What Does Hosting Look Like at Different Traffic Levels?
When you start a business, your ultimate goal is to grow it.
Even when you decide you are ready to sell your business, it still has to show growth potential. Buyers and investors aren’t going to be interested in a venture that’s D.O.A.
There have been hundreds of articles about how to grow your business. Heck, we’ve written some of them.
But what about after your business starts to grow? How do you adjust to the changes your business will go through once your website starts receiving more traffic?
The number one indicator that your online business is growing is a steady increase in the traffic your site receives. If you’re new to online business and don’t understand how to host a website, you might not know about all the technical details that come with it.
Most people start with a basic/cheap hosting plan when they create a domain for their website. They’ll go with the host that their website builder recommends, buy a plan they think fits their website as is, and then shift their focus onto other aspects of their business.
However, when traffic starts to roll into your site, that basic plan is no longer strong enough. Your site will crash, your host will send you an email about how they can’t handle your site, and you’ll feel like you have to go back to the drawing board.
“Will I have to build a whole new site?”
“Will this affect my traffic?”
“Is this the end of my business?”
Don’t panic. Hitting a server’s capacity is a common problem all website owners will face at least once in their career.
With time and a little knowledge, you can learn how to scale your website with your business and all the technical considerations you should take into account when doing so.
What is a Host?
If you read the introduction and are already hung up on the vocabulary I used, it’s time for a brief lesson on the three main terms we’ll be addressing in this article.
- Web Host – a company that provides space on a web server for clients (website owners). All websites must have a host and a server – that’s how they can exist on the vast landscape of the internet.
- Web Server – a program that uses HTTP (Hypertext transfer protocol) to serve, or transmit, the data that forms web pages to clients/users.
- Bandwidth – a site’s traffic capacity (how many visitors it can accommodate at one time) or data transfer requirements (i.e., if you have downloadables – how big a file you can transfer to your visitors).
- IP Address – a number that designates the location of your website and server, both on the web and on the planet Earth.
- Shared Server – A server that hosts multiple websites/clients at once.
- Private Server – A server that hosts one client only.
- Content Delivery Network (CDN) – A system of networks that help larger websites get delivered efficiently to clients no matter where they are in the world.
Think of your website as a person. To survive, a person must have a place to live. The web host is a plot of land, the server is a house that is on the plot of land, and the bandwidth is the square footage of the house. The person lives inside the server and on the host. For guests to visit, the person must have land, a house, and enough space to hold all their guests.
Without those three things defined and set up, your website/person cannot survive.
Now that you’ve got the basic terms, it’s time to jump into the meat of the lesson.
Choosing a Host Plan
The host plan you choose must suit your website’s needs. However, when you first start an online business, what you need in a plan might be a little hard to pin down.
To know what plan you should go with, you need to know your bandwidth and whether you expect your site to grow gradually or quickly.
Calculating bandwidth right out of the gate can be damn near impossible, especially if you’re still setting everything up. It’s also hard to predict how fast your business will grow. You need to be honest about your potential — if you’re too optimistic, you’ll overpay. If you’re too modest, you’ll exceed your allotted bandwidth and experience issues.
My advice would be to wait a few months before deciding on the hosting payment plan to invest in. Get the most basic plan first – like on HostGator or GoDaddy – and monitor the average number of visitors to your site as well as page views per visitor.
You’ll also want to know how much data your website takes up — whether your pages are large and detailed or whether you offer large file downloads for your visitors. Either way, that will play into how much space you need from a host.
Once you have calculated your estimated needed bandwidth, making the call on which plan is right for your website will be a lot easier.
The Different Types of Hosting
There are many different types of hosting plans out there depending on the host you choose. Most web hosts offer at least one of the four main types of web hosting:
1. Shared Hosting
If you sign up for a site that offers shared hosting, you will be paying for a server that holds multiple hosts, some of which share the same IP address. Shared hosts are less involved and therefore less expensive, but there are fewer resources and features. If you choose to go with a shared host, you’ll need to know exactly what your website needs in terms of disk space, bandwidth, and number of different domains you’ll be using, as there are strict limits on most shared hosting plans.
Luckily, on a shared hosting site (like GoDaddy), you can easily upgrade from a basic plan to a more advanced one. I’ll go over what that looks like later on.
One note about shared hosting – since you and other clients are operating on one server, if it crashes, then every site associated with it will crash. Usually, the fix is easy, but if you don’t want to risk your site going down, then you might need to shell out the big bucks.
2. Business Hosting
Business hosting is a step up from shared hosting. It is a powerful alternative that gets you more space and more features without having to move to a private server. Usually, business hosts don’t have limits on domains, emails, or databases. If you have a lot of outgoing mail and a lot of email accounts associated with your website, then the business host is a good option.
Furthermore, if your business is in the process of growing and the limitations of a regular shared server are too much, then a business host (like BlueHost) is a good middle ground before you decide to invest in a dedicated server.
3. VPS Hosting
VPS stands for Virtual Private Server. When you get a VPS host, you are paying for a chunk of a server specifically reserved for you and your site. You’d have complete management over your own system, which means more freedom and flexibility. Your server is also protected from crashes. If another site on a different chunk of the server crashes (whether due to overuse of resources or high CPU usage), your site won’t be affected.
VPS hosting is more expensive than shared and business hosting but much less than a fully dedicated server. And while having control of your own server might be intimidating, there are management services out there that can help you along.
You can find VPS hosting plans from most hosts that offer shared and business hosting – it will typically be one of their higher quality plans.
4. Dedicated Server
When your site has hit the big leagues and your traffic becomes too much for a shared or VPS server to handle, then it’s time to invest in a dedicated server.
Dedicated servers are there completely for you and your site and can be customized and upgraded accordingly. They are the most powerful servers out there and they’ll cost you. A cheaper one from HostGator will be a little over $100 per month, while dedicated servers from IBM with all the bells and whistles cost almost $1,500 a month.
If your traffic numbers are looking like you’ll be the next Google, then IBM’s $1,500 per month dedicated server plan might be a good investment. If not, there’s no need to overbuy.
Upgrading Your Plan
You can always upgrade to new and improved servers, whether they are offered by your host or not. If upgrades are offered by your host, usually they’ll take care of everything and charge your account accordingly. If the host can’t offer you what you need, you’ll have to shop around with other hosting sites and server options.
As with choosing a hosting plan, deciding on upgrades should not be a “go with your gut” decision. It should be informed by data and reliable predictions about the growth of your website and the data required to run everything.
And while changing servers may be a pain (usually your site will go down for a short period), it’s ultimately worth it.
Keeping Your Website Up and Running
The number one way to keep your website from crashing and losing you money (via lost traffic and sales) is to always be prepared.
If you are getting ready to launch a new promotion that is projected to bring in a sudden flow of traffic to your website, you’ll need to check that your server and host can actually handle the influx of new users.
Believe it or not, you can actually perform tests on your server to see if it is capable of running despite stressors on its system.
You can also employ a CDN which will help you scale your content and data to the traffic coming to your site. If you want to go this route, though, make sure it is well before your predicted traffic spike, as you’ll need some time to troubleshoot.
And always, always make sure everything on your site is up-to-date. Including your backups. If your server isn’t prepared for the traffic and it crashes, there is a chance you’ll lose everything if you don’t have a backup. So have one!
In the event that all of your preparations are for naught and your site still starts to go wonky, don’t panic. There are professionals who deal with this kind of thing constantly.
A website going down for a couple of hours is hardly the end of the world. Twitter seems to go down once a month, and though it results in several million angry tweets, nobody stops using the site altogether.
Contact your web host or developer to help solve the issue as soon as possible, and make sure you communicate with your audience about what is happening and why (Hey folks, you love us so much you broke the internet!).
Improve Traffic Flow — Don’t Forget to Scale
As you grow, you’re bound to experience growing pains. For online business owners, that includes issues with your website.
You have options, you’re not stuck with what you choose initially, and it’s always best to be prepared.
Keep these principles in mind and you’ll manage to keep your website active for all potential customers and keep growing your business.
Photo credit: scanrail