In Part 1 of Does Your Website Developer Matter, we talked about the process of building a website, some costs, and what really goes into making a successful website. An often overlooked part of websites is the hosting account. A hosting account acts as a host for the website files and databases. A website requires a specific environment to render pages over the internet. The packages include some amount and mixture of disk space, RAM (memory), bandwidth, databases, PHP, MYSQL (or another database type), security features, and more depending on the server it is on.
A lot of websites don’t require a lot of disk space or resources, so a popular form of hosting is a “shared” hosting account. Hosting companies figured out that they can cram a lot of websites into a small space, limit the resources and the bandwidth they give each one, and increase overall profitability by giving out very small slices of servers and resources. This gave rise to a small price war of mainstream hosting companies – offering very cheap hosting plans and very limited resources.
These plans are OK for sites with minimal traffic, small databases, and a small number of files, but when you start increasing traffic and bandwidth use, these websites will see dramatic losses in performance because they don’t have the resources to handle the increased load. Also, if you have a large database of products or pages, limited amounts of RAM can really hinder page load times because less information can be stored in RAM memory.
When having a website built, your website developers need to understand the technology being used for the website, and the server requirements for its software, database, and file system under load. If you plan on increasing traffic to the site, it has to be able to maintain performance with increasing amounts of people browsing the website, and for that, you need the best web hosting services. In that case, you’d need to compensate for the additional traffic server charges by finding a reliable service. If the website drags under the load of additional users, you may end up losing them all together. One of the most frustrating things about browsing the internet (according to end-users) is slow websites. A slow loading site will cause a quick click of the back button and a swift exit from your business’s “online presence.”
2010 also brought some interesting news from Google – website performance is now considered as a ranking factor in the search results. All things being equal, the faster loading site will outrank a slower loading site. Small investments in the proper hosting account can provide additional SEO benefits in addition to keeping customers browsing.
In addition to just “hosting” a website (or just providing a space for your website files and databases), there are also hosting accounts set up for managing and maintaining the software, security, and updates for the technology used to run your website. This is considered “managed hosting” – where a systems administrator oversees the website and monitors uptime, performance, security, backups, testing prior to production upgrades, and updates. This is especially important with e-commerce sites or any websites that store sensitive information. If your company has a breach of data, you will be held responsible for it in most cases unless you have taken proactive steps to prevent it (as in the case of using a managed hosting solution). When you read the fine print of a cheap hosting account, you are responsible for your own software updates, security patches, database maintenance and security, and the overall security of the information you store and transmit online. Most business owners don’t know how to manage and maintain this – and don’t know they are responsible for it.
In the end, your website hosting account matters – more than most people realize. Once your website becomes a source of leads and business, losing it or having unplanned downtime can affect your entire business. Just because there is a cheap option doesn’t mean it is the right option. Ask your developers about how they plan to host and what systems they have in place to protect you and your business’s intellectual property from hardware or software failures, malicious intent, or bandwidth and load spikes. It is always better to ask the “how” questions now instead of the “why” questions later after issues arise.
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