It is a common mistake for micro businesses and SMEs to only find out what they’re lacking at the back end during a time of crisis.
Uninformed online hosting practices lead to severe downtime and huge sales losses for Australian SMEs, which make up 97 per cent of all Australian businesses and employ approximately 4.7 million people.
Web hosting decisions are often taken for granted by Australian businesses. Greater awareness around hosting, server sharing, speed and regular updates combat this.
Significant losses for online retail businesses are preventable with different and regular online backups. This is the first step for businesses, as there have been many cases where clients have neglected to update plugins and subsequently been hacked.
Backups need to be on different servers as well as different machines. But backups are not completely immune either.
I have dealt with many cases where backups themselves have been hacked. No one knew they had lost control of their website until it was too late. So, to avoid chronic downtime, businesses need websites to be secure and to have remote backups in place to prevent the risk of hosting companies losing sites for even small periods of time.
This warning is even more relevant now in the context of escalating cyber crime.
Know your DNS
Security is an issue on many levels. It is vital for businesses to understand when their DNS is being handled, if it is being controlled by the registrar, hosting company or a third party, and whether or not HTTP 2 is installed. (It should be.)
In most cases, no one in-house has this knowledge, which is a big mistake.
Know where your DNS is. Obviously the registrar would be familiar with its location but this potentially changes frequently in SMEs and if no one is employed with this specific purpose, important backups and information can be lost.
Consider more efficient management
Central repositories that provide efficient DNS management can be a gamechanger. These can be customised in terms of levels of involvement, (and therefore expense,) depending on how robust your business is.
One solution here is for online businesses to have their DNS under the Cloudflare Network. This content delivery provider reduces server load, provides bandwidth savings and DDoS protection.
Amazon Route 53 is another good option to provide your business with efficient DNS management.
Look at web monitoring
No doubt website monitoring services such as Pingdom give businesses a competitive advantage too. It lets users know when a website is down or running at a slow speed. It acts purely as a check for websites and alerts site owners if it detects a problem. Businesses can therefore make sure sites are online all the time.
Monitoring alerts are also complemented by their reports, which can be sent out company-wide. One Norwegian business, Aptoma, set up weekly email reports to its hosting department and monthly email reports to all managers and developers, for example. This allows for a selection of the most important checks to be presented on the public status server page, which has been integrated into its system.
For Aptoma, some direct outcomes have been: better uptime, better flow of communication and more informed and happier staff. Developers and technicians may also be less afraid to try new things because they can be sure they will be alerted in case something goes awry. This would be undoubtedly valuable for Australian start-ups and SMEs.
In May, StewArt Media dealt with a small business that was unaware their site was down for 24 hours in blocks of ten minutes. This would have been subverted with a service like Pingdom.
Getting value for your web hosting expenses
Cost can be minimised in a few ways relating to server speed and efficiency, which should be emphasised in online business models. Making sure content management systems such as WordPress are up-to-date is important, and ideally, businesses want a dedicated server with only one website on it.
An online business may be paying for a premium hosting service, but may still be on a server with thousands of other websites. That server is then underpowered and costs you unnecessarily.
WP Engine is purely for WordPress sites and has no email capabilities. This specificity is ideal – it does one thing well. WP Engine is also physically located in Australia, with 24/7 support and hence it is faster for Australian users.
While significant, good hosting need not be expensive. Online businesses with 5,000 to 10,000 users per month should ideally be spending $40 to $50 per month on hosting.
Ultimately, many Australian SMEs don’t realise that implementations like these can manage changing technologies, while drastically improving efficiency and productivity.
Jim Stewart is the CEO of digital marketing provider StewArt Media.