Website hosting is not only one of the most important parts of successful marketing online, it is also one of the most under-rated and misunderstood. Far too often we see local businesses pay a small fortune for a well-designed website, then blindly go with the website designer’s recommendation for web hosting, or just grab the cheapest web hosting they can find.
Why is this a problem?
First, let’s talk about what website hosting is, then we can talk about why it is so important. Your website consists of a bunch of files and folders, and all these files and folders need to be stored somewhere where other people can access them. You could store them on your own computer at home or at work, but this poses a couple of problems.
- In order to be accessible to the public, your computer would need to be turned on 24/7, which is going to cost you money and quickly destroy your computer
- By storing your website on your own computer, you are exposing that computer to Internet hackers, so you risk losing not only your website but also all of your personal or business data.
So the only sensible solution is to rent or hire space on someone else’s computer to store your website files and folders, and that is where website hosting services come in. They specialize in storing websites on their own dedicated web servers, which is just a $10 way of saying a giant set of computers.
Because they specialize in website hosting, they are already set up to help stop hackers from getting to your website, backing up your website in case of problems, etc. So for a few dollars a month they take care of nearly all of your website worries and let you get on with running your business.
Sounds good so far?
Yes, it does, so far. But the first problem is that not all website hosting services are equal. Some save money by cutting corners in the hardware. They run older, slower computers and traditional hard disk drives similar to your desktop computer, which are prone to failure, as you no doubt have found out the hard way.
The best web hosts use the latest computer hardware, including Solid State Drives similar to the flash drives and memory cards you use in your camera or smartphone. These don’t have any moving parts, so are more reliable, but much more expensive. They also run redundant systems, which is another $10 way of saying they duplicate every computer and hard drive so that if anything breaks, it is instantly replaced by its ‘twin’.
Others cut costs by limiting the amount of space you are allocated on the hard drive, by not running backup hardware or software, by not running anti-hacking software or by not maintaining your website. This saves them money, but puts the onus on you to manage and protect your website yourself.
They also oversell their service, which simply means that they sign up three customers for every phone line that they have available, working on the assumption that some customers will be using less than their allocated resources, which usually works out okay, until everybody needs to use their full resources, like Christmas time, then the system grinds to a halt.
The second problem is that cheap web hosting is usually very slow to load your website, because of the older hardware, etc, and people’s attention spans are getting shorter, so if your website takes forever to load (in their eyes, anyway), they won’t wait around, they will hit the ‘Back’ button and go somewhere else. In fact studies have shown that the cut-off point is about two seconds, after that you have lost them, usually forever.
This is only made worse if your web host and their data centre is based in the U.S.A. or Europe, because of the time lag between Australia, Europe and the U.S. Unfortunately most of the cheap web hosting services in Australia are simply agents for large American or European web hosting services like HostGator, GoDaddy or BlueHost so this applies even if you buy from a cheap web hosting service here in Australia. Always ask your web hosting service where their data centre is located.
The third, and related, problem, is that the search engines will penalize your website for slow loading times. Google in particular has publicly stated that page loading time is now an important factor in determining your ranking in the search engine results pages. That makes sense when you think about it, Google is in the business of selling advertising space on the search engine results pages, so if people keep turning away from the pages they recommend then they risk losing you as a customer.
So what should I look for in a website host?
You need to store your business website on a website hosting service that:
- preferably is based close to where you and your customers live
- uses state of the art hardware and software
- runs duplicated hardware to minimize downtime
- regularly runs security checks on your website
- regularly runs backups of your website
- hopefully manages and maintains your website for you
Unfortunately, as you can imagine, you won’t get all of this for $3/month! Just to give you something to go by, our own website hosting service is hosted in a dedicated data centre located in the Sydney CBD,
uses state of the art hardware, including SSDs, runs fully redundant hardware, and has built-in security and backup facilities. We manage and maintain all of our clients’ websites ourselves, including daily backups and twice daily updates for all WordPress core, plugins and themes. The facility is also fully green, because for every unit of energy (electricity) they use to run the data centre they buy three units of alternative energy to replace it, so they are a part of the global climate solution, rather than part of the problem, like most of our competitors.
Yet for all that, we only charge from a low $30/month, including our Website Care Plan. We think that the extra peace of mind in knowing that your website is safe and secure and fully maintained should be worth at least twice that to you. The whole green thing is just a free bonus thrown in for you.
[Quick update] As of 01/01/2017, all new websites we build will also include an SSL certificate for only an extra $2/month. An SSL certificate allows your website to display the address as https://YourSiteName.com instead of just http://YourSiteName.com, and the secure padlock, just like Amazon and all the big commerce sites.
This added security gives your viewers more confidence in your website, which can lead to more sales! Most website hosting services charge up to $US1000/year for full website coverage like this, we only charge $2/month to make it more affordable to our clients.
So if you are looking around for a web hosting service, I strongly suggest that you consider the points above, and don’t just jump in and buy web hosting from GoDaddy or Hostgator because it sounds cheap. Your website is, or should be, the hub of your online marketing, so you need the best website hosting, not the cheapest. Cheap web hosting will end up costing you much more in lost business than it will save you, so consider web hosting to be an investment in your business and get the best, you won’t regret it because it will make you more money than it costs!