Performance metrics of cheap web hosting plans
So we’ve established what you can and cannot use cheap web hosting for, and what to expect from it. Now it’s time to really get in to the nitty gritty.
Over the last few years, I have tried out many cheap web hosting plans. There are a few key things I look for now when purchasing plans, yard sticks for which I judge each of them by based on my requirements. Perhaps the main one is performance.
To keep things simple, let’s split performance in to two areas.
These are essentially the two most important elements for your website. It must load quickly. On the face of it, a slow website is just a frustration for the user, some will put up with it while others will close your site down and never return. However, search engines are now taking notice of speed too. They want to serve the best results for the user, so if a site has poor loading times then its rankings within search engines will suffer.
As an example of this, I used to administer a football website on behalf of a local supporter’s club. The website had a good uptime percentage, however page load was appallingly bad during busy periods. By busy I am not talking thousands of users, it was probably 100 users at best during peak times and they were looking to access reports, news or forums.
The site had great content and a thriving little community on the forum, however it remained behind two other similar sites in the Google search results for the relevant keywords.
After receiving many complaints from users, when our contract ended with the existing host (123-Reg) I oversaw the migration to another host (Rochen, seeing as though you were curious).
Performance was a lot better, and within probably two or three months the website overtook one of the rival’s sites above it, and around six months later leapfrogged the other.
Why can cheap web hosting not be ideal for speed?
Okay, this is going to take us back to one of the first points I made in relation to the shared server. While the expression ‘page load’ does broadly cover this, the specific metric that experts have attributed to affecting search engine ranking is what is known as Time to First Byte (TTFB). In a nutshell, this is how long it takes your browser to begin receiving data from the web server (i.e. the website you’re trying to load).
Now we already know that shared web servers on many cheap hosting plans can suffer with reduced resource during busy periods, and so this could become a very real issue. If a browser is seeing a delay in receiving data from a server, then Google can penalise this. While they’ve never specifically confirmed this, a study by Moz backs this up and noticed a clear correlation between TTFB and page ranking.
And what about reliability?
Reliability is key. No matter how fast or slow your website is, it needs to be online. Most companies that offer cheap web hosting do now guarantee more than a 99% uptime guarantee – in fact, I cannot find any web hosts that advertise less than this (although I guess they wouldn’t be upfront about it!).
This is vital, not only to keep your users engaged, but also so that when search engines come to index your site, it is always there. A site that is regularly unavailable, or just down at the wrong time (i.e. when Google is crawling it), will be penalised by search engines as pages will appear to be missing and give 404 errors, a pet hate of Google!
Given that we now have established the importance of performance when it comes to cheap web hosting, now it’s time to analyse some of the most popular providers.
For this article, I researched some of the latest figures online available for five top cheap web hosting providers, and compiled them to look at the three key performance metrics. They are:
- Response time: The response time, or Time To First Byte is an important factor in search engine rankings, so we know this is important.
- Page speed: The average time it takes for a page to fully load. This is vital for usability, and potentially SEO.
- Uptime: Another critical metric from both a user point of view, and how your site is seen by search engines.
|Response Time*||Page Speed^||Uptime^|
By using these up-to-date stats that have been compiled using modern testing methods, it gives us a telling look at cheap web hosting. While it is cheap, it’s a world away from when I would have considered cheap web hosting of five years ago.
HostGator come out of the analysis with some great results. If you read the section in which I review some of the cheap web hosting packages, you will see that I had a really positive experience when using HostGator.
The worst of those analysed about is Site5, although the figures provided show just how much cheap web hosting really has progressed. In, say 2009, you’d have had to be paying a premium price to secure a hosting package with those sorts of figures.