The Problem with Managed WordPress Hosts and Visit Counting

Let’s get this out of the way first—we love managed WordPress hosting and think that hosts like Flywheel and WP Engine do an awesome job of hosting WordPress. Hands down, if you’re looking for one of the best ways to host WordPress, you can’t go wrong with either of these guys.

However, there’s a problem in the managed WordPress hosting world that no one’s talking about right now, and it centers on the way that they log traffic and sometimes charge extra for it. Let’s drill down and analyze the problem…

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The Issue: Logging Bot Visits as Normal Traffic

Both Flywheel and WP Engine refer to a unique visitor session as a “visit,” and most of their plans allow for a certain threshold of “visits” in a month before they will either a) charge you an overage fee (WP Engine), or b) move you up to the next level plan (Flywheel).

Now, there wouldn’t be a problem with this model if it was accurate…but it’s NOT, and that’s a big problem. We have different colleagues with sites on each host, some of our own sites as well, and we’re seeing this problem across the board—both hosts are counting loads and loads of bot visits and deducting these from the overall plan allotments, which is a big problem. Then, on top of that, they don’t seem to be taking any action to fix the problem.

How Do We Know These Aren’t Real Visitors?

There are a few different ways we’ve determined that their systems aren’t properly recognizing and filtering the bot traffic…

1) Comparing Traffic with Analytics (Google Analytics, Clicky)

This is one of the most obvious ways to check, and it’s mentioned in both the WP Engine wiki and the Flywheel wiki. Most people know that Google Analytics is top notch, and Clicky is an excellent product that we love and have found to be very accurate.

This discrepancy was raised to Flywheel support and they said “we’ve had a number of other concerns about discrepancies between standard reporting software such as Google Analytics, and the Flywheel stats calculator. This issue has been escalated to our product team for review!” However, the problem still persists…

Here’s an example of a site that gets essentially no traffic according to other analytics programs, yet Flywheel is recording a large number of visits.

Here’s another example of a site that’s hosted on WP Engine vs the Clicky analytics. This site literally gets no traffic, ranks for nothing organically, and no paid traffic is being sent to the site—yet, WP Engine is logging (and deducting) tons of visits. When this issue was raised to their support, they were unfortunately somewhat dismissive…and that’s not good.

2) Looking at the Specific Pages That Receive the Most “Visits”

To start with, take note of the fact that WP Engine analytics is classifying most of these visits as “normal visits” and not bot visits.

However, that’s strange because one of the most popular pages according to their analytics always seems to be wp-login.php.

What does that mean? Well, it clearly means that those are bots trying weasel their way into the WordPress installation! Obviously there are not 25K+ people per month hitting the wp-login.php page, that’s just common sense. Another popular page that’s sucking up visits is xmlrpc.php, which is a commonly-targted page/file for WordPress bot exploits. Given this data, we can safely assume that a large portion of the visits recorded for the home page are also bot visits as well.

On top of that, almost all of these visits have no referrer, as seen in the image below.

Both Flywheel and WP Engine allow you to look at visitor stats, and it’s clear from these reports that tons of bots are trying to force their way in, and that these aren’t real visitors. At this point, it should be abundantly clear that these are bots burning through the allotted visits.

3) Looking at the Popularity of the Sites In Question

A few of the sites in question rank for nothing organically in any search engine, haven’t been promoted at all, and have never had any paid or other marketing efforts. These sites are ghosts right now…no one visits them…except for bots, of course.

When you have a site that’s never been marketed, doesn’t rank organically in any search engines, and the design work is all done, you know where the visits are coming from—bots!

The Solution—Work on Your Filtering, Guys!

We love you, but…this is a big problem! Honestly, more needs to be done with both your algorithms if we’re going to continue to recommend you. This is the point in time where you step up and take a look at this because believe us—people are talking about it…

At this point, we can still recommend both hosts, but Web Hosting Buddy is a site that was created with honesty first, not commissions or other nonsense—which is why we are open and honest about the pros and cons of all hosting companies. People have told us they really appreciate that, and we’re always going to be honest about issues like these!

At the end of the day, Flywheel and WP Engine are still both great choices if you’re looking to host a WordPress site, but they do need to address this issue before it becomes a bigger problem.