Website speed

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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.

Why you should not choose cheap website hosting

It’s very easy to look at your website hosting cost as the single most important factor when going through a hosting comparison and deciding who to host your website with. After all, it’s only hosting isnt it?  

From a business perspective, your hosting solution is an ongoing cost, so why would you not minimise this as much as possible? Quite a few reasons, actually!  Today we will be detailing why you should avoid cheap hosts and what you should look for when choosing a good host for your website.

Limited Resources

Most cheap hosts are cheap because they load their servers with many websites – in some cases hundreds or even in the worst cases thousands in order to make their business model work. This will have several unintended consequences for your website:

  • Slower, less reliable service: A busy server will take longer to respond, meaning your pages and site will take longer to load. This in turn will hurt both rankings and visitor experience and as a knock on effect, it’s likely to cost sales in the long run.
  • Artificial limits: Cheaper hosts will often place an artificial ‘limit’ (usually on amount of data or data over time) and once this limit is exhausted, they will either insist you pay more for the service, or simply suspend the service so your website goes offline.  This is the opposite of what you need: if your website suddenly becomes popular, you want to be able to ride this crest and enjoy the benefits that more traffic and increased enquiries brings, not suddenly shut down your shop the moment it starts to become a success!  Similarly, many cheap hosts will have limits such as limiting the number of databases (and therefore the number of websites) you can host.
  • Hidden costs will actually make ‘cheap’ hosts more expensive in the long-run. This is achieved by charging you large amounts for services that typically don’t cost the hosting company anything significant.  These include things like: automated website backup processes, transferring your domain or website, having a second database or escalating a support ticket, additional bandwidth being just a selection. The trouble is, in each of these cases, a quick resolution is needed to help your business operations be profitable. If your website is offline due to some technical difficulties, each moment it is offline it could potentially be losing sales and lose customer confidence that you actually are still trading.

Staff skills and experience

Cheaper hosts will typically have much lower skilled staff and greater lead times to resolving any technical issues that should arise. It also means you are not given the long-term advice and support you need to head off longer term issues before they develop.  For instance, as time goes on and security vulnerabilities are found in software your website uses, ideally you want a host who can make you aware, and, where needed, ensure you are protected going forwards i.e. by offering to upgrade your content management system (such as WordPress or Umbraco) website to the latest versions. Similarly, you want a host who can perform a quick security audit on the plugins / extensions or packages your website uses to ensure that any that need it are patched as soon as possible.

Security

In addition to the lack of skills, most cheap hosts will also not have set up their servers securely, for instance, they won’t necessarily ring fence website and technology with firewalls, have any suitable DDoS (Distributed Denial Of Service) protection nor will they likely audit your plugins / extensions or packages your CMS website uses to ensure they do not include any vulnerabilities.  

In fact, most won’t want to get involved in any of this and will provide your hosting account on a “use at your own risk” basis. As you can imagine, the cost and disruption of even a single big incident will usually cost more to your business than the entire year of hosting. If your website is hacked you will need a developer to carefully review the code, clean up any data, and the cost if their time will be a lot more expensive than the support the host would offer (and will likely need to be repeated the next time the website is attacked!)

Monitoring

Typically, cheap hosts don’t offer any kind of website monitoring. The only time you will ever even know there is an issue with your website will be when any of your customers let you know, and this never reflects well on your business. Not only will website outages cost you rankings in Google (and therefore, visitors and enquiries as a result) but may also cost your business credibility which will be much more costly and longer-term to put right.

Backups

Something we recommend all hosting has in place is some kind of automatic backup and recovery process. If the worst should happen to your website, you want to be back up and running as soon as possible! The cost of every extra day your website is offline will quickly dwarf any difference in cost for hosting that year.

The cost of putting it right!

Probably the biggest reason for not choosing a cheap host is that when any of these issues arise, they will be little help to you and it will fall down to your web developer to put it right. I’m sure, like ourselves, most web developers would be very keen to offer help, accept their time will be a lot more expensive, and they will likely need to revisit this work again because they are now using ‘sticking plaster’ to fix a fundamental problem. The problem will never be truly fixed, and likely end up needing further repair at a later date, leading to bigger ongoing costs in the long run!

It’s too expensive

I recently had a client on the phone that wanted to move their website hosting over to ourselves – note it’s a business website, not a personal site. When we got down to costs, I asked the simple question ‘How much are you paying now’.

The following is a snapshot of the rest of the conversation.

Client: We are currently paying £70, that is for a year.

Me: Ahh ok, and how has the service level been with your current host?

Client: Well we’ve had email go down on us three times in the last six months and the site is slow compared to others.

Me: Well our hosting is £45 per month for a WordPress site, it’s more expensive as we have very good reliability and support structures in place.

Client: My current site is being hosted by a friend of the old design company. Hes doing it as a favour. I can’t afford £45 per month.

Me: Let me ask you a quick question, how much do you charge an hour for your services?

Client: £40-55 per hour depending upon the service

Me: Do you realise, that just one paying client for an hours service pays for your website hosting for the entire month?

Client: Oh yes, you are right!

Summary

In summary, can you really not afford to have a decent hosting provision in place? The example above is typical of what we experience on a daily basis from clients. Yes I can put you in touch with £5 per year hosting, however I would expect that to go down regularly, be slow, not have any support etc

Personally if it’s a business site, i’d rather pay more and get a high quality service, know my data is backed up, know my site is protected by firewalls and more.

 

Buy safe, buy once!

Website Scalability

Website Scalability

Having the right digital infrastructure to grow is more important than you may think. Many tools you use day to day can be discarded and replaced by something more appropriate as and when needed. You need to have peace of mind that your website will not encounter website scalability issues. What do we mean by this? One possible website scalability definition could be your websites capability to grow and scale as your business develops. The challenges this can highight can come in many forms:

  • are getting the best performance from your website

  • can rest assured that your website is secure and will be reliable day-to-day

  • can confidently develop your website further, knowing it is scalable enough to grow with your business.

So what do you get with our website audit package?

SEO technical audit

You receive the full, top-level SEO audit which analyses your sites pages and structure to ensure you are properly utilising the full potential. Our report covers areas such as page titles and meta tags, headings and other key content is correctly in place and setup. We will check to ensure the search engines find you easily and only search the relevant content.

We check any errors search engines encountered when crawling and indexing your site to make it a search engine friendly as possible.

Many SEO issues prove hard to spot: broken links can often arise due to pages moving or domains (of websites you link to) being discontinued but won’t be immediately obvious without the right tools. If not properly managed, these factors can have increasingly negative impacts on your rankings in search engines like Google. Similarly, you may have some very content rich pages that you are only getting two thirds of your deserved visibility from in search engines.

Code Review

Code reviews are the only way some issues can be spotted at all. Similar to taking your car for an annual service, it can head off and resolve issues before they become critical for your business. We will review the code at a high level, making sure it is suitable for your business needs, paying particular attention to ensuring it is both scalable and future-proof. If you find some pages slow to load, or doing some actions on your site take a long time a code review is a must. This can also highlight any security vulnerabilities and potentially dangerous code.

Structural Survey

Ensuring your site has an optimal page structure and appropriate navigation not only helps visitors find what they need (which will improve conversion rates), it will also helps search engines index your site which, in turn, will give you better SEO performance.

Content marketing is a discipline in it’s own right and one that is integral to your online marketing strategy. Ensuring that call-to-actions (CTAs) are well placed and clearly visible will ensure your pages are as high converting as possible.

Having an appropriate foundational structure is also vital to support your website’s growing needs as it develops with your business. Helps protect your investment in your website and give it the best outlook possible.

Content Analysis

One of the most vital aspect of your website’s health is the content. Content that is well-written and highly optimised is essential for good rankings, but this is only the first step. Your website’s copy should be engaging to the right kind of visitor you are looking to attract. Content marketing is a discipline in it’s own right and one that is integral to your online marketing strategy and efforts. Ensuring that call-to-actions (CTAs) are well placed and clearly visible will ensure your pages are as high converting as possible.

Performance Benchmarking

The last, but probably the most important in terms of SEO and marketing performance is your website’s performance. How quickly a page loads will now affect rankings and sales. In 2010 Google announced they would use page load speed as a ranking factor; if your pages load slowly, you won’t get the rankings you deserve, even if you have your website SEO optimised. Perhaps more importantly, studies carried out by Akamai and Gomez found that nearly a half of web users expect the site to load in 2 seconds or less. Does your website load this quickly? The same study showed that 78% of web shoppers who have trouble with site performance say they won’t return to buy from the site again.

If you have any concerns about any of the issues we’ve detailed here, and interested in us carrying out a website audit? Why not get in touch – our prices start from only £999 + VAT, a small investment with potentially a massive return for you.

You receive the full, top-level SEO audit which analyses your sites pages and structure to ensure you are properly utilising the full potential. Our report covers areas such as page titles and meta tags, headings and other key content is correctly in place and setup. We will check to ensure the search engines find you easily and only search the relevant content.

We check any errors search engines encountered when crawling and indexing your site to make it a search engine friendly as possible.

Many SEO issues prove hard to spot: broken links can often arise due to pages moving or domains (of websites you link to) being discontinued but won’t be immediately obvious without the right tools. If not properly managed, these factors can have increasingly negative impacts on your rankings in search engines like Google. Similarly, you may have some very content rich pages that you are only getting two thirds of your deserved visibility from in search engines.

Security Audit

Security is more important than ever; you’ve probably already seen several I.T. related security scare stories in the media this year alone.  if you run a content managed website like WordPress , Umbraco, when was the last time you updated and checked all your plugins? Is your website CMS up to date with all the appropriate security patches and fixes? If even one patch is not applied, your website may have a gaping hole in security, making potentially any information it holds vulnerable to attack.

If you have a customer login area, have you checked all your users passwords and details are secure? Storing passwords in plaintext is a source of many problems for some websites and has lead to some large fines where users personal data has been put at unnecessary risk. This is the type of security weakness that will only get found out when inspecting and reviewing code or when an attack happens. Which would you feel safer with?

With a website audit you can start reaping the website scalability advantages today. If you require a more in-depth security review, we can arrange a full penetration test against your website, this is a lot more involved and very specialised but another service we can offer.

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.