By Gail Seymour
When choosing a Web hosting company for the first time, the options can be a bit bewildering. There are so many companies offering cheap hosting, and an alphabet soup of programming languages and technologies on offer, most of which mean very little to you if you’re not a programmer or Web designer. For many new Web site owners, the choice of host rests on price, but a question that’s often asked is, “Should I pay extra for a local Web host, or go with a cheaper international one?”
To answer that question, let’s look at some of the benefits a local host might offer:
Faster Download Speeds
When your visitors access your pages, they are delivered from your host’s server through a series of interconnected machines. The further your visitor is from your host’s computer, the more machines, or ‘hops’ the data will have to travel through. If all your visitors are local, hosting your pages on a local server will reduce the number of ‘hops’ required, and so the download speeds will be faster.
Search Engine Results
Search engines use two pieces of information to determine the location of your Web site: the top-level domain, and the server’s physical location. If you want to target local customers, register a top level domain local to your country and host on a server in the same country as you for better organic search engine results.
Paying a local company in your local currency means you don’t have to worry about fluctuations in exchange rates, and you won’t be hit by bank’s foreign payments charges. You have the security of knowing exactly what your costs will be each month or year.
If you have to phone your host, the charges will be less. There should be no language barrier, provided your local host hasn’t outsourced customer support oversees. Your host should also be aware of local issues and legislation that might affect your Web site and business. A smaller local host may be more able and willing to tailor their services and support to your needs. Plus, if you need to meet with them in person, it’s possible to arrange it cheaply and conveniently, since there are no differences in time zones and travel costs should be much lower.
Potential Disadvantages of a Local Host
Therefore, you might think it’s worth paying a little extra to go with a local host. Before you make that decision, here is the flip side of the argument to consider:
Local to whom?
By the nature of the Internet, a business that starts out local may quickly become international in focus. If your business is information based, chances are you’re going to have an international audience from the beginning, so it could be better to host with a company that’s local to the bulk of your market, or with an international company with data centers spread around the world.
Economies of Scale
Local hosting could be expensive compared to international alternatives, and provide less in return. A smaller business is not going to have the same infrastructure as a larger one, and may not be able to guarantee the same level of service. If the site goes down, getting it back up again could be an issue.
Are They Really Local?
What you think is a local host could be a reseller for an international conglomerate, and although the reseller is in your country, the servers and support services may not be.
There’s local, and there’s local. Just because a web host is located down the road from you, doesn’t mean they’re going to have the fastest or best connection to the Internet. You’ll get the benefits of a local host from any host in the same country as you, or in the same state or region if you’re in a larger country. Beyond that, you should be more concerned about the host’s proximity to the Internet backbone, and look for a host located in or very near to a high capacity network center, as this will reduce the number of ‘hops’ required to send data to your users.
You can test the speed of a host’s server to your local area by pinging it from the DOS command line. On a windows OS you can access this by click Start, then Run and typing in cmd. When the DOS window opens, enter ping www.your-test-host.com to see the average speed of the host.
About the Author
Gail Seymour has been a Web site designer for more than 10 years. During that time she has won three design awards and has provided the content and copy for dozens of Web sites and more than 50,000 Web pages.