Search engine optimization is, undoubtedly, a critical aspect of website marketing. That being said, I argue that browsing speed demands equal importance and consideration. Recently, Brafton reported that Google now utilizes this measure as a component in their ranking algorithm, pressuring internet marketers and webmasters to use all resources available to achieve rapid load speeds.
The Anatomy of a Website's Loading Speed
In general, there are four layers of hardware, services and software that entirely control the end user's experience as far as speed is concerned: the hosting, the server software, the website's code and the end user's personal machine & software setup. Although you cannot control the user's operating environment and choice of browser, measures can be taken for the components you control that will vastly improve the overall experience.
A reliable host is absolutely crucial for any website. At Brafton, we use Linode for our hosting needs. To figure out the right kind of hosting for your website, consider the following:
- How much traffic are you expecting?
- Where is your primary audience located? (A host closeby should have better speed.)
- Is cost a primary consideration?
There are three major types of website hosting: shared, virtual private (VPS) and dedicated, in order of average least to greatest cost.
Shared hosting refers to server clusters with hundreds, possibly thousands of small sites. Due to the huge amount of accounts that are spread across the service, cost is diluted and monthly subscription fees usually are quite low. In addition, bandwidth and storage caps usually are high or do not exist with this type of service. The most common issues with shared hosting are locked down functionality and inconsistent performance due to overloaded server groups.
Virtual private servers (VPS) are the next “leg up” in terms of complexity, reliability and customization. As the name implies, each server is actually a virtualized instance on top of a master server, meaning you pool some hardware resources with other accounts but far fewer than shared hosting. They come in the “managed” and “unmanaged” variety, indicating the level of administration maintained by the hosting company. Typical benefits of “managed” servers are automatic system and security updates, website migration assistance and automatic backups. VPS hosts will provide you with “root SSH access”, allowing your IT staff to thoroughly customize the software packages on your server. Common issues include data center disruptions and human error or lack of experience in regards to the server's configuration.
The highest tier of website hosting is a dedicated server. Essentially, this is your company's very own server – no sharing at all – in the hoster's data center. You have 100% autonomy to decide what software to put on it, how to run it and the resources available for it. It goes without saying, but this is, by far, the most expensive option in regards to both monetary and time investment to bring the server from brand new to fully operational. If your company runs your website on a server located within your own office, that would be considered a dedicated server as well.
Choosing a Host
Now that we know the classifications of each type, let's consider the best match for your needs. I have made a small chart to try and make the decision a little easier:
The bottom line is if you have limited resources and lack technical staff, pick shared hosting. If you have the resources to spare, consider a more complex form of hosting to reap the performance and reliability benefits. If your company does a significant amount of business online, I recommend investing the time and money into hiring the right personnel and using a VPS or dedicated server to squeeze maximum return from your web property.
Hungry for more? Read: Part 2, Picking the Right Server Software!