Whenever Google makes a change to its search algorithm, as it recently did with the Hummingbird update, the Internet heats up with conversations about search engine optimization.
And why not? Website owners spend a great deal of time and money to ensure their website performs well in search engine results so they can capture traffic from visitors looking for terms relevant to their site. Yet when all’s said and done, some of the most important factors in how well a site ranks in search engines like Google are in the hands of the site’s hosting provider.
Factors that govern your search ranking
Some of the most important correlations among sites that rank higher in the search engine results page are: page load times, the domain, and uptime. These factors all can be affected by who the hosting provider is.
Google measures the time it takes a web page to load in the user’s browser. Sites that take too long are penalized. In addition to this metric, sites that are slow are often abandoned by visitors, which means higher bounce rates. When Google sees that, it can result in additional penalties.
When it comes to site speed, much of the responsibility falls on the page design: those with large image files or Flash will take longer to load. However, the server a site is hosted on can also affect load time.
Owners who have optimized their site for speed and still find their visitors are forced to wait as pages load should ask their hosting provider to move the site to a new server.
Google also looks at the location of the server and the domain. For sites that target users in the United States, the server that hosts the site should also be in a US top-level domain. For sites targeting Brazilian visitors, a .br domain is acceptable and the server should be located in Brazil.
Site speed matters
Uptime is another factor, for which both the provider and the customer share some responsibility. The customer has to get the site built and uploaded to the server. The hosting provider has to make sure that everything is running.
In fact, the lowest acceptable minimum a site should be up is 99.5 percent of the time. This means it should be down for no longer than three hours a month. Hosting providers should plan for outages, upgrades, and other emergencies to ensure their customers’ sites are not down for any extended period of time.
Like site speed, Google takes downtime into account, and sites that are not available can find themselves penalized by the search engine. Traffic levels drop as people avoid the site.
Dispelling a common myth
Many SEO experts will also claim that sites hosted on servers that also carry illicit or undesirable sites like gambling, spam, or porn could be affected by their neighbors. The thought is that if the IP address of a shared server is found to host certain types of sites, then everything on that machine will be affected. However, Matt Cutts of Google has asserted this is not the case.
“Typically a hosting company has a lot of different stuff on it. Some of it will be good. Some of it will be bad,” says Cutts. “There will be some spam, but just because you happen to be on an IP address or using a hosting company that also hosts some spam, that doesn’t mean that you should be affected.
“There have been a very few situations…. I remember several years ago there was a really bad hosting company,” he says. “I’m not even sure whether you would call them a hosting company. It was something like 27,000 sites of porn spam and like two legit sites. On one IP address … so if you were one of those two legit sites … in order to catch the 27,000 porn sites … you know, that was something where we were like, ‘Well, okay that’s really pretty excessive.’ ”
So in the end, site owners who are doing everything they can to raise their stock with the search engines might want to look to their hosting provider if they’re not generating any traction.