Hosting your Ecommerce Website
Hosting is invisible to your customers, but it’s really important for their experience. Bad hosting can even affect your chances of securing the sale – a fractionally slower page can frustrate buyers and will alienate a percentage. Depending on the type and size of ecommerce site you are setting up, your budget, and your expected volumes, there are a number of hosting options available to choose from.
Shared Hosting Ecommerce Web Hosting
Shared hosting is available from upwards of £5 p/month. The most basic level of hosting available to you, it may be the right option for your small web shop.
Pros of Shared Hosting:
- Cost – The main advantage of shared hosting is that it costs next to nothing when compared with other types of hosting service. This means your hosting bill is negligible, so you can get your ecommerce store online for next to nothing.
- No Maintenance – Because the server is entirely managed on your behalf, you don’t need to worry about maintenance, or any problems arising along the way. You have the benefit of customer support, plus countless others in the same boat, so if you do experience downtime or server issues, you can be sure you’re not the only one pursuing the hosting company to get it fixed.
Cons of Shared Hosting:
- Speed – Speed is crucially important in ecommerce. Countless studies have shown that the longer someone has to wait to buy from and use your website (including down to fractions of a second), the more likely the are to abandon the process. As with everything in ecommerce, these probabilities factor in to the wider equation to create an abandonment percentage, and faster websites will retain more of these marginal customers than their slower counterparts.
- Limited Resources – The more successful your website gets, the more resources it will require hosting-wise, which will start to push you beyond the realms of shared hosting. Website lag is a conversion killer, and downtime is even worse, so if you’re envisaging a significant scale shared hosting is probably not the best option available.
Who Is Shared Hosting For?
Shared hosting is where your website is hosted alongside many other different users on a partitioned server, with your own directory sitting side by side on the same server with many other websites. This spreads the total cost of the hosting bill between many more users, which is why shared hosting comes in at such a low cost. However, if your website is gaining any traction at all, you might want to switch away from shared hosting onto something more substantial.
VPS (Virtual Private Server) Ecommerce Web Hosting
When your shop starts to pick up traction, and you start to hit more serious revenue figures, you will want to graduate to something more sturdy. Your shared hosting will only take you so far, before you will need at least at VPS to deliver an optimum experience to your users and a reliable platform for running your business.
Pros of VPS Hosting:
- Less Expensive Than Dedicated – VPS servers don’t cost quite as much as larger, dedicated servers, but they can replicate the experience to a large extent. That means you can benefit from a fast, lag-free online shop without the same price tag as a dedicated server.
- More Resources – VPS servers provide more resources for your shop, so you can handle increased volumes of browsing and buying activity. This makes VPS solutions ideal for shops that are up and running, and especially for shops that are seeing steady sales results.
- Easy To Scale – As your business grows, it becomes easier to take advantage of scale and adding more resources as you need it with a VPS, without the need for increased floorspace or new hosting packages. This means you can scale without disruption to your business, to meet the needs of your shop and your customers as you grow
Cons of VPS Hosting:
- More Expensive Than Shared – Of course, while VPS solutions cost less than dedicated hosting solutions, they are more expensive than shared plans. For this reason, you probably don’t want or need a VPS if you are just testing the waters with a new idea, or if you’re looking to get to a minimum viable product before launching your shop. If your shop is making money, even the costs of a VPS will soon be covered.
- Resources Can Still ‘Peak Out’ – It is still possible to hit a resources limited with a VPS, thanks to the way some hosting companies allocate resources. This means you can still encounter similar problems as can arise on shared hosting plans, particularly if your VPS is hosted alongside other large VPS packages. This is not as common as issues arising with shared hosting plans, but it is possible.
- Downtime and Outages From Others – Because you are still tied to sharing a physical server with other hosting clients, you still run the risk of downtime and outages – say, for example, if one of the other packages ends up draining too much resource from the physical server.
Who Is It For?
VPS hosting is perfect for those who are running shops that are starting to see some traction, or sites that you realistically expect to be hit with traffic from an early stage. The VPS mimics a dedicated server in the virtual environment, giving you the same level of control and resources without the need for physical data storage and management. However, VPS systems are not as robust as dedicated servers, and while these services are generally scalable, they can also encounter similar problems in terms of resources if you have large volumes of use.
Ecommerce Dedicated Server Web Hosting
The ultimate in web hosting services, the dedicated server is a standalone server with ample space to host your shop, and any other web projects you happen to be running. The most expensive option by far, dedicated servers can be either managed or unmanaged depending on your preferences. Expect to pay a pretty penny, but for the serious online shop, a dedicated server is an absolute must for handling substantial volumes of traffic and providing the slickest, quickest possible shopping experience.
- Maximum Control – With a dedicated server, you’re the only ecommerce store in town, and the only website on the server for that matter. It’s your server, you can do what you like, and you have the utmost control over your exclusive space. Unlike a VPS which mimics this level of dedication in the virtual environment, a dedicated server is the real deal, which will help deliver a more reliable, robust web hosting service.
- Maximum Resources – Dedicated servers offer more server power, so you are providing a much more solid foundation for your website to run from. Maximum resources, maximum power and maximum speed will mean you don’t miss out on as many sales through frustration or delay. It will also increase the overall reliability of your website, and help deliver the optimum sales experience to give your shop a serious chance of achieving scale.
- Cost – Obviously the cost is the primary issue with dedicated servers, and if everyone could afford to have their own dedicated server running, chances are they would. If your shop is hitting serious sales volumes, into the high thousands per month, it would be worth considering switching to a dedicated server, or if you have multiple profitable sites which can help you spread the costs. However, it has to be viable before it could be the recommended choice for your website.
- Management – Dedicated servers may require your management, or you can pay for managed servers at a slightly greater cost. This goes hand in hand with storage, and most people just choose to pay a bit extra to have this taken care of. As it’s a physical machine, you need somewhere to locate your dedicated server, and most people would prefer to have this situated within a data centre facility that is managed on their behalf, thus creating extra costs associated with hosting in this way.
Who Is It For?
If you are just starting out with an ecommerce store and you don’t have a massive budget to play with, you are probably best sticking with a VPS or even a shared plan for the time being, until your shop starts to make a move. You are talking three figures a month in hosting costs to cover a dedicated server, so it’s not a small-scale commitment for a start-up project.
If you are anticipating substantial activity on your store, and you feel it is viable to cover hosting costs from sales throughout the month, a dedicated server can bring you the best control and the best quality of hosting space, so your visitors can shop quickly and securely around the clock with limited downtime or sluggishness.
Measuring Page Speed and Load Times
It’s clear that page load times can have a massive impact on conversions, so you need to know that your website is performing at its peak. If your site takes too long to load, you are leaking conversions, so testing different pages on an ongoing basis can help you identify problems before they cost you too much money.
Pingdom.com is a useful service, which allows you to run quick page speed tests, analysing the performance of your website and identifying potential “bottlenecks” that could be causing your website to lag. By running through different pages on your site, you can start to get a feel for where you need to make load time improvements.
You can even benchmark your page load times versus competing retailers, so you can see how you stack up. Once you’ve made tweaks to optimise performance, you can re-run your domain through Pingdom to find out how much you’ve improved your load times.
WordPress Ecommerce Hosting
Running your ecommerce store on WordPress requires good hosting, in order to provide a fast, stable shopping experience. As WordPress sites are built out, with dozens of plugins, tens of thousands of product pages and an ever-expanding traffic base, hosting becomes an issue if you want to maintain a quick website that can handle what you’re throwing at it.
Hosting is not just a back-end issue – it can have a direct impact on conversions. Google estimates that 20% of traffic is lost for every half second of page load time, which will cost your business dearly in terms of lost sales and increased abandonment. What’s worse, according to Kiss Metrics (https://blog.kissmetrics.com/speed-is-a-killer/) 79% of shopper experiencing page load issues leave and won’t come back to buy from that site in future.
The answer is a combination of high quality ecommerce hosting, so you know your website will respond quickly as you scale, and on-page performance optimisation.
WP Engine – WordPress / WooCommerce Hosting
WP Engine is the enterprise solution for hosting your WordPress ecommerce store. The hosting provider of choice for a number of leading brands using WordPress, WP Engine can give your online store the edge on page load times. As your website grows, having a high quality hosting provider behind you means your store can respond effectively to the needs of your customers.
Another key benefit is security – with WP Engine, your website is virtually hack-proof. One of the problems with running a WordPress store ordinarily is the potential for hacking, as a result of security vulnerabilities in WordPress, plugins etc., a threat which costs websites millions every year. WP Engine all but prevent this entirely, meaning you can sleep soundly knowing your shop is safe and online.
WP Engine is relatively expensive as hosting goes ($29 per month), but it’s money well spent for anyone looking to run a serious ecommerce store – you are paying for deluxe hosting, so you can rest assured your website will be fast, online and secure at all times. If you are looking to move your site, migration is as easy as possible, and there is plenty of support on hand to help you make the move, and support in general is second to none.
Magento Hosting Solutions
If you are running your ecommerce store on Magento, you will need to investigate alternative hosting, designed to respond to the needs of the Magento platform as your website expands. While WP Engine is predominantly orientated around WordPress, there are equivalents providing high quality hosting solutions for those with Magento stores.
Rackspace is one of the primary solutions for ecommerce stores running on Magento. With a proven track record in optimised hosting for Magento, 9 international data centres for stability and page load speeds, wherever you sell, and a strong support framework in place, many Magento ecommerce retailers turn to Rackspace as their hosting provider of choice.
Optimising Page Load Times
Hosting is clearly critical to page load times and website performance. But aside from hosting, what can be done to ensure your website is performing to the highest standard?
- Optimise Images: big images can drag down the performance of your website unnecessarily, leaving your visitors waiting while images load. You can significantly reduce the load time of your pages by optimising images, and there are a number of services (see below) which can help you achieve this.
- Don’t Use HTML Resizing: when it comes to resizing images, you don’t want to leave this up to your HTML. Use images in the size you want them to display, or alternatively resized, rather than forcing your HTML to do the resizing process for you – essentially the slowest way to process images.
- Tidy Up Stylesheets: having too many different stylesheets being called when your page loads adds to the weight of your website, making it more sluggish than it needs to be for your visitors. Use a single stylesheet where possible, and be sure to tidy up your styling to prevent unnecessary delays to load times.
- Check Out Your Theme: if you are running your ecommerce store on WordPress, it may be the case that your theme is causing your website to slow down. Try switching to another theme if your website is still too slow after you’ve made these other changes, and make sure your WordPress install, themes and all plugins are totally up to date for the fastest possible WordPress experience.
Content Delivery Networks (CDN’s)
In pursuit of optimum performance on your website, a content delivery network (CDN) can be used to serve up your content, including images, in a more rapid, more localised way. CDNs distribute your content across multiple different data centres offering a geographic spread. This means your visitors can be served your website content in the fastest possible way, wherever they are located. For the most robust, direct experience, regardless of where your customers are located, CDNs ensure your website has a fighting chance of lightning fast response.
Optimising Images For Hosting
Images are an important part of the ecommerce process, but you need to handle them correctly in order to prevent your page from slowing down. Here are a few strategies you can use throughout your site for optimising images and streamlining your on-page experience.
Types of File
The types of file you use can have an impact on the size of the image, and therefore the overall load time visitors experience on your site. By and large, you will use either JPG or PNG formats, and the rule of thumb is that you should use JPGs for high detail photos, and PNGs in all other cases. If you are using a combination of photographic and visual elements, use PNG-24 – for other PNGs, you should use PNG-8 format images, for the slickest possible load times.
Saving Your Image File
When it comes to saving an image file, you can take advantage of a number of space saving functions, simply by saving in a format optimised for the web. Choose ‘Save as Web Format’, or the equivalent option depending on the photo editor you are using. If you already have your images, open them up and resave them in a web-optimised format. This will reduce file size and load times, without sacrificing the quality of your image to a noticeable extent.
Use CSS Whenever You Can
Don’t be tempted to use images for every visual element of your website – it is now possible to achieve more with CSS, which is much faster loading than an additional image file. Obviously this doesn’t apply to photographs, but it can apply to buttons, backgrounds and other on-page elements that can be rendered in CSS, rather than an image file to save load times.
Use The Same Image Several Times
Repeating the use of images throughout your site is beneficial, because your visitors will already have loaded them in their browser. For example, don’t use different logo files on different pages of your site – use the same file, so your visitors don’t have to load up similar images from different files.
Image Optimisation Services
There are a number of image optimisation services available, which can help you fine-tune the performance of your website and increase your page load times. Check out:
- Online Image Optimizer