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When should you move hosts?

There are a many reasons why you may wish to move hosting providers. Maybe the hosting service you’re currently receiving is unreliable? Perhaps you would like to move to a hosting provider that offers more features or better technical support? As with any other supplier, it’s never a bad idea to weigh up options.

In today’s blog post we will look at some of the common reasons why people move hosting providers when it is right to move.

When is it time to move?

There’s a wide range of factors to consider, but also a great deal of disruption that can be caused when moving your website. Weighing these benefits and risks is vital to making the right decision for you business. So here are our top reasons for moving host and what you should consider:

Website ‘Uptime’ Availability Reliability

Just how reliable is your website where it is now? Do you experience any ‘downtime’? (times when the website is offline or inaccessible) or is your website always available? Even the best hosting provider occasionally experiences the a temporary outage, but if this is a regular or recurring issue then action is needed! Sometimes an outage may be caused by ‘network congestion’ (i.e. busy traffic between you and the server) which may mean it appears down for some people but not all.

If your website appears down for you, it’s worth testing this to be sure. You can use any of the freely available tools below to do this:

Search engines will typically visit your site every few weeks or a month to re-index your pages. If this happens when your website is offline, search engines will either move you down the rankings temporarily until they see it come back up. Because they visit only every few weeks to a month, this means that even a few hours of outage may hurt the traffic to your site for weeks.

Website Speed

Closely related to the uptime reliability is website speed. This is important as Google now uses page load speed as a ranking factor so fast-loading websites will rank higher in Google than an identical website that runs slower.

The overall speed of your website depends on both the resources your host has, as well as how efficiently the website uses those resources. So if your website appears slow, this could be either the host or the website itself that is the cause.

Luckily, there are a great number of caching plugins available for WordPress which will reduce the amount of work your website has to do in order to server a web page, helping it use the available resources more efficiently, some of the best WordPress caching plugins are:

Support

It is rare for a hosting company to offer much support beyond simply ensuring the hosting account is working (it will be up to either yourself or your web developers to ensure your website is correctly setup and configured). For an additional price, some hosting companies may offer managed hosting with support packages that may be worth considering (this will depend greatly on how you work with your current developers and what the requirements of your website are.

Price

As with any supplier, price is a factor. We have listed this one last because if you choose a host based on price only, they will actually likely end up being more expensive for your business in the long run.

This may seem counter-intuitive but we have seen many businesses fall foul of the price trap. We discuss in much more detail why you should never choose a cheap host in more detail here. In a nutshell, some cheaper hosts will often be slow and and unreliable. Perhaps more importantly, they will often not included vital features your website needs in order to function and will sell these as ‘add ons’ – making back the savings you would have made while still offering you a below-par server that isn’t quite fit for purpose.

If you need help looking for a fast, reliable host for your WordPress website, why not get in touch with the Audit My Website team? We provide high quality managed WordPress hosting and would be happy to discuss your requirements with you.

Your Pre-Launch Website Checks

Launching a new website is both exciting and stressful! The project is complete, you have a great new site, but there can so many things for everyone to check that it can be hard to know where to start. How can you be sure nothing gets missed and everything went as planned?

With this in mind, we have produced a basic website launch checklist. Depending on your requirements, we think it may be worth building your own website launch plan comprising a list of steps and a schedule for checking each based on what you need. Without further ado, here are our top points to check when launching a new website:

Post Development Checks

Once the core functionality of site site has been tested, it’s time to take that step back and review everything in it’s entirety. Only here do the really small things start start becoming visible.

  • Check for Broken Links: Even smallest websites will often have many Urls. Checking each can be a challenge in itself, even a few broken links can hold your website back in the search rankings and also have a negative impact on your visitor’s experience. Luckily, there are some great tools such as Link Assist’s Website Auditor that will spider the site and log any crawl errors such as broken links (4xx) or pages that give errors (5xx).  There is also a good free tool called Xenu.
  • Custom Not Found and Error Pages: Even when things don’t go according to plan once the site is launched (such as visitors following dead links, or mistyping a web addresses), you still want to give visitors the best experience possible. Having custom not found / error pages not only tidy up the look and feel of your site, they also reinforce your brand and help create a very professional experience.
  • Check Urls are search engine friendly and fully indexable: do you link to all places on the website? Are all pages either linked or included in the sitemap? Are there any pages with query strings that may be less easy for search engines to index and could those links be rewritten to look like a full Url? It’s worth checking that all your content is accessible.
  • Check your site displays properly: It’s fine having a site that is indexing and handles error pages and broken links, however if you have forgotten to check all the pages across all the main browsers and mobile devices, you may be in trouble. Open all the pages, navigate through the site and ensure everything displays as it should. You should be particularly careful when testing on mobiles and tablets, the times we have seen content completely disappear upon mobiles is untrue – check, check and check again.

SEO Checklist (Site Content & Structure)

Content and structure are hard to separate; they are like two sides to the same penny. You want to ensure your sites Url structure is optimal for SEO. In turn, this will also depend on what content you have upon those pages.

  • Keyword research and competitor research: This first vital step helps you identify your website’s target keywords and priorities. Whether you use the Google Keyword Planner Tool or any other, gathering together the different keywords by group and purpose, testing the levels of search and competition for each in turn provides the foundation for all other SEO activities.
  • Structure: Being guided by the results of the previous step, you can now take a look at your website structure and see if the pages allow a visitor flow that mirrors the purpose of keywords. It is probably best to think of these as grouped keywords, each grouping being bound to a particular section of the website.
  • Content optimised: In addition to structure, it’s important to check whether the content itself is well written and optimised. Does it read properly and convey your message back to your target audience in the way you need it to? Does it contain all the important information they will be interested in? Is it logically structured? Some people may visit your site with a very specific requirement, for this reason it’s always a good idea to break up the pages based on visitors need.
  • Check for duplicate content: Duplicate content can hurt your SEO efforts and annoyingly, detecting it can be tricky. There are some great duplicate content detection services such as Copyscape which allow you to paste in some copy, and it will help identify if this same copy is found elsewhere on the web.  Another way this can be tested is by copying a whole paragraph into the Google search bar and hit enter. Hopefully, your web page will be the only one that ranks (if it has been indexed) for this full paragraph search, if not then either you or someone else has copied the content.
  • Check your internal link strategy: Once you have your overall content and structure, you can now also review your internal links which really details the relationship between your content and structure. This should be aimed at not only giving you more links between pages in your site, but should also allow you to include more keywords within these links to help quietly promote various sections of the site for particular topics.  It should also be aimed at taking visitors directly to the information they came for. If you feel that one type of visitor may also be interested in another product or page, include a link in the content!
  • Check robots.txt and sitemap.xml: Make sure these are present and correct and that they allow search engines to fully index all the pages you need. If you have a content management system (CMS) don’t feel the need to include each individual admin link in the robots.txt file as this can also volunteer sensitive information to attackers by informing them of your admin Url structure and files.

Website Optimisation Checklist

  • Page load speed: This is a growing area of importance since Google announced they would take page load speed into account as a ranking signal for websites. Since then, there has been a bit of a mad scramble to see how many different ways websites can be made faster. Luckily, there are also some great tools to help test the speed of your pages. Pingdom have a page load speed test, and Google (via Webmaster Dashboard) also include their own testing tool, both of which can be used to work out where your site is failing.
  • Are Javascript and CSS minified and bundled? Most modern websites have a lot of Javascript and CSS resources. Loading all of these, particularly if they are spread across multiple domains can take a long time. Minifying and bundling these together can significantly reduce the time a user has to wait for the page to be fully functional when loaded.
  • Image optimisation: This often overlooked aspect of website optimisation can offer seriously big savings in terms of page load times.  There are a few things we suggest you check here:
    • Is the format of my image appropriate? For instance, JPEGs are best for ‘real images’ that include a wide variety of similar colours i.e. photographs. PNGs have more generic compression but support transparency and are typically smaller in size.
    • Is the (file) size of the image appropriate? Most image formats including JPEG have built in compression that can be finely tuned and can reduce most images by about 60 to 70% without a noticeable loss in quality when used.
    • Are the dimensions of the image suitable? This is a common one we see many websites get wrong with 60% of websites we encounter rendering ridiculously large image sizes. Ideally images should be as large as needed, but no larger than they will actually be used. If you upload an image several times bigger than the slideshow it will be used in, the users will never see the full detail the image includes and your server will still need to serve the entire (large) file.  In practice, this can often be many images, leading to some serious savings in page load times if images are optimised site-wide.

Site Monitoring

Just like launching a rocket, once launched, the biggest immediate risks appear over, and now it’s a case of staying the course and ensuring nothing unexpected happens further down the line.

Site Visitor Monitoring: It is important to have some kind of visitor tracking once your new site is launched. We recommend Google Analytics, but there are some other good free tools out there as alternatives. This kind of tracking is essential for monitoring your SEO and marketing efforts, but will also give you early warnings about some kinds of problems and usability issues visitors may encounter.

Site up-time monitoring: We would suggest that all websites have some kind of uptime and availability monitoring.  Pingdom and Uptime Robot are two good services that will send alerts if your website appears to stop responding. When a site goes offline, Google and search engines will begin gradually demoting the website from the rankings until it comes back online. This is also tricky to spot, so having early warning alert systems are great ways to keep informed of serious issues.

Split testing / conversion tracking: To help monitor your SEO and marketing efforts, it’s important to have some kind of performance reporting and monitoring in place. Along with Web Analytics such as Google Analytics (mentioned earlier), it’s possible to set up ‘goal tracking’ as part of conversion optimisation. By analysing which visitors completed an action (such as completing a purchase), you can obtain vital feedback about which areas of your SEO are working particularly well, which can then be useful when reviewing your SEO strategy.

Performance reporting: In order to measure the much longer term marketing strategies for your website, it’s important to include some kind of performance reporting. This can help guide some of your decisions on where to focus your online marketing efforts and tweaks next.

Backup and Recovery

Now the site is live, with all the tracking and monitoring it could need. What could possibly go wrong? Regardless, we recommend having some kind of backup strategy in place.

Plan your backups: How often will the website be backed up? If your website includes a content management system (CMS) it will likely need both files and SQL data backing up. How do I get access to these files. Do I have an offsite copy of my website?

We hope this guide can provide a basic wbesite launch plan template which will offered a few helpful insights into common tasks that need carrying out when launching a website. Hopefully if you follow the points in this guide, you won’t go far wrong.

 

Page Load Speed

Also referred to as ‘page load time’, page load speed is a measure of the amount of time taken between the moment a user requests a web page to when this page is loaded in the users browser.  The quicker the website is, the better the user experience and the more likely you are to be ranked higher as a result.

In April 2010, Google announced that page load speed would be used as an important ranking signal, putting a bit more pressure both on website owners and developers to see if we can deliver a faster web experience. So what does this involve? What can you do to improve the speed of your website pages if you are concerned they aren’t running as quickly as they should?

Fortunately, there are also lots of useful tools to help analyse and test the speed of pages, while also offering some insight into how improvements might be made. Google Page Speed Tool and YSlow are two good (free) services. Most web browsers will come with a developer panel most of which include a ‘network’ tab – here the browser will detail (in sequence) what loaded, and how long it took and this can be another way to identify which bits of the page load quickly, which load slowly and where improvements can be made!

There are really two sides to consider when looking to improve page load speed:

Server Side Solutions

To begin delivering the requested web page, the server must first get it together! If you run a content management system (such as WordPress or Umbraco) this will involve reading the page’s data (and content) from a database or some kind of cache and putting this into a template which is then served as the final page. This means that page load speed in this first instance will depend on the quality of the website’s code, how streamlined and well optimised it runs and how easily it can obtain the information it needs for the page.

Some pages may require so much data, they will always be slow due to the amount of work needed from the computer. Consider a news website in which users post news articles. On this site it lists the latest 10 publications on the homepage. To update this, the website will need to (1) Check every news item ever posted  (2) order these by date published (3) take the top 10 of this list to display.

It isn’t easy or feasible to limit the scope of this query, since it will need to check everything, and in these scenarios it would be best to employ some kind of server-side caching, which basically involves simply ‘keeping a copy’ of the result the last time this was run.

The other way server side speeds can be improved is by simply adding more and better resources. Using a server with a faster processor and more memory will likely result in a site with pages that load a lot faster. Similarly, if you are currently using a shared hosting account, these will typically be a slower experience (shared hosting is a server with many websites hosted on it, so the availability of it will determined by how heavily other people’s websites are used too.). These shared hosting accounts tend to be slower than your own virtual private server or dedicated server, however having your own server ads to the costs considerably.

Load balancing involves having extra redundancy of resources so that the workload can be managed across all, rather than just one of those resources. For instance, it’s common for big websites to have load balanced databases; which means having at least two databases and setting the website up to decide, based on the level of usage at that moment, which database it will use for the current request.

Client Side considerations

Once the server has assembled and sent the finished web page to you, there will be several new things your browser will now need to do as a result of this. These include:

  • Loading all Javascript and CSS and other assets referenced by the page
  • Fetching each image upon the page
  • Rendering and display the page
  • Initialising and running the scripts contained within the page

To make things even more complicated, there will be some interdependency between these tasks, but not necessarily any sequential order developers can rely on. Whilst the loading of images may begin immediately, the page may start displaying before these have finished loading – with images being shown a split second or so later. The browser will make a lot of on-the-fly decisions very quickly when managing this process, but there are areas that can help to improve page load speed:

    • Encourage heavier browser caching of images – Since the image Url’s are not likely to change, many will recommend using heavy client-side caching. This can be achieved in a number of ways: generally this is done through HTTP headers but there are many other methods. If using Apache, this can be done via the .htaccess file (or php.ini), if using Microsoft IIS this can be done through the web.config file. By setting the maximum age of cache for images to something high (such as several days) you can seriously reduce the workload needed by the browser between pages.
    • Bundling and minifying Javascript – while this is technically a server-side feature, the browser will reap the benefit. Imagine loading a web page with 20 separate Javascript files – each would need to be loaded with 20 separate web request’s, one for each file, along with the first request for the page itself. This is a serious amount of legwork for the browser, by gathering all CSS into a single file and JS down into another file, you have reduced this down into 2 additional requests besides the page itself. Minifying this by removing spaces and any unnecessary text also further reduces the amount of work needed to send these across the web, however some code cannot be minified so ensure you backup and test fully before going ahead – nothing worse than finding you site not looking great and no backup to revert to!

 

  • Optimising images by reducing their size to the maximum usable size on your website, and also turning up compression can significantly reduce the file size of files and therefore the amount of work (and time) needed to serve them.

 

Each website’s requirement will be unique and while some websites may include many images (making it most important they are well optimised) some websites may have  fewer images, some may include more scripts, making it important to keep an open mind when profiling a website and checking for bottlenecks in the page load process.

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