Web hosting can seem like a commodity these days. You just choose the amount of disk space and bandwidth you need, and you’re up and running. Whereas before there were all sorts of limitations imposed on you, nowadays you are spoiled with choices, and hosting costs have become almost inconsequential for most businesses.
But thinking that web hosting is a commodity like electricity or gas is a big mistake. The simple fact is that web hosting has a lot of moving parts, and they all need to work in harmony to deliver a high quality, uninterrupted service. Choosing a low cost host might seem like a rational choice but in fact it could be a false economy due to the harm that it can cause your business.
So let’s look at five factors you need to take into consideration to help you understand if your web hosting is in fact helping your business or holding it back.
1. What are your website load times?
Load speed is the speed at which your website loads. There are a number of sites where you can measure your PageSpeed. Load speed is important for a number of reasons. Primarily, because faster loading websites offer a better user experience than slow ones. Put simply, people hate waiting for a page to load.
But it’s not just desktop users. We have reached the tipping point where mobile browsing has overtaken desktop and laptop browsing – 51 percent over 42 percent in the US in 2015. And if there’s one thing that mobile users demand it’s fast websites.
Google understands this, and that's why it specifically state that site speed is one of the variables that it measures as part of its overall search algorithm. It won’t tell us how much of a ranking factor load speed represents, but it doesn’t often shed light on its algorithm so when it does it’s worth taking note.
Now, without getting into too much detail about what makes up load speed, there are dozens of factors involved, many of them design related. These are the tweaks that an experienced, and usually expensive, web developer needs to make to the code of your website.
The bottom line? Speeding up your website can get expensive and takes time. But one area where you can get fast results is the type of web hosting you choose. By upgrading to either Solid State Drive (SSD) hosting or switching to a Virtual Private Server (VPS) you can dramatically improve your loadspeed at a fraction of the cost of overhauling your site’s code.
2. Do you have noisy neighbors?
Nobody likes noisy neighbors. They’re anti-social, noisy and tend to bring the tone of the neighborhood down.
The same is true in web hosting. The thing is that if your host is offering as much diskspace and bandwidth as you need for just a couple of bucks a month then guess what? You’re not alone on that server.
This is a real problem. Your host isn’t going to publicize it, but there will always be people on that type of offer who will still be pushing the envelope as far as they can. They’ll be the ones trying to eek out every last ounce of processing power from their $2 per month hosting. Maybe they’re using the server to blast out emails to their list or maybe they’re running dozens of RAM hungry scripts for their multiple affiliate sites.
Whatever they’re doing, one thing is for sure. A small minority of noisy neighbors will be hogging the server’s key resources and often having a detrimental impact on the server’s performance.
Sure, there are tools like CloudLinux, which acts as a limiter on the power that individual clients can access, but you need to know that your host has these types of mitigators in place.
3. What's the IP reputation?
If the server you are hosted on is detected sending spam or hosting malware then the chances are that it’s IP address is going to get blacklisted. That’s bad news for you because that can affect a range of factors from email deliverability to your search ranking.
There are various software you can use to monitor your server’s IP reputation so you can see if it gets blacklisted.
One of the primary reasons for getting blacklisted is that other clients on the same server as you may be running insecure applications or out-of-date software. This isn’t necessarily done with malicious intent on their part. It’s usually just an oversight or a lack of understanding.
Let’s take an example. Hackers aren’t going to publish their modus operandi but usually they are just looking for insecurities that they can exploit. The classic example is an out-of-date contact form, which can be exploited to send spam.
Another example is out-of-date content management system (CMS), like WordPress or Joomla. These are increasingly popular these days, and the problem is that once the design phase is over the unsuspecting business owner doesn’t realize that they need to keep their software up-to-date. These updates are for a reason, and the main reason is to plug any security issues.
One way to address these proactively on the part of the host is to constantly monitor the software on a server and to monitor outgoing emails, using a tool like SpamExperts, to monitor for known fingerprints of spam, phishing and malware related emails.
Again, these tools come at a cost and some hosts might balk at the extra cost involved in protecting their IP reputation. On the other hand, responsible hosts will use them to get ahead of the problems to ensure that their clients do not suffer from blacklisting.
Related: 11 Big Changes to the Internet From the Past Decade
4. Do you have sluggish performance during peaks?
If you’re hosted on a shared server, and you’ve got a busy ecommerce website then maybe you’re starting to notice sluggish performance at peak times or during busy seasonal periods.
If so the chances are that your RAM hungry shopping cart application is just running out of juice. The thing is that shared hosting is intended to meet the needs of the majority. That means that key server resources, such as CPU and RAM, are shared evenly amongst all the websites on that server. As a result you just have to wait in the queue to get the power you need.
The net result? Sluggish performance that annoys your visitors and ultimately costs you in lost sales.
For a few dollars more each month, you can wave goodbye to these types of performance related issues. With a VPS you have the ability to scale up or down as needed. You can control the amount of CPU or RAM allocated to you, and you are guaranteed that level of power.
Think about that. Instead of having to fight for processing power and memory with hundreds, and possibly thousands, of other businesses you have it all for yourself with the ability to scale up on the fly as your needs dictate.
Sure, there are some extra monthly costs, like a control panel license and maybe a managed server service, if you don’t have a systems' administrator on your team, but this is a wise investment for your business.
Related: 15 Throwback Web Pages That Show Us How the Internet Has Changed
5. Is non-standard software permitted?
Sometimes you may need to run software or versions of software that aren’t supported on a shared hosting service. For example, let’s say that the shopping cart software you need requires the latest version of PHP, but your host is not yet offering this version.
Or maybe your host offers standard software that is slower than some of the alternatives. A couple of examples may be the web server where they use Apache instead of LiteSpeed or MySQL instead of Percona. That’s not to say that the slower options don’t have their advantages (e.g. Apache is strong on security), but if you wanted to run more exotic tools then a shared hosting environment may not be the best for you.
Related: Google Chrome Will Begin Blocking Flash in Favor of HTML5
Web hosting is not a commodity like electricity or fuel. There are a range of reasons why you should make an informed choice for your web hosting service.
Whether it’s LoadSpeed, noisy neighbours, poor IP reputation, peak times or non-standard requirements you need to understand the cost versus benefits balance for your business, and plan your hosting accordingly.
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