HomeHostingRocket Review: A New CDN-Powered Managed WordPress Host
Rocket Review: A New CDN-Powered Managed WordPress Host
October 8, 2020
Searching for a managed WordPress host that can make sure your WordPress site loads quickly no matter where your visitors are browsing from?
In our Rocket review, we’re going to look at a new managed WordPress that was launched in early 2020.
Rocket works by aggressively caching your content to Cloudflare’s global network (via Cloudflare Enterprise) so that it can be quickly served up whether your visitor is browsing from Paris, France or Paris, Texas. As you’ll see a little later on when I run some performance tests, the page load times are remarkably stable (and fast) no matter where you’re testing from.
Beyond that, Rocket still includes all the managed WordPress features that you know and love, like automatic updates and backups.
Keep reading our hands-on Rocket review to learn more about this host and see some test data.
Rocket Review: The Key Features
I already gave away one of Rocket’s key features in the intro – Rocket uses full page caching and Cloudflare Enterprise to automatically cache your site on Cloudflare’s huge network of over 200 edge points. At the same time, Rocket builds in cache rules to play nice with WordPress and popular plugins. For example, it has built-in compatibility for WooCommerce stores so that the full page caching doesn’t get in the way of key eCommerce features.
Beyond performance, Rocket is still a managed WordPress host, which means you’ll get all the convenient managed features that come with that label:
Custom hosting dashboard
Easy WordPress installer
Automatic daily backups with 30-day storage (and manual backups as needed)
Automatic WordPress core, theme, and plugin updates
Option to manage plugins and themes from your hosting dashboard
Free/easy SSL certificates
Rocket also has some other nice performance tricks up its sleeve including:
Automatic database optimization
Automatic Google Fonts optimization
Rocket’s pricing is competitive for the managed WordPress hosting space – it’s right in line with similar hosts such as WP Engine and Kinsta.
There are four preset plans, along with custom plans if you need higher limits. You can either pay monthly or you can pay annually to get two months free.
Here are the prices and limits for the four core plans:
As you can see in the image above, there’s also a time-sensitive promo that lets you get your first month for just $1.
Rocket Performance Tests
Performance should be the number one consideration with any WordPress host, so let’s start off with running some real performance tests.
To create a realistic test scenario, I set up a site on Rocket using the popular Astra theme and one of its Elementor-powered demo sites – here’s the exact demo site that I’m using. It has everything a “real” website should have, so it should be a good test.
Then, because one of the key differentiators that Rocket advertises is its built-in CDN, I used WebPageTest to test my site’s performance from three different continents. To eliminate single-test variability, I configured WebPageTest to run nine separate tests each time and then take the median value.
Theoretically, because Rocket is caching your site on the CDN, you should see similar page load times around the world, even if your site’s physical data center is far away.
First, I ran a test from Virginia, which is near to the Chicago data center that I chose for my site.
In this first test, the load times were excellent:
Load time (document complete): 1.220 s
Time to first byte (TTFB): 0.051 s
Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): 1.299 s (well within Google’s Core Web Vitals metrics)
Next, I tested across the pond in London. Here, the load times were almost identical, despite the much further physical distance. This shows the effect of the built-in CDN:
Load time (document complete): 1.326 s
Time to first byte (TTFB): 0.042 s
Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): 1.348 s
Finally, I went halfway around the world to Singapore where load times were again…pretty much identical. This despite being about as far as physically possible from my datacenter.
Load time (document complete): 1.224 s
Time to first byte (TTFB): 0.053 s
Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): 1.082 s (even faster than the Virginia test)
Basically, you can see that caching your site on Cloudflare Enterprise really does work. Not only are the page load times excellent by themselves, but they’re also consistent around the world, which is especially important if you have a global audience.
Hands-On With the Rocket Dashboard
Next, let’s go hands-on and I’ll show you what the hosting experience is like.
Rocket comes with a simple WordPress installer.
In the first step, you’ll give your site a name and choose from 15 different datacenters:
San Jose (North America)
Los Angeles (North America)
New York City (North America)
Phoenix (North America)
Chicago (North America)
Toronto (North America)
Miami (North America)
Seattle (North America)
Dallas (North America)
Atlanta (North America)
As you can see, you have a lot of options in the USA/North America, a few options in Europe, and at least one data center in Asia and Australia.
Overall, it’s pretty good coverage and more than most hosts. Of course, you’ll also get the 200+ edge points in the CDN to complement your choice:
Next, you can enter some additional information for your install, like your admin username.
One nice feature here is that the installer includes presets to help you easily configure WordPress multisite or install WooCommerce:
Once you’ve made your choices, Rocket will do the rest for you and you’ll have a working WordPress site in just a few seconds.
When you first spin up your site, Rocket will give you a temporary URL, which lets you start working on your site right away. That is, you can access your WordPress dashboard, install themes/plugins, add content, etc.
When you want to make your site live, all you need to do is point your domain name to your Rocket account and enter it in the Rocket dashboard. Rocket will also take care of setting up your SSL certificate during this process:
One thing that threw me a little here is that it asks you to add TXT records to your domain name to set up the SSL certificate, which adds a little bit of complexity as most other hosts do everything for you automatically. However, it gives you the option to skip this and validate your SSL certificate later on, just with a caveat that it might cause a few minutes of downtime if you do it this way.
Using the Rocket Site Dashboard
The Rocket site dashboard helps you manage important hosting details for your site, along with your site’s themes and plugins, which is a nice bonus as it lets you manage extensions without needing to open your WordPress dashboard.
The site dashboard is divided into five tabs:
Overview – basic details about your site along with a tool to help you manage FTP access.
Plugins – a list of all your site’s plugins, their status, and tools to enable/disable/update them.
Themes – the same as plugins, but for your themes.
Backups – lets you view all of the automatic backups and create manual backups as needed.
Advanced – lets you manage automatic updates, change your PHP version, create cron jobs, and manage SSH keys.
You can also clear your site’s cache from anywhere in the dashboard and there’s a separate staging feature that I’ll cover in the next section.
For example, here’s what the Plugins tab looks like. Notice how you can use the three options on the right side to:
The Themes tab is identical – just for themes instead of plugins.
If you go to the Backups tab, you’ll see a list of the automatic backups and you can also create full or partial manual backups as needed. Once you have some backups, you can easily download them to your local computer or restore them to your site:
Creating Staging Sites
A staging site is a safe sandbox where you can test changes to your site before you make them on the live version.
Rocket gives you a staging site for each website that you host. To use it, all you need to do is click the Create Staging button in your site account dashboard.
Once you create your staging site, you’ll basically have an identical copy of your site dashboard. To switch between staging and production, you can use the drop-down in the top-left corner:
When you’re happy with everything on your staging site, you can click the Publish button to make it live.
Rocket Support Options
Rocket offers 24/7 support on all plans. On the Starter and Pro plans, you can get support via live chat and email. But if you go with the Business plan or above, you’ll also get access to 24/7 phone support.
One area that could be improved is expanding the knowledge base, which is pretty limited at this time. Since Rocket is new, I imagine that the knowledge base coverage will improve over time. However, for now, you’ll need to reach out to support if you need any help.
The most important factor for judging a WordPress host is whether or not it can make your site load quickly. Here, Rocket definitely succeeds. As the test data shows, by caching your site to the Cloudflare Enterprise network, Rocket is able to achieve speedy load times not just in one location, but all around the world.
Beyond that, you still get the other features that you’d expect from a managed WordPress host such as automatic updates, automatic backups, staging sites, security rules, etc.
I also found the dashboard to be clean and easy to use, and I like that you’re able to manage your themes and plugins right from your hosting dashboard. It doesn’t have quite as many bells and whistles as more established managed WordPress hosts, but it’s got everything most people will need in a very clean design.
The pricing is neither expensive nor cheap – it’s right in line with what similar managed WordPress hosts are charging. Rocket is, however, a little more generous with its site and visit limits, so you will get a little more bang for your buck vs similar hosts, especially on Rocket’s higher tiers.
If you want to test it out, you can currently get your first month for just $1. That, combined with free migrations, means you’re not really risking much to give it a go.