A head to head comparison of Kinsta and WP Engine
Now that you’ve read the saga of our journey from a managed dedicated LAMP server to managed WordPress dedicated server hosting, here are some points of comparison between WP Engine (WPE) and Kinsta. While there are other managed WordPress hosts, we narrowed the options down to these two based on our needs.
The landscape is constantly changing so please do your own research.
Tools and Utilities
One of the great things about managed WordPress hosting providers is that in addition to common cPanel offerings such as user creation, phpmyadmin and other administrative tools, they also have WordPress focused tools in their portal. There’s a lot of crossover between providers but there are a few specific to each provider that are worth mentioning.
Kinsta Search and Replace: There are a number of search and replace plugins for WordPress. Special tools are required for database search and replace operations due to the way WordPress stores URL reference’s lengths; performing a standard search and replace on your database could break your site. Sometimes, as part of a migration from one domain name to another, you need to perform the search and replace operation on the database without having access to the WordPress backend.
The Kinsta tool allows you to perform a search and replace on a WordPress site database directly from the portal. WPE support techs can perform this operation manually but having it available in their portal gives Kinsta a leg up.
WPE Automated Migration WordPress Plugin https://wordpress.org/plugins/wp-site-migrate/ Moving a WordPress site from one server to another can often be harder than it should be. Over the years, what used to be a pretty manual process has evolved to be pretty seamless thanks to a number of plugins. WPE’s plugin is specifically for migrating WordPress sites from other hosts to WPE and we’ve found it works great.
After installing the plugin on your website, you submit the migration details and sit back and let the plugin do the rest. When the process is complete, you have a mirrored copy of your site now hosted at WPE.
WPE also provides a getting started video along with the information needed to migrate your site: site address, SFTP address at WPE, SFTP login and password for WPE.
One caveat to this plugin and many other migration tools: you may need to perform an extra step if you are using a page builder like Elementor. Many of these tools store their data in an encrypted format that automated migration tools don’t understand. In these cases, performing a URL replacement using a proprietary tool may be necessary.
There isn’t any reason that a website shouldn’t be using encrypted communication via HTTPS by means of an TLS/SSL certificate. While some situations may require an EV certificate that uses additional validation to confirm website ownership, a SSL certificate for most website applications should be very affordable, if not free.
Both Kinsta and WPE offer free Let’s Encrypt SSL certificates. Let’s Encrypt initially received some bad press due to not validating domain ownership in a meaningful way. They’ve since fixed that issue. (Their solution was to require that DNS is pointing to the server where the certificate will be installed before they will issue it.) Let’s Encrypt certificates are easy to use and best of all, they are free. The certificates expire every 90 days but the vendor automatically renews them without requiring any intervention by the website admin.
Responsive, knowledgeable and understanding support staff are one of the most valuable parts of a web hosting vendor. While anomalies occur here and there, modern website applications shouldn’t experience unplanned interruptions in service. When those interruptions do occur, having the peace of mind that comes along with a worthy vendor is invaluable.
Both vendors offer support using a chat application on their portal. WPE uses the familiar Zen Desk software while Kinsta uses a similar tool from Intercom. WPE also offers phone support while Kinsta appears to rely on chat.
WPE support has the advantage here based on wait time and a ticketing system for issues that aren’t resolved in a single chat session. The Kinsta chat app works a bit differently and just keeps previous sessions accessible in the app. There is not an email or phone component for Kinsta support from what I have seen.
Generally, my preference would be to have the option to open tickets via a form or email. Many of the support requests we submit are not time critical. Requiring the use of a chat app holds the end user hostage during the time when the support tech is completing a request. Many times there is the necessity for some back and forth conversation but in the cases where it is a cut and dry request, it would be nice to submit a request through the system and receive a notification when complete.
Our experience with support from both Kinsta and WPE does not match the experience we have had with other hosting vendors. While I do recognize the names of many of the support techs that I’ve worked with at managed WordPress hosts, it does little to counter the experience that at the end of the day, we are just a number. If you require a personal relationship with account and administrative staff that know you and your business, that expectation will not be met.
Both vendors have a list of banned plugins:
Generally their rationale for not allowing a plugin makes sense. Usually it’s due to either an incompatibility with their platform’s security model or other functionality. Most of the time the rationale is “we already do that for you so you don’t need a plugin”. In some cases, the banning of a plugin seems rather arbitrary (Hello Dolly? Really, WPE? It’s useless but harmless. Don’t be so uptight.)
Wordfence Security is the only plugin that Tenrec was using when we migrated to WPE that was disallowed on either of the hosts. We’ve replaced that plugin’s functionality with a combination of a separate security plugin and the inherent security features of the managed WordPress platforms. Since we first started hosting with WP Engine, Wordfence has been removed from their banned plugins list. We were recently told by a WPE support representative that the Wordfence firewall was redundant to the protections provided by the WPE platform, so we haven’t reinstalled it.
Generally the configurations of managed WordPress hosts have some level of flexibility. Need a custom NGINX configuration? We’ve accomplished that. Want to run different versions of PHP on different websites on the same server? Done. Custom redirect rules, htaccess rules? Done and done. Enabling of common PHP libraries with no known security exploits? Skkkrrrrt… put on the brakes.
This is where Kinsta has the upper hand. Not just the upper hand but WPE’s approach to this kind of request was unnecessarily obscure. Read our companion piece for all of the details on how WPE’s overly rigid, security by obscurity tanked our ability to deploy one of our websites on their platform.
Both vendors offer self-managed backups in different ways.
Kinsta’s full site backups are created once a day. These backups persist for 14 days. In addition you can create up to 5 manual backups which persist for 14 days a piece. The backups can not be downloaded but can be restored to your live or staging environment via the Kinsta portal. Kinsta does allow for creating a single downloadable backup once every 7 days. Restoring a backup to one of your environments can be accomplished with a few clicks.
WPE takes a different approach to backups. They refer to backups as “restore points,” which is really what they are. Before you perform any operation, even a simple plugin update, you create a restore point in the WPE portal. The restore point contains all of the site files and the database so that the site can be rolled back to that exact moment in time when the restore point was created.
WPE has the advantage when it comes to backups for a few reasons:
- Restore points are saved for 30 days. And, as far as we have seen, there is no limitation on the number of restore points you can create. We use this functionality liberally as a means of risk management during complex deploys.
- Any restore point can be downloaded. We have frequently needed to access a specific file or directory from a specific day. The Kinsta base plan only allows for the creation of a single downloadable backup per week, which didn’t meet our needs. There are ways around this at Kinsta but it is an onerous process. We did request Kinsta support to restore a single directory from a specific day and it took four days for them to complete that task.
- Restore points can be copied back and forth between environments. Every site at WPE comes with a staging and dev instance as well. You can push or pull restore points from one environment to another.
While Kinsta is the scrappy upstart with some cool features, WP Engine is the established force in the industry and it shows. The overall experience at WP Engine from the sign-up process to managing sites through their portal is polished and the result of experience. The WPE portal UI leaves something to be desired but it *works*. Jakob Nielsen would be proud.
Kinsta is a good alternative if WP Engine isn’t a good fit for your needs. The primary driver for us selecting Kinsta was their flexibility in the support of custom configurations. If you have the need to run WordPress along with custom software and configurations that are out of the norm, you might find that Kinsta is the place for you. Their sales and support staff are a pleasure to work with.