How did you choose your last webhost?
I'd be willing to bet you went with the cheapest one you could find. Price is probably at the top of everyone's list when they go looking for a new webhost, but it shouldn't be. In the world of web hosting you definitely get what you pay for.
A cheap webhost is okay for your aunt's cat's personal blog but not for a professional marketer who wants their site to rank well. Whether you're a newbie or an SEO genius, your efforts will be wasted if you aren't using an SEO friendly webhost.
Any webhost on top of their marketing game will claim they are SEO Friendly, but what does that really mean? I've identified 4 key factors a webhost must address to be considered SEO Friendly.
PAGE LOAD TIME
Page load time is a critical ranking signal. This is the time your reader will have to before your page is completely loaded. Google expects your desktop page to load in 2 or 3 seconds and this is only getting more important.
Google has announced (https://webmasters.googleblog.com/2018/01/using-page-speed-in-mobile-search.html) that in 2018 they will start downgrading slow loading mobile sites. Pages that take a long time to load will either rank poorly or not at all!
If that wasn't bad enough, if your page loads slowly your visitors are more likely to abandon the page and find what they need somewhere else. Your choice of webhost can help you avoid this, if you know what to look for...
An SEO Friendly webhost will:
Manage Shared Resources: Limits on the number of sites that run on a single machine and also on the amount of shared CPU and RAM that a site can consume. This prevent starving other sites running on the shared hardware. Cheap webhosts will often overload their hardware by running as many sites as they can to keep costs low.
Use The Latest Hardware: Make sure the webhost isn't using ancient hardware and that they offer fast SSD storage as an alternative to older mechanical hard drives.
Offer Flexible Configurations: Rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, you should be able to choose a configuration of CPU, RAM and storage that fits your needs so your site remains responsive under high loads.
Use Clean IP Ranges: Avoid webhosts that force you to use a shared IP address or IP addresses in ranges shared with suspicious or blacklisted sites. Clean static IP addresses will avoid problems with search engines blocking your site because of suspicious activity from one of your internet neighbors. The Blacklist Checker tool (https://mxtoolbox.com/blacklists.aspx) allows you to find out if your IP address or domain name is a potential source of email SPAM.
Redundant Connections: Any SEO friendly webhost should have multiple high speed backbone connections to the internet to ensure your site can always be loaded.
Here are some free online tools you can use to check the page load speed of your site. If the page being tested is the same each time then any differences you encounter will be due to the webhost. Network latency can also play a part in this type of test, so you may want to run multiple tests and average the results.
Free Website Speed Test from Uptrends (https://www.uptrends.com/tools/website-speed-test) that allows you to test how fast your page loads. This tool also allows you to run the test from dozens of different locations around the world, just like your visitors will be doing.
Page Speed Insights from Google (https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/insights) will try to load the mobile and desktop versions of your site. PSI will tell you how many seconds your page took to load and will give you a score out of 100 you can compare with other webhosts.
Downtime is the enemy!
Ideally you want your site to be "up" (online) for as long as possible. You won't get ranked if you don't get crawled.
Some webhosts offer 100% uptime guarantees, but they don't usually include things like scheduled maintenance. In the real world, hardware fails, networks go down and things just generally go wrong so look at uptime SLAs (service level agreements) skeptically and read the fine print.
You've may have heard of "five nines" or 99.999% uptime guarantees. What that really means is the webhost guarantees less than 1 second of downtime per day or just over 5 minutes per year.
Five nines is probably overkill, but SLAs of three nines (99.9%) and four nines (99.99%) are quite common. Four nines guarantees less than 8 seconds of downtime per day (52 minutes per year). Three nines guarantees just under 2 minutes of downtime per day (9 hours per year).
A lot of webhosts will claim 99% uptime but that still allows more than 14 minutes of downtime per day and just over 3.5 days per year!
One final consideration is what happens when you exceed one or more of your webhosts limits? If your webhost stops serving your site because you've exceeded your data transfer limit, your site might as well be offline.
Make sure you choose a webhost that will never do that to you. It's better to pay overage fees than to suddenly disappear from the internet.
You can check whether a site is up right now and there are tools that let you check whether your site is down from different points around the world. See Uptime Check (https://www.uptrends.com/tools/uptime) from Uptrends.
But if uptime is important to you (and it should be) then you're going to want to invest in some form of Uptime Monitoring for your site.
Uptime Robot (https://uptimerobot.com/) FREE
Uptrends (https://www.uptrends.com/) $$$
Basically, you have trust the uptime SLA your webhost provides until you collect enough data from your own monitoring.
Support for SSL
SSL is considered a lightweight ranking signal but it does have an impact on your SEO. If Google comes across two very similar sites, the one supporting SSL will rank higher.
Google recently announced that any site not using SSL will be flagged as Not Secure in the Chrome address bar. That's a scary signal to visitors about your site's reputation!
Making sure your site supports SSL is a no brainer, so look for a webhost that makes it easy. High end webhosts will often obtain and install an SSL certificates, but it's not hard to do it yourself.
Let's Encrypt is now the largest CA (certificate authority) in the world and their SSL certificates are 100% FREE!
Whether you choose a paid SSL certificate or a free one has no impact on your SEO. todo: explain that it's about trusting the CA not the certificate? you have to choose a trustworthy CA (like Let's Encrypt)
Let's Encrypt maintains a list of supporting webhosts (https://community.letsencrypt.org/t/web-hosting-who-support-lets-encrypt/6920) and all dedicated/VPS hosting providers will work with Let's Encrypt.
Let's Encrypt certificates have a limited lifetime (3 months) so you're going to want to pick a webhost that supports a tool like CertBot (https://certbot.eff.org/) to automatically deploy your certificates and keep them updated.
If all or most of your potential customers are in one country then you should make sure the IP address of your site is located in the same country.
If you want to rank well in a country other than where your main site is located, you should have a secondary site hosted on an IP address located in that country. If your webhost doesn't give you the option to choose where to host your site then it won't rank as well as it could.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
A lot of this sounds really subjective and a lot of other things can influence your decision to use a particular webhost. Do you like their website? Do they offer any discounts? Are the models on their site all attractive and well dressed?
But we're trying to figure out which webhost is the best for your SEO, not how good their sales and marketing team is. We need an easy way to ignore the marketing and focus on what really matters. I set up a simple grid to help me evaluate different webhosts.
The methodology I use is simple. I rate each webhost on a scale from 0 (worst) to 100 (best) for each of the criteria I'm interested in. For SEO Friendliness, these criteria are the 4 topics we've just been discussing.
Each of the criteria gets assigned a weight, based on how strong a ranking signal I believe it is. My weights may or may not reflect how the big search engines actually weight these criteria but they aren't talking so we have to make some intelligent assumptions.
I believe that page speed is the most important and SSL Support is the least important so I assign weights to each criterion accordingly.
Page Speed (40%)
Server Location (10%)
For Super WebHost the values above produce a score of 95 (out of a possible 100).
(100 x 0.40) + (90 x 0.30) + (100 x 0.20) + (90 x 0.10) = 96
Now we have a simple way to compare webhosts.
WHAT IF YOU STILL CAN'T CHOOSE?
What if all the webhosts you're evaluating seem pretty equal?
While not directly affecting your SEO there are other factors that are worth considering. WHEN things go sideways (and they will) how good is their customer support?
Don't just take their word for how great their support is. Check out their support forums and see what real users have to say. People are always happy to call out bad support.
You can also try setting up a test site and opening a support ticket. Hint: play dumb. How responsive are they? If they don't have time for new users, they probably won't have time for you as a paying customer either. Does the webhost perform automated backups on your site?
If backups are not included in the webhosting package, is it at least an option? Of course you can keep your own backups, but if your site suffers a catastrophic failure it's nice to know you can be back online instantly vs the hours it might take you to upload everything again.
todo: could also add managed hosting?, which control panel, and other differentiating factors
So Who Is The Best Webhost for SEO?
Now it's time to put what we've been talking about into practice and use it to look at a few popular webhosts and see how much their services really differ and who's the most SEO Friendly.
todo: populate grid (explain thoughts behind some values) and identify a winner
Page Speed (40%)
Server Location (20%)