I recently published a content marketing glossary that very quickly gathered over three thousand page views and nearly two thousand social shares. It was great news in terms of my email subscriber numbers, online brand and podcast listener stats – but not such good news for my server.
I originally started this blog as a means of showing best practice content marketing strategies to my clients, but it has quickly grown beyond that and taken on a life of its own. Consequently until very recently I still hosted the site on Bluehost.
Now don’t get me wrong, I recommend Bluehost as a great starter host to quickly and cheaply buy a domain and get your site online – but its shared hosting plans don’t really cut the mustard when your site grows.
I’ve still got about 30 client and affiliate sites registered through Bluehost, so I’m not about to start slagging them off. As I say they do a great job for a certain type of site and target market – but what happened after the publication of my recent glossary convinced me I needed a faster, more scalable hosting solution.
So after my glossary was live – there I was, repeatedly refreshing my various stat counters to see my social media shares and site visitors racing up – when I received an email from a disgruntled reader saying my site was loading really slowly, and sometimes not at all.
Ok, that’s not good.
So I went over to the Google PageSpeed Insights app and typed in my domain name. Nothing too concerning here, the site was quite slow on both mobile and desktop devices – but nothing to get in a panic about.
I double checked it on Pingdom and got a site speed result of just under 4 seconds. Again, by no means good – but hardly cause for calamity.
So I carried on watching my stats rise and cracked open another beer, (my wife was at yoga and the kids were asleep – golden ‘me-time’).
Sat next to me on the desk was a copy of Jeff Walker’s great new book Launch (which I recommend by the way but that's not an affiliate link), and as I was absently-mindedly staring at the cover something occurred to me.
In the book, amongst his many successes, Jeff talks about a product launch that didn’t go to plan because the high amount of traffic simultaneously sent to the ‘open cart’ page crashed his server.
It suddenly dawned on me that although I was obviously not experiencing a ‘Product Launch Formula’ server-crushing amount of traffic – could the same thing be happening on a smaller scale to my humble shared Bluehost server – and be causing it to slow down?
This was certainly not the first time I’ve got a lot of traffic quickly on Content Champion, but could it be that the amount of people all on the site at once acts to slow down my server when this amount of visitors reaches a certain level?
I did some research and this scenario looked increasingly likely. What I found was a forum on a site called Traffic Planet, and a post written by SEO expert Terry Kyle saying that cheaper shared hosting such as mine was not a good option when multiple users were simultaneously on your site.
He said the result of this is that your readers might have to spend as much as 30 seconds waiting for your pages to load in periods of high traffic.
Could this be the problem that prompted the disgruntled email?
I quickly hopped on to the Load Impact site to see what was going on, and the first test I did saw the blog load in an eye-opening 22 seconds. I ran several tests before deciding to take a screen shot – because I knew instantly I’d have to change hosts to speed up my site, and I wanted to document the process.
The example I recorded showed an aggregated peak load time of over 21 seconds, with a simulated loading of only 50 visitors all on the site at the same time:
So in reality I didn't have massive simultaneous visitor numbers, yet my shared hosting still couldn’t handle it. It left me wondering how many people had given up waiting for the page to load and gone elsewhere – and how many potential email subscribers this had cost me.
Something had to be done. I needed a new host and wanted to get it done fast. I’ve put a lot of work into this blog and to potentially lose subscribers because I was still on shared hosting suddenly seemed a ludicrously bad move.
It was then I remembered reading a post by Matthew Woodward, which outlined problems he’d had with another hosting company – so I clicked over to his excellent blog.
In this post I found what I was looking for. At the height of his hosting nightmare, Matthew said: “I reached out to some people for advice and Terry Kyle quite literally saved the day. Terry Kyle is someone I have looked up to for years, he runs the Traffic Planet forums and knows his stuff when it comes to SEO & internet marketing. He also runs WPX Hosting & his support team took care of everything for me.”
This was perfect symmetry. I had Terry’s forum open right in front of me, and the speed test insights I’d just read were related to the very hosting platform Matthew had trusted in his hour of need.
‘If it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for me' I thought – and after some more cursory research I placed my order with WPX Hosting.
Now I must say at this point that Content Champion is my baby, (well that’s not strictly true as this is actually my baby)…
But the fact is, I’ve spent hours and hours building up this site and although Traffic Planet offer a free transfer service, I was very worried about them messing up my blog – even though I’d backed up everything, twice.
So it was with some trepidation that I submitted my support ticket to request the site transfer.
I needn’t have worried.
Within a working day, Traffic Planet’s hosting support team had got back to me to say the transfer had been completed. To be honest, I didn’t really believe they’d done it properly, so they asked me to hop onto a remote screen sharing session and lo and behold – there was my blog looking exactly the same.
After changing my domain name settings (DNS) in Bluehost and waiting a few hours, the site was already loading visibly more quickly as the various global servers began propagating the changes.
So far, so good.
My pages were loading in a satisfyingly sprightly fashion, and everything looked just as it was before the site transfer. I gave the DNS another 24 hours to completely propagate then tested the site speed again.
Firstly, these were my results in the Google speed test tool:
A 21% speed increase on desktops! Now that can’t be bad.
What about Pingdom?
Another massive increase in speed. This was all looking very good indeed.
But what about the crucial server loading speed when those simulated 50 visitors were all on the site at the same time?
Bingo! A peak aggregated load time of just over 4 seconds – so the site's performance is not dropping off at all when more demand is placed upon the server.
This is a better result than I expected if I’m being honest, so I’m delighted.
I was so pleased with my results that I contacted Terry Kyle, owner of WPX Hosting, and asked him what was going on behind the scenes to achieve this excellent performance:
Why did you start WPX Hosting?
Over the course of my IM and SEO career, I’ve probably used pretty much every hosting company in the world at one time or other and they all had issues: too slow under traffic load, too expensive, weak support, difficult admin interfaces etc.
As a naïve user, I used to think that Hostgator and Bluehost hosting was fine (they say “unlimited everything” on their sales pages right?) – until sites there started to get some traffic and then page load times blew out to something like 20 to 30 seconds, or couldn’t load at all. And that’s with only 10-30 people on a site at once! Who is going to wait 30 seconds for a webpage to load?
Nobody of course and that kind of hosting performance destroys conversions and the ‘user experience’ on your site. People are getting less patient all the time and sites just have to load fast. I also recommend that all readers of this blog test their current hosting under traffic load over at Load Impact (it’s free) with a simulated load of 50 visitors at once – you may be shocked with what you see.
So I wanted to create a hosting service for Money Sites (not SEO hosting) that was very fast, especially under traffic loads like an email promotion or content going viral and was good value for money, plus excellent support, hence WPX Hosting.
How does your hosting increase site speed and loading times in high traffic periods?
It’s not that WPX Hosting increases in page load speed during high traffic peaks but rather that performance doesn’t deteriorate massively during those high load periods – like most hosting does. I’ll go into this more below but basically we have the quality infrastructure to handle high traffic peaks at any time. Sites hosted on WPX Hosting like hauntedrooms.com, hauntedrooms.co.uk and matthewwoodward.co.uk get many thousands of visits a day and anyone can see how quickly they load, whether there’s a ton of traffic on them or not.
From an SEO and usability perspective, why is site speed so important?
Assuming for a minute that site speed has no effect on rankings, the big question is: what kind of experience do you want your visitors to have. We all feel busy and too short of time and won’t wait for slow pages to load – maybe in 1998 we would wait for a slow website but not anymore. If you work hard to get traffic to your site, don’t frustrate them when they arrive. It will kill your business if you do.
On the SEO front, that’s more difficult to test and quantify but Google have openly stated – if we believe them – that site speed is a ranking factor though how big a factor is only known inside Google. Again though, get fast hosting for your site visitors more than possible SEO gains.
The way we achieve our site speeds apart from a lot of server optimization at our end is through [a] new very high-spec 32 GB RAM servers with Raid SSD Controllers, [b] fast 100 Mbps internet connections to each machine, and [c] we don’t overload our servers and do cap the number of sites and accounts on each machine, well below the threshold of performance decay.
Typical cheap hosting companies massively overload their machines with websites and accounts and that’s terrible for page load speed. Plus those cheaper services tend to use pretty old machines as well and obviously that’s a speed killer too.
What features are included as standard with your hosting packages?
In the hosting business, there are many different levels of services/features available from supercheap shared hosting up to massive dedicated server racks. WPX Hosting is not the cheapest or most expensive when it comes to quality hosting and our natural competitors are companies like WP Engine, Websynthesis and Media Temple. Typically our users are small business owners and entrepreneurs using WordPress, though we can host any kind of website or CMS.
Feature-wise, apart from hosting that has been independently verified as faster than the three companies above, we offer as a part of our service: [a] free migration from your current hosting completed within 24 hours (WPEngine and Websynthesis charge at least $99 for site migration), [b] free email (WPEngine and Websynthesis do not offer email at all), [c] 10/20/40 Gb disk space across our 3 main hosting package offers at $24.99/$49.99/$99 monthly – a little lower than our competitors but we offer up to 5 website hosting slots in our $24.99 package; WPEngine and Websynthesis offer only 1 on their base hosting package, and [d] 24/7 Live Chat support.
What support structure do you have in place?
We have 24/7 Live Chat and Support Ticket help, daily incremental backups and full weekly backups – both to Amazon S3 (off-site).
What other ways can we increase site speed, is TPH compatible with caching plugins?
We highly recommend W3 Total Cache, which we can configure for free on request from our customers. For image-heavy websites, using a CDN like Cloudfront, MaxCDN or Cloudflare is recommended and again, we configure that for free for our customers. Other steps like optimizing images to smaller file sizes, not using Gravatar icons and not overloading a WP site with too many plugins are also recommended steps – that applies to WP hosting anywhere. We have an extensive knowledgebase article on this issue at WPX Hosting.
Why should we choose TPH over your competitors?
In short, we’re 5x+ better value than our competitors in terms of the number of websites you can host with us, will migrate all your sites to us for free within 24 hours, offer free email, have 24/7 Support and are considerably faster than all our direct competitors.
And we’re nice people!
We all know the potential ranking benefits of a having a faster site, but what’s even more important in my eyes is usability.
The main key performance indicator (KPI) on my blog is email signups, so a faster site – even at peak traffic times – should mean a more satisfying user experience, increased engagement and more people added to my email list.
So if you care about your website visitors (which you obviously should), and want them to have a superb experience viewing the content on your site – and you want to give them every chance to join your list, sign up for your offers, products and services – then using slow shared hosting really is a false economy.
Although I’m paying over three times as much for WPX Hosting on a monthly basis – the hosting itself, ease of transfer and customer service should be worth every penny.
Time will tell of course, but for now I’m delighted my visitors will already be having a better experience on Content Champion, and I’m very happy I’ve changed hosts – even though the cheaper shared hosting plan served me well until my blog started to grow.
If you would like to sign up for WPX Hosting, they offer a free migration service plus free Google-sponsored SSL certificates for all sites. Click here to sign up today.