When establishing an online presence for yourself or your business/organization, there are a number of important components that help your content stand a better chance at being found and becoming successful on the vast sea of information that is the Internet. Personally, I have always been a stickler for creating high-quality content, as I believe that this is the single most important aspect to any blog or website. In the past, this has led me to write articles about why content is important and even on how to write and produce better content. At the end of the day, however, content is only one component that helps to drive your websites success, and shouldn’t be your only focus with your online presence.
Your websites uptime is important for a number of reasons. If your website has frequent amounts of downtime, it is not only damaging for customers and visitors who cannot access your site during the downtimes, but also has a great tendency to impact your rankings with search engines such as Google, meaning that fewer people will ultimately be directed to your site in the first place – even when it is online.
Don’t get me wrong; all web hosts have some sort of downtime, and it is to be expected. If your website is down for brief periods of time every now and then, your users will likely understand and the search engines ranking your website typically won’t hold it against you (if they even notice). The real issue is when websites see great deals of downtime on a frequent basis; something that you often see with low-end web hosts.
If you are in the market for a VPS or dedicated server, your hosting provider should typically give you an SLA, or “Service Level Agreement.” This agreement between you and your server provider lays out your expectations on the amount of uptime you as the customer should be guaranteed in a given year. Personally, I would steer away from a provider that doesn’t offer an uptime guarantee of at least 99.9%. In my mind, this agreement – which guarantees that your server will be down for no more than 9 hours in a year (calculating to less than a minute and a half per day on average) – is fair because it takes into account necessary upgrades in your data-center, as well as unforeseen issues.
With the 99.9% SLA being the de facto for most server providers, I would also tend to stay clear of hosts that offer “100% SLA”, as they are likely being unrealistic of flat-out deceptive. Likewise, server providers that do not offer SLA’s are likely being shady as well.
If you’re looking at shared hosting, you likely will not be subjected to an SLA. In fact, I have yet to seen a shared host provide an SLA to their users. With this in mind, your best bet is to read up on your potential provider to see if any users have complained about excessive downtime in the past.
Bandwidth and Network
It’s no secret that your page load time is of great importance to your online presence. After all, who likes waiting for a site to load? Like with uptime, your sites load time not only impacts your users, but can also damage your credibility with search engines as well. But what causes poor load times?
The factor that most people immediately look at when it comes to page load time is the network connection to the data-center and server. While more reputable web hosts have faster connections, your average low-end host will have sub-standard networking speeds. Additionally, there may be situations where one (or many) particular users in a data-center or box will hog bandwidth left and right, leaving other users (e.g. yourself) getting the short end of the stick. While this type of behavior isn’t uncommon, reputable hosts will disable the accounts of bandwidth hogs in order to protect the other users on the infrastructure, while less reputable hosts will simply turn a blind eye to it.
If connection speed is a big issue with your site, you will likely want to look at dedicated server solutions to ensure that your bandwidth is entirely separate from other users. While the same can sometimes be said for VPS servers, many VPS’s share network ports within the node, meaning that you swill still have the potential to run into bandwidth hogging issues.
Going hand in hand with the network connection, the location in which your server is located plays a big factor in your websites speed and ultimately how it will fare with users and search engines. Having said this, if your main audience lives in a particular locale, you should try to keep your server as local as possible in order to ensure the quickest load speeds for your visitors.
From what I’ve seen, a lot of the low-end web hosts out there have servers in foreign and remote countries where they can operate at significantly lower costs. However, because of the bad locations, these types of hosts will leave you with long load times for most of your visitors.
Pretty much every (reputable) VPS or dedicated server company will tell you where your server will be located. In fact, most larger operations have a number of data-centers and will allow you to choose where you want your content to be stored. As I said earlier, you will ideally want your server to be located near your target audience.
However, shared hosting providers are often not up-front about where exactly your website will be stored. If you find that this is the case with a web host you are considering, don’t hesitate to inquire with their sales department. In the event that a shared hosting provider uses multiple data-centers, you may even be able to have your new account provisioned in a preferable geographical location.
Moreover, if you are a more “general” online business or entity that has users spread out in different regions, you will likely want to look at using a CDN (Content Delivery Network) to store your static content in addition to your standard hosting. In basic, what this will do is cache the bulk of your website on servers placed strategically throughout the world so that your visitors will have fast load time regardless of their localization.
Even if your server has the most ideal network connection possible, your page load times could easily suffer if your site is hosted on an underpowered web server. Having said this, a great deal of “dynamic” content such as PHP (server-side scripting) and MySQL (databases) which are used for most modern content management systems tend to use a great deal of processing power on the host machines; especially if they are serving a lot of traffic. With this in mind, a host that oversells services is likely not going to be able to keep up with the demand.
With this in mind, shared hosts are often-times unpredictable when it comes to dynamic and resource-intensive content. Even though things will often times work out fairly well, you should evaluate your other options if you have a larger-scale site.
Even VPS servers can sometimes be oversold to the point where there are simply too many users sharing the processing power and memory of a node. While this shouldn’t be a problem with more reputable VPS providers, large-scale operations usually will need the power of a dedicated server.
Reputation & Abuse
Last but not least, having a shady web host will often lead to troubles down the road. Having said this, many shared web hosting providers use shared IP addresses for their servers. With this type of setup, your domain name points to the IP address of a machine that hosts dozens – if not hundreds – of other websites. While this may seem like a minor technical detail, the fact of the matter is that having your site associated with other websites outside of your control can be potentially dangerous to your success. For example, if a website on your server is a known host of malware, your servers IP address may appear in block-lists that disallow users in firewalled environments to access your site.
Even if you are getting a dedicated IP address with a VPS or dedicated server, some IP ranges belonging to your host will often-times be blocked simply because the web-host or data-center is known for turning a blind eye when it comes to malware, scams, and illegal content being hosted on their servers. For this reason you need to look at a prospective web host’s abuse policy and how they handle such actions before ordering service.
However, having a shared IP isn’t in itself a bad thing. In fact, a great number of websites are on shared hosting with shared IP’s simply because it is cost-effective. The only thing that makes this into an issue is when your web host or data-center refuses to handle abuse complaints.
All in all I hope that I’ve given you some insight on how web hosting works and what you should look out for before ordering service. At the end of the day, going with a reputable company and doing your homework are the two keys to success. And, let’s not forget the age-old adage that you get what you pay for. So if a deal looks too good to be true, simply consider the potential of a high cost for a low price.