John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher, and this is “Digital Marketing Madness.” This podcast is brought to you by McDougall Interactive. We’re a digital marketing agency in Massachusetts, and today my guest is Meghan Williams. Welcome, Meghan.
Meghan Williams: Hi, John.
Website Hosting and Search Engine Optimization
John: Today, our topic is how your website hosting can affect SEO. Meghan, what does hosting have to do with SEO or search engine optimization?
Meghan: Well, I was surprised to learn that actually quite a lot. That’s one of the things we talk a lot about here, is that SEO isn’t just about what’s on your website, what keywords you’re targeting, and what you’re focusing on, but it’s that your website is built and managed to be friendly for search engines, and good for users.
John: SEO, at the beginning, it really used to be all about keywords. Is that keyword — does it appear on the page, is it in the title tags, is it in the meta description? Then, way back in the day, is it in the meta keywords tag on your site?
That’s just a drop in the bucket of what SEO is all about now, which is just so many different things, like you said — user experience, and that experience that people have when they come to your website. Does it take a long time to load, or is it easy to navigate through your site, or is your site designed well so that people will want to stay and look at it, and view more pages? That sort thing. Those are all aspects of SEO now.
Meghan: Yeah, and it’s complicated, and you’re actually more of an expert in terms of how hosting relates to SEO than I am. The three things that I found that hosting can really give you problems in terms of your SEO results are site speed, reliability and then your reputation with the search engines.
You spoke to that a little bit with the speed and reliability. It doesn’t seem like it would have a lot to do with SEO, but search engines don’t want to serve up, to their users, websites that are slow, that are often down, that just don’t give a good user experience, so you’ve got to invest in that. You’ve got to take those into account.
Site Speed and SEO
John: Right, and your hosting plays a part in that. If you have bad hosting, you have cheap hosting maybe, you’re on a really slow server, it can really slow things down in terms of loading. Maybe this particular company that you’re hosting with has too many websites on one small server, or something like that, and that’s causing things to slow down.
Like you said, when a user comes to your website, and they’re expecting to see the information that they’re looking for, then it takes 10 seconds for that home page to load, they just give up, and say, “Forget it.” They hit the back button, and go back to Google, and search for somebody else.
Then Google sees that. Google can track, “OK, somebody did a search, came to this website, and then within 10 seconds, went back to Google and clicked on a different result instead.”
That’s a signal to Google that this website is probably not a good result for that particular search term, and then you’ll see your website start to go down in the ranks.
Meghan: Recently, Google made a lot of news when they rolled out the mobile update where if your site isn’t mobile friendly, your rankings are going to suffer. Just like that, it matters that you have an effective mobile site to get your content served. Reliability and site speed are in the same boat. It’s just as important.
John: What was the third thing? You said reliability, site speed, and…
John: What do you mean by that?
Meghan: One thing we’ve been talking a little bit about here is if, as you just mentioned, where you’re on a cheap server. There’s a ton of other websites on there. You could have other websites that are a little bit unsavory ‑‑ gambling sites, something like that ‑‑ who are also taking advantage of some cheap hosting.
From what I’ve understood, that can have an impact as well, and Google just lumps you in with them, and doesn’t give you the same attention that you think you should have.
John: I don’t have a strong technical background in terms of hosting and that sort of thing either, but my understanding is that you have these blocks of IP addresses, or something like that, that are on a server. You have these little groups of websites that live on a particular server.
So, like you said, if you end up on the same server, or the same family of IP addresses or something, as a bunch of gambling and other sites, Google may not trust you as much, because they say, “Well, what is this site doing on this server with all these other poor quality websites?”, and lump you in with them, and maybe not rank you as highly, because they don’t trust you. That’s that reputation thing you’re talking about. What can you do about that?
Fixing Hosting Problems
Meghan: There’s some basic reporting tools, just to see if maybe hosting is a problem, and that’s one of the trickier things about addressing these issues in terms of search engine optimization, is because it’s hard to measure if these are having the impact, or if it’s something else.
If your SEO efforts are hitting a wall, and you’re not really sure what to do next, you could try some of these basic reporting tools to see if you can diagnose the problem. One of the ones we use, I think, at the basic level, is the GT metrics report, which gives you a nice snapshot of your site speed and uptime, and lots of other different elements that play into those, and what you could fix first to maybe address a problem.
John: It’s pretty good for giving you a list of problem areas and things that, like you said, it’s almost like a priority list of things that you can change on your website, whether it’s optimizing your images to make sure that they load faster, or using some sort of caching plugin on your website to try to cache some of that data so it doesn’t always have to load every single time somebody comes to the site.
Meghan: That’s generally what we do for our clients, is run a GT metrics report. There’s a couple of other different reports that we run, and then we help them prioritize because nobody can fix all of these problems at once.
Some of them, you can’t even really fix. They’re just built into the nature of your site, and you don’t have time this year or money this year for a new website, so what are you going to do?
That’s what we help our clients work through — what will have the most impact, is reasonable to fix in this time frame, so that they can see some movement? Then the reputation one, that’s a squishier one to try and diagnose and figure out if that’s the problem.
The rule of thumb, from our perspective, I think, is just don’t opt for the lowest cost hosting that you can get. It’s worth investing in a decent higher‑tier hosting provider just to make sure that that’s not the problem that you’re dealing with.
John: Use a reputable company. If you’re a good sized company, and you have a website, what’s the cost of pretty good hosting? It might be $50 a month or something like that, instead of $15?
It’s not going to break the bank to invest a little bit extra to have that piece of mind that you’re on a good, reputable hosting company, and you’re not going to be lumped in with some of these bad sites.
Meghan: Exactly, and then you don’t have to worry about that being a problem. You can just worry about the stuff you can definitely control, like the keywords on your website, and your images, and your content.
John: Great. Well, that’s really good information, Meghan. Thanks again for speaking with me today.
Meghan: Thanks so much for having me.
John: For more information about digital marketing, visit mcdougallinteractive.com and make sure you subscribe to this podcast on iTunes and Stitcher. Thanks for listening. I’m John Maher and see you next time on the Digital marketing Madness.