All Hosting Isn’t Created Equal
Let’s dive right into some definitions to make sure we are all on the same page (no pun intended):
Web Host – a company that rents out their servers to store websites and provides the technology needed for those websites to be viewed on the Internet. In order for your site to be active and live, you’ll need a host that has the basics, ie disk space, and bandwidth.
Disk Space – the amount of data you can store on your web host’s server. The amount of disk space you’ll need depends on the size of your website.
Bandwidth – refers to the level of traffic and how fast data can be transferred between your website, users, and the Internet. The higher the bandwidth, the better the speed, network, and connectivity.
99.9% Uptime – Uptime refers to the amount of time your website is available online and operational. 99.9% uptime means about 9 seconds of daily “downtime” or unavailability, which is considered high availability.
Content Management System (CMS) – an application used to manage web content, where multiple contributors can edit, create, and publish. A popular example of a CMS is WordPress.
HTML – or Hypertext Markup Language, is used to create documents (called pages) on the web.
Traffic (or web traffic) – the amount of data sent and received by visitors to a website.
Open-source – software people can modify and share because the design has been made publicly accessible.
Choosing a hosting company may seem easy enough – for less than $5 a month you can get unlimited disk space and bandwidth with 99.9% uptime – what more do you need? It turns out, quite a bit more. In reality, it is very difficult to find a reliable, fast host at a reasonable cost. At Fortris, we consider dependable hosting a key part of our offerings, and it’s become harder and harder to make hosting recommendations to our clients.
The effects of poor hosting are significant. Not only does a slow website cause frustration for your users, but it may also affect your search engine rankings, either now or in the future. Search engines are all about convenience and providing the best user experience. Your website’s speed, availability, and security all have effects on your search engine rankings so slow or unreliable hosting can hinder your efforts. Simply put, not all servers and not all connections are created equal. Only a few hosting companies will offer details about their hardware and software in addition to the speed of their connection.
Let’s explore some technical challenges:
- Content management systems are database driven. That means you not only have to worry about the speed at which the site’s HTML is rendered but also how quickly the server transfers information to and from the database. Since much of the content is pulled from the database, a slow server can lead to desperately slow loading times.
- Cheap hosting companies will usually bundle hundreds, if not thousands, of small websites onto one server. The idea is that collectively the sites will not overburden the server’s hard drive or bandwidth. Many hosting companies will additionally tout their load-balancing technology, which routes requests based on traffic volumes. Unfortunately, the web is a very unpredictable place and a server already at capacity has no room to handle unforeseen issues.
- Certain plugins and applications that are poorly designed in a content management system can slow a website to a crawl or cause it to crash, especially if they have been open-sourced, but be wary of hosting companies trying to shift blame by claiming that a poorly designed website is the cause of your problems. Diagnosis of these issues should be made by a programmer or firm with extensive experience in whatever content management system you are using.
Some non-technical challenges:
- You might think you’re trying a new host, but you may not be at all; many hosting brands are actually owned by the same parent company. Most have consolidated server facilities and customer service departments, yet continue to tout their individualization.
- While there are many credible reviews of hosting companies, many are paid for by the company or the reviewers are incentivized with affiliate or referral payments. While this doesn’t necessarily discredit internet reviews, they should be considered skeptically.
- Smaller hosting companies that promise excellent service often do well…at first. As they grow (and good hosting companies usually grow very fast) it becomes harder to maintain the same level of quality. Eventually many lose their luster or get bought out by conglomerates.
- While many hosting companies claim to specialize in certain content management systems, there’s no standard by which their expertise can be measured. Ask your web designer to forward a few technical questions to the hosting company you are considering. If they can answer them quickly and accurately (without involving a manager), they’re probably legit.
Solutions? Unfortunately, today’s hosting environment is saturated and convoluted. What works today may not work tomorrow, but we do have a few recommendations:
- If your web designer has their own shared environment, i.e. they have rented a dedicated server and run a few of their clients’ websites on it, you might get the speed of a dedicated server at a much lower cost (a dedicated server usually runs $200+ per month).
- Try VPS or Virtual Private Servers. While they are more expensive than a shared environment, you may see some performance gains without the cost of a dedicated server.
- Most hosting companies offer some sort of trial period or money-back guarantee. After doing your research, sign up for a few packages and upload your website to each. Test each by accessing them at different times during the day. Note how long it takes for the website to fully render and see which is consistently faster. Yes, it’s a pain, but this is the start of a long-term relationship- do your due diligence!
- Use third-party tools to measure your website speed. Google offers a tool within Webmaster Tools to track your website speed – at least as they see it. You can also use other great resources such as Pingdom’s Tools: https://tools.pingdom.com/
- Just take your chances. It may require several calls to customer service to complain about speed before they take you seriously, but most larger hosting companies will try to accommodate you.
So remember, you may have that shiny new website, but make sure you’re putting your best foot forward with great hosting to match.