When it comes to running an online business, a lot of people hardly give web hosting the attention it deserves, only treating it as an afterthought.
If this sounds like you, you’re probably making one of your worst mistakes without even realizing it that could be inhibiting the optimal growth of your online business.
Technically, you don’t need to use a web hosting provider to set up a public website. However, most people use web hosts because of the convenience they provide.
If you opt to use a web hosting service, your choice of web host or web hosting provider plays a big role in getting your website online and supporting your business’s growth.
Impact of Web Hosts on Your Business Website
Here, ways in which your choice of web hosting service provider impacts the performance of your business.
1. Website Loading Speed
Numerous studies conducted on web pages loading speeds have shown that speed is directly linked to the performance of a website on aspects like visitor numbers, click-through rates, and ultimately conversions. To put this into perspective, it has been found out that a website loses up to 40 percent of would-be visitors if it fully loads in more than 3 seconds.
So, how can you speed up your site and retain more visitors to your site?
Well, a few things come into play here including factors like image optimization, the variety and types of fonts used, and the size of individual pages just to name a few.
More importantly, your choice of web host determines how fast or slow your site loads. For example, shared hosting comes with limited resources as they are shared among many competing websites, thereby making it difficult for sites hosted here to load fast.
A better option would be a virtual private server which guarantees more memory, disk space, and CPU allocations for improved performance for established businesses with large numbers of websites visitors. And if you need even higher speeds and performance, hosting your site on a fully dedicated server will surely do the job better.
When asking the question, “How do I fix a slow website?” the first answer you’re likely to get from just about everyone is image optimization. And for good reason. Images are often a primary chokepoint, but only because steps haven’t been taken to eliminate them as one of the causes of a slow website.
The rule of thumb for images is: never serve an image that is larger than necessary. That’s a simple rule that’s difficult to follow, taking into consideration the many different screen sizes, or viewports, your website visitors are likely to use.
When we’re talking about images, size isn’t only pixel measurement dimensions, it’s also file size, which is controlled by the image quality.
Here are some avenues to pursue:
- Create multiple versions (sizes) of each image. They are used in conjunction with code to detect viewport size and serve appropriately sized images, so you aren’t sending a 3000-pixel image to a handheld device, or a 200-pixel image to a Retina display.
- Try different image formats, like Google’s .webp or resizable .svg files for logos.
- Lazy Loading, a method of preventing the loading of images (and certain other elements) that aren’t currently visible in the browser. For example, in a lengthy article with images throughout, the images that appear later in the article – that aren’t needed for that first browser window – will not be loaded on the initial page load. Implementing Lazy Loading on your website isn’t the simplest of tasks, but if you run an image-heavy website, it may well be worth the learning curve. If your website uses WordPress, there are Lazy Loading plugins you can use (such as a3 Lazy Load).
3. Assets and Scripts
When it comes to .js and .css files, the best practice is to only load what a page needs. It’s tempting to make your life easier by using header and footer files that load every script and asset your site uses into every page, but when you do that, you’re creating overhead for pages that don’t use all of the assets and unnecessarily increasing load times.
In those cases where a .js or .css file must be in the page head, you can benefit by running it with an async or defer option. When you load an asset asynchronously, the HTML document continues to load while the asset is loading, which is, of course, preferable to the default “render blocking” behavior.
To implement asynchronous or deferred loading:
The defer option will give you the most gain in speed, but it may not always be preferable, depending on what’s happening on your page. Experiment with both options to see which works best for you.
The web server, though, doesn’t need all that spacing. Minification takes your human-readable file and strips out things like whitespaces and linebreaks – which the server doesn’t need – and in the process decreases the file size, sometimes substantially.
The downside of minification is once you’ve minified a file, it’s challenging for a human to edit it, seeing as all of those helpful line breaks and white spaces are gone. So minification is typically handled automatically as part of a larger workflow or site management system.
5. Content Delivery Networks (CDN)
For the first decade or so that the web was around, most websites were located on a single server. Meaning if you were in California and a website visitor was on the other side of the world in Madagascar (okay, the antipodes map says almost Madagascar), the visitor would connect to your server and wait while the files made the 11,000-mile trek from your server to their desktop.
CDNs were developed to reduce that distance. A CDN is a global network of servers that deliver content to website visitors based on where that visitor is located. So in the most simple terms, you upload a file, the CDN copies that file to multiple servers, then when a visitor comes to your website, the CDN determines which server is closest to the visitor and delivers the file(s) from that server.
So rather than your friend in Madagascar viewing your site files from California, they might load them from a server in Europe, less than half the distance. And as CDNs grew and expanded, more servers became closer to larger sections of the population.
You can see how a CDN would save time with files like images (and some of them can even automatically resize the images on the fly!), but they can also help with the other kinds of asset files we talked about.
And of course, there are also some very popular general website CDNs (Cloudflare, etc.) that promise to increase site performance and security. The bottom line is sometimes your website is slow for reasons outside of your control, such as physical distance. In those cases, you can use a CDN to improve response times for a more significant portion of the world.
6. Browser Caching
One surefire way to combat a slow website is through file caching. Caching is the temporary storage of website files in a visitor’s browser (or on a visitor’s computer). Local storage means the same file doesn’t have to be requested from the server on each page load. So if your site uses a single CSS file, the visitor downloads it once, then the file is called from their local cache for every page load after that, making page rendering much faster.
The assumption being once you upload an image to your website, it’s unlikely you’re going to change that image, whereas HTML and CSS files may be updated more frequently.
ExpiresByType image/jpg “access 1 year”
ExpiresByType text/css “access 1 month”
ExpiresByType text/html “access 1 month”
ExpiresDefault “access 1 month”
If this method seems a little basic, it is. There are more advanced caching methods you can use in .htaccess, but if you’re just getting started with caching, ExpiresByType is an easy way to get started.
7. Web Hosting Uptime and availability
Let’s face it, no one enjoys working with an unreliable service provider or product seller, and this applies to online businesses space too. One of the key measures of reliability when it comes to running an online business is the uptime (and downtime) rates.
For starters, your customers can’t trust your business if your site is down many times when they visit it. In addition, Google and other search engines frown upon websites that suffer chronic downtimes, meaning these sites are less likely to rank them well in search engine results pages.
When choosing a hosting provider, it’s very important that you go for a service that offers solid performance guarantees and also has in place proper mechanisms to deal with downtime issues.
For example, reliable hosts like the ones reviewed on Hosting Foundry offer over 99.9% uptime and commit to compensate for anything lower than this, usually based on monthly averages.
Additionally, the best web hosts use the more reliable SSD drives in place of HDD drives and also fit their servers with speed enhancers, such as Nginx and caching tools.
8. Web Hosting Customer Support
Like any other technology, your site is bound to encounter technical hitches – some brought about or emanating from issues with your host. If this happens, you need to have a provider you can trust to provide quick support and arrest the problem as fast as possible.
Nothing can be more frustrating than getting no or automated responses from your host when you need urgent help getting your site up after an unscheduled downtime. For this reason, it’s important that you’re sure about the responsiveness of a web host’s support team before engaging them for hosting services.
Are they known to respond to emails and live chats within a few minutes or hours? How many channels do they offer for customer support? Are their reps knowledgeable and helpful in tackling major technical issues?
All these are key questions you should be asking yourself if you’re to avoid disappointments due to bad experiences caused by poor support.
9. Web Hosting Security
The overall security of your site is the sum effort of both what you do onsite and what your web host does on its end.
Sure, you could have total control over how you manage and secure your content management system, but have very little to do if the security problem emanates from the hosting provider’s end.
Only work with web hosts with fully secured data centers and servers and which also include backups in their hosting packages.
Other security features to look out for are SSL certificates, two-factor authentication, and firewalls.
10. Web Hosting Server Location
Server location matters a lot in the overall loading speed of a website. You want to host your site on a server that’s closest to your target market to reduce the time it takes to gather data and relay it to your visitors’ devices.
Therefore, when choosing a web host, remember to check whether it has data centers spread out to your targeted users’ locations. Even better, go for providers that support Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) or even offers one as part of their plans.