What is Flywheel?
Flywheel is a managed WordPress hosting provider. The meaning of ‘managed hosting’ remains the same for them as well, but with some tweaks here and there. In essence, they will take the technical burden of keeping the servers optimized for running your WordPress site(s). If you want, they can update the plugins for you. Additionally, they will provide a custom and easy-to-use interface that any rookie can use without the need for knowing anything technical. They are powered by Google Cloud Platform, making them one of the most reliable managed hosting providers globally.
Flywheel is a managed WordPress hosting that is primarily geared towards the type of people who do not have experience in handling the technical aspects of running a WordPress site. In case you are wondering what the true meaning of a managed WordPress hosting is, I will give you a brief.
Managed WP hosting is a type in which a few things are managed by the hosting provider. Those few things include:
Managed hosting providers usually take care of website caching. Caching is a slightly technical thing, and most WordPress users usually depend on some sort of caching plugin. Even managed hosting providers usually use cache plugins, but they configure the settings for the customers. However, in the case of Flywheel, they don’t use any form of caching plugin. They take care of the caching needs from the server level. If needed, they even work with individual site owners to ensure that the caching is working properly.
Managed hosting providers will provide proactive security against hacking attempts and malware injection. They take hardening measures from the server-side so that the fallout of such hacking attempts does not impact the sites hosting on the servers. Flywheel, just like Kinsta, offer server-side security measures. This eliminates the need for using any type of security plugins like Sucuri or Wordfence.
Managed hosting providers usually provide support for keeping server software and website software up-to-date. You need to understand that any outdated software is vulnerable to hacking and malware injection. So, keeping the software updated is necessary.
In managed WordPress hosting, the company usually offers 24/7 support to all customers. Support is usually delivered through a chat system. People providing support are generally trained in WordPress, and they can resolve issues quickly.
In case you are thinking that managed hosting companies will help you with things like theme installation and customization, selecting plugins for you, clean up the database for you, you are wrong! That’s not happening. Those things do not fall under the usually managed services they provide. However, if you are lucky, they may provide technical help whenever necessary.
Okay, now that you know what a managed WordPress hosting is and what you should be expecting out of it, let us take a good look at the Flywheel managed hosting service and figure out whether it is worth your time and money or not!
Features of Flywheel Managed WordPress Hosting
The Flywheel managed WordPress hosting comes with some really interesting features. Some of them are pretty much standard, and you would find the same thing with other providers.
Here is a quick, non-exhaustive list:
Free Site Migration
Flywheel hosting comes with free site migration for every plan. So, if you have an existing site with some other hosting provider, you can ask them to move it for you.
Free Demo Site
You can create a fully-functional demo site and use it for 14 days without having to pay for it. Once the 14-day period is over, you have to pay for the hosting or simply delete the site.
Flywheel will give you the option of using a free SSL certificate issued by Let’s encrypt. Alternatively, you can also use a premium SSL certificate if you want to do so.
Flywheel will ensure that you are getting a caching mechanism for your website. It is a necessary feature required for speeding up websites. The usual way of implementing caching on any WordPress site is to use a caching plugin. However, Flywheel ditches plugins altogether and uses server-side caching. In fact, they go to the extent of ensuring that each site has proper caching implemented.
Hacking and Malware Prevention
It is quite a norm to use plugins like Sucuri or Wordfence to provide security to WordPress sites. However, the problem with such plugins is that they don’t stop hacking attempts or malware injections from reaching the server. On top of that, they also slow down the websites significantly.
Flywheel implements server-side security measures and stops such malicious attempts before they can reach the servers and then the websites. This eliminates the need for using any plugin, keeping the site lightweight.
The company also guarantees that if any site is hacked or infected with malware, it will provide the cleanup service for free.
Flywheel also offers integrated CDN solution for all sites hosted on their servers. The CDN is powered by Fastly, which is a well-known CDN provider. CDN is very important if you want to speed up your site. It is great to know that Flywheel doesn’t charge extra for the CDN service. The cost is included in the monthly price.
This hosting provider has something called auto-healing technology. In the event of a service failure, the system will heal itself and keep the websites functional. For example, if there is a PHP engine failure, it will heal itself instead of rendering the site dysfunctional. This is something similar to what I found on Kinsta.
If you prefer experimenting with new designs and features on your website, it is important that you have a staging site where you can test everything without impacting the production site.
Flywheel provides a sandbox environment for creating a staging site. You can get this feature with any plan you purchase.
This is a very useful feature. I can think of at least two reasons. First, you may want to first create your website and then take it live. One way of doing that is to develop the site locally and then upload it. Another way is to use a temporary URL to develop your site and then point it to the right domain.
Another reason why it is useful is when you migrate your site. If you don’t want Flywheel to handle it for you, you can use the temporary URL where you clone your existing site from another server. Once you migrate the database and the website files successfully, you can use the temporary URL to check if there are any errors in migration or not. Once you are satisfied, you can point your domain to the cloned site. This will ensure that there will be no downtime.
If your website gains a sudden spike in traffic beyond what is allowed by your plan, you don’t need to upgrade to a new plan or change your hosting. Flywheel hosting will instantly scale your hosting resources to meet the increased demand. But do keep in mind that such sudden scaling is not free. You have to pay extra for the extra traffic that you receive.
Flywheel will take a backup of your entire site (including the database) every night and store that backup for 30 days. That’s a great feature and something you won’t find so easily with other hosting providers. Many managed hosting providers will charge you extra for daily backups. Nightly backups are a part of any plan you purchase.
What’s really interesting about Flywheel is that it offers a few workflow tools for team collaboration and easy project completion. Here is a quick snapshot of those features:
This is a unique feature in which you can save the theme, plugins, and other configurations of a site to use it on a different site.
This feature allows team members to collaborate on a project and push the development site into production.
It allows transferring a site to a client or transferring billing to a completely different account.
This will allow you to invite someone to a single site and work on it as a collaborator.
Free Demo Site
With this feature, you can test the Flywheel hosting platform by creating a free demo site and testing it thoroughly before purchasing a plan. This will allow you to be very sure that the platform meets your requirements.
If you have multiple sites installed on Flywheel servers, you will get a single SFTP account that will give you access to all your sites. You don’t need to juggle between multiple SFTP accounts.
If you are a nerd and you prefer working on your website through the command-line interface, the SSH Gateway will give that access to you.
You can create a clone of your existing website and use it for multiple purposes like creating a demo site, start a new one using the clone, etc.
Local Development Environment
You can use Flywheel’s local development environment to develop your site locally. When you are ready, you can quickly upload the site to the Flywheel server and take it to the production stage.
Ease of Use
There can be big features listed on any hosting company’s website. You cannot say how good those features are unless you test the service yourself. That’s the reason why I decided to take Flywheel for a ride and see how well they hold up to their promise.
Let me begin the narration of my experience. Read this thing till the very end because it will help you evaluate Flywheel based on an actual hands-on review.
Selecting the Data Center
You can select the data center when you signup for the hosting service. They offer only five data centers globally, and they are:
- United States
- European Union
- United Kingdom
You cannot select the data center later. So, make sure that you select the one that is closest to the place from where you get or expect to get the maximum traffic to your site. This will ensure that the majority of your site readers experience fast website load speed.
The First Encounter
Once you purchase a plan and update the billing information with Flywheel, you will immediately see the option of creating your first WordPress site. If you want, you can create a demo site as well. Alternatively, you can ask Flywheel to migrate your existing site.
Since I am not interested in site migration or a demo site, I started by creating a new site. The whole process is super simple. All you need to do is provide the site details which will include the following things:
- Site name
- A temporary domain name (if you don’t want to add a domain right away)
- WP username [Remember that you cannot use ‘admin’ as the username because that is already preserved. Use something different.]
- WP password
Once you provide the information, you can hit the “Create Site” button. Remember that if you want a temporary domain and don’t know what to use, you can leave it blank. Flywheel will create a random domain for you.
This is what you will see:
Once you hit the “Create Site” button, the site creation process will begin, and this is what you will see:
The site creation process takes up to 3 minutes. Be patient! That’s the standard time I encountered with other managed hosting providers like Kinsta and Rocket.
I must say, the dashboard is clean and very intuitive. Once the site is ready, you can see the dashboard with neatly arranged tabs. You can find all the necessary details in those tabs. On the right side, you can see the domain list and the server IP.
You will also notice that there is something call Privacy Mode. It is turned on by default.
With the privacy mode on, the website will not be accessible to anyone (including search engines). The only way anyone can access the website with the privacy mode turned on is to use the user id and password that you can see on the dashboard. You can even turn on SSL from the right side by hovering your mouse pointer on the domain name and then hovering the pointer on the ellipses menu.
Once you click on Enable SSL, the SSL certificate from Let’s Encrypt will be installed on the site. It will take only a few seconds. After SSL-installation, this is what you will notice:
However, even though you install the SSL, your site will still show insecure. For this, you need to visit the Advanced Tab and enable the option which reads ‘Force HTTPS.’
The Overview Tab of Dashboard
The overview tab is the first tab you see on the dashboard. This is where you can add collaborators to your project.
The Plugins Tab of Dashboard
One interesting thing you will notice about the Flywheel WordPress installation is that there will be no plugins installed on your site. This is rare. Other managed WordPress hosting companies will install several plugins.
On the plugins tab you can see all the plugins you install on your website. If you want, you can ask for an auto-update of the plugins handled by Flywheel. That will cost you $25 per month.
The Performance Tab of Dashboard
The performance tab is where you can see the performance of your website. However, you need to have a higher plan to use that feature. Since I am using the Tiny plan, I will not see anything in that tab.
Here is what you will see on your dashboard:
The Stats Tab of Dashboard
The stats tab will show you the site statistics including monthly visits, storage used, etc. It is basically designed to keep you informed about the usage. There isn’t much to write here. Here is what you will see on the dashboard tab:
The Backups Tab of Dashboard
No guesswork here. You will see backups of your website here. You can even download a backup file or restore it. Here is a screenshot for you to understand:
The Advanced Tab of Dashboard
Okay, this is an important tab. This is where you can see vital information. You can enable cache from here, force HTTPS after SSL installation, turn on staging mode and development mode, see the PHP version, enable multisite, get SSH access details and more.
Here are two screenshots showing the entire tab elements:
All it takes is flipping on or off a few buttons. That’s neat! I loved the dashboard. But, just because the dashboard is great, it doesn’t mean that the service is great! What about the site speed?
That’s precisely what I intend to find out!
Site Speed Test
Site speed is always the biggest concern for anyone. With Google switching focus to mobile-first indexing, your website needs to be really fast on mobile devices. Typically, it should not take any longer than 2.9 seconds (3 seconds) to load completely. On desktops, the site should load completely within 2 seconds.
My usual method of testing is to test the website with Google PageSpeed Insights and then with GTMetrix. Here are my test results for the test site I built on the Flywheel server. Note that it uses the following configurations:
- Genesis Framework
- News Pro theme from StudioPress
- Yoast SEO plugin
There are no other plugins installed. Caching and CDN activated from the server using the Flywheel dashboard. I have posted six posts with one image each (featured image). The text used is dummy text.
No ads are running on the site.
Ideally, with this setup, the website should load very fast. But there’s some disappointment to face.
Google PageSpeed Insights – Mobile results
Many webmasters will be usually happy with this result for mobile devices. But don’t forget that the site has not been monetized using ads. The moment you add ads to this site, the mobile speed will drop.
I will usually prefer a speed index of 90+ for mobiles even with ads enabled. Flywheel fails to do that even though they have server-side caching and CDN enabled.
The two biggest problems here are the First Contentful Paint and the Largest Contentful Paint. The time taken by the two is disturbing. They both are ranking factors for Google’s mobile indexing.
Compare this with a production site with ads running:
That’s the type of result I will like to see on mobile. Yes, the example above is not perfect because there are ads running on the site. Removing the ads will improve mobile speed even further.
Flywheel definitely doesn’t stand up to my expectations here.
Google PageSpeed Insights – Desktop Results
This is what the Flywheel test site gets on desktop:
That’s impressive, but don’t forget that the site uses only one plugin, and there’s no ad! Compare this with the same production site as above that uses 9 (nine) plugins and runs ads:
Do I need to say anything more? I don’t think so! Flywheel didn’t meet my expectations in the speed segment. If you are satisfied with the speed you get with Flywheel, it is fine! You can go ahead and use the service because of its simplicity. However, don’t forget that you have to monetize your website in one way or another and just one plugin is not enough. You need to add a few more plugins to get a functional site.
When you add more plugins and enable ads (if that is what you choose as a monetization method), the site speed will slow down even further. That’s a choice you have to make.
GTmetrix Test Results
This is what GTmetrix gives for a desktop test:
The results are pretty much in tune with what Google PageSpeed Insights had to say for desktop.
This is what I found on mobile:
Yes, the test results are impressive for mobile 3G mobile using GTmetrix. While this completely differs from what Google PageSpeed Insights has to say, I incline Google’s results because eventually, Google is the evil nanny that is baby-sitting all websites.
Whatever Google says, you have to listen! So, you better look at Google PageSpeed Insights more and give less importance to other testing tools like GTmetrix and Pingdom.
Pros and Cons of Flywheel Managed WordPress Hosting
Just like any service or product, Flywheel Managed WordPress Hosting has its advantages and disadvantages or strengths and weaknesses. Let’s take a look at them:
- Easy and intuitive dashboard.
- Easy WordPress installation.
- Staging site available.
- Site cloning available.
- Temporary URL available
- Integrated CDN.
- Server-side caching.
- Free SSL.
- Free site migration.
- Nightly backups.
- Several workflow tools for collaboration.
- SSH access.
- SFTP access.
- Local development environment.
- Server-side hardening against hacking and malware injections.
- Allows free demo site before plan purchase.
- Moneyback guarantee available with a promise of free migration to another host if you are not satisfied with Flywheel.
- Free Genesis framework for WordPress.
- Free 30+ StudioPress premium themes.
- Responsive customer support.
- PHP 7.4 available, which is great!
- Website speed not very satisfactory when tested with Google PageSpeed Insights.
- The premium StudioPress themes are very rudimentary. They are not advanced themes.
- No control over caching.
- No control over CDN.
- For simple plugin updates, they charge $25 a month. That’s outrageous.
Caching and CDN issues
Caching and CDN are integral elements when it comes to site speed. I will prefer to have granular control over those elements. The problem with Flywheel is that they implement both from their end, and there is no way you can fine-tune it as per your site’s requirements.
If you need fine-tuning, you will have to go ahead and ask the support team. That’s good if you are not willing to deal with slightly technical things. Trust me; they aren’t so technical that you can’t learn them.
The Plugins Tab
The plugins tab in the dashboard will show you the list of all plugins installed on your site. However, the problem is that you cannot activate or deactivate the plugins from the Flywheel dashboard.
That’s something I would expect from a managed WordPress hosting provider because that ability allows you to circumvent the problem of a bricked website because of plugin conflicts.
It does happen at times that a plugin update or a plugin conflict the website becomes inaccessible. The only way you can access the website is by disabling the plugin from the server folder. Several managed hosting providers allow you to disable plugins from the hosting account dashboard. I would have loved to see the same with Flywheel. Unfortunately, the option is not there.
Free Themes are Rudimentary
The free StudioPress themes available with Flywheel subscriptions are very rudimentary. If you are thinking of building an advanced site with those themes, you are going to have a hard time.
Customer Support of Flywheel
They have 24×7 chat support available for technical issues. You can even get access to their support via phone, but that is available only for higher plans. The chat support is quite responsive but slightly slower compared to Kinsta’s support. Here is a copy of the chat support I received from Flywheel:
Pricing Structure of Flywheel
Flywheel has four different plans to select from, and they start with the Tiny Plan. Here is a complete list of all the available plans and their prices. You can check the features of each plan on their site.
|Plan Name||Monthly Charge||Yearly Charge|
|Tiny||USD 15 per month||USD 13 per month|
|Starter||USD 30 per month||USD 25 per month|
|Freelance||USD 115 per month||USD 96 per month|
|Agency||USD 290 per month||USD 242 per month|
The jump they make from the Starter plan is ridiculous, but anyway, if that’s suitable for some, I don’t have an issue. If you need multisite support, you will have to start with the Freelance plan! If you need phone support, you have to settle for the Agency plan. If you need something more than the Agency plan, you can talk to their sales team directly.
Do I Recommend Flywheel?
Everything with Flywheel is just fine. A few issues here and there are okay. For instance, you have to install SSL and then force HTTPS separately to get the SSL certificate working. Again, the inability to enable or disable plugins from the Flywheel dashboard is still okay. If you run into a problem with plugins, you can disable them by using SFTP or SSH.
What’s not right is the page speed. Performance on Google is not up to the mark. They should give better results. GTmetrix results are great, but GTmetrix is not Google. It is only a tool – a separate thing from Google’s PageSpeed Insights.
If you ask me, I will reject Flywheel on the basis of Google PageSpeed Insight results. That’s something I will never compromise. You may have a different notion. If you think that you can ignore PageSpeed Insights and trust GTmetrix, that’s great! You can go ahead and use Flywheel Managed WordPress hosting service. You need to make the final call.
In general, I do not recommend anything other than cloud hosting with LiteSpeed server stack and Open LiteSpeed Cache. Unfortunately, Flywheel doesn’t have those things. Cloud hosting can be intimidating. If you are not okay with cloud hosting, you can count on a managed WordPress hosting provider like Flywheel.
The bottom line is that managed WordPress hosting is always expensive, and it robs you of fine controls that you should have. But again, access to such fine controls comes with a technical burden. If you are ready to spend extra and not ready to take the technical burden, you can settle for Flywheel.
Flywheel Managed WordPress hosting might not be the best in business, but it is definitely one of the finest and easiest to deal with. The dashboard is simple with no complicated stuff – perfect for rookies who have no experience with cloud hosting and its technicalities.