As part of my Website Speed teaching, one thing comes up time and time again. Slow hosting. So many photographers have their websites on slow website hosting. Think of website hosting as the foundation for your website. Build something on a poor quality foundation, it doesn’t matter how good everything else is, the hosting will always cause it to fail.
I don’t intend to write a technical guide to this subject. There are plenty of pages out there on Google where you can go into far more depth. This is just meant to be a plain talking simple guide, to give you a better idea of what to do, if you were to move hosts and to understand the process. It really should be very simple. I’ve done it a few times over the last few years, the hosting company will normally take care of most of it for you. They do the heavy lifting. But it helps if you understand the basics of what they are doing.
What is a Website?
Essentially it’s just a folder of files. All computer things are when you boil it down.
Look at the screenshot above. This is a file on my computer called “the vampire.jpg”
Yes that is me btw 🙂
If you have the path bar set in your Finder on a Mac, (Finder/View/Path Bar) then when you highlight any file on your system it will show you where that file actually lives. So this one lives on my Macintosh HD/Users/PT5/Pictures/thevampire.jpg
i.e. it’s the image is in the folder Pictures, which is in the folder PT5, in the folders Users and so on. You website, hosted by your server company is exactly the same. It’s just a computer. The screenshot below shows the image above on this websites server. It’s in folder 02 (february) inside folder 2021 (the year) inside the uploads folder.
Hopefully you can see, it’s very simple to understand. You don’t need to be a computer programmer to understand the basics of how a computer stores files.
How to Move a Website
So what happens when you move your website from one host to another?
Quite simply, the new hosting company logs into your server, using FTP (File Transport Protocol) and makes a copy of all the files. It then places those files onto their own computer (server). It shows you the new site, which is an exact copy of your website, but now running on their server.
How can your website be on two servers at the same time?
Understanding DNS – Domain Name System
In really simple terms. A DNS is a name, that refers to a number. If I tell my phone to call Dad, it doesn’t type in Dad, it types in his phone number for me. It translates the words into a number. That’s what DNS is doing.
Great article here – giving a very simple, but detailed explanation of what DNS is.
When you type any website address, those words get translated into a DNS number, which is made up of 4 sets of numbers separated by a full stop.
Example of a typical DNS number. If the world wide web worked with just the numbers, we’d all forget what website was what after the first 5 sets. Far better to translate it into words for us humans, even if you’re good at remembering numbers.
What’s your DNS number? Use this link to find out, just put your URL in the search box, hit enter – WhatsmyDNS
Your Domain Name is NOT your website. It’s merely the address of your website. Imagine sending someone a letter in the post. If you address it to Paul Tansley @ xxx. What happens when I move house and now live at yyy? It’s still my house, but my house has moved to a new address. The contents of my house are the same contents, the same website, just at a different address. What I need to do is to inform the Post Office, to point my mail at my new address. With a website, you can have an exact duplicate of the contents of your house (because computer files can be copied exactly) but at a different address i.e. two website, both running exactly the same website. What determines which one is “Live” is where the DNS server is pointed. So until you point it to the new hosting company, it will be showing the old version.
In general, it’s handy to use a separate company to look after your domain names. Rather than paying your web host for them. The reason being, if and when you decide to move, you’re not having to tell the old company you’re moving everything at once. That can get a bit confusing and the old company might not make it easy for you to move, if they are that way inclined. If your domain names are stored with a separate company, which just looks after where they point, then it’s far easier to do.
Recommended Domain Name Hosts
As the domain name host is only doing one task – looking after my domain name for me. All I really need is someone reliable and cheap. They charge you a fee per year to look after your name for you, which is normally around £10. But if you have a few websites, it can rapidly become a much larger amount. So why pick expensive if you don’t have to.
There are some advantages to having a fast Domain Name Host it turns out. Something I’ve been reading up on lately. However, there are ways around this. Gijo Varghese has an excellent article over at WPSpeedmatters, which tells you about a way to route your DNS through Cloudflare’s free account and speed up the delivery of the domain name, while at the same time protecting you a little more from hackers too. As it disguises your true address.
For my own domain names, I’m currently using NameCheap. But I’ve heard good things about Google Domain Names from my friends at Fuel Your Own Photos. Be careful when checking prices of a domain name. They often use a 1st year discount to entice you in. So check what the ongoing 2nd/3rd year is going to cost before you commit.
So once you are happy with the transfer process. The website looks the same on your new hosting company as the old one did. Then you simply tell your Domain Name Company (or do it yourself) to point your DNS servers to the right location – the new one’s that the new hosting company will tell you.
Once you’ve done that, it normally takes a few hours – up to 24 hours for the DNS servers around the world to wake up and take note of your new address, so that they now point to the new address, not the old one. Once this is done, you can close your old site down – cancel the payments to the old hosting company.
Recommended Hosting Companies
Everyone has their favourites and there a thousand websites out there recommending this one or that one. The problem is, a lot of them only recommend someone because they have an affiliate link and get a nice kickback from sending clients in one direction. You can’t blame them I guess, why not make money off your website. Even I have an affiliate link here. But it’s a tiny one and you know what, I recommend the other two companies just as much. I just want to narrow down the choice, to companies I’ve either dealt with directly or I’ve heard mentioned enough in the past to know they are going to be good.
My main website Tansley Photography is hosted on WPX. They claim to be the fastest in the world. It’s a big claim. But you know what, the evidence that I’ve seen with my own website is proof enough to me that they know what they are doing. Add the fact that they are a really fast web host, to the fact that they answer all support calls in 30 seconds (yep, they really do, I’m always chatting to their support as I tinker with my website). Then also add the fact that they are real keen animal charity supporters – well, they are going to get my vote. Big time. In fact I put my money where my mouth is and just signed up for another two years with them.
They are UK based server who are really making a name for themselves. I found them after a few photographer friends started recommending them. They use LiteSpeed servers, same as WPX (Litespeed are considered one of the fastest out there). They are also really competitively priced. You can get basic hosting of 2 website for £50 a year (Amethyst). An absolute bargain. This site was hosted on their Amethyst package until a couple of weeks ago, when I upgraded to the Ruby package £100 a year. I needed a 3rd website and Amethyst is only two sites. For photographers, I’d probably suggest their dedicated wordpress hosting, which they say is tweaked to give more performance. At £150, it’s probably worth the £50 extra. Though any of these packages would make a great fast website.
Discount Code: TANSLEYPHOTO will get you £10 off any hosting with Krystal
I’ve never used them. But my friends on Fuel Your Own Photos, plus plenty of other sites I trust recommend their services. So they would certainly be on my list of hosting to check out.
Now there are plenty of other choices out there. But if you were to pick one of these, you wouldn’t go far wrong.
What I look for in a Website Host
For me as a photographer running my own business. I want a fast website, with excellent support. I’m the type of person that will often break my website, because I’m always trying things out. When I break it or when it simply goes wrong as computers do, I want support and help there QUICK! Krystal isn’t bad. They normally answer all web chats in under 2 minutes, but that’s stretched to 5 minutes during the pandemic. WPX answers in under 30 seconds every time I contact them. Love that. They are also both non-technical. They don’t blow my mind with complex stuff, but are able to talk me through how to do things easily – and if I can’t do it, they will often simply do it for me. Which is what most of us need from a good host. Also unlike some “evil” hosts out there, they don’t charge for SSL certificates or doing simple stuff. Some hosts out there, GoDaddy is a classic charge you for everything under the sun, even if others do it for free for exactly the same thing. I don’t like being ripped off personally.
How to see if your Current Website Host is Fast Enough
Always run any test more than once. Servers can sometimes give an off result on one run. So average out a few runs. I will often just do a quick test of someone’s server in GTMetrix. Then click on the Waterfall Tab. This lists every item loaded on any website. The first item is a / mark. There should only be one of these. If there is two – then you’ve not tested the correct URL, it’s having to do a redirect. So repeat the test with the correct URL. Also make sure you are testing from the country you are based in. The default is Vancouver, Canada. Not much use for UK based wedding photographers to know how fast their website loads in Canada (although sometimes I will test that for other reasons). So set it to London if you’re in the UK or your nearest city in whichever country you are based.
The time you are looking for is that first / a fast server should be well under 100ms (milliseconds). Ideally under 50ms. If it’s over 200ms, your server is slow. If it’s over 500ms, it’s really slow and that will affect your page speed scores.
Server on the left is Krystal Ruby, on the right is WPX and the left hand one (this site) hasn’t had anywhere near as much optimisation as the right hand one (my main site). The figure to look at is in the waterfall – the first /
They are both under 50ms (50 milliseconds). That’s FAST!
When I check other photographers websites, their server timing is often 250ms or more. Some are even taking over one second to load. That’s not good if you want a fast loading website.
Thanks for reading, I hope as always, that you found this useful. Feel free to add comments or questions below. If you’d like to learn how to speed up your website, I run a 2-3 class on this, which is proving very popular.