When I told a few colleagues the title of this blog post, I got big grins and dramatic nods without even telling them what the post was about. If you've been in business for any length of time, you've likely dealt with a hosting crisis that has fried your nerves and stressed you to the max. As a non-techie with over ten years' experience hosting websites for clients, have I ever learned a thing or two about avoiding the potholes (because, *ahem*, I think I've hit them ALL)!
This is a topic that people write books about (I've mentioned it in another post, too), so without getting too deep, I want to share with you a few "secrets" I've learned along the way to avoid 95% of the issues that typically come with having a site live on the internet. Let's start with the most important considerations, in my experience, to ensure you've got a good setup.
A great server configuration for your website will include:
- Reliable server with good uptime that allows your site to load quickly, with minimal downtime. Not all services are created equal. You can test this by using Pingdom.com to evaluate the load speed of sites on different servers. (A great tool for analyzing the load speed of your website is Google Page Speed.)
- Automated backup system that regularly backs up your site both on the server and on an alternate server ("backup" server) so that if your site crashes or is hacked, it can easily be reloaded and launched. (We have our sites backed up locally daily and offsite weekly).
- If you use WordPress (and you should!) or any Content Management System (CMS), it should be updated regularly for security purposes (monthly seems to suffice). There are some ways you can have this automated, or you should have a qualified programmer that does this manually for you (it doesn't take long, and you need someone with more expertise than a typical VA).
- If you are doing a lot of media or special launches or campaigns that could drive a lot of traffic to your site, you'll want to make sure your hosting setup will accommodate the traffic. I once had a client who was booked as a guest on a huge talk radio show, and the traffic he received during and after the interview crashed his site. Reeeeeally bad time for the site to crash. *Gulp*
- Do not host your email on the same server. I repeat: Do not host your email on the same server as your website. I highly recommend using a dedicated email service to handle all your email. First of all, if you're hosting on the cheap, you are most likely using a shared server that is also hosting hundreds, thousands, or tens-of-thousands of other sites ... if any of these sites are engaged in shoddy spamming practices (and they are), the entire server will be blacklisted, affecting your email's deliverability. Secondly, if anything at all happens to your site, your email will go down with it. A crash, hack, explosion, server outage, or any number of scenarios could bring down your site. It's in your best interest to have your email hosted elsewhere so you still get your email while they're figuring out what's up with your site. (If you need a third reason, most local email hosting sucks ... they have poor spam filters in addition to their poor deliverability.) My favorite solution for email is Google Apps, for about a dozen reasons I might go over in another post. :)
Common Misconceptions about the Cost of Hosting a Website
There are lots of misconceptions about hosting out there ... the biggest one being that hosting is cheap. Renting square footage on the server is cheap, just like buying land is cheap compared to the cost of laying cable and plumbing and building the house (metaphors aplenty on this one). Here's what is not cheap about hosting a website:
- Moving your site to a new server,
- Backing up your site regularly,
- Testing to ensure it's working properly,
- Keeping the server up-to-date with the latest patches and software updates,
- Keeping your site software updated (different from server software),
- Making sure all the software and plugins on the server plays nice with your site and your CMS (like Wordpress or Drupal),
- Troubleshooting server-related glitches, and more
All of these things cost money. Choosing a service provider based on price alone is like picking up a puppy from the pound: you don't know what you're getting. What kind of diet has it been fed (translation: vet bills)? What kind of bad habits has it picked up (translation: chewed Manolo Blahniks, a bitten milk man, gnawed table leg, "spots" on the carpet)? What's its temperament like? Has it been properly socialized? How much is it going to eat every day (translation: $$$)? How much exercise will it need? Puppies become dogs, and they're the furthest thing from cheap.
When finding good hosting for your site, there is a LOT to consider, and most people are clueless until something goes wrong and they're looking at hundreds or thousands of dollars in emergency programming expenses to fix things (not to mention the time and energy--unplanned--that you expend resolving your issue[s]). And sometimes, God forbid, things can't be fixed.
Question: What are your server nightmares, and what have you learned? Let's talk about it in the comments.