Attention spans are short, and the internet is a big place. As a general rule of thumb, faster website speed equates to engaged end-users, increased conversions, and returning visitors. A website isn’t a brick and mortar business. Visitors aren’t sheepish about immediately turning around if they enter your site and don’t see what they are looking for. Your potential customers aren’t forced to get back in their cars and drive across town your competitors. If the door to your store is slow to open and the lights aren’t on, they are probably bouncing and going elsewhere.
Before we dive into how your hosting affects site speed, make sure you read our article on optimizing WordPress. We always recommend fixing speed issues at the application level first.
Shared vs Dedicated vs Cloud
When searching for website hosting, there are three terms that you will come across most often: shared hosting, dedicated hosting, and cloud hosting. It’s important to know how each one works, in broad terms, to determine how your hosting setup might affect your site’s performance.
Shared hosting is often an economical solution for hosting websites, because it allows many sites to use the resources of a single server. It sounds pretty good, and for many startups, new site, and sites with little traffic, it’s a decent starting point. The big problem with shared hosting is that the resources are not divided equally. If you think of the server as a pie, you may be paying for 1/8th of the dessert, but if another site on the server gets slammed with traffic, their visitors could eat 99 percent of the pie. That means less resources for your site, which usually manifests itself in slower initial load time and sluggish performance. If you’ve got cheap hosting, it’s most likely shared hosting.
Dedicated hosting is the equivalent of having your own pie, or multiple pies (we aren’t here to tell you that you can’t have more than one pie). While the cost is higher than shared hosting, you having control of your own dedicated server assures that resources will only be used to serve your site to visitors, and you won’t be affected by the traffic of other sites. You will also have more control over the specifics of your hosting setup, and you’ll be able to optimize the hosting environment for your site.
Cloud hosting leverages a network of servers working together to serve up your site to visitors. It’s a lot like having a guaranteed amount of pie that can be served up from a bunch of different pies. Properly configured cloud hosting is secure, fast, reliable, scalable, and is not affected by other sites in the way a shared hosting environment would be. Similar to a dedicated server, you have control over your hosting setup in the cloud, and can optimize the cloud hosting environment for your site.
HTTP vs HTTPS: What are the benefits?
You could ride a silver bullet to the moon faster than you could get there in a rowboat, but the rowboat has oxygen. That’s a new old adage that I just made up, and I think the purpose of it is faster isn’t always better. If we are talking purely about speed, with all things being equal, you might find that HTTP is ever-so-slightly faster than HTTPS.
However, website speed does not stand on it’s own as the only measure of success for your website. Google has confirmed a slight rankings bump for HTTPS, and a secure connection provides peace of mind for users, especially if they are making purchases, or sharing information with you. We recommend HTTPS for all of our clients.
Host Locally, Serve Globally with CDNs
If you are serving your site to a global audience, you should be looking at the benefits of using a Content Delivery Network (CDN). Because we are so connected to the world through the world wide web (holy cow, I get why they call it that!), it’s easy to forget that geography still plays a part in how long it takes us to transfer information. If your site is hosted in Virginia, it’s going to experience a slower load time to Australia than in Washington, DC, based on the amount of time it takes that information to travel to its antipodal location. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to improve site speed for your visitors from down under, and one of the most effective solutions is a CDN.
We use and recommend Cloudfront, but the principles of all CDNs are the same – shorten the distance between your visitors and your servers. Instead of paying for multiple servers all over the planet, your CDN stores cached versions of your site at multiple, predefined locations around the world to help improve your site speed in the geographic regions you serve. CDNs, like Cloudfront, also use HTTP2 to allow for more concurrent connections, providing faster speeds than HTTP1.
So What Do I Do Next?
Every element of your site is working together to shape the user experience, and each piece plays a part in how quickly your site will load. You can use a range of free tools to help you assess your sites current performance. We recommend checking out Google PageSpeed Insights and Pingdom for getting some easy-to-understand baseline speed and performance scores. If you are experiencing poor performance, or would like assistance improving your site speed, send us an email and we will help you assess your site and your hosting needs.