Page Load Speed & The Local Hosting Issue
The recent discussions about Google emphasizing the importance of page load speed has seen more international search marketers considering whether they should host their website locally or centrally.
Unfortunately, as is typical with many announcements from search engines, a lot of rushed assumptions are made. In this case, some assume that hosting speed will be measured by Google’s bots travelling the globe from California and that therefore the hosting speed will not reflect what is actually happening to users locally. “Not so!” says Google via its Webmaster Central Blog and in posts talking about speed and performance. Instead, Google toolbar data will be used to judge speed to be sure that it reflects what users are truly seeing—wherever they are.
This element of confusion means that instead of the page load discussion strengthening the resolve of people to “go local” it’s adding to the whirlpool of indecision over this complex subject. For a global company doing business in anything over 15 countries, using local hosting everywhere is both expensive and time-consuming. For this reason, many choose to centralize their cluster on a single or small number of locations and then to go with a company, such as Akamai or Cotendo, to accelerate delivery via sophisticated routing and page caching based closer to the user.
Don’t get too excited about rankings
Then there is the all important ranking question: does local hosting help with rankings? The answer is yes—but don’t get too excited. What we’re talking about is that when the crawler arrives at the site it is delivered an IP address which, when reverse looked up by the search engine, corresponds to the region which the web site is and should be targeting. If the search engine receives green lights all round, then it is going to treat your web site fairly alongside all other comers. Putting this into context, correctly organized local hosting gives a small boost to an already well-optimized site – but does nothing for a poor site languishing deep in the search engine results pages.
Relative to using a local domain name, local hosting is less important. But combined with local domain names, you have a very powerful geo-targeting position and should appear in the right places at the right times after all filters have been applied. Oh and local links will help significantly too!
And let’s not forget that page load time is a factor taken into account in the AdWords quality score calculations, so the benefit of effective local hosting is significant both organically and from a paid search perspective.
One size that fits all – doesn’t!
So what’s the answer? The solution has to be tailored to the individual situation because there are so many variables to take into account including website size, security issues, local hosting availability in target markets and so on. You could locally host just the locally-related blogs and news sites, the home page on a local domain or you could use some form of reverse proxy hosting. For most global sites, you will use a combination of solutions taking into account the specific requirements of the business and objectives in each country.
One thing is clear, no single solution suits every single part of every website. There are situations, such as reaching mainland China for instance, which are very different from the challenges you will face in other markets—in this case more to do with firewalls and censorship than technical challenges.
More sophisticated search marketers will be undertaking feasibility studies to see how their systems can be tailored to manage their success in all their different markets. It’s not necessarily true for everyone, but for many the ROI of investing in localized hosting approaches will be significant—especially for those sites relying on both organic and paid search traffic.