After recent troubles with some large hosting providers in South Africa, I have made it my mission to try and explain why it is crucial to have SEO friendly hosting for your website. Having the wrong host can be detrimental to your listing and usually when something goes wrong the damage is too substancial to fix. Take a look at these tips on choosing a hosting provider; some of them are comfort tips, some are Google signals and others critical warnings that must be followed.
Down Time & Server Response
[critical] You want to find a server with a up time or 99.9%. Server down time that lasts too long and returns the wrong HTTP server status during maintenance or suspension will KILL your ranking very quickly. No matter what the reason for the down time is, a host should NEVER redirect your page to their own hosting domain (eg: If your site called www.mycoolsite.co.za goes down because you used up all your bandwidth for the month, it must NEVER redirect to www.yourhostingprovider.co.za). In my opinion this action is stealing. You have worked hard for your PageRank just for it to be nabbed up by your hosting company. If there is a down time on your site for whatever reason the server should always return a 503 (Tells Google and others that Server is unavailable, please come back and try later.). If your account is suspended it should be a 503. If it is down for maintenance it should return a 503. If it has run out of bandwidth it should be a 503.
Ask you host about this. If they do not give a server status of 503 for scheduled maintenance etc then DO NOT USE THEM! If they tell you that it is not possible then DO NOT USE THEM! (it is possible, they just choose not to do it).
If you need to be notified on down time (many times you never know) then use software like Pingdom to let you know when your site goes down.
Personal experience: I have had the experience of a hosting company 301 redirecting to their own domain when an account was temporarily suspended and this is what happened. After only a few minutes Google completely dropped their home page from the results. Their page one prize listing under the keyword “Guest Lodge” was gone. The hosting company later put the site back up after finding out that the account was indeed paid but not allocated (they called it incorrect payment procedures). Problem was, the damage was already done because they used a 301 redirect to their suspension page rather than a 503 HTTP Status code. The clients home page has re-indexed in Google but their prize position is gone.
Cpanel / KonsoleH Access
[comfort] I personally prefer to use a host that has Cpanel / KonsoleH access for the sole reason that I have full control of most aspects of my site. When you are doing SEO on a site you will need to use key features like “301 redirection” and “sub domain creation”. With Cpanel/KonsoleH installed it is easy to set this up without having to ask the hosting company to do it for you (As is the case with Microsoft servers) . The process takes a matter of seconds to set-up so we do not have to charge you, the client, for the wasted time trying to get your hosting company to make a change. Be sure that your hosting company keeps their server up to date (you can find the version if you expand the left column stats in the dashboard).
[signal] Once again Apache makes this an easy process (another reason I tend to lean towards Apache servers for hosting). To understand a little more about URL rewriting you can check out the Apache URL rewriting guide. URL rewriting is also known as Search Engine Friendly URLs and in short it makes your URL structure look sexy to users and search engines.
Normal Url: http://mysite.co.za/index.php?s=12345
URL with rewriting: http://mysite.co.za/sexy-seo-friendly-url
[comfort] Is unrestricted access to the .htacess file provided? The .htaccess file is responsible for many server side tweeks that make a website search engine friendly just a tad easier. You can easily set up 301 redirects when needed and mod_rewrite is a breeze (so long as you have checked that your server supports it).[signal] In the .htaccess file you can also help speed up your site by adding caching capabilities.
[signal] Your host location is a signal by Google then determining ranking. Although your location will not dramatically impact your results, it is a factor. Websites hosted in South Africa should generally receive a small bonus over those hosted internationally. This does not mean that you will rank above your competitor just because they are hosted internationally, it is simply just one of the hundreds of signals Google uses. SEOcowboy is hosted internationally and many claim that I should host it locally, however, I have decided to keep it international as a large portion of my readers come for the US. I also personally believe that Google weighs the signal “Page Speed” a little more than the signal “location” (if Google is in the US then a US server should load faster).
Do not use free site builder’s ever!
Site builders that are offered with many hosting packages are not SEO friendly so DO NOT US THEM! They pollute your site with un-necessary code and in most cases have no SEO features built in. Do not use then as a stepping stone to a new site as they will infect your domain popularity. Rather wait around until you have the budget to create a professional site.
Do a blacklist check on your hosting server
Make sure that the server IP that your site is hosted on is not blacklisted or shared by any “bad neighborhoods”. Click here to do a IP blacklist check.
Recommended Search Engine Friendly Hosting Company
After an extensive amount of searching for a truly SEO friendly hosting company, I finally found that Hosting Unlimited and Hetzner seem to be open for to suggestions on how to fix SEO related issues. If there are any others out there then please let me know and I will add them here.