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Website Hosting and Speed Tests

What is the importance of Website Hosting, Speed tests and IP addresses.

What is hosting?

For a website to be visible on the internet hosting is required, essentially all the files that make your website work are stored (hosted) on a server that makes them available for visitors around the globe to view them. There are a lot of hosting providers out there and they all have a vast array of packages to offer. Put simply, to choose a hosting package is all about scale, if you have a small hobby blog with a few users a week, you can get away with very basic hosting. If you have a huge volume ecommerce site, then you are going to need more than one server, and probably a team, to keep them running.

Scale is just the first step; it is also important to consider the following factors:

Technologies supported There are many technologies that a website can be built in, HTML, PHP, Node, React, Vue etc. You need to find a host that supports the tech you are using.

Server Access Some servers will come with a fancy control panel where you can tweak settings and update site files. Others will just have command line access, this is for advanced users who really know what they are doing and can result in more secure, faster hosting.

Support levels/Managed Hosting Do you need support from your webhost and if so what level? For example, some will respond to requests immediately, but others might take 24-48 hours. Business-critical websites depend upon having quick and competent support. There is also the option of managed hosting where the web host will look after the server entirely, allowing you to focus on running your business.

UpTime A host will provide guarantees as to how much time over a year the server will be online and available, typically as a percentage. 99.9 is a common guarantee which might seem like a lot but over a year means the server might have been down for over 8 hours. For high volume sites this is a disaster and hosts who can offer 100% should be used. This is more expensive as it typically requires having mirrored servers running that will kick in if the primary one breaks.

Hardware For small websites you will typically use shared hosting, this is one server that is hosting hundreds of small websites. You will be given a secure partition of the server. As things grow you might need a Virtual Private Server, this is again one server that you are given a percentage of the hardware resource to run your site, or sites, from. Beyond that you’d be renting a dedicated server where all the resources belongs to you. With all these options you are given options such as storage, RAM, SSD raid, what you pick here is all down to scale again. SSD’s are always recommended as that will improve your web hosting server speed and in turn the speed your site is served. Storage and RAM all depends on how big your site is and how much traffic you expect. The bigger the site, the greater the storage need. The more traffic the more RAM. Regarding traffic, more powerful CPUs are generally needed. There is no set formula though, it requires testing, and trial and error to get the hardware requirements optimised. A google search of 'web hosting speed checker' should point you in the direction of some tools to test the big name web hosts for speed.

Secure Sockets Layers Whatever the size of your website Secure Sockets Layers should be used, this is what causes the green padlock to be in the address bar. It ensures data between the website user and the web server is encrypted and nothing is manipulated in between. For small sites we recommend going with a webhost that offers Letsencrypt free certificates to secure your site quickly and easily. For bigger sites it is recommended a certificate is purchased from a certificate authority, which gives the end user better guarantees that the certificate in use has been generated for the website owner.

What is an IP?

An Internet Protocol address (IP address) is a numerical identifier that allows data to be sent between devices on a private network (such as your home WiFi) or a public network such as the internet. With the internet as big as it is the IPv4 range of addresses is now exhausted. Therefore, IPv6 has been introduced. IPv6 is made up of 8 blocks of 4 letters and characters e.g. 2udy:7362:9483:nw98:jc93:23ps:8273:9482 meaning there are now trillions of IP addresses available.

A private network is a home network or a business network where the devices are not directly connected to the internet, they are instead connected to a router which directs the traffic to the internet. The router will have a public IP address that is visible on the internet, typically a home router will have one public IP address, but a business may have several. Your home router is likely to have a dynamic IP address, this is an IP that will change when your router restarts. However, for a business you might need a fixed IP which, you guessed it, will never change. This is because there will be email servers or web servers within your network that need to be accessed on the internet. A fixed IP address is required for this otherwise the rest of the internet would never find you.

What is a Speed Test?

Having spent all that time on hosting you would expect that you’ll have the fastest website in the world. This is not always the case. The page load time of your website is not entirely down to having a fast server, although the server does play a big part. A website speed test is a snapshot of your website’s bandwidth and overall speed once all content has been analysed. You can use sites like Lighthouse or Google PageSpeed Insights for this exact purpose. Pagespeed is used by search engines to determine the experience of your website users and how quickly they will be able to interact with your content.

To understand more we need to look at ‘core web vitals’ which is an initiative by Google to give clear guidance on the quality signals that are essential for a good user experience:

Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) This is used to measure how quickly the page loads, so the web server plays a large part in this, it needs to respond quickly with all the page data. However, having a page full of hundreds of high-resolution images will have a bigger impact, images should be lightweight and scaled to the size they will be viewed within the website. Alongside optimizing images, your code should be optimised. You can use techniques such as minifying your CSS and JS which can drastically reduce the size of the files that are being sent from the server to the end users’ computer.

Other techniques that can be used is to only load content that will be visible to the user (top fold content) in the initial load. Once that is ready you can load in ‘below fold content’. For example, if an image is a long way down the page, you can load this when a user scrolls to that part of the page. This is called lazy loading.

In short you need to minimize the data that is transferred between the web user and the server.

First Input Delay (FIP) This measures how long it takes from when a user first interacts (clicks a link or button) to when the user actually gets a response from the browser. If lots of complex processes are happening on the page, then on low end devices this time can sometimes be very high. You may need to consider removing those complex processes from older mobile devices.

Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) This measures elements on the page that unexpectedly shift causing users to click on the wrong button. You know the scenario where you are about to click a button on a webpage and suddenly the page shifts and before you know it you are buying a pair of designer sunglasses. Your page should be built in such a way that this is avoided, by using CSS and HTML you can tell the browser how to format all content before it has loaded to avoid these situations. Sites that have a bad CLS score will soon be getting penalised by search engines for this bad score.

Why are these important?

Getting a hosting system cheaply or without looking at what the hosting software can supply will often result in your website not being found on the internet. At the end of the day, it does not matter how well you implement SEO techniques into your content, if your hosting service is below par and your speed tests come out as poor, you will not have the SEO or SERP results that you need for your website to be a profitable asset for your company.

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