WP Engine Managed WordPress Hosting Speeds in Australia with Hummingbird Pro

WP Engine Managed WordPress Hosting Speeds in Australia with Hummingbird Pro

WP Engine is marketed as a WordPress Digital Experience Platform and builds on the Google Cloud Platform to provide simple, scalable WordPress-optimised hosting in a managed environment. Hosting your website locally in an Australian data centre is a great way to ensure fast loading for Australian visitors, and since Google Cloud has a Sydney location, that means you can choose it as the location for your website with WP Engine. The cheapest option to get started is $35 USD and includes global CDN access.

So, what I would like to know, is, how fast is WordPress running on WP Engine in the Sydney Google Cloud? And, do I get extra gains by pairing it with a WordPress specific caching plugin like Hummingbird Pro? Or, does WP Engine’s built-in caching do better.

I will be testing a WordPress website running with our standard combination of plugins and the GeneratePress theme to see how it performs under Australian conditions. This is the same configuration used for my other WordPress hosting performance tests.

Being located in Sydney, on a cloud container optimised for WordPress, I’m expecting to see some great speeds.

Our standard configuration:

In my test setup, WP Smush Pro will be used to ensure all images are optimised, however, the WPMU Dev CDN connection will be disabled to ensure that I get an accurate reflection of the WP Engine Sydney cloud.

Initially, I’ll test with WP Engine’s object cache and all Hummingbird Pro caching disabled, then again with different combinations of object caching with Hummingbird Pro’s caching and optimisation settings active. 

For these tests, I’ll be using an average size WordPress website for a service-based business. It sports an assortment of images and different kinds of Elementor objects and templates, including an embedded YouTube video, so it should give a reasonable reflection of the performance of a website built on GeneratePress using Elementor Pro.

Also of note is that at the time of testing, our WP Engine server was running PHP version 7.2 and had a free Let’s Encrypt SSL certificate. Caches were manually purged between tests and each test run multiple times to ensure caching was taking effect.

Speed test platforms

I will be using three test platforms

The first test platform will be Google PageSpeed Insights since this provides feedback directly from Google on how it sees your website.

The second will by Pingdom Tools using the Sydney test location to ensure we are seeing results reflective of the Australian experience.

The third test platform will be GTMetrix, also set to the Sydney test location.

WP Engine Managed WordPress Hosting - No caching plugins

For this test I have no caching setup with Hummingbird Pro, we are just using the built-in WP Engine caching.

Google PageSpeed Insights

Mobile rating

28 100

  • First contentful paint: 3.7 seconds
  • Speed index: 9.8 seconds
  • Time to interactive: 9.8 seconds

Desktop rating

69 100

  • First contentful paint: 1.0 seconds
  • Speed index: 3.0 seconds
  • Time to interactive: 2.5 seconds

Pingdom Tools

  • Load time: 2.23 seconds
  • Requests: 63
  • Page size: 4.1 MB
  • Wait time for server response: 1173.4 ms

Performance grade

80 100

GTMetrix

PageSpeed score

84 100

  • Load time: 3.1 seconds.
  • Page size: 3.89 MB

Yslow score

77 100

  • Requests: 63
  • Time-to-first-byte: 164 ms

GTMetrix flags 1mb of JavaScript from the embedded YouTube video as delaying the initial page load.

WP Engine Managed WordPress Hosting with Object Caching and no caching plugins

For this test I have no caching setup with Hummingbird Pro, we are just using the built-in WP Engine caching with object caching also enabled.

Google PageSpeed Insights

Mobile rating

37 100

  • First contentful paint: 3.1 seconds
  • Speed index: 8.0 seconds
  • Time to interactive: 9.0 seconds

Desktop rating

68 100

  • First contentful paint: 1.2 seconds
  • Speed index: 2.7 seconds
  • Time to interactive: 2.6 seconds

Pingdom Tools

  • Load time: 1.13 seconds
  • Requests: 63
  • Page size: 4.1 MB
  • Wait time for server response: 7.5 ms

Performance grade

80 100

GTMetrix

PageSpeed score

84 100

  • Load time: 2.7 seconds.
  • Page size: 3.9 MB

Yslow score

77 100

  • Requests: 64
  • Time-to-first-byte: 197 ms

GTMetrix flags 1mb of JavaScript from the embedded YouTube video as delaying the initial page load.

WP Engine Managed WordPress Hosting with Hummingbird Pro enabled

For this test, I enabled Hummingbird Pro’s persistent cache. Hummingbird Pro also had GZIP compression enabled, but all asset optimisation was turned off.

WP Engine uses an advanced-cache.php file, so Hummingbird Pro cannot run page caching simultaneously. Only RSS caching, Gravatar caching and browser caching.

Google PageSpeed Insights

Mobile rating

32 100

  • First contentful paint: 3.1 seconds
  • Speed index: 9.7 seconds
  • Time to interactive: 9.5 seconds

Desktop rating

65 100

  • First contentful paint: 1.1 seconds
  • Speed index: 3.5 seconds
  • Time to interactive: 2.5 seconds

Pingdom Tools

  • Load time: 2.14 seconds
  • Requests: 64
  • Page size: 4.1 MB
  • Wait time for server response: 1167.8 ms

Performance grade

80 100

GTMetrix

PageSpeed score

84 100

  • Load time: 3.0 seconds.
  • Page size: 3.89 MB

Yslow score

77 100

  • Requests: 64
  • Time-to-first-byte: 195 ms

GTMetrix flags 1mb of JavaScript from the embedded YouTube video as delaying the initial page load. There are no other negative flags.

WP Engine Managed WordPress Hosting with Object Caching plus Hummingbird Pro enabled

For this test, I enabled Hummingbird Pro’s persistent cache with WP Engine’s object cache enabled. Hummingbird Pro also had GZIP compression enabled, but all asset optimisation was turned off.

WP Engine uses an advanced-cache.php file, so Hummingbird Pro cannot run page caching simultaneously. Only RSS caching, Gravatar caching and browser caching.

Google PageSpeed Insights

Mobile rating

36 100

  • First contentful paint: 2.8 seconds
  • Speed index: 7.9 seconds
  • Time to interactive: 9.5 seconds

Desktop rating

69 100

  • First contentful paint: 1.1 seconds
  • Speed index: 2.7 seconds
  • Time to interactive: 2.8 seconds

Pingdom Tools

  • Load time: 1.67 seconds
  • Requests: 63
  • Page size: 4.1 MB
  • Wait time for server response: 6.9 ms

Performance grade

80 100

GTMetrix

PageSpeed score

84 100

  • Load time: 3.3 seconds.
  • Page size: 3.89 MB

Yslow score

77 100

  • Requests: 64
  • Time-to-first-byte: 90 ms

GTMetrix flags 1mb of JavaScript from the embedded YouTube video as delaying the initial page load. There are no other negative flags.

WP Engine Managed WordPress Hosting with Hummingbird Pro enabled and Assets Optimised

For this test, I ran the Hummingbird Pro persistent cache with all CSS files combined and all CSS and Javascript files moved to the footer.

Hummingbird Pro notes that WP Engine is using HTTP/2 so asset optimisation may not have much impact.

Google PageSpeed Insights

Mobile rating

46 100

  • First contentful paint: 1.4 seconds
  • Speed index: 7.9 seconds
  • Time to interactive: 9.7 seconds

Desktop rating

78 100

  • First contentful paint: 0.3 seconds
  • Speed index: 2.8 seconds
  • Time to interactive: 2.4 seconds

Pingdom Tools

  • Load time: 3.31 seconds
  • Requests: 63
  • Page size: 4.1 MB
  • Wait time for server response: 2301.4 ms

Performance grade

80 100

GTMetrix

PageSpeed score

85 100

  • Load time: 4.3 seconds.
  • Page size: 3.97 MB

Yslow score

79 100

  • Requests: 52
  • Time-to-first-byte: 258 ms

GTMetrix flags 1mb of JavaScript from the embedded YouTube video as delaying the initial page load.

WP Engine Managed WordPress Hosting with Objct Caching plus Hummingbird Pro enabled and Assets Optimised

For this test, I ran the Hummingbird Pro persistent cache with all CSS files combined and all CSS and Javascript files moved to the footer with WP Engine’s object cache enabled.

Hummingbird Pro notes that WP Engine is using HTTP/2 so asset optimisation may not have much impact.

Google PageSpeed Insights

Mobile rating

54 100

  • First contentful paint: 1.4 seconds
  • Speed index: 5.8 seconds
  • Time to interactive: 9.3 seconds

Desktop rating

87 100

  • First contentful paint: 0.3 seconds
  • Speed index: 2.0 seconds
  • Time to interactive: 2.2 seconds

Pingdom Tools

  • Load time: 1.76 seconds
  • Requests: 51
  • Page size: 4.1 MB
  • Wait time for server response: 750.8 ms

Performance grade

81 100

GTMetrix

PageSpeed score

85 100

  • Load time: 2.6 seconds.
  • Page size: 3.89 MB

Yslow score

79 100

  • Requests: 52
  • Time-to-first-byte: 181 ms

GTMetrix flags 1mb of JavaScript from the embedded YouTube video as delaying the initial page load.

How does it look in a chart?

Load Speed

Google PageSpeed Insights

Observations and final thoughts

While Google PageSpeed Insights showed a general trend of faster speeds with each additional level of optimisation, Pingdom and GTMetrix are a bit of a mixed bag. The general consensus from them though is that the WP Engine object cache makes a decent difference to performance and could be more than sufficient to reach your loading speed goals without any WordPress caching plugins.

This slightly odd behaviour is proving to be common amongst managed WordPress hosting platforms and seems to be connected to their built-in caching and optimisation. I saw some similar speed trends with Cloudways on Vultr and Digital Pacific’s WordPress solution as well.

The overall loading times were excellent with the object cache up and running. Without it, the loading times were still great, but there was an unexpected slow time to first byte, or wait time for server response. Turning the object cache on made this wait time exceptionally low.

It’s just a matter of where the sweet spot is to get the most from your optimisations.

So what do I think?

WP Engine’s Sydney Google Cloud location is a simple approach to cloud servers for hosting Australian WordPress websites. The response times are some of the fastest I’ve seen in Australia, althought Cloudways Sydney Vultr location is faster. WP Engine with object caching enabled does however just beat out Cloudways Vultr location for overall performance. As far as pricing for managed WordPress hosts, starting at USD $35, the WP Engine solution is one of the more expensive choices. WP Engine does, however, include a global CDN and a stack of other value adds in their pricing, so taking that into account, the overall value is excellent.

Overall, WP Engine offers a great solution for Australian websites in their Sydney cloud location. It is a great option for speed in Australia that is designed to cater to global customers. If your customer base is almost entirely within Australia though, the included CDN may not add much value to you. In this case, you might be better off looking at an option that doesn’t include a CDN in their pricing. Cloudways and Digital Pacific both offer solutions structured this way, and while they are not quite as fast overall as WP Engine, they are also a decent amount cheaper. It’s a trade-off that you will have to weigh up!

Tip:

The closer the server or CDN is to your end users, the faster that those users will receive the first byte of data.

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