The father of the Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, recently tweeted that there are now more than a billion websites in existence. The number of individual Web pages that these sites hold isn’t known but it would be a ‘slight’ understatement to say they there are a lot of them. All of these pages have to live somewhere and just like in our real lives there are good places to live and there are bad places to live.
Location, Location, Location…
Where you decide to set-up home for your website matters and it matters in ways that the vast majority of business owners are completely unaware of. Where your site lives, who lives next door and your surrounding neighbourhood can all have an impact on your ability to operate effectively online.
The vast majority of websites live on shared hosting servers, essentially this just means that multiple websites are all living on the same computer that is sat in a building somewhere connected to the Internet. Shared web hosting isn’t a bad thing. In fact, if every website required its own computer/server then it wouldn’t be possible for the web that we have today to exist. However, there is a big difference between living in a building containing 100 apartments and a building that contains 10,000 apartments. Likewise, a hosting server that contains 10,000 websites is not likely to run as well as a server running 100 websites.
There’s a very easy way to find out how many websites are hosted on the same server as yours. Just enter your domain name into to this tool (http://www.tcpiputils.com/domain-neighbors)
The URL of your website is associated with an IP address (for example this website has an IP address of 188.8.131.52) and there is a relationship formed between all sites that have the same IP address. This relationship is often the root cause for many issues that can impact on your ability to do business online. It is worth having a look through a list of the other websites hosted along side yours but be prepared for some potential surprises. I have often seen servers with church websites sat along side websites for pornography, baby products, sex toys and gambling blogs.
How can this association be bad? I’m not going to go through every potential issue that can occur but here a a few examples…
You start getting calls and messages from your customers to say that they are trying to send you an email but it keeps bouncing back with an error.
This can be caused by another website on your shared IP address being hacked so that it contains malware or the hackers are using the website to send out high volumes of spam email. The shared IP address can become blacklisted and subsequently your domain to become blacklisted. Removing a site once it’s been blacklisted can sometimes be very difficult and potentially crippling for the business.
You run an eCommerce site and not all of your products are being found by Google.
eCommerce websites are often very large and can contain thousands or even tens of thousands of products. Google gives your site a certain amount of their time and during this time they will try to find as many of your pages as possible but when your time is up they will stop whether they have found all of your products or not. This time limit is known as your ‘Crawl Budget’.
There is another important term know as ‘Crawl Rate’ which is the speed at which Google will crawl your pages, obviously the faster Google can run, the more of your pages they’ll be able to read. If your site pages take a long time to load then Google will need to reduce their crawl rate otherwise there is the chance that they will crash your website by trying to load too many pages at the same time.
In a recent Google Webmaster Hangout, John Mueller, a senior Google Analyst, revealed that crawl rate is based on an IP Address rather than the domain. This may sound a bit too technical for the average business owner but what it means is that no matter how fast your website is, the rate at which Google crawls your pages will be determined by the slowest site on your hosting server. Essentially, the quality of other people’s websites’ will effect the ability for all of your products to appear in Google search results. This is clearly bad news for your business.
My website isn’t reliable (AKA: Pay Peanuts, Get Monkeys)
Many companies provide unlimited shared hosting at a ridiculously low cost. There is only one way that they can do this and still remain in business and this is to compromise on the quality of their servers and the service they provide, then to pack as many websites as they can on to a single server. Not all hosting companies operate this business model, there are many who offer fantastic hosting solutions but it is going to cost you a bit more to get that service. You get what you pay for.
If your business relies on your website in any way, shape or form and it is hosted on a cheap shared hosing server then spending slightly more on web hosting is possibly one of the best investments that you can make.
What happens when the lights go out?
In the past few months two of the UK’s biggest providers of low cost hosting have had major issues with their server infrastructure that caused the loss of revenue and credibility to thousands of businesses. Some of those businesses have lost their websites and all of the information stored on their hosting accounts such as email history with no way of getting this data back.
In February of this year HeartInternet suffered a power outage and their standby power solution failed causing the corruption of a huge amount of data on their servers. The corruption extended to include the live files and backup files of thousands of people’s websites’ many of those sites were offline for several days and many were lost forever.
Earlier this month 123-Reg “Accidentally Deleted” hundreds of websites. Many of these websites didn’t have effective backup solutions in place and again many people’s businesses were wiped out.
During both of these incidents the overwhelming feed-back from unhappy customers on social media was that no information was being given to them and that neither company were responding to support requests. Customer service is easy when everything is going well. It’s the service that you receive when the lights go out that shows how good a hosting company is.
We are all used to automatically ticking the “Accept our terms and conditions” box before checking out, but when it comes to low cost hosting providers you really should read what you are agreeing to. Many of the unlucky people who lost their websites due to the recent HeartInternet and 123-Reg issues were completely unaware that their data wasn’t being backed up and those who had paid for backups weren’t aware that these backups weren’t guaranteed to be any good if they were ever needed. Reading the small print is tedious but if you are handing your online business over to someone to look after for you then spending 10 minutes reading their terms of service is advisable.
So what’s the message?
1 – Always have a back-up. Even if you have purchased back-ups from your hosting provider ensure that there is a secondary back-up solution in place that isn’t held by the provider.
2 – If your business relies on your website to stay alive then don’t put the company at risk by opting for cheap hosting. Ensure that you understand the service levels that you can expect when things go wrong and who you would get in touch with to get things resolved.
3 – If you run an eCommerce store then don’t use cheap shared hosting along side thousands of other websites, the impact on your business is likely to cost you more than having a decent hosting package would.
Please don’t mistake the message. Cheap hosting companies provide a very valuable service, they allow many people to get their websites online for a very small cost and they allow people with almost no budget to start a business and start making money online. Just make sure that you understand the implications of using cheap hosting, that your business is protected with regular back-ups you know you can rely on and what you expect from your hosing provider matches their terms of service.
Some Important Information for Our Clients
If you are one of our clients and you have read all of the above then you are likely to have a few questions for us so here are a few facts about Teapot Creative’s hosting services…
- We operate very high-spec and high-speed servers that are raid 10 protected as a first line of defence against data loss.
- We do operate some shared servers for brochure and WordPress websites but at present our most crowded server only hosts around 70 websites.
- Our servers are backed-up 4 times per day on-site with an additional off-site back-up for added security.
- Our clients are our business. If your website is offline for any reason then getting your site back online will take priority above any other work.