Choosing Your Web Host : Don’t underestimate the importance

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The decision to choose a web host provider isn’t as clear-cut as you might think. If you’re serious about your website’s performance, and as a business owner you should be, then there’s a whole lot you need to consider.

Unfortunately, for many outside of the United States the options can be a little thin. It is highly likely that you have to spend more for the comparable service and that’s the best case scenario. There is every chance you’re going to be paying more and getting less.

So let’s run through it and take a look at some of the considerations and allow me to give you some insight into my experience.

It’s A Matter Of Speed

Did you know that almost half of us expect a website to load within two seconds and will abandon the site if it doesn’t load within three seconds?

Are we really in that much of a rush? Apparently we are. They’re the numbers from a survey conducted by Akamai. If you don’t know who Akamai are, well they handle 20% of the world’s total web traffic.

The numbers get even scarier with 79% of web shoppers saying that if they had trouble with the performance they wouldn’t go back to the site again.

Amazon has calculated that if their pages were to load just one second slower they would lose $1.6 billion in sales on an annual basis. Google has realised that if their page load speed fell by four-tenths of a second they would lose 8 million searches per day.

We’re not Amazon and Google but I suggest you check out some of the research, there’s a couple of great articles from the guys at Kissmetrics.

Did I mention it is also super-important for your search performance?

Website Uptime

Don’t be fooled by 99.9% uptime guarantees. These guarantees are often nothing more than simply a lame offer of compensation should the host provide you anything less than 99.9%. For example, if they have issues with their servers during any given month and only provide 95% uptime for your website, then they may refund you 4.9% of your monthly fee. Peanuts.

Think about the most inopportune moments that your site could go down. You could be at a tradeshow, you just sent out a press release, or you may have spent a fortune on a daily print ad. It would make for a really bad day.

Trust Me, It’s Also About The Service

So you’ve gone through the exhaustive process of finally getting your website right, then when you need it most it is down and out for the count. You call your hosting provider and they’re not even answering their 1300 number and certainly nothing on the emails. Eventually they come back with a useless 140 character Twitter explanation…but still your website is down.

For the business owner who lives and breathes their business, this is simply not acceptable. Believe me, it might take some research but there are options out there that maintain uptime and if there is ever a problem they will talk to you, in fact they’ll likely tell you there was a problem but it’s been fixed before you even know.

My Opinion

You’ve got this far so I assume you’re interested in my opinion….

The thing is we want everything above but at the right price, and the thing is unless you have a massive site then everything is within your reach, you may just have to look to a U.S. provider.

I do say that with some reservation however, there are some opinions out there in the SEO community that a local hosting provider is taken into account in search algorithms. So for those websites that have a primary audience outside of the U.S. you should at least be aware of this. But as long as you have a local domain and have set your geographic target within Google Webmaster Tools then you should be fine.

I always bring it back to speed. If your overseas host delivers your site to your audience faster than the local option then you’re better off.

Web Hosting Recommendations

It would be poor form not to at least provide some real suggestions and with WordPress being such a popular platform let me highlight a couple of super-fast U.S. based hosts.

Synthesis and WP Engine are two hosting providers who specialise in delivering super-fast WordPress websites. In fact, both of them only deal with WordPress sites, so you know they’re going to be helpful. You should also be happy to know that their basic packages both come under $30 per month and I would bet provide better features and services than your local providers. But be prepared, neither will handle your email hosting, but that should not be a concern.

Synthesis is the guys behind Copyblogger and the Genesis WordPress sites. They take on WordPress sites with clean code to ensure they can provide only the best service, of course this includes all Genesis themes. I love the fact that they can offer in-house migration services, which means they take care of getting your site across and when they do they configure everything for optimal performance. Synthesis is also spruiked by Yoast, whom to many is a rockstar in WordPress circles.

WP Engine is backed by Automattic. Who is Automattic you say? Well they’re the guys that created and maintain WordPress itself. If you’re not impressed by that then you may be impressed by the fact that WP Engine declares they are between 2-4 times faster than their competitors. To give them credit this came from independent analysis by Pingdom and Webpagetest.org. Even Foursquare, Soundcloud and HTC use WP Engine. Oh and I should point out that WP Engine also have migration services but they refer you to a third party.

All the best choosing your web hosting provider, it’s a bit of fun (not really). Don’t just trust the sales talk on their own site, look for testimonials, reviews and discussions in forums.

But remember it’s not forever, if they don’t provide you with fast speeds and excellent service then move.

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