Are You Being Served?


POSTED ON THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 30, 2010 AT 4:10 PM

With all this talk about search engine optimization (SEO) these days, it's a little known fact that one of the easiest ways to lose your website's hard-earned search engine positioning is through a slow or unreliable web host. We've seen it happen dozens of times this year to many different companies. And not all that long ago, it finally happened to us (along with a number of our clients who use the exact same web hosting service that we use).

In April of this year, one of the search engine companies announced that the performance of your website is now a part of their much-talked-about algorithm which contributes to your overall website ranking. When a website goes down frequently because of web hosting issues, this can really impact your search engine positioning. The same applies to intermittent connectivity issues and server upgrades gone bad — much like the one we just recovered from (in all fairness, our web host has been very reliable over the years and no server upgrades ever seem to go as smoothly as we wish they would in this day and age).

When a search engine robot tries to access your website and repeatedly encounters a "time out", a "no response" or a "connection reset" error (whatever you wish to call the error), the robot signals back to the search engine company that something isn't quite right. They don't see this as a good thing and if it happens frequently enough, down goes your ranking. We assume that it works in much the same way when a user finds your website through an Internet search and clicks on your link in a SERP (search engine results page) and encounters a "not found" error. It's rather unfortunate that we have to pay a price like this for something that may not even be our fault to begin with but if you do a bit of searching around on the Internet, you'll see that search engine companies have their reasons for implementing policies (or "rules") like this.

Of course, there are lots of other factors which can affect the overall performance (or "speed") of your website. The way each individual page is designed, the size of your graphics, dynamic websites using PHP or ASP with slow or hesitant database access and lots more. But we're talking about actual web hosting here. Not your website itself. And not the way your website has been designed.

A web host stores your website files on their computer and serves them to your visitors — we're referring to an actual web server here. Technically speaking, a web server isn't a whole lot different than the computer you're using to access this page right now with the exception of a faster processor, a larger hard drive (or a series of hard drives called an array) and hopefully, a whole lot more RAM.

We see far too many people go with the "cheapest" web hosting package they can find (let's face it — we're all on a budget of some sort) but unfortunately, the money you might save in monthly web hosting fees just isn't worth the overall price you pay for the downtime and ultimately, the search engine "penalty" which may come as a result. Here are some things to keep in mind if you're thinking about getting started with your first website or if you already have a web presence established on the Internet:

1) Never go with the cheapest web host on the market — you'll more than likely find that their servers are overloaded with way too many customers. Pay a few extra dollars for a quality web host. The end result will be well worth it with fewer headaches and more "uptime".

2) Go with the fastest web host you can possibly find.

3) Do some research on the Internet before signing up with a web host. Look through some of the online forums and online reports to see what the company's track record is like.

4) Most of us go with shared hosting packages in which case, we need to ask the web host how many websites are actually hosted on each of their web servers. If they're hosting between five-hundred to a thousand websites on one server, find a different web host.

5) If you have a very large website running e-commerce and database systems, you might want to stay away from a shared hosting package. Try to go with some form of semi-dedicated web hosting (fully-dedicated web hosting is far too expensive for the majority of small business owners but you could always try to find an Apple Xserve or use a Mac Mini running Mac OS X Server, budget permitting!).

6) Be sure to inquire about bandwidth. Ask your web host how much monthly traffic is permitted for your web hosting package. If you think your website might exceed the bandwidth limit for your particular web hosting package, choose the next size up.

Although we don't offer web hosting at MW Web Design, feel free to contact us for some excellent web hosting recommendations. Happy surfing and happy serving!

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