As a web design specialist who has been making decisions about hosting for over 10 years this is an issue that surfaces surprisingly often. Earlier this year we decided it was time to leave our then hosting company and took the opportunity to weigh up all the options to place our new web design.
Just so we are all on the same page. Typically a web design is uploaded to a 'server' (which is really just a powerful computer) which lives (generally) within a custom built data center which is connected to the Internet using many different connection to ensure the website is always available.
To start with let's look at this issue from the other side - why would an Australian business host outside of Australia? There are a number of reasons:
Hosting Considerations for a New Web Design
- Price: The hosting market in the U.S. is vast and competition is incredible. This has driven prices down massively both in terms of computer equipment and the cost of the actual connection to the Internet to host a web design.
- Service and support: Because of the maturity and size of the market the hosting companies in the U.S. have become very large and can afford to have staff on-site 24 hours a day 7 days a week. For many of the high quality providers these staff include highly qualified technicians.
- Range of options: If you want something unique or new as part of your hosting chances are someone in the U.S. will be offering it.
- Bandwidth: This term generally applies to the amount of traffic your website is allowed to serve in a given time period. In the U.S. the competition has meant that bandwidth has become absurdly cheap and that most hosting providers will give you almost unlimited traffic for next to no cost.
Sounds brilliant... and to a certain extent it is. The Australian web hosting market measures up as follows:
- Price: We are getting more competitive in Australia but we are still a long way from the prices you can get in the U.S. This will always be the case.
- Service and Support: With smaller hosting companies serving less companies only the biggest or most expensive in Australia will ever be able to match the 24 x 7 promises. Even then the staff on hand will be smaller and less skilled for the most part.
- The range of options is great for most needs but often you will need to spend more to get something custom when compared to the U.S.
- Bandwidth: This is hands down the biggest difference for anyone serious about hosting. Bandwidth is quite expensive in Australia. The reasons are varied but a lack of competition between our bandwidth providers plays a big part in this.
So far you would have to say the U.S. is looking really good right? Wrong. There are two issues that make choosing the U.S. a compromise - and depending on how serious you are - a deal breaker (or at least it was for us).
Search Engine Optimisation Factors
1. The speed of light (importance for search engine optimisation)
Regardless of how fast and efficient the infrastructure gets that carries the information you are viewing around the Internet it is never going to break the speed of light. That means that if your site is viewed by Australians and hosted in the U.S. it is going to be slower. This is noticeable on normal web pages but even more of an issue if larger files are being uploaded / downloaded to your site. Speed starts to turn into an even larger issue since it is one of many important factor involved with search engine optimisation.
We made the decision this year to change hosting providers. When picking a new provider the big issues for us was a skilled staff on-site 24 x 7 who offered great and reliable infrastructure. This made us look very seriously at the U.S., however, when we did our speed tests this option quickly became a non-starter. We new our clients would expect fast, responsive sites and that hosting in the U.S. would just not be good enough (even if it was going to save us lots of $$).
2. Search engine optimisation and top rankings
Whilst this is possibly not the issue it once was Google make some decisions about your website based on the domain name (i.e. if it is a .com they assume it is American and if it .com.au they assume it is Australian) and the country it is hosted in. What this meant is that if your domain name ended in .com and you hosted in the U.S. then you were considered an American site. So if a user was searching for something and added the phrase 'Sydney' as a keyword you would not be given a high ranking on this geographical search.
Nowadays Google offer tools where an astute webmaster can manually set the location of the site to assist in the search engine optimisation process - but for those not aware of this tool this is still a major issue.
Don't assume you are being hosted in Australia
As a final warning. A lot of the Australian hosting companies, and particularly those with cheap hosting packages, do not keep their servers in Australia. Whilst their phone numbers are Australian and their staff are Australian all their servers can often be based in the U.S. Make sure you ask the question of them if hosting in Australia is important to you.
Also, in the Australian market do not assume 24 x 7 hosting support means there are skilled technicians next to your servers during this time. This will often only refer to on-call staff.
What decision did we make?
Once we balanced all the issues up decided to stay in Australia. We found an excellent local company www.ultraserve.com.au who used the state-of-art Global Switch data center in Pyrmont. They have skilled staff on-site 24 x 7 and are very service orientated.
New Content Added: 13/06/2012