GUEST COMMENT Choosing the right web hosting package for internet retailing
There are a whole raft of things that need to come together in order for your ecommerce website to take off. The design and functionality of the site are obviously key to your customers’ shopping experience, but underpinning all of that is your hosting platform.
In comparison to web design and web development, web hosting is often somewhat overlooked, yet it can play an equally important role in user experience and the success (or otherwise) of any ecommerce website.
If we translate web hosting to bricks-and-mortar retailing, neglecting your hosting is tantamount to building a stylish out-of-town store and failing to build a link road to it (or incorporating a bridge that keeps collapsing within that link road).
It is not always about spending more money on your hosting in order to get the best server for your requirements, though inevitably websites with more traffic or more exacting requirements often need more expensive hosting. Equally important is the type of hosting package you choose and the way that package is set-up.
In this article I will explore some of the hosting choices that tend to be well suited to ecommerce websites.Private cloud with dedicated bare metal database server
The hallmark of ecommerce traffic is a relatively small number of visitors (when compared to a blog or other website that attracts flashes of traffic) that use a lot of resources.
For instance, they might browse the site for a considerable amount of time, opening up various photos, checking sizing options and colour variations.
On that basis a private cloud hosting option supported by a dedicated ‘bare metal’ database server is often a sensible hosting arrangement for an e-commerce site.
The website itself is hosted on a fairly standard private cloud setup, but the database, which is doing the bulk of the hard work, is hosted on its own physical hardware, which will be built for and dedicated to a single ecommerce website.Host near your customers
The next thing to establish is the location - or locations - of your servers. If your audience is in the UK, host your site here. Are you also big in Botswana? It might be worth hosting a version of the site there because this will result in a better user experience for your Botswanan customers.Check your database server speed
Most e-commerce websites live or die by their database server speed. If you experience server problems on your website, this ought to be you first port of call when investigating.
As mentioned above, ecommerce websites tend to ask a lot of their database server, so this is a common bottleneck.Work hard above the fold
Bring together your web developer and hosting company to put your heads together. Between the three parties, you need to get the above-the-fold section of your website - everything that’s visible before the customer scrolls - to load lightning fast.
Downpage can afford to be a little more sluggish but it’s important that the main content greets the user immediately. Coding and server setup can both play a part in improving this.Work out the cost of being offline
Of course, any website owner starts from the perspective of wanting their website to be online 100 per cent of the time. Maintenance, server updates and other factors might occasionally cause down-time. This can be avoided by using multiple servers.
Alternatively, you might work out that being offline for a few minutes during off-peak times is actually more cost efficient than the sort of hosting packages that will guarantee 100 per cent availability. It is just a case of doing your sums.Use lateral scaling and load-balancing
Aside from using multiple servers to increase availability, it is also a useful technique for improving website performance and user experience.
Essentially, the load is shared across the servers to create more capacity and improved performance. The results are almost always immediate and impressive for e-commerce websites.Use content caches and front end website accelerators
We’ve mentioned a couple of ways of coping with the demands of hosting an e-commerce website. This is a simple way to decrease those demands. Cache any content you can to ensure it loads quickly, saving your resources for where they are really needed.
Front-end accelerators, such as NGinx and Varnish, will speed up page load so that people get to your products more quickly.Investigate the bandwidth of your hosting company’s network
It’s not just about your server - check what happens to your traffic when it leaves your platform to your customer’s device.
Is enough bandwidth being dedicated specifically to your site at internet exchanges being used by your host, for instance?Constantly review
Unfortunately, as with so many aspects of internet retailing, there is no permanent fix. With emerging technologies, changing expectations from customers and perhaps a growing customer base, your hosting requirements will change over time.
Continue to monitor the situation, using key performance indicators such as conversion rates, click-throughs, time-on-site, plus anecdotal evidence from customers to keep your website’s performance under constant review.Andrew Maybin is managing director of web hosting and digital infrastructure firm Tibus.