While you're working hard on your SEO the server which hosts your website could be letting you down and killing your rankings. Most webmasters are blissfully unaware the damage their hosting providers can do. I'll show you how to avoid being a bad host victim.
We'll look at how websites are hosted, what makes a good host, when hosting can affect your rankings and, at the end, ways you can make sure whoever is hosting your website is doing a top notch job 24/7/365.
In a nutshell most websites are located on servers which are basically computers. They are just computers that are kept running night and day sending out pages of websites on request.
Each server has an IP address. A unique set of numbers in the same way as individual people have unique telephone numbers.
In the early days of the internet this was how you found a website. You didn't type in link2light.com, you typed in 126.96.36.199. When domain names were introduced it was possible to put more than one website on each server.
Now when you type link2light.com into your browser address bar the system works like this:
OK, that's the history, here's the twist. Most servers have multiple websites on them so they are all sharing the same IP address. That means ....
Let's say you host your website with the company Spammy Websites Corp because they were the cheapest. But because they are so cheap you end up on a server used by spammers who send out millions of spam emails every day. Some of their websites are crawling with viruses.
Your neighbours don't care about their domain names or their rankings. As soon as they end up on too many blacklists they just walk away - they run "Churn and Burn" Websites. The problem is these blacklists often simply list the IP address, not the individual domain name.
As these spam notifications bounce around the web they can get picked up by search engines who then tar everyone on that server with the same brush.
Good hosting companies have processes in place which won't allow websites to send out messages to hundreds of thousands of email addresses. If you have a website that needs to do it some hosting companies can create exceptions but really you would be better off using a service like MailChimp.
To have those safeguards is going to cost you a little more but if they aren't there these servers become magnets to spammers - be warned.
You may not have spammy neighbours but what if you have incompetent ones who create code which crashes the server. Well when their site goes down, so does yours unless the server has automatic processes which can spot when a specific website is starting to run out of control and shut it down. Again, it'll cost a little more but if it is not there search engines come to the conclusion: your website is unreliable and shouldn't rank.
I'll talk more about reliability in a moment but for now let's stick with neighbours.
Servers, because they are essentially computers, can only do so much at once. In website terms this means they can only handle so many visitors at once.
So what happens when one of your neighbours websites starts to get really busy? Your website starts to run slow. What do search engines hate, slow websites - especially so now in an age where Google uses Mobile First Indexing - a specific systems which rewards higher rankings to websites which load fast and look great on mobile devices.Again - good hosting companies will provide servers where each domain is ring fenced. They can only use so much of the available memory. Again, costs a bit more but I think you are starting to see the pattern here. Search engine friendly hosting is most definitely nothing to do with the cheapest hosting package out there.
Now because servers are computers they can do what computers do ... crash.
Servers don't just crash because one of the domain owners has made a coding gaff. They can crash just because they're cheap piles of junk prone to overheating or sucking in bits of dirt or all sorts of mechanical failures.
If your server is crashing regularly that means search engines trying to crawl your website won't be able to. Over time they will notice that your website can't be relied on and what search engines don't want to do is serve up unreliable websites in their search results. That's a bad user experience and providing bad user experiences isn't their game.
Your site will also be slower to load if the server is located in a place which means it has to send data half way round the globe and as I've said and I'll cover in more detail later, page loading speeds matter.
So while it might be tempting to pay less for servers based in developing countries you're only undermining your search engine optimization. Choose a hosting provide who is local to your customers. If there is no local - you customers are worldwide - I'll come to a solution for that at the end.
You don't need to understand what I am about to say, I mean you can look it up if your that fascinated but for those who find technical server issues make their eyes glaze over in-depth knowledge is not required for this next bit. You just need to make sure your server has the following:
If any are missing and your hosting provider can't make them happen, move host. These are all fundamental to fast page loading speeds. End of.
As you've seen the server that hosts your website can cock up your SEO in multiple ways. You need one that doesn't allow neighbours to spam or crash your site or slow down your site. You need one that is reliable and, if your website visitors come from a specific geographical location, close to them. That's a lot to ask so how can you whittle it down?
The quick answer is:
These aren't random. I've been using them for years and they have a consistancy, and customer service, that is second to none.
If you want to go elsewhere and are consdering another host then do some digging in forums and on Facebook pages to see what kind of feedback they are being given. There are also plenty of bloggers who carry out side by side comparison tests.
If your audience is based elsewhere or if your audience is worldwide add a CDN service. CDNs (its stands for Content Delivery Network) keep copies of key parts of your websites on various servers around the globe and so effectively your website is always close to your audience. You'll have to pay for the pleasure of using their networks but its the only way to get reliability and speed, both key SEO factors.
Job done? Not quite
Great hosts today can be useless hosts tomorrow. Pipex used to be a rock solid hosting company in the UK until they were taken over by Heart which focused only on how to milk the cash out of hosting. On one occasion they actually managed to crash around 5% of the websites they were hosting for several days.
So how can you spot the signs early that your reliable host is starting to move to shakey ground?
The easiest way is to set up a Pingdom Monitor. This service monitors your website from locations around the world checking it is up and running every 5 minutes (or more often if you need it) and measuring how fast the server is responding.
The admin panel displays these results in graph form so you can see if there are any trends that could signal your server is going to start being your SEO headache.
I'd also recommend you run a Google Lighthouse Performance Audit once a week and make sure your website is passing the 'Keep Server Response Times Low' test. After all its Google who is at the heart of what we are trying to achieve.
But remember - gradually declining performance doesn't mean you can point your finger automatically at your host and jump ship. That might not do you any favors. Your site might be getting slower because it is getting more visitors - that's why you're doing SEO after all. Changing metrics could actually be a signal to you that its time to upgrade your server so it keeps loading at lightning fast speeds.
A server response speed could decrease because a web developer created a bug in the code which is consuming a huge amount of server memory. If a performance change happens suddenly check to see if it was at the same time that you had some website changes made.
I'm Tim Hill, a Search Engine Optimization and Online Marketing specialist. I created this site to help others understand that SEO is not a mysterious black art!.
If your a newbie try the Getting Started in SEO page, otherwise feel free to dig around and learn more.