Recently on Rank 1st we asked and answered the question, "Are some website building methods better for SEO than others?" This took us down a rabbit hole that highlighted on-site SEO components and how they could be utilized through the various methods of site building.
Today, we'll tackle a question that is similar in nature, but different in terms of specifics: are some hosting services better for SEO than others? And if you're starting from scratch and don't even know much about hosting services in the first place, we've got you covered there too.
A brief overview of web hosting
A website cannot truly exist on the Internet without a host. It is as essential as oxygen for humans, water for fish, or Sriracha sauce for rice-based dishes (okay, maybe that last one is just according to some of us).
What hosts do is provide a server that stores and powers the product showing up in a web browser. Lots of hosting companies have sprung up in the online era, but being a web host is something that literally anyone can go ahead and do—provided they know their way around the technology that's involved.
Hosting requires both hardware and software components to be working in tandem for the system to function. Machinery like the CPU, motherboard, hard drive, etc. provide the hardware, while operating systems make up the software side of things.
One thing to keep in mind about web hosting is that it isn't necessarily tied to a site's domain name. Though many web hosts will simultaneously allow you to purchase a domain name with your hosting package, it is not essential for the two to go together.
How different hosting services factor into SEO
Since hosts are such an essential component of a website's ability to exist, the basic failure of a host service to perform could be disastrous for an online destination. Especially if problems persist, visitors will get quickly fed up and choose to spend their valuable browsing time elsewhere. We are not living in an era of online patience.
Thus, being able to satisfy that minimum standard of performance is crucial for a web host. In fact, I'll borrow here from Malcolm Gladwell and his theory about strong-link/weak-link networks in sports to argue that the same is true of hosting services. Gladwell's thinking is that a sport like basketball is a strong-link network because it allows the supremely talented to shine brightly and carry their teams with exceptional individual efforts. Soccer, on the other hand, is a weak-link network because even a single below-average player can sink a team in a way that it never would in basketball. Hosting services are akin to weak-link networks because one malfunctioning component can sink the entire operation—even if other aspects of it are running beautifully.
If a host doesn't have the bandwidth to support a highly traveled website, then that compromises all the other SEO efforts the owner has put in. Or if site speed is just slow in general with a certain host, then that will overshadow anything else it excels at. Plus, a major SEO factor is bounce rate, which tracks how quickly visitors leave a web page after clicking on it, and is something that will jump astronomically if bandwidth and site speed are issues.
One way to mitigate those sorts of issues is to invest in a dedicated server/web host, which basically means that it is exclusive to a single website, rather than one that serves several different destinations. The alternatives to this are shared hosting and virtual private server (VPS) hosting, the latter being a sort of hybrid between dedicated and shared servers. Shared and VPS hosting are both much cheaper than shelling out for dedicated hosting, but they come with a lesser degree of quality assurance, since resources may be diverted to other websites.
Beyond that, there are some smaller ways in which a host could have a tangible impact on SEO. Some packages can include extra perks such as SSL certification (increases security for clients who provide personal information through a website) or SEO-focused tips/tools, but those will depend on what a site administrator is looking for, and won't necessarily move the SEO needle in a huge way.
Ultimately, a hosting service's biggest gift to SEO is dependability. Everything else is icing on the cake.