7 Signs Your E-Commerce Hosting Solution is Doing More Harm Than Good
According to Forrester Research, 60 percent of all U.S. retail sales will be "web-influenced" in 2017 — i.e., influenced by the internet, either as a direct e-commerce transaction or through shoppers’ research of merchandise online. To capture more online dollars, many retailers are stepping up their web game, investing in content-heavy sites to attract and engage users. In fact, 69 percent of North American marketers say dynamic, personalized content is important for their website. At the end of the day, however, no matter how sophisticated or attractive a website may be, it must load quickly and perform seamlessly.
For many online retailers, it's hard to pinpoint the performance problems that are symptoms of a failing hosting solution vs. those that result from just poorly designed web assets. To stop organizations from scratching their heads on this issue, here's a list of the top seven signs that your hosting solution is the culprit:
1. Your site keeps crashing. In 2012, Irish betting company Paddy Power suffered a website crash before the Grand National horse race. The site was only down for 20 minutes, coming back up 15 minutes before the race. Even in such a short time frame, the outage was costly for Paddy Power, as so many other betting websites were competing for gamblers’ attention that same day.
Time and again I've seen this scenario play out: websites crash and consumers shop elsewhere. In fact, for one in six enterprises, a single hour of downtime can cost more than $1 million and 127 million man-hours of productivity. Even when revenue isn't on the line, outages can lead to poor reputation and negative site reviews, making this the No. 1 sign that your hosting solution isn't effective.
2. Your provider's technical support is unreliable. To date, there's no such thing as 100 percent uptime, and even hosting providers with the highest service-level agreements (SLAs) and the most capable solutions may at some point face an outage. Then what? Can you call your hosting provider? Will you rely on its team to resolve the issue?
A few years ago, a blogging platform provider learned the importance of that question the hard way when it faced a DDoS attack and saw online performance suffer. The company worked with two hosting providers at the time, one of which was able to eliminate the problem within 30 minutes; the other didn't return their phone call for two days. Many e-commerce decision makers will focus on the SLA when selecting a new hosting solution, but it's the technical support quality that will make the difference between an outage lasting minutes and one that lasts days.
3. You're always fixing things. Outages aren't the only performance problem that may stem from your hosting solution. You might, instead, have a site that stays up and running, but with a consistently high maintenance overhead. Those escalating costs are a threat to your finance department, and they may also point to an underlying infrastructure issue. For instance, you could be firefighting a "lemon" hosting solution, and it's only a matter of time before something important breaks. Rather than wait until something does go wrong, as Virgin Blue did, look to a hosting provider that will stay ahead of these issues.
4. Your provider's network is over capacity. A lot of companies today are struggling to deliver adequate bandwidth, and this lack of network resources results in poor performance for online services. We know the potential negative impact of "noisy neighbors" on infrastructure — when a fellow tenant's web traffic increases, your website's performance dramatically decreases — but many companies don't realize that the same is true for networks.
If your "neighbor" is sending high-volume files or if your hosting provider relies on network infrastructure shared by a large content provider, you could see reduced speeds as a result. After all, only so much data can squeeze through the fixed network pipes we rely on for the internet. Rather than wait for your website's performance to falter, ask whether your hosting provider shares its network infrastructure with other providers and how this may impact your performance.
5. Your provider doesn't have enough data centers. According to recent reports, 11kV power networks in some European cities are close to saturation, forcing new data center providers to build facilities outside city limits where more power capacity is available. Building data centers further away from the organizations that host in these facilities, and from their customers, is leading to additional latency. This may not have a meaningful impact on all hosted websites, but compromising on performance isn't an option for today's leading e-tailers. In order to make sure your website delivers a first-rate customer experience, ask whether your hosting provider can guarantee access to multiple data centers and/or points of presence around the world.
6. Scaling is a nightmare. The goal of any website — e-commerce or otherwise — is to attract new visitors and grow traffic. Brands want thousands, if not hundreds of millions, of people in different geographies to visit their site and engage with their content, ultimately making purchases. However, that will never happen if a website can't scale quickly or easily. Instead, the millions of people shopping on the slow site will become frustrated by its latency and likely abandon their carts.
Most retailers’ hosting needs won't be static or stable; they'll change by season and day of the week, and they'll certainly increase during promotions. Companies must be able to scale during times of high demand, which means their hosting provider must have bandwidth available to support that increase. Otherwise, consumers are sure to experience a slower shopping experience when the site reaches its maximum traffic load. Considering that nearly half of consumers will leave a site if it takes more than two seconds to load, and 79 percent won't return, performance and scalability can't be taken lightly.
7. Your customers are unhappy … and they're not being quiet about it. The customer is always right, after all. Long before your site fails, visitor numbers and customer loyalty will begin to suffer — likely an indication of a much bigger problem down the line. Want an example? Go search for "slow website" on Twitter, and you'll see just how vocal consumers are. If you don't want your company on a social media blacklist, don't compromise on hosting!
Are You Compromising?
I've shared seven sad stories to demonstrate how hosting can negatively impact an e-commerce website, but I'd like to also share a happy story to show the great benefits of effective hosting for online retailers. This company was facing slow website performance, and had already tried numerous approaches to solving the issue — e.g., optimized its site code to eliminate any kinks in it, bought lots of new hardware to handle high traffic demands. All of this was to no avail. Soon, its hosting provider found that the issues with the retailer's site were actually at the hosting level, not the site level. After addressing the root of the problem, it cut load times by one second, resulting in an overall increase in customer conversions by 10 percent.
All in all, the best hosting solution is the one that an e-tailer doesn't need to think about because performance issues are immediately remedied, scaling is quick and easy, and customers have no problem making purchases. Can you say the same for your hosting solution?
Toby Owen is the vice president of product at Peer 1 Hosting, a provider of internet hosting services.