Director of Marketing
Good Hosting is Critical to the Success of Your Web Site
Hosting is one of the most crucial factors in determining your sites on line performance and ultimate success. Unfortunately, when faced with a hosting decision many companies take the advice of their design firm or go with the lowest cost option without really understanding what web hosting is and how it will impact the performance of their web site.
For an on line presence to be effective you need your site to be reliable, available, fast loading, and secure. A good host server will resolve problems quickly and provide you with some kind of reporting to judge your sites performance. The availability of your site is crucial. When a potential visitor calls up your site will your host server be up and serving your files or will it be unavailable due to technical difficulties? Extensive down time can impact your search engine listing. Your site should be available at least 99.5% of the time. If your site is not available the potential client will go to your competitors site. The loading time of your web page depends on the speed of the server and the bandwidth of the host servers connection to the Internet. Web visitors are willing to wait about three to five seconds for a site to load. If it doesnt load quickly they are on to the next site. The events of 9/11 have made it even more important that your files be secure and backed up daily to insure the integrity of your site. You dont want unauthorized changes to your web site or outdated information. If there is a technical problem you must have 24/7 technical support to resolve any issues quickly. Finally you need a way to measure your sites performance, so you must have a web statistics reporting option.
In House Server: You can host your site in your office on a computer that acts as a web server. On the surface this appears to an inexpensive option. You own the server so you dont have any monthly fees. But you will need a technical advisor to prepare the server for your web files and a minimum fractional T1 connection to the Internet. You will also need a technical person on staff to maintain the server and address any problems. This option should not be attempted unless you have a technically savvy staff and your web site is not mission critical. Having your server in house can be time consuming, labor intensive, less reliable and may end up being more expensive in the long run.
Companies that offer hosting as an additional service: There are many different types of companies that offer web site hosting as one of their services. There are thousands of dial up ISPs (Internet Service Providers) that also provide web hosting for businesses. These local, regional and national companies, such as AT&T, or the troubled MCI or the now defunct PSINet, make the bulk of their money from dial up access. Although some of the larger companies have a separate hosting division, web site hosting is not their core business.
Many web design firms are following a new trend and offering in house web site hosting to their clients. These web site designers/developers host their clients web pages on a computer in their office. This is usually on a shared server although it can be on a server dedicated to one companys web site. Some of the inherent problems with this arrangement are: not enough bandwidth to the Internet, lack of redundancy resulting in web site down time, insufficient technical support and little known search engine indexing problems. What happens if a design firm has only one or two servers in one building and something happens to that building? This option has a lot of inherent problems and though not as reliable as a professional hosting firm, can be just as expensive.
If the web design/developer firm is accessing the Internet through a fractional T1 line and multiple requests are coming in for several different web sites on a shared server, the lack of bandwidth will affect the loading time of the requests. This would be similar to ten people calling your telephone number at once only one can get through at a time. The rest have to keep dialing and wait for the line to be free.
Most design/developer firms do not plan redundancy into their hosting options. If there is only one computer/server with your web site information, when that server experiences technical difficulties or needs routine maintenance, your site is not available to your potential clients. This can result in missed opportunities or search engine indexing problems.
Many times the only technical support available from these firms is a single programmer wearing a beeper 24 hours a day. Will one tech person have the time to back up all the web files daily? Will a current back up copy of your site be kept off premises in case of a building emergency such as fire, flood, power outage, etc? If a problem occurs and the sole tech support person is not available, how will you resolve your problem? What if there is a technical problem the sole tech support cant fix? These problems could result in extended poor web site performance or complete down time.
In addition, the practices of many web design/developer-hosting companies may adversely affect or even inhibit search engine indexing. Did you know many design firms resell virtual domain space on one server using the same IP address for each site? Since most search engines spider sites expecting to see a unique IP address, sharing IP addresses can cause a lower ranking or no ranking at all when first submitted to the engines. If a site on that IP address has been banned from the search engines for spamming or any other practice, this could cause all web sites hosted on that server with that IP address to be banned as well. If the search engine spiders are trying to index a site that is experiencing a lot of down time due to technical problems, the spider could report that it cant find the site. This could cause a site that has not yet been listed to lose its chance to be listed or if the spider is re-indexing a site already in their engine, it may lose its listing.
Companies that specialize in Web Hosting for businesses are increasing in number. These companies provide a variety of web services to their customers like email boxes, daily backups, redundancy and web statistics reporting. Most offer both shared and dedicated hosting options. Shared hosting is when your web site files are on a server that also hosts many other web sites. Shared hosting is sufficient for most web sites. Shared business hosting options start at around $25 per month and go up depending on space and functionality requirements. Some web sites that have special security requirements, or have a lot of functionality, or that receive a tremendous amount of visitors may require a dedicated server. Dedicated hosting is when your web site is the only site on a server. The server is dedicated to your site. This is an expensive option with hosting options starting at about $500 per month and up depending on the sites requirements.
Where you host your site is an important decision that can impact the performance and success of your web site. It is not a decision that should be made on price alone. You must assess your web site needs and then determine the correct provider and package to provide the proper support to accomplish your web site goals. A web site host provider will impact the performance of your web site including speed of loading, availability, reliability, confidentiality, security and data integrity. Your host provider will also determine how quickly a technical problem is resolved and can provide you with important reports to monitor your web traffic and track your success. Next months article will focus on how to choose your web site hosting company.