A look at some of the key factors you should consider when choosing web hosting, including uptime, loading times, service restrictions and security.
Choosing a web hosting company is easy. You can sign up to a service in a matter of minutes and there are packages for every budget imaginable that will have your site up and running in no time. However, choosing a hosting provider that delivers the technical performance you and your users need is far more complex.
This might not be the first thing you consider when it comes to hosting your website. In fact, it may well be the last thing you think about once your website is finished and ready to go live. Yet, the web hosting company and service you choose have more of an impact on the day to day workings and results of your site than you might appreciate.
How does web hosting impact performance?
There are two key areas that your choice of web hosting company/service will impact your website:
- User experience (UX): The performance of your hosting service has a direct impact on the experience for your website visitors – regardless of code, a site can only be as good as the server lets it be.
- Website functionality: Certain types of websites have specific requirements from a hosting service – for example, special features and plugins etc can require certain components and an eCommerce brand typically needs significantly more than a service business.
The impact of your hosting service on these two aspects will become clearer as we look at the relevant components of website hosting in this article. By the time we’re done, you’ll know exactly what you need from a hosting provider to support the performance and functionality of your website.
First, though, I want to make a quick point about the impact your hosting service has on your search ranking. Your choice of hosting influences a number of direct ranking factors, such as loading times and secure encryption, and an even larger set of indirect user actions (or lack of) that could impact your search ranking.
So this is important stuff, whichever way you look at it.
Enhance performance with the right web hosting company
There are a number of key factors to consider when you’re choosing a web hosting provider. Here, we focus on the aspects that impact the performance of your website.
There is no user experience if people can’t access your website. Every second your server is down, you’re losing potential traffic and there’s no guarantee these people will ever try to access your website again.
Downtime is bad news and you want to make sure you get a 99.9% or more uptime guarantee from your provider and check customer reviews to gauge how reliable these are. To give you an idea of what this actually translates into, here are some downtime calculations for common guarantees:
- 99.9% uptime: Your website may be down for a total of eight hours, 45 minutes, and 57 seconds each year.
- 99.99% uptime: Your website may be down for a total of 52 minutes and 35.7 seconds each year.
- 99.999% uptime: Your website may be down for a total of five minutes and 15.6 seconds each year.
- 99.9999% uptime: Your website may be down for a total of 31.56 seconds per year.
There are some providers that promise 100% uptime guarantees but every company experiences technical problems and any guarantee comes with a bit of small print.
Slow loading times are probably the only UX killer worse than server outages and, frustratingly, they’re also far more common. There are plenty of steps you can take to optimise your website for speed but they’ll do little to help if your hosting service is throttling your loading times.
There are a number of ways your hosting service influences page speed:
- Server type: Dedicated, cloud, VPS or shared (generally not recommended).
- Hardware: Hard drive speed, memory, processing power, etc.
- Server location: The further away a user is from your server, the long it takes for pages to load.
- Bandwidth: How quickly data can be transferred between your website and user devices.
- Features: Many hosting services include features or add-ons for content delivery networks (CDNs) and caching that improve loading times for users in certain scenarios.
For business purposes, you generally want to avoid shared hosting, which means your site is stored on the same server as multiple other sites. This can mean bad news for speed and security while uptime records for shared servers tend to be lower as well.
Ideally, you’ll want to get a dedicated server located relatively close to the country you operate in. If you’re an international business, you’ll want to check the location options of your provider and look into options like a CDN to boost loading times.
When you’re choosing a hosting package, pay close attention to any service restrictions that could limit the performance of your website. For example, some options may limit the number of visitors you can have each month and block further visitors or send you an unexpected bill.
Again, there are a number of things to consider here:
- Traffic: As mentioned above, check if there are any limits on monthly traffic volumes (unlimited is very common these days).
- Bandwidth: Some providers also limit this on their cheaper packages.
- Storage: It’s quite common for services to offer a limited amount of space for your website’s files (code files, images, media, etc.).
- Websites: You’ll often be limited by the number of websites you can create.
- Email accounts: You’re also often limited by the number of email accounts you can create.
There are plenty of other service restrictions you might come across for any given hosting package, especially on company’s cheaper options. The key thing is to understand what you need now and what you may need in the future so you can choose a hosting company that has room to meet your growth expectations.
If you plan to increase traffic by 300% over the next year, you want to know your hosting service is ready for it.
Security is one of the most important factors of all. It matters for every user, and businesses have a legal obligation to keep their users as safe as possible.
If you’re doing any of the following, security is a priority:
- Processing payments
- Collecting user data
- Tracking visitor data through cookies or similar technology
You also want a proactive hosting company, who keeps your hosting solution up to date with the latest patches and fixes, just as you would your website itself. Going back to SEO for a moment, Google also made secure encryption a ranking factor in 2014 so this is another aspect that will impact your search ranking. More importantly, though, features like this are designed to protect the users engaging with your brand so do your homework on hosting providers to gain an understanding of their security features and performance.
Last but certainly not least is the level of customer service you receive. Ever had a problem and been frustrated by the level of support you receive? Or feel like you’re talking to a brick wall? Unfortunately it’s common enough especially for the budget options. While this may not seem a problem when things are working fine, when there’s a problem (and even with the simplest of websites and requirements there will be, eventually) you want to know they’ve got your back. This is why we like to work with our preferred hosting company on behalf of our WebCare clients – we know we can rely on their service, just as our clients can rely on us in doing so.
What kind of web hosting does your website need?
The right hosting service for your business depends on the kind of website you’re running. A global eCommerce brand with a large inventory of stock will be among the most demanding in terms of what they need – all those visitors, images eating up space, multiple locations and security threats to think about (among other things).
Not every business has such high demands but you do need to make sure your website is accessible to users, quick to load and secure for every action they’re going to take on your site. Just like a quality website, quality hosting should be high on your requirements for a faster, more reliable website.