Choosing a reliable and SEO-friendly web hosting service is one of the very first and most important steps in your website development and marketing process. No matter how “cliche” it may sound, your website hosting is literally the foundation of its success.
This article provides the definitive tutorial on how to make the right choice and never look back:
- Choose the general basic webhosting option: make sure what you actually need in terms of cost and future performance;
- Find web hosting reviews: learn what real users have to say.
If you are an experienced web user with lots of websites hosted around the web, you probably don’t need this step. One glance at the package features says it all. On the other hand, if you are like me and have no idea about what most of those words mean, you don’t need to dig too deep: otherwise you’ll get lost and waste plenty of time.
So here is a very simplified list of terms you will need to deal with when choosing an SEO web hosting:
Basic Web Hosting Terminology
Here are just a few words that need to ring a bell when you see them.
3 Types of Hosting Services:
|Dedicated (Managed) Hosting Service||Virtual Private Server||Shared Web Hosting Service|
|How does it work?||You lease an entire physical server not shared with anyone||You lease a separate virtual server (one physical server is split)||You share the server with multiple websites|
|Advantages||Flexibility and control: full control over the server(s), including choice of operating system, hardware, etcReliability and speed: massive amounts of bandwidth, high uptime, etc.||Golden middle: independence from other customers of the VPS service in terms of software and settings but at less cost than a physical dedicated server||Most economical option for hosting (and with reliable hosting providers, the one you should probably start with)|
|Disadvantages||Too expensive (and usually doesn’t make sense to average blog or small business owners)||Same IP address with the other sites that sit on the same physical server which means: the same digital certificate and possibly “bad IP neighborhood” issues||Limited in features, space, resources as well as shared IP address with other unknown websites|
Further reading: more hosting types (you probably don’t need to know about) can found here.
As you can see, there are a few geeky terms we still can’t get away without, so let’s list most essential of them in an easy-to-understand language:
- Bandwidth: the amount of data transfer (in GigaBytes) that you can use per month. Your site visitors utilize bandwidth as as the traffic moves from your server to the Internet and vice versa; each time an image located on your server is loaded in a browser, data is transferred, hence bandwidth – which basically means, the more users you expect, the higher the bandwidth you will need. As a very rough estimate, 5GB bandwidth should be enough for a medium-sized site with moderate traffic.
- Disk space: the amount of data you can store on your server. Today most (even quite cheap) hosting packages allow huge disk space. Most of my websites never occupy more than 1% of the available disk space. But you should know (to be able to estimate when needed) that if you are planning to build a simple website or blog, 3GB of available disk space would be obviously a lot more than enough (mind that a dynamic site (forum or blog) will need a lot of space for the database expansion).
- Operating system: two standard webhosting operating systems are Linux and Windows. Linux is the traditional choice with most providers as it is significantly cheaper and is compatible with plenty of Open Source applications and most scripts you may need (unless you plan to use any Windows applications).
- Control panel: All hosting services provide some sort of a control panel where you will be able to add your domains and configure settings. Cpanel is the most common control panel found inside any hosting service.
Now, these were all general terms you will have to deal with no matter which hosting provider you are considering. The SEO-specific terms you should also keep in mind is as follows:
- IP address is basically the unique number which identifies the location of your server on the Internet. Like we have mentioned above, if you are on a shared or virtual private server, your site should be sharing a IP address with a number of other websites. If you are on dedicated server, you have a unique IP address.
- Server location: tightly related to the above one, this one is important to mention for a number of reasons. For us the most important reason is that Google considers the server “physical” location when ranking a website in both local and general search (for location-specific searches). So if you are creating a website for your local business and expect people to search it by location, find the hosting provider nearby.
- Uptime refers to the percentage of time your server (and website) should be “up” and running. Uptime is an important SEO-relevant metric. Apart from obvious damage to your website performance, frequent crashes often negatively affect SEO. Google won’t rank your website high if it is often unavailable or down (see tip #2 in the list of the ways of increasing Google crawl rate). Most web hosting providers “guarantee” min 99.9% uptime (but it is recommended to do your research and check for real people’s reviews before jumping to any conclusions).
Apart from the essential terminology I have listed above, there are a few completely useless terms you don’t need to pay attention to when looking through the list of package features. these are:
- (Free) site builder: Just don’t use them. period (hence the absence / presence of one should NOT be a criterion). You don’t need any (especially with various easy-to-install and easy-to-use website platforms like WordPress. Many built-in Site Builders are not SEO-friendly and limit flexibility; besides many of them are proprietary which means you won’t be able to painlessly move your site to another provider.
- “Search Engine Visibility“: believe it or not, many hosting providers still indicate this as a separate feature and some – even as a paid addon whereas it should be clear to everyone that any website that means to be public should be “visible” to search engines: there is no extra effort from the webhosting service needed for that.
Once you have identified what you need and created the list of webhosting providers that seem to match your needs, it is time to spend a few minutes searching for customers’ reviews.
There is nothing better than learning what other people (those who have used the service) say about it – and with people using social media sites and public boards more and more extensively nowadays, it is almost impossible now to fake the feedback. The only thing is to have the necessary tools by hand.
What to pay attention to when reading what other users say:
- Frequent (widely-reported) security issues: Improperly managed web hosts are often attacked by hackers, so your website will often have troubles being labeled as one “that may harm your computer” (which also dramatically decreases the click through as well as damages your web resource reputation).
- Customer support feedback: Every hosting provider (like any person or service) may fail at times but the availability of the customer service and the rate at which they solve issues and – that’s what defines a good service provider.
Here are just a few most powerful search tools you may find invaluable:
1. Twitter Search
Twitter search is the huge database of most recent user reviews (spans to 30 days). Just search for the hosting provider’s name and you are most likely to find fellow web users who have some experience with the service.
Rant search: One cool hack that I often use to find negative reviews on Twitter is 🙁 search. Just add it to the search query and you will have the list of dissatisfied customers tweeting about their poor experience:
2. Forum Search
Most website owners still frequent forums where they ask and answer questions and share experiences.
Omgili is the forum search engine which has plenty of forums to search for the related discussions. The search results are real fun and pleasure to scan. See:
- How many people participated in the discussion and how many posts there are overall;
- Scan through the actual snippets that mention the word you have searched for.
Thus, search results present a great discussion summary (chances are you won’t even have to go to the actual discussion board):
3. Combined Social Media Search + Sentiment Analysis
Social media sites (Twitter, blogs, q&a sites, etc) have tons of user feedback shared. Going to each social media sites one by one is too time consuming. Luckily, there’s a great time-saver: Social Mention.
With it, just choose which source you want to start from and go from tab to tab to switch between multiple sources:
The left-hand filters allow a few really cool search result manipulations, for example you can filter the results by sentiment (Socialmention’s sentiment is “the ratio of mentions that are generally positive to those that are generally negative.” They use textual analysis, emoticons, symbols to analyze the sentiment.).
Webhosting choice shouldn’t be a fast decision. If this is the first time you have ever needed to make it, take it slow. Do your homework, consider various options and carefully pick one to stick to. Today, you don’t need to be a web developer to self-host a website but don’t treat the choice lightheartedly – this is one of the most important decisions in your website life.