4 ways your website's hosting can cripple your business

Knowing the difference between shared and professional hosting could end up saving your company's reputation.

4 ways your website's hosting can cripple your business

James Wood
James Wood
Author, web designer, lover of future things.
James Wood
James Wood
Author, web designer, lover of future things.

The recent global cyber attack made it painfully clear to us all how much we depend on fragile computer systems. Across the world, hospitals, transport systems, petrol stations and businesses of all sizes were locked out of their data, grinding services to a halt. 

How well could your business serve its customers if the same happened to you? Keeping data safe and accessible is what keeps businesses alive. And if you have a website, it's the same story: without that ability to interact with your customers, business dries up and your reputation takes a huge hit.

Shared hosting, cloud hosting and why it matters

There's a great offer on at the moment. A new car that costs £8. Sure, it doesn't have any of those so-called 'safety features' and it can only go at 4mph, but boy is it cheap. Oh, and 3,000 other people can use your car whenever they want, too. But it's cheap. Really really cheap.

That's shared web hosting. If you've ever looked into running a website before, you'll have come across it. They offer bewilderingly low prices (some as low as $1.99 a month), but there's a huge price to pay if you're using it for your business. Sign up for shared web hosting and you get given a directory on a single computer that's sat in a building somewhere. Thousands of other people also have their sites and files on that computer. And that leads to big problems.

Then there's the alternative: professional cloud hosting. The best known of these is Amazon Web Services, which we use for all our sites at Onward Studios. When you upload your website to a professional cloud host, it gets replicated across their whole network of computers and integrates with content delivery services. 

Here's why shared hosting is a danger to your business:

1. Your site is vulnerable to attack

With shared hosting, your website and its backups are stored on a single computer. That means if someone turned the power off on that computer, or its hard drive failed, or it got a virus, your site is gone from the web. Your customers can't get to it, you can't make any changes to it and your backups are lost. And worse, the networks that shared servers are on usually have very poor security, making it easy for viruses and ransomware to get in and spread across all of the sites they host. The security of your site relies on every one of the thousands of other customers to be informed and skilled enough to secure their website against attack. Do you really want to trust your business to them?

With cloud hosting, your site lives not just on many different computers, but across many different data centres around the world. If there's a problem on one computer, another seamlessly takes over. The whole cloud network is also secured against malware, infection and attack using enterprise-grade encryption and security. And if someone else's site gets breached, it can't affect yours.

2. Your site can disappear at random

Your site's no good to anyone if they can't reach it. On shared hosting, the computer your site lives on only has limited resources and it has to shared them amongst the thousands of sites it hosts. So that means if someone else's site gets busy, yours gets slower. If too many sites get busy at once, your site may fail to load at all. And user research shows that there's a huge drop-off when visitors have to wait more than 5 seconds for a site to load, meaning the effectiveness of your site is at the mercy of everyone you share the server with.

Cloud hosting is instantly scalable and naturally robust. If a lot of people are using your site, the network will add more resources to keep it running fast. The fact that your site is hosted on loads of computers across loads of data centres means that the chance losing your data is vanishingly small: 0.000000001%, to be exact. It also has over 99.99% uptime, and if your site ever does go down a cached version of it can be shown to your visitors until the original is available again.

3. Slow load times lose you customers

The speed of your site is vital to how effective it is at converting visitors to customers. Shared hosting on a single computer means that every visitor has to connect from wherever they are to that specific computer, which could be across the world, and then their request has to get in line behind all of the other people accessing sites on that server. All of the site's code, text and images are loading from one computer, which creates a performance bottleneck as every asset is read off the same hard drive. Slow sites lead to poor effectiveness and lower profits.

Cloud hosting distributes your site across the globe and automatically loads from the data centre closest to the visitor. It also integrates with content delivery networks to split out the images and other resources from your site and make sure they load from the fastest location, different to the main site, preventing bottlenecks and giving your visitor a lightning-fast experience every time.

4. Shared hosting means slow support

There's also the human element. If you're a shared hosting company running tens of thousands of sites at $1.99 / month, how much support do you think you're going to be able to afford per customer? Their support lines tend to be slow to respond and they don't have any technical knowledge about your site or how it's built. To compensate for their lack of staff, they often have draconian automated security, that will shut your site down without notice if they detect a file infected with malware (a particular problem in Wordpress with its open plugin system). They won't help you find it, you'll have to go through all of the files on your site and delete the infection before your site will be allowed back online.

One of the reasons I chose AWS hosting for Onward Studios sites is that it allows us to deliver fast, responsive support if anything goes wrong. We know your site inside out, our platform provider in San Francisco builds and lives the software, and we both offer urgent support responses within 1 working day. Any deeper problems are backed up by Amazon's own AWS support. By really knowing the set up of your site, we're able to find the problem and fix it fast. 

Don't risk your business

Racing to the bottom of the price list for your web hosting can cost you big in the long run. When your reputation rests on the experience your customers have with you, you just can't risk giving them a frustrating online experience. Because you'll have competitors out there who'll step in with a website that works and doesn't send them into an online rage, and your customers won't think twice about shifting their allegiances.