and I love the options.
WPEngine support is amazing. I know I’m paying for it, but I’m happy to do so. Their technical support team is extremely knowledgeable. They’re incredibly patient and kind too. I’ve spent hours with them on the phone over the last couple of months and they always go above and beyond. It’s this level of support that makes me glad I switched to their hosting service.
Winner: WPEngine hands-down. It’s not that Synthesis support team is bad, it’s just that there’s only a ticket system in place, which is very limiting.
E. Malware Infection Defense and Removal
While with Synthesis, one site was infected with malware. I had no idea until I noticed something buggy. I tested my site with Sucuri’s malware scanner and discovered one of my bigger sites was infected.
I immediately informed Synthesis who cleaned up my site within days.
Yes, malware removal is included with Synthesis, which is a nice feature. Synthesis uses Sucuri to remove malware, which is good because Sucuri is a reputable malware removal service.
However, Synthesis hosting did not discover the malware infection, which was disappointing.
Before moving all of my sites to WPEngine, I was told the hosting service routinely scans for malware. This attracted me to the service because sites can have an infection without you knowing it. Malware removal is also included. Like Synthesis, WPEngine uses Sucuri.
Since moving to WPEngine, Google’s Webmaster Tools alerted me about malware on a site. I was disappointed WPEngine didn’t bring this to my attention. However, I can’t conclude it as a failing of WPEngine because they did tell me they scan for malware once per week or so, which means perhaps WMT beat them to it.
Winner: WPEngine by a hair. I give the advantage to WPEngine because of their stated feature that they do scan for malware.
TIP: I do suggest you run your sites through Sucuri’s malware scanner weekly or monthly just to make sure your site(s) aren’t infected.
Instead of setting out the prices here, you can see the Synthesis pricing table here.
When I was with Synthesis, I was on the Advanced plan for $147 per month. This plan included up to 85,000 page views per day (2,550,000 monthly page views), which is really good.
You can see all of their plans here.
Currently, I’m on the WPEngine Premium plan which is 1 million to 5 million monthly page views. This costs me $600 per month.
$147 vs. $600 is a huge. I’m paying a considerable premium to be with WPEngine. The only real advantage WPEngine offers is customer support. Therefore, you can say I’m paying $450 per month for faster support.
Winner: Synthesis (by a landslide).
Both Synthesis and WPEngine are great. Performance is comparable. They can both handle serious traffic volume.
The key differences are price and customer support. If you want premium WordPress hosting and saving money is your prime objective, go with Synthesis. If you like Rolls Royce customer support and are willing to pay for it, go with WPEngine.
When I first needed premium WordPress hosting, I was more concerned about keeping my monthly hosting costs low so I went with Synthesis. Also, I always liked StudioPress themes and since StudioPress is part of the company I trusted them.
However, now that my stable of large, profitable sites is growing, I’m less concerned about price and am willing to pay a premium for instant customer support.
Jon runs the place around here. He pontificates about launching and growing online publishing businesses, aka blogs that make a few bucks. His pride and joy is the email newsletter he publishes that’s “the best blogging email newsletter around.”
Hyperbole? Maybe, but go check it out to see what some readers say.
In all seriousness, Jon is the founder and owner of a digital media company that publishes a variety of web properties visited and beloved by millions of readers monthly. Fatstacks is where he shares a glimpse into his digital publishing business.