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How web hosting affects SEO

There’s a lot more to SEO than keyword optimization and link building. There are plenty of other things website owners can do that make a big difference in how your site ranks in search results. Choosing the right web hosting company and designing your website the right way can boost your traffic tremendously. Here’s how. 

User experience trumps everything

There’s a concept in the SEO industry that focuses on page-load speed: The faster the better. While it’s absolutely true that your website should load quickly, speed exclusively isn’t the point. At the end of the day, SEO is about the users who visit your site. It’s about their needs and whether your site actually delivers on what it promises. 

Did the visitor see what they wanted? Did the right stuff load quickly? Your website’s visitors should see your site’s core content quickly. Some of the ancillary content can take longer to load—that’s okay. This is a concept called First Meaningful Paint, and it’s a factor in how your site ranks because it’ keeps your visitors happy and Google likes that. 

So, while our actual page-load process may be three seconds long, your visitors may see all of your meaningful content in one and a half seconds. That’s because the elements that take longer to load are not essential to the immediate visitor experience. Sometimes the Facebook pixel loads really late, for instance. Or a tracking pixel loads later. And that’s perfectly okay. From the user’s perspective, the load time was still under 2 seconds. 

Once the user is on your site, keeping them there is really important. If Google sees users going to that page and then coming back right away within a certain amount of time, then that’s a signal that the website didn’t deliver what the user was looking for. Having a slow website or irrelevant content could bounce your users right back to the search results, and you don’t want that to happen. 

Uptime is central (and that means so is the right host)

Another critical aspect of providing a premium user experience is uptime. If Google or a user is requesting your site and it’s consistently timing out or the server can’t return a result, then your website’s user experience is lacking, to say the least. Ensuring that you have as close to 100 percent uptime is crucial to providing a great user experience for every visitor. 

Additionally, there are two load-time factors that Google uses to measure your site and both can be affected by your web host. The first is DNS lookup, and the longer it takes your host to complete DNS lookup the longer it takes for your host to begin loading your page. Long look up times can hurt your site rank.

Second is page load time. If your host uses a slow server, you’re in trouble. If your server takes longer than 100 milliseconds to load the first byte, that’s not good for your site traffic. The time it takes the server to answer a browser’s request should ideally be half of that, 50 milliseconds tops. 

Need a new SEO strategy? Here are some ideas

If you’re ready to create an SEO strategy that goes beyond keywords, do these four things: 

- Use clean code. Even the best host can’t save your website from poorly written code that slows down load times and ruins the user experience. Keep your code light and clean. Extra CSS, JavaScript, and files that aren’t necessary for your site to load don’t belong in your code. Also, ensure your code is W3C compliant by using a markup validation service.

- Keep your site secure. We’ve all seen it or heard the stories. An unsuspecting business owner gets hacked on a regular basis, hackers maliciously adding links to the site without the website owners’ knowledge. Google, of course, sees a website with these irrelevant links and penalizes the website’s search rank for it. You’ll have to work to proactively keep these bad links away or choose a hosting provider that can help you keep them at bay. 

- Measure your site’s loading times and time to first byte. Tools.pingdom.com is a free tool you can use to find out how long your site really takes to load and communicate with browsers. You can even test from different regions. GTMetrix and Yslow are also good and if you use Google Chrome, and are a bit more technical, Lighthouse is a great tool with list of actions items to increase performance. 

- Consider managed hosting. Having managed hosting can make managing your user’s site experience easier. It addresses a lot of the issues website owners commonly have. With managed hosting, you are paying someone else to worry about the SEO-critical backend of your site so you can focus on other things, like creating great content. 

It also means you’re prepared for the unforeseen, like a spike in traffic or a visit by hackers. Again, this allows you to hone-in on providing great content and doing great work for your users instead of keeping your website from breaking down. Given how important website performance is for SEO, it’s an essential piece to the puzzle. 

Ty Lampella is VP of Marketing for DreamHost.