Most people think of a giant cloud floating in the sky when they imagine where a website is stored, but your website is actually located at a physical location. A web hosting provider will store your website on a server that sits within a data center. Wherever this data center is geographically located, your website is located there as well.
In this article, we’ll discuss why data center location is important, how distance can affect your website’s speeds, and what web hosting provider is best for your geographic location.
Why Should I Care Where My Website is Stored?
The geolocation of your website is an important factor in web hosting as shorter distances contribute to faster speeds. Although there are numerous factors, the geographic location of the data center is one of the most significant factors that will affect how fast your website is transferred to the visitor’s computer. When visitors are located geographically closer to your hosting company’s data center, your website will load faster.
When they’re located further from it, your website will need to travel a further distance across the internet which requires more ‘hops’ between networks, causing the site to load slower. For example, let’s say that your website is hosted in New York. A visitor in New York will be able to load your website faster than a visitor in California, simply due to their proximity from the data center.
How Does Distance Affect Speed?
Your website is transferred from the web server to the visitor’s computer through a passage of inter-connected networks, which we collectively call the internet. The first network that your website must pass through is your website’s own data center network. After that, your website is then routed and transferred through the most efficient path of networks within the internet in order to reach the visitor’s personal network, and then finally, the visitor’s personal computer.
Although most networks use fiber-optic cabling which can transfer data at the speed of light (approximately 186,282 miles/second in a vacuum), there are many distance related factors that significantly degrade this speed. Fiber itself has a refractive index and any rough/irregular surfaces within the cable can cause light scattering, which all naturally decreases speed, especially over far distances. But still, it travels quite fast! There is a general rule that for every 1000 kilometers of cable, there is 10 milliseconds of delay. Not a big deal. The biggest issue is the speed of the repeaters and routers and all the components in the various networks the data must pass through. This is where the real bottleneck occurs and why distance can significantly affect speed.
Quick Note: Performance impacts related to data center location are noticed most significantly for larger files such as media (images, movies, etc.).
Select a Data Center Close to Your Target Audience
Although many people don’t think about this at the time, location is an important factor when choosing a web host. Select one with a data center close to your target audience regardless of where you, as the business owner, are located.
As you can see from the image above, each of these web hosts have data centers positioned in different locations and are fastest in that area. For example, InMotion Hosting is a viable choice if your visitors are concentrated in Southern California or on the East coast near Virginia. Bluehost is a viable choice for visitors located in and around Utah where HostGator is best for those near Texas. Note that A2 Hosting is a viable choice for visitors located in Michigan area. For more information on choosing a web host, you can view our list of the best web hosting companies.
Quick Tip: Note that a hosting company’s stated headquarters city is not always located in the same city as their data center. For example, many US hosts run data centers in Europe and Asia as well. Ensure that the actual data center is located in a region near your target audience, regardless of where the web hosting company’s headquarters is located.
Some companies also offer a Content Delivery Network (CDN), a system that caches your website onto multiple servers across the world. The most efficient server for each visitor (i.e. the closest server) will be used to pull your website’s content. You can read more about CDNs here.
Location Isn’t Everything
We should note that location obviously isn’t everything when it comes to your website’s speed. There are a variety of other factors as well which will also influence the speed at which your website is served:
- Server specifications (such as the amount of RAM and the CPU’s processing power)
- Web Hosting type & plan (such as shared, VPS, and dedicated)
- Speed of the drive in the server (many hosts now offer Solid State Drives (SSDs))
- Your actual website & how it’s coded
- Amount of media on your site
- Database health
- Compression (or lack of it)
- Caching used, if any
- Content Delivery Network (CDN) used, if any
Quick Note: Selecting a data center is only one step in the process of speeding up your website; there are many other factors that affect loading time.
Data centers are a very important link in the chain of serving websites and a poorly located one can significantly affect the speed of your website and customer retention. Select a web hosting company that uses a high-quality data center located nearest to your customers. However, data center location is not everything. Be sure to check out our article on how to fix a slow website.
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