Posted on: September 22, 2021 | Back to the homepage

What's the best web hosting for SEO?

In this article, I’ll be teaching you all about the best web hosting for SEO.

But this isn’t a typical review.

Instead, I’ll be discussing what makes good hosting by explaining high-level technical concepts.

I won’t be recommending five or even ten good hosting companies because, in reality, there are only two that you’d ever need. Picking top-quality hosting for better organic search performance is about approaches, not services.

In addition to exploring what you should look for and why we’ll also explore which of the two services might best suit you based on your own needs.

So let’s get to it.

How search engines interact with your website

Crawling

Search engines use ‘spiders’ or ‘crawlers’ to access your website. This process begins with a GET request. If your Domain Name Server (DNS) resolves, next, it will attempt to connect with your server, which should return an HTTP response code of 200 ‘OK.’

Google’s crawler is known as Googlebot, which visits your website to retrieve information from pages and discover new pages from any links it finds. First, Googlebot checks the robots.txt file to identify whether to send a page an HTTP request. Then, should the robots.txt directives allow it, an additional HTTP request is sent to the web page they want to crawl to double-check that it allows crawling.

If a request to your page does not return a ‘200’ status code, it can sometimes be due to a problem with your hosting companies servers. These errors are known as ‘5xx errors’. One reason your server might return a 5xx response code is that your website might be receiving too many requests, also known as traffic.

Googlebot will be able to crawl more pages on your website more quickly with a better-performing, healthier server. However, servers responding to requests with a significant amount of 5xx errors will lead to the opposite. Google states that Googlebot treats network timeouts, connection resets, and DNS errors similarly to 5xx response codes. Additionally, they note that network errors immediately slow down crawling.

A non-technical way to assess your current servers' performance is to pay attention to the Crawl Stats report in Google Search Console to ensure the number of server errors is low.

Google Search Console Network Errors

Note: Not all issues can be identified via the Search Console.

Network errors may happen before Googlebot can retrieve a response from the server. In these cases, it will return no status code. Among other errors in the network, you can experience dropped packets leading to connection timeouts.

These issues are not easy to diagnose without technical expertise and access to the server at the command line. In addition, many hosting companies are not in the habit of divulging that these issues exist even when asked outright.

Rendering

According to Google, crawling involves both retrieving and rendering content from a web page, even though both are separate processes. However, there is nothing important to say about how a server affects rendering that hasn’t already been said about crawling.

Google’s illustration on their crawling process

Serving (and ranking)

Search engine ranking pages (SERPs) are dynamic and ever-changing. For example, when users search on Google, the search engine finds the best possible result based on its many ranking factors.

One crucial factor is to make your page a fast-loading one. One way to improve the speed of your website is to make sure that you’re reducing latency between requests. With better servers, you’ll be able to reduce the total round trip time on requests.

IP Neighborhoods

Your hosting company will have many IP addresses available for their servers. With shared hosting, you’ll have several websites, often from different accounts, all sharing the same IP address.

IPv4 addresses look something like this 68.188.59.198

Each section, separated by a period, can be made up of different classes. For example, the classes are A, B, C, and D. The first selection of numbers is the A-class, B is the second, and so on. So 68.188 can be managed by the same hosting company, then appending different C-class IPs to VPS users. Each class C block has 253 usable IP addresses. This means that entire IP blocks can be flagged with hosting companies that have lost the trust of search engines such as Google, even when they offer a VPS plan.

Hosting services popular with SEOs are often full of sites that Google views as low quality, manipulative, or even pure spam sites. Over time this causes the sites sharing those IP addresses to become negatively associated, which harms rankings. So ironically, many of the popular hosting services in the SEO community aren’t suitable for SEO hosting.

Server performance

Time To First Byte (TTFB) is a timing metric of 1 round trip of latency and your server’s time to prepare the response. High TTFB scores are common issues you see on most websites engaging in SEO, and most are unaware that this is a server-related issue. While TTFB can be higher on high-traffic websites or servers running certain technologies, Google still fails sites for anything above 600ms in their Lighthouse audit. They’ll also flag you for improvement for lower scores, even at 300ms. If your site is already well-optimized, it can be a sign that you need to upgrade your hosting plan or move to a new host altogether if you’re already paying a premium.

Time To First Byte Waterfall

Among other things, your server’s network connectivity will affect the average response time (ms) to retrieve text content from your web pages. This metric is something that Google cares about a lot, even reporting on this metric in Google Search Console.

Downtime is an issue that many hosting companies have, and you might not be aware of your site being unavailable due to network connectivity issues several times a day. If you’re not actively monitoring uptime, it can be challenging to identify such an issue as it is not something that most hosting companies report.

These are just a few things that you should minimize when looking for a solid host for your website.

Different types of servers available from hosting companies

You should avoid shared hosting at all costs because of the IP neighborhoods issue. However, this isn’t the only reason to avoid shared hosting. These servers are often slow and are more susceptible to security issues. In addition, you will most often not have access to a console for the server, meaning it will be almost impossible to identify network issues without an uncharacteristically honest hosting company.

Virtual private servers are, in my opinion, the best option for most people wanting to host something online. There are plenty of VPS options out there, with companies offering servers for as little as $5/mo. You get a unique IP address and will have complete control over the server. This total control is the downside for most folks out there because most don’t have the technical expertise to set up a server of their own, as that’s what you have to do with most VPS'.

The main difference between a dedicated server and a VPS other than the price is that while a VPS is your own private section of a physical server, a dedicated server is a whole machine. For this reason, a dedicated server will be expensive. Few businesses need a dedicated server, so it doesn’t get my general nod of approval for SEOs on the lookout for the perfect web hosting plan.

Operating system

Most hosting companies' servers come with an operating system standard that they use. However, if you’re going to be using a VPS, you will need to choose what operating system you want your server to run.

It is the industry standard to use Linux servers, and you’ll do well not to reinvent the wheel. The main choices you’ll have will be whether to use Linux’s Ubuntu or Debian distros. All my servers are running on Ubuntu 20.04 LTS (long-term support version) currently. So that’s my recommendation for you, and it is probably what most hosting companies' servers are running, too.

Server software

Considering that most SEOs will be running websites running on a content management system (CMS) like WordPress, there are three leading server software options: OpenLiteSpeed, Apache, and Nginx.

Nginx is one of the most popular options, and it is a good option. The main downside to Nginx is that it doesn’t allow you to have a .htaccess file. I’d say this is a negative for SEOs since most use this to do redirects and similar. The other downside about Nginx is that it doesn’t handle higher traffic loads as well as OpenLiteSpeed.

Apache is still popular, but it just doesn’t compare to Nginx or OpenLiteSpeed. I’d recommend staying away from Apache for the fact that it tells you a little something about the hosting company that they’re still using it when all the best ones no longer do.

OpenLiteSpeed is the best option with no compromise. It allows you to work with both Apache style .htaccess files and Nginx configuration files. In addition to this, it handles heavy traffic loads with ease in comparison to Nginx. In the admin area, you can quickly optimize your site for better speed and performance without needing plugins, or you can use plugins without ever having to know where the OLS admin area even is.

Configurations

Differences in software configurations can dramatically affect server performance, and this is often the real difference between hosting companies that outperform others. Unfortunately, many hosting companies have bad configs for their server software, which is one reason why I won’t recommend certain services you might expect to see in this article.

With OpenLiteSpeed, there can be a significant difference between the configurations that hosting companies use. While the default config is serviceable, it isn’t close to being perfect, with things like long-lived caching being too short for Google’s preferences by default.

Configurations go far beyond caching instructions, so don’t be tempted to believe that you can simply use a plugin to mitigate these issues. Many hosting companies now come with their own performance plugins, which in itself should set off alarm bells because they should do these optimizations at the host level.

Which hosting provider is right for you?

Finding the best option for you is going to be a case of what your needs are. I hope that I’ve done a satisfactory job of helping you understand some of the main challenges and pitfalls that affect you as an SEO when it comes to hosting.

You’ll need to think about the following to make sure you make the right choice:

My top hosting picks for SEOs

Vultr

The best option for everyone would be Vultr if not for two things. The ease-of-use and the customer support. Vultr is a VPS and dedicated hosting company, meaning they expect users to be technical.

You’ll be expected to install your operating system, content management system, and everything they require to run. You’ll also be responsible for updating your server, etc, whenever it needs it. There are similar companies out there like Linode and DigitalOcean where we can say the same things. So this isn’t a negative against Vultr; it is just a difference with these high-level hosting companies. They’re also not going to be providing round-the-clock support.

Vultr does not do well on sites like TrustPilot, with the overwhelming majority of reviews condemning the company for the lack of customer support. However, when you take support out of the equation, this company shines in every other conceivable way.

The ease-of-use cost of using these companies is losing out on things like cPanel, which comes for free with many traditional hosting companies. You will have to manage almost the entire server from the command line or have someone do that for you.

Where Vultr shines is in that it has some of the best hardware available for a fantastic price. In addition, the speed and performance on these servers are incredible. I’ve never experienced any downtime with Vultr, and I run several servers with them at present. You also get complete control over the server and can install and configure things to your own specifications.

I’ve never had network errors on my servers either, which is one of the most important factors an SEO should consider besides speed because server performance lets down many hosting companies.

For WordPress users, you’ll be able to make use of 1-click installations that come pre-packaged with Linux Ubuntu, OpenLiteSpeed, MariaDB, and more.

SSD cloud instances start from as low as $2.50/mo on ‘cloud compute’ packages. You can pick a Vultr high-frequency compute VPS, where you get a quad-core processor, 16GB RAM, 256GB storage, and 5TB bandwidth, all for $48/mo. There are unlimited options, and all of them offer insane value for what you get.

If you ever need to upgrade your server, you won’t need to cancel your plan or transfer your site. Instead, it is a simple case of logging in to your customer dashboard and giving your server more resources.

If all of this sounds amazing, it is because it is. But don’t get too disheartened if you feel like it is beyond your ability, as you can use my second option below to set up, manage, and provide the missing customer support on a Vultr server for you.

Cloudways

Cloudways is a managed hosting service that allows you to choose between five VPS hosting providers that they’ll host your site on for you. The primary offering is that service provides you support for these VPS hosting companies where the providers themselves either provide little or no support.

In addition, to support, Cloudways also offers you automated backups, 24/7 monitoring, a built-in CDN, and managed security features.

Unlike the providers they allow you to choose from, they don’t offer access to all plans or data locations.

In terms of pricing, it is a bit over double the amount of what you would pay the providers themselves. So the $12/mo Vultr high-frequency plan costs $26/mo on Cloudways. This is still a reasonable price considering this is a managed service with extra features thrown in.

You do get SSH access which is essential for SEO, but like every item on this list, there is no cPanel. Instead, you have your own dashboard within Cloudways itself, which is standard for managed hosting services.

Having had the chance to work on a couple of WordPress sites using Cloudways, I’ve seen that the configurations are extremely good with the performance of these sites, often outperforming the default configurations on Vultr’s 1-click install for WordPress.

Cloudways performs excellently in the reviews department with a 4.7 from 1,000+ reviews on TrustPilot on 20th September 2021.

Cloudways are my second choice because they still allow you to use the insane hardware that gives Vultr the speed & performance edge over other cloud providers. The configurations on Cloudways only improve on that.

Bottom-line

So what’s the bottom line here? Well, you can save yourself a lot of money by walking away from services that aren’t as ideal for SEO as they claim. But, more than this, the actual conclusion is that getting the SEO hosting of your dreams is all about understanding what that actually entails and what to avoid.

One of the two options on this list will give you precisely what you’re looking for in a host.


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