Depending on the level of knowledge and experience of your web designer, web developer or engineer, a suggestion will be made to host your website at a specific host. In our case, we host our websites on Amazon’s Cloud Infrastructure. We do this because we find it to be the most robust, responsive and future proof solution for our clients. However, we experience all sorts of other hosting providers throughout our continuous support, upgrades, migrations and infrastructure setups as we have clients join our agency. What I’ve learned is that website hosting is the first decision you make that truly affects the effectiveness of your website or application beyond the decisions that you make when defining your strategy, the workflow, user experience and structure.
Why it matters:
It takes about 500 milliseconds for a website visitor to form an opinion of your website and that has reflection on your brand, and whether or not a visitor will want to engage with it now or in the future. Truly, you have 50ms to make a good first impression. That sounds aggressive, doesn’t it? However, when you think about how fast things move nowadays, and how used to speed we are. It doesn’t seem outlandish. At issue here is that content appearing on your website is not only reliant on the code your web designer created. It is also reliant on how fast the server (computer) where your website is hosted, replies to the request from the website visitor’s browser. That can vary, depending on your website host, how they configure their servers, and many other characteristics such as whether or not you’re on a shared server, meaning you are on a server with other websites that belong to other people or if you’re on your own. There’s many other factors at play, so let’s discuss some of them.
Origin Server: The origin server is basically a computer which holds the files to your website. Think of a filing cabinet of the old days, Where your website are the folders and files within the cabinet and the cabinet itself is your origin server. Now, think of that server being in California, and there’s a request from Florida. The time it takes for the request to travel from the east coast to the west coast is a factor.
Caching : Continuing on the analogy of the filing cabinet, think about the filing cabinet being full of files that have to be indexed before you can make sense of them. Caching would then be an already indexed file that’s ready to be viewed. Meaning, when you look at files on the internet (websites), you want to view the newest version of that file. Websites are often updated and those updates are tracked in databases. So generating those files require the page to request the latest version from the database. That takes time. However, if you have a cached version of the latest file, then that processing doesn’t need to happen. Less processing = less time.
Another feature of caching is that you can have copies of your website throughout the US, so basically copies of the filing cabinet that keep each other updated. So if there’s a request for a file in Florida, and the server of origin is in California BUT you have a cache of the website on another server in Florida, then the server in California will have updated the one in Florida with the most recent copy. When a file is requested in Florida then, the request does not have to travel all the way to California for a response. Again, less travel for requests = less load time.
Now think if the filing cabinet is used to one to three people coming to it at a time, but all of the sudden 30 people show up with requests that they want answers to immediately, if those files are not cached then the server will have to process each file, per request, one after the other. At a 30 people level, it happens fast, at a 30,000 people level; not so much. And if you think at the 300,000 people requesting it, you might as well set the cabinet on fire.
Server Side Rules: There’s many things that can be setup on the server side to help your website load faster. One of these things, are rules or directives that tell your server when to look for new files and when not to. You can setup your server to know that certain images will never change, or certain files will always be the same. This will allow your server to know that it doesn’t have to add checking for new versions of those files ot it’s checklist. Thus reducing the amount of time to serve your page.
Load Balancing: The last point leads me to load balancing. This is a term that means at its essence that the number of requests being made of the server are balanced amongst several servers to alleviate a load. This is necessary when you expect higher traffic to a website or application. You may think you don’t need this, but think about your stellar day, when you launch your new product line or service, spend your money to makret it, and all of the sudden you get a slew of people coming to your website and it immediately goes down. Well, “that didn’t happen when we tested the website” is not a good answer when you’ve already lost your potential customers to a bad experience. Of course it didn’t happen then when you and your web designer and marketing agency were looking at it, that’s only 3 people making requests. If you have a popular product or are lucky enough to create something viral, then you’ll regret not having been prepared.
File Sizes: One of the most common issues we see with load times is file sizes. When you think about the filing cabinet, if there’s a file in there that weighs a ton, although it looks exactly the same as a file that weighs the weight of a feather. it’s going to take much longer for the file that weighs a ton to come out of that cabinet and arrive at its destination. It’s not uncommon for people to think that all files are the same, just because you saved it as a jpg, that doesn’t mean that it’s not huge or heavy. Especially if it came from a designer. Your web developer should ensure that the files are either of an optimized size or that they implement tools so that the files are resized when you upload the to your website. This will help your website or application load faster.
That’s just some of the basics to consider, or ask your developer about, when deciding where to host your website. Believe it or not, some of the most common places to host your website are also some of the worst places to do so. Make sure you work with a developer that is knowledgeable. There’s parts of the experience of buying your product or service that are under your control like the quality of the product. There’s others that are not so much. Unless you take charge. Think this doesn’t apply to you? now think how many times you’ve left a website or closed an app because it doesn’t load or respond quickly enough.
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