It’s estimated that there are between 250 and 300 million websites on the internet, across the globe. Without a doubt, at least a handful of those site owners are unhappy with the speed in which their websites load.

In this blog series, we’ll evaluate some common reasons why your site my be slow, and what you can do about it.

Inexpensive Hosting Image

Inexpensive Web Hosting

I once worked as a tech support manager for a pretty large web hosting conglomerate – one that owned many of the companies whose logos you see above.  Working in the industry taught me many things about how hosting actually works.  What it really taught me is that any inexpensive web host is not going to always perform as well as you’d want it to.

Don’t get me wrong, you may get lucky, find a host for $5 a month, and be perfectly happy with it.  Let me explain how these hosts work.

These types of hosts are referred to as “shared hosting.”  In layman’s terms, that simply means that each one of their web hosting servers houses many, many customer accounts — sometimes upwards of a few thousand.  With most of these companies offering the promise of “unlimited” everything (space, bandwidth, domains, email addresses, etc) that means that each of these few thousand customer accounts could be running dozens of actual websites.

How does that affect the speed of a website?  Glad you asked.  A web server, just like your home computer, can only do so many things at one time.   So many page requests, so many database queries, so many DNS lookups, etc.  The number of how many tasks the server can perform depends on how good of a server it is, but it’s generally a lot.

The problem comes in when the server is trying to perform too many tasks at once.  When the server becomes overloaded, it starts to queue up requests, and processes them in the order it gets them.

Imagine the host is a bank with only a few tellers (servers) and many customers (websites).  The tellers can only do so many things at a time (in this example, likely just one) and a queue of customer tasks forms.  The teller finishes with their customer and the next person in line steps up.

Why It’s Not Optimal

A shared host may work just fine for you — it all depends on what your website’s doing, how much traffic you get, and whether or not your website is your only source of income. If your site is your personal blog that only gets one or two visitors a day, you may not care if it takes a few extra seconds to load.

If your website is your business (an e-commerce store, a popular blog, an advertising site, etc) and needs to bring money in, you may run into problems using a shared host.

A shared host, when it runs out of processing power, can have websites taking literally minutes to load.  Imagine you are the person visiting a website: Would you wait around for minutes for the site to load?  Personally, if a site doesn’t at least start loading within a second or two, I’ve already browsed to the next website I wanted to visit.

How to Fix It

Like everything in life — you get what you pay for.  If you only spend a few bucks a month, you will, at some point, be frustrated by either the speed of your website or the support you get when your site is slow.

The obvious solution is to upgrade your hosting to something better.  What’s better?

There are two better types of web hosting – Virtual Private Server (VPS) and Dedicated Servers.

A VPS is the same hardware as a shared hosting server. However,  the VPS limits how many customer accounts are put on the server — making it virtually private.  It’s a big step up because you’re sharing resources (server power) with between 10-100 (depending on the provider) instead thousands.

A dedicated server is the top of the line. It is a single, fully functioning server all to yourself.  No one to compete with for resources.  Unfortunately, a dedicated server can cost you quite a bit more than you were paying for shared hosting.  A decent entry-level dedicated server will run you around $85 per month.  Top-of-the-line servers can cost thousands of dollars a month, but that’s likely overkill for most situations.

I switched from a shared host to a dedicated server in August of 2009 and I was immediately blown away by the difference in speed. We’ve upgraded quite a few times since then, but even that original dedicated server was faster than any host we’d ever used before.

Be sure to check out for Part II of the series – Your CMS May Be Your Problem.