If you’re about to launch a new business and you’re already investigating SEO, congratulations! You’re ahead of the average. If you’re migrating hosts or redesigning your website, now is a great time to investigate your web host of choice. Do they provide everything you need out of a host for the best possible search optimization?
Many people don’t realize it, but your web host has a significant effect on both your customer retention and your search ranking. If your site is slow and unresponsive, Google will apply a bit of a soft penalty; that is, your ranking will be lower than it would be with a fast, responsive host. Likewise, if it takes more than a second or two to load any given page, your users are going to start dropping off. The longer it takes to load your site – and the more often it loads without applying scripts or CSS properly – the more likely users are to leave without reading your content.
How should you choose a new web host for maximum possible optimization? What should you look for? How can you tell whether an online review is valid or not?
There are a wide range of hosting types, but if you’re running an online business and SEO is important to you, you’re going to boil the list down to three main types. These are the dedicated host, the virtual private server and the shared web host.
Dedicated web hosts are by far the most robust option. An entire physical server location is dedicated to your business, likely one server in a bank of servers in a data center owned and operated by your hosting company. You don’t share your hardware with anyone. Any data or software on the server is yours to control. You can choose what operating system is used, what bandwidth limits if any you want to apply, etc. It’s a very reliable option, but it’s also highly expensive. Large corporations often purchase dedicated servers for their hosting. Small businesses and bloggers looking to monetize their sites with affiliates generally don’t need such a robust, expensive solution.
Virtual private servers, or VPSs, take a single server hardware installation and run several simultaneous virtual machines on the hardware. You, as a business, lease one of those virtual machines. You are given quite a bit of control over software and data security, but you generally are limited in operating system and configuration, for the security of the others on the server hardware. This option is generally less robust than the dedicated server, but it’s also much less expensive. The only problem is that, since several virtual servers run on the same piece of hardware, all of those sites use the same connection, which in turn means they all have similar IP addresses. If you’re sharing a server with spam sites, you can run into SEO problems stemming from the bad neighborhood.
Shared hosts are the most limited, least expensive and most common option for small businesses and bloggers. It works in much the same way as the VPS, but there’s no virtual operating system running in a closed-off environment. In practice, this is meaningless, except to add more limitations to your possible configurations and software. You may still suffer from the same IP address issues as well. If you have a very small budget, this is your best option. Just make sure you’re choosing a web host capable of meeting your needs.
There are a few aspects of any web host you should learn and examine to make your decision. Some will be more important than others for some businesses. Here are the most important to general business and SEO:
• Bandwidth. Each time a user visits your site, that user downloads information from the server. Your bandwidth is the amount of data that can be downloaded from the server over a given period. In general, you want a high cap or an unlimited connection. A low cap can cause your site to come down under a viral surge of traffic, or lead to excessive charges for exceeding the limits set by the host.
• OS. Your server operating system will generally be either Linux or Windows. Opt for Windows if you’re reliant on certain Microsoft or Windows-only applications to run your site. Otherwise, Linux is cheaper and offers more configuration options. Server software is unimportant for SEO, so pick based on your site needs.
• IP address. Unless you’re paying for a dedicated server, you’re going to share an IP range with other sites. Make sure that IP range isn’t known as a bad neighborhood for spammers. This isn’t hugely important, as Google is smart enough to recognize a quality site independent of its host, but it can cause some issues with your initial startup.
• Server physical location. If you’re a local business located in New York, you should prefer a web host located in New York over one located in L.A., and you should prefer a domestic host over one located in Romania. It affects connection speed and a certain amount of geotargeting.
• Server uptime. If a user tries to visit your site and finds it down, you aren’t gaining any benefit. If Google tries to crawl your site and finds it down, you can take a huge hit to SEO. Most web hosts guarantee near-100% uptime, but make sure to read actual reviews to see if they hold up to their promises.
• Search visibility. If a web host is offering search visibility as a feature, or worse, a paid feature, walk away. Any website hosted publicly online is automatically visible to search, as long as the search engines can find it. Search visibility is a meaningless buzzword.
• Site builder included. If you’re serious about SEO and site design, you won’t be using a free site builder provided by your host. You’ll be paying for external development. The presence or absence of a site builder is inconsequential.
Once you’ve identified a few possible web hosts, you should look up real customer reviews of the service. Never bother with any of those top-100-web-host-reviews.com-style sites; they either make up everything they say or they’re paid to rank sites in a certain order. Instead, look for real customer feedback on support forums and social media.
• Run a search with negative keywords you might see in a common review. “Sucks,” “terrible,” “offline,” and other such keywords all work. Even frowning emoticons can lead you to disappointed users. Social media posts are rarely sponsored by web host companies, so you can gain a decent idea of a company’s reputation.
• Running a Google search for web forums and discussion boards can find both positive and negative experiences. Forums, again, are a better resource for objective information than review sites.
Every web host is going to have a few dissatisfied customers. You simply need to classify the negatives by severity. People complaining about downtime, hackings, database losses or Google penalties are more important than people complaining about not knowing how to use software, installing software incorrectly and other such user errors.
Once you have a good idea of the reputation and performance of your chosen hosts, you can pick the one that seems best for you. Ideally, you will have a strong foundation from which to build a powerful site.