In Content Marketing Tips, Conversion Rate Optimisation Tips, How to Use Google Analytics

You have to have a website. You have to have hosting. They’re necessary if you’re going to generate business online.

When it comes to hosting your website, all hosts are the same, right? £100/month for hosting is the same product as £10/year for your WordPress site. Your website sits on a box in a rack somewhere and it just works.

Wrong. Very wrong.

Hosting is one of those “you get what you pay for” items. Whilst cheap hosting may be great for many small businesses, if you’re serious about growing an eCommerce business or generating leads online, some elementary web hosting pitfalls could easily be costing you a lot of profit.

Web Hosting Pitfalls: Not All Hosting is Equal

There are numerous factors to consider when choosing a host for your website, many of which will confuse and confound you if you’re unfamiliar with the lingo and the tech.

This post explains the key points and web hosting pitfalls you need to consider when choosing a host, and how they impact on your business.

Do You Need To Change Host?

Whether you move hosting or not is dependent on a few things;

  • Are you happy with the current host, their level of service and most importantly, the server response and load times?
  • Is the new host offering something more in terms of guaranteed uptime, automated backups, disk space, connection speeds, a Content Delivery Network (CDN).
  • If your website designers includes some maintenance in their hosting fee, do you need it and is that included in the host you’re considering?
  • In the event of issues (they’re inevitable, given enough time) are those issues going to be easier to resolve if your web designers are in control of the site AND the hosting?
  • Is there value in a specialist host for your CMS? A dedicated WordPress host will most likely be far more familiar with and be able to provide faster, more helpful support for your WordPress site than a host that just provides space on a disk and some installation tools.

Why The Speed of Your Website is Critical

A recent study shows that just a 1 second improvement in mobile load times increased eCommerce conversion rates by 20%.

Page speed vs conversion rate

This handy infographic from hosts SingleHop illustrates some of the issues which cause slow load times and claims a 7% increase in conversion rates from a one second improvement in page load time.

Page speed infographic

Hosting Terminology

SLA – Service Level Agreement

This should include a guarantee of server uptime (it’s rare to get 100%), but also look for guarantees of server response times.

Server Response Time

When a browser (customer) connects to your website, that initial connection request is handled by the server and is within the host’s responsibility.

Page Load Time

The time that a page takes to load is dependent on a number of factors including;

  • The speed of the hardware (an SSD Drive will be quicker than a standard hard disk)
  • The processors in the server
  • The amount of memory
  • The connection speed from server to The Internet
  • The user’s connection speed and device
  • Whether you’re sharing those resources with other websites (a lot of cheap hosting works this way) or the box is all yours (that costs more).
  • The CMS you use including additional plugins and extensions, the size of the page and any images, scripts which are running on the page, particularly those which reference other servers (Google Analytics, or Facebook conversion tracking, for example)

Shared Hosting

Shared hosting means that your site is sharing the same resources as other websites on the same physical box. They’re all sharing bandwidth (connection speed), hard disk, memory and processing power. This keeps the cost down, but the risk is that if another site on that server gets really busy, your site slows down with it along with every other site on that box.

Shared hosting might be great for many small businesses, but if you’re spending a decent budget on marketing your business online, this probably isn’t the option for you.

Virtual Server

Several “virtual servers” can be created on one physical server in a rack. Typically, a host will segment one powerful server into sections, dedicating resources such as processing power, hard disk space, bandwidth and so forth to each site. This will be a little more expensive and a better option than shared hosting, but your site is still limited on resources.

Virtual Servers could be a perfectly acceptable solution for many websites.

Dedicated Server

Pretty much what is says on the tin. That particular lump of hardware is all yours. It lives in a rack amongst a stack of other servers, but the resources are all yours. The risks associated with shared hosting are mitigated, you’re left with the listing factors of the speed of the hardware, connection bandwidth and the speed of your own website and pages.

Content Delivery Network

Increasingly included by many hosts, a CDN effectively replicates your website on to multiple servers in different locations. This can be a huge benefit in terms of load times.

Users across the world requesting your content will be served that content from their nearest server. Their personal experience will be better, with faster load times from a local server. Your average load times for your website are increased as the load is spread across multiple boxes.

CDNs often also have security built in, protecting your site from malicious bot attacks which can also significantly slow the performance of your site.

Load Balancing

Load balancing balances the load on your website (page requests, database access etc) between multiple servers. This is needed for high-traffic websites which suffer under heavy load, slowing page load times which are detrimental to User Experience and conversion rates

Operating System

Most hosting is based on either Apache servers running Linux or Windows Server. Which you choose may primarily depend on which platform or CMS your site is built with.

There are also different versions of the OS, the database platform and others that need to be checked for compatibility.

Always check with your website designer and the host that the hosting is compatible with your website.

Server and Site Backup

Some hosts will include a backup solution for your site as standard, which can be restored in the event of a disaster. Some hosts may include it in their control panel, but you’ll need to enable and configure it yourself (maybe your website provider will do this for you).

Also consider whether you want those backups to be on an external server – some solutions will deliver incremental backups to Dropbox, for example.

Essential Tools to Check Your Website’s Performance

Google’s Page Speed Tool runs simple checks on your site and scores it based on a number of criteria. Use it to identify areas for improvement and to compare it with your competitors too.

Check your Google Analytics Page Speed Report, analysing page load times for different devices and operating systems. Also consider configuring a custom alert in Google Analytics to email you if your site’s average load time spikes. If all this is jargon to you consider adding a Google Analytics Training Course to your shopping list.

Use a monitoring tool. Tools such as Pingdom will monitor your site for server response, checking that your site is online and the average response time. These tools too can be configured to alert you by SMS, email or Direct Message on Twitter.

Tips on Choosing a Website Host

To avoid website hosting pitfalls, choose a reliable website host with a good reputation, good server performance that is there to support you when you need it most.

  • Get references. It sounds simple, but a recommendation from someone you trust that has similar requirements to yours goes a long way, especially if they’ve experience of other hosts too
  • Ask your website designer or developer for advice. If you’re relying on them to support your website, it makes sense for them to either host the site or recommend a good host that they’re familiar with. If there are problems, they’re much more easily solved in familiar territory and with existing relationships.
  • Choose a host either dedicated to or with experience of your CMS. You’re less likely to encounter compatibility issues and if you do, they’ll most likely get resolved more quickly.
  • Consider the CDN option for security, protection against DDOS and bot attacks, and fast delivery of your content.
  • Make sure there’s some level of SLA.
  • Establish whether there’s an upgrade path from whatever hosting plan you choose and what the steps and costs are to upgrade if you need to.
  • Price shouldn’t be your first point of comparison, performance and support should be.
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