by Matt Janaway, owner of Outreachly.uk
Are you concerned about the speed of your website? There are many site owners who never even consider speed and uptime as factors for achieving more traffic and conversion. The truth is that the thousands of dollars that you’re investing into online branding and marketing can burn to ashes right before your eyes if your website takes too long to load or is unavailable. This can happen when you trust the wrong hosting company with your web property.
Unfortunately, most of the articles and reviews that you come across appear to be written by people who are being paid by hosting companies. But even if you succeed in choosing the right hosting, you never know when a perfectly good server goes bad because it outsold its capacity or started some upgrades. Eventualities aside, there’s a lot you can do to make sure you don’t have to go through the trouble of having to migrate your domain to another host from time to time. Take a few minutes to go through the following completely neutral and unbiased checklist to help you select the right hosting company the first time.
Step #1: Know Your Needs.
There’s no need to buy a canon if all you want to do is hunt sparrows. On the other hand, an air-gun won’t be a good choice for shooting elephants. You should know what kind of website you’re building, what types of applications and versions of software you need, and what your visitor volumes are likely to be.
Shared Hosting: Shared hosting is a good place to start if you’re not looking to become the next Amazon. Well, maybe that’s an over-exaggeration, but if you’re building a brochure website with less than 20 pages and expect less than 50 visitors at any time, shared hosting is for you.
VPS (Virtual Private Server) Hosting: It’s a step above shared hosting and is suitable if your requirements are outgrowing shared hosting. VPS is generally used by companies that deal with resource heavy applications and secured data.
Dedicated Hosting: As the name depicts, dedicated hosting gives you access to your own server with all its resources. You should buy dedicated hosting if you are in fact looking to become the next Amazon! Dedicated hosting can be a little more complicated when compared with shared and VPS hosting, here’s a handy guide with some tips.
Step #2: Compare Server Uptimes.
Imagine the frustration you’ll face if your site is regularly offline during rush hours. In order to avoid losing money and sleep, take some time to compare the uptime records of the providers you’re considering. Fortunately, there are tools and resources available for that.
- Netcraft Hosting Provider Performance Monitor provides a regularly updated record of 40 web-hosting companies
- PC Magazine publishes a credible list of top web hosting services, along with reviews
- Finally, you can track your server with one of the uptime monitoring tools, such as UptimerRobot, which allows you to monitor uptimes for up to 50 sites.
Step #3: Check Hosting Server Speed.
You can easily find out your page speed after you’ve hosted your website, but it would be too late. So there must be a way to check it before you decide to host with a particular provider. Your site speed will depend upon, among other factors, the bandwidth or resources that your provider assigns to your website. Almost all hosting plans come with unlimited hosting these days, which is another way of saying, “We’ll assign resources depending upon the traffic we have at a particular time.”
- Luckily, tools like Pickuphost allow you to perform a speed test on dozens of famous hosting providers
- There are also several updated lists available comparing the performance of the best hosting companies
- You can use services like WhoIsHostingThis to find out where your competitors are hosting, perform a speed test on their websites, and try to determine their hosting quality
The last one is more of a finger-in-the-wind method, which might work. You should remember that the speed does not depend on the hosting quality alone, but on a number of other factors too.
Step #4: Check their Server Location.
Evidence exists that your hosting IP address can affect your SEO and traffic from Google, particularly if your users are concentrated in a specific geo-location/country. Therefore, it’s important for local businesses to get hosting nearest to their target market. Before you decide to host with a particular provider, you must ask them the geo-location of the server/host, and confirm that it’s located in your country.
Fluctuation in traffic when the hosting location was shifted back and forth between UK and US (Source)
If you are a local/geo-specific business, but need to host your website in another country due to any reason, you may need to set the international targeting in WMA to your target country. Make sure you keep a close eye on Analytics to see if changing the international targeting and/or host location has an effect on your traffic.
Step #5: Check Renewal Prices.
Most of the hosting providers offer cheaper prices for first-time signup. It’s only at the time of renewal that many people find out they are required to pay double or more than what they paid first time. Make sure you know what you’re signing up for.
Step #6: Check Basic Hosting Features.
Almost all major hosting companies provide all essential features these days. However, you should reconfirm that your hosting provider offers contemporary features including:
- Secure site certification
- Malware and spam protection
- Auto Script Installer, .HTaccess, SSI, FTP access, mySQL
- An easy to use hosting control panel such as cPanel , Plesk, or vDeck (preferably cPanel)
- Multiple domain hosting—so that you don’t have to pay extra if you need to host more domains on the same hosting
- Site backup—your provider must provide regular site backups and offer the functionality to easily make site backups through the control panel
- Easy site builder—in case you need it
- Email @yourdomain—a standard feature with any paid hosting
- Ecommerce features—Online store and selling tools, SSL certification, dedicated IP, and one-click shopping cart software installation (for ecommerce websites)
- Money back guarantee (in case you’re not satisfied)
- Support for Google Analytics, Adwords, site map, site search, etc.
- Ability to upgrade to VPN or dedicated hosting
- Reputation and history of doing good business
- Multiple server locations to ensure that your data and your site are protected
Looks like there’s a lot to check in this step, but your job becomes easy because these features are pretty much the industry standard these days. You won’t be missing any of these features unless you’re buying your hosting from an obscure upstart based in India or Africa.
Step #7: Check their Customer Support.
Regardless of how carefully you select your hosting company, issues are bound to happen. And when they do, you need excellent customer support to get them resolved in minimum time. Personally, I would prefer a hosting company that provides 24/7 live chat support. Phone support can often be frustrating because you might need to wait and press different buttons for a long time before you can actually speak to a human.
Your hosting quality affects your site’s performance, and consequently, the user experience it offers to your customers. Choosing your hosting company without due diligence can result in loss of customers, reputation, and sleep. Make sure you do everything you can to select the hosting company that will complement your marketing, SEO and conversion optimization efforts by providing blistering speeds and 100% uptime. Google now use speed as a ranking factor so make sure you don’t miss out.
Matt Janaway, owner of Outreachly.uk is a digital and online entrepreneur and marketer, specialising in the retail and eCommerce arena. He has built, purchased, optimised and sold in excess of 10 eCommerce businesses with multi-million pound revenues and is now heading a team project optimising 30 websites with over 20,000 products.