The Rock ‘n’ Roll Topic of Web Hosting

Web hosting is probably not the most exciting topic for discussion but it can have a big impact on your business. Choose the wrong option and it could cost you dearly. Get it right and your sites will convert better, retain customers, and make you more attractive to the opposite sex. (That last one may not be true).

Instead of looking at the types of hosting, lets look at the type of sites and match those to the right infrastructure. For the purposes of this article I’m going to stick to content sites, specifically WordPress.

Lead Gen & Micro Sites

These are the sites you point your advertising campaigns to. They’re essentially glorified landing pages. They tend to have a small number of pages, high amounts of traffic, low number of page views per visitor, and crucially, they don’t have any protected content. There’s a small number of plugins for things like popups, signup boxes, tracking codes etc.

Most groups will have several of sites like this running at any given time. Some bigger groups have dozens of them, to align with a wide range of campaigns. They need to be low maintenance, high availability, and perform lighting quick.

Free Content Portals

Sites with tens of thousand of pages of content that are used to attract search traffic tend to have a similar purpose to Lead Gen sites… to get users to subscribe to a free email list, or purchase a paid subscription.

The traffic characteristics are similar, a lot of visitors that look at a small number of pages. They either convert, or they leave quickly. The difference is that search traffic is not driven by spending in ad platforms so you have less control over demand. Occasionally, an article might get picked up by something like Reddit, a major news portal, or go viral on social media which will deliver large amounts of traffic in a short space of time.

Paid Content

Once someone has parted with their hard earned cash for your service, you want to give them the best possible experience when accessing their paid content.

A paid content site will have a moderate amount of content, and some are pretty complex. Financial services might have embedded charts and portfolio information. Others might have rich media like video/audio etc. Traffic comes in cycles in line with the frequency of the service  e.g. Monthly, weekly, daily. While there might not be a lot of plugins, they can be complex and proprietary, e.g. authentication, or embedding financial data.

Paid & Free Together?

Every group that has free and paid content has debated whether to combine into one, or split them into separate sites. We’ve seen both work, and there are pros and cons that we won’t go into here. In our experience, it’s best to keep them separate.

What are the Options?

There are lots of solutions, but for our purposes we’re going to focus on just 4. The table below is a quick guide to the most suitable choice and we’ve gone into more detail to explain

Shared Hosting

This is for very small, or startup businesses. It’s good enough for a quick setup and if your business grows you’ll likely be moving away from it quickly. The upshot is they’re very cheap at around $50 – $100 per year.

Very few of our clients are using hosting like this. If you’re part of The Agora, the chances are you’ve outgrown it before you even started.

Pros

  • Very cheap and easy to set up
  • No administrator required
  • Backups and disaster recovery are handled by hosting company

Cons

  • Not easy to scale
  • Shared means your site can be affected by others on the same server

Recommended For

  • Brochure sites & micro sites

Dedicated Server

A dedicated server is just that, a physical server, dedicated to your needs. Expect to pay $500 – $1000 per Month or more depending on the size of the server. Dedicated servers are becoming increasingly rare, especially for WordPress hosting.

There are lots of dedicated hosting providers but we’ve had the best experience with Rackspace.

Pros

  • Dedicated hardware and bandwidth
  • Can be easier to create a secure environment

Cons

  • High cost
  • Not easy to scale up or down
  • Requires specialised administrator
  • Backup and disaster recovery is often your responsibility

Recommended for

  • Large sites and sites that demand bandwidth
  • Better for e-commerce than WordPress

Cloud Hosting

Cloud is a term that gets thrown around a lot and we won’t bore you here with the details of how it works but cloud hosting has quickly become the most popular option for everyone we work with. You still get the power of a dedicated server but with much more flexibility.

Cloud servers can quickly scale up or down. More memory, storage, and processing power can quickly be added to meet demands. Additional servers can be added allowing massive scale.

Pricing is very flexible, and you can pay only for what you use. A medium sized paid content site would cost about $200 – $300 per month.

We couldn’t mention cloud without talking about Amazon. They are the undisputed king of cloud right now and for good reason. Their services are incredibly powerful, although can require specialised knowledge to set up and maintain. That’w why we recommend working with a partner like Reliable Penguin, or Rackspace. (Yes, Rackspace have their own servers but they have also moved into the business of providing solutions and support based on others cloud infrastructure.)

Pros

  • Very flexible and quick to set up
  • Cost effective – Only pay for what you use
  • Easily integrate with other cloud services like storage, CDN, data, etc.

Cons

  • Can still need specialised administrator for larger sites
  • Can be affected by outages on the cloud platforms

Recommended For

  • Paid content & Free portals

Hosting Platforms

Over the past few years a new breed of hosting has emerged to remove the technical burden from hosting and maintaining websites.  These platforms handle the setup, implementation and maintenance work on your WordPress sites. They’re generally based on cloud technology with a customised interface that takes a lot of the hassle out of managing hosting.

The big players in this market are WP Engine, and more recently Pantheonhave entered the market with a strong offering. Media Temple are also worth consideration.

Costs are lower dedicated and cloud services, but crucially, they take a lot of hassle out of managing sites. Things like WordPress and plugin updates are automatically installed, security  vulnerabilities are quickly addressed and require little or no intervention from you.

Where we’ve seen these services used well is in Lead Gen and Micro Sites… a marketing or operations person can manage dozens of sites with very little technical knowledge.  Conversely, we’ve seen some clients have difficulty with hosting paid content sites due to restrictions on proprietary plugins, and fixed IP addresses.

Pros

  • Quick and easy to set up
  • Cost effective
  • Peace of mind
  • Backup and Disaster recovery is fully managed

Cons

  • Costs can escalate for very large sites
  • Tight controls can mean some plugins are not allowed
  • IP addresses can change with short notice

Recommended For

  • Lead Gen & Micro sites

Beyond Servers

Servers are just one part of the hosting puzzle and there are a multitude of tools available to address specific challenges. Not all traffic is created equal… for example: sites delivering a lot of media like images, audio, and video will have different needs to a site delivering large amounts of text articles.

If you’d like advice in this area we’d be delighted to have a conversation with you and help you navigate the landscape. Feel free to contact us here using the button below.