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Dedicated vs. Shared Hosting: Which to Choose?

by Shanda Harper of GetContent.com

The debate over whether or not a dedicated or shared hosting solution affects search engine rankings is destined to continue until the end of time. And for good reason too, as the problem is more complicated than most arguing realize. The answer to most questions you have regarding this is "It Depends". Since no one really wants to hear that, I have chosen a few questions that keep coming up and tried to fill in the blanks for those who want more than the "It Depends" answer.

Are dedicated servers faster?
No. What a dedicated solution provides the websites that are hosted on them is...well, dedication. Meaning that that site (or sites) comes first when the outside world makes requests of its resources. In a shared hosting environment, it's possible that another website is overly using resources your site may need, hence a bit of a lag in your site's performance. A good shared hosting provider will make sure this doesn't happen.

Do dedicated servers increase your rankings?
My personal opinion is absolutely not. There are many factors that go into a search engine's determination of rankings (including content, links, page accessibility, etc). The most important one, is that your website is available when it's supposed to be (that is 24/7/365).

What is semi-dedicated hosting?
A semi-dedicated hosting solution simply means that the hosting provider has a limit as to how many websites will be on the server. In general, the smaller the number of websites being hosted, the better the sharing of the resources and hence, the better the performance of each site. I repeat for this answer however that "it depends". You can still be on a server with a resource intensive site who is draining from the group. There are tons of people who should be on dedicated servers that just can't (or aren't willing to) afford them. The cost of the semi-dedicated server works for them, and gives them the return of a dedicated solution.

Will my site get indexed faster on a dedicated server?
The answer to the question really depends. If your shared solution is giving you the performance of a dedicated or semi-dedicated server, then indexing may occur faster. Once again, I restate, that A LOT of factors go in to whether or not you are indexed.

For example: I currently own a site that has over 50,000 pages. For years I used a server I liked to refer to as Old Faithful. I kept the updates and patches current and didn't feel the need to move to a faster machine. It was also true that Google didn't have more than 3,000 of my pages indexed. One fine month, I decided to give in and move to a faster machine, and within 60 days all 50,000 pages were in Google. From this experience, I rationalize that the search engine wanted my pages (after all our pages make people want to use their search engine), but if they couldn't get to my site, they couldn't rightfully send other people my way either.

Does it matter WHO is on my shared host's server?
Of course it does. And this is one variable that a dedicated solution doesn't have. With a shared hosting solution, if your co-sharers (sites on your same machine) are involved in shady practices, it is possible that the search engines will ban an entire IP address, making you a non-participating blacklisted victim. Kind of like hanging out with the wrong group - guilt by association. Most reputable hosting companies alleviate these worries for clients by removing the bad website accounts before the search engines get wind of their evil deeds. Keyword here is reputable.

When is the right time to choose a shared, semi, or dedicated solution?
A person starting out on the web will probably do fine with a shared solution. Unless they are selling the ever-changing Google algorithm in laymen's terms, the traffic going to the site is going to build over time. As your traffic and web needs grow, so should your hosting solution. Sorry if you were looking for specifics of date/month/year, or better yet, when you get x-number of page views a month you should move. Go with your gut, that's the Shanda Harper way.

Who does Shanda Harper choose for a dedicated solution?
Rackspace, and tell them I said so (no, really tell them). Rackspace has NEVER let me down. Not at 3 am, not at 3 pm. Whatever they charge you for your dedicated solution, it is worth it. If you can't afford it, it's worth the time to partner with 5 other people who can't afford them either. Let them create for you a semi-dedicated solution. You will not be disappointed. I'm not saying they are expensive, but for someone accustomed to paying $9.95/month for hosting, a dedicated solution may be a bit of a leap. I repeat, with Rackspace you will not be disappointed.

Does Shanda Harper work for Rackspace?
No, not at all. But they do a fanatical job working for me and my sites. Also, if you tell them I recommended them, I do get a cool mug in the mail every now and then, and the ability to write more useful articles.

How do I choose the right solution?

If you are in a position to choose a dedicated server, then do so. From personal experience the fact that you know what is (and is not) going on with your server is priceless. However, if you are positive that shared hosting solution is for you, make sure you do the following:

  1. Go with a hosting provider that is trustworthy and do not chose a provider that outsources its 24-hour support (I had a bad experience this week with 1and1.com and their outsourced support for a client''s site..ARGH!).
  2. Use a tool such as http://whois.webhosting.info/ to see how many sites are (or may be) sitting on your IP address. If there are more than 100 (this number varies based on the size and popularity of the sites), request a more 'semi-dedicated' solution.
  3. Partner with a few friends to pay for a dedicated server. 10 friends running websites on a RACKSPACE server at $50/month each is well worth the investment monthly (and sharing a server is really all your hosting company is doing anyway).
  4. Check you page load times. If they are slow, the search engines know. Move to a solution (shared, semi, or dedicated) that makes the engines confident you can handle the traffic they want to send to you. A great tool can be found at: http://www.websiteoptimization.com/services/analyze/

In closing, dedicated vs. shared is a debate that will go on forever. The real question is answered by the performance of the server, not whether or not it has other sites on it. There are shared solutions that perform in a way that make them look dedicated, and there are dedicated systems with outdated hardware that make them perform like shared solutions. My recommendation is always to get a solution that gives you

  1. excellent performance (shared or dedicated)
  2. great customer support
  3. peace of mind 24/7/365 when it comes to the costs, co-sharers

and the search engines will respond accordingly.

Feel free to link to this article or send questions of things I should add (or take away) at support@getcontent.com.

 

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