Ask Yoast: Impact of host location on SEO?

Do you want to set up a brand new website or move your website to a new host? Choosing a web host can be hard, because there are thousands of hosting companies out there. So it’s a tough decision to make, but a very important one too. When you’re comparing various hosting aspects, should you consider the location of the web host too? Is the geographic location of their web server important for SEO? Hear what we have to say about this, in this Ask Yoast.

Gerardo Garcia emailed us, asking:

“Do you consider the location of the web server as something important for SEO?”

Check out the video or read the answer below!

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Impact of server location on SEO

“Gerardo Garcia is from Spain and he has found web servers in Germany and England that are cheaper than the ones in Spain. He’s wondering if the location of a web server is important for SEO.

First of all, no, not really. But that’s not the entire truth. Because for your visitors you want the most speed, and you’ll get the most speed by hosting as close as possible to them. And you can achieve that by hosting your site in the country where your visitors are coming from.

We’re Dutch, but our main servers are in the US. Why? Well, because the majority of our visitors are from the US. We also have a server in Europe, because we get many visitors from Europe too. So think about that. Of course, we are on a slightly more expensive set up than you would probably be, and need to be. So focus on the country you think is the most valuable.

To be honest, if you’re looking at price too much for you hosting, you probably not doing yourself any service anyway. Don’t go for the cheapest hosting, go for the best hosting. Paying a couple of bucks more per month, really is worth it, When your site is down otherwise, stuff is just not working.

So, I would suggest going with a host that has servers in Spain or at the very least have people that can service you in Spanish in Spain. And then, whether these servers are located in Barcelona or in London, the technical existence of these servers doesn’t make too much of a difference.

Good luck!”

Ask Yoast

In the series Ask Yoast we answer SEO questions from followers. Need some advice about SEO? Let us help you out! Send your question to ask@yoast.com.

Read more: ‘Yoast’s WordPress hosting list’ »

Whipping your hosting into shape

In this post I explain why Yoast SEO will soon warn people whose website runs on an older, unsupported, version of PHP to upgrade their PHP version. We’re doing this mainly to improve the security and speed of those websites.

This post is long, but I’ll explain:

  • what the problem is;
  • why we want to fix it;
  • why we burden the user with it;
  • and how web hosts can work with us.

PHP? Versions? What are you talking about?

WordPress, (like Yoast SEO), is built in large part in a programming language called PHP. This language, as WordPress itself, has gradually improved over time. Web developers all over the world are enjoying the new features that newer versions of PHP have brought. Also, more importantly, everyone all over the world enjoys the increased security these new versions bring. Unfortunately, WordPress developers do not get to join in.

Compared to WordPress, PHP has a rather aggressive update path. PHP 5.6 will receive security patches for just under two more years, but nothing else, and no other PHP 5 version receives security updates. PHP 7 is the future (and boy is it nice and fast).

Ever since July 2011, the minimum PHP required for WordPress is PHP version 5.2. Here at Yoast, we think it’s time for WordPress to move that requirement up to PHP 5.6.

Why do you care so much?

At Yoast we care about a lot of things, but two things in a very particular order: user happiness first, developer happiness second. A user is happy when he or she has a fast, easy to install, secure content management system like WordPress to build a site in. A developer is happy when he or she can use a modern language and modern tooling to build software with.

Security

The single most important reason for us to want to increase the minimum requirement is security: PHP versions 5.2 through to 5.5, while still actively in use on millions of sites, no longer get security updates. Some Linux branches and web hosts still backport security fixes from newer PHP versions to older versions, but that’s not something we, as a community, should rely on.

This security concern is not a theoretical concern. We have seen time and time again that the number one reason sites get hacked is because of outdated software. The last release of PHP 5.2 is 6 years old, and several major security issues have been found in it since. WordPress has automatic updates for security updates built-in for exactly this reason. Why would we push people to update WordPress and its plugins regularly, but let the PHP version fall behind?

Speed

Another big issue is speed. WordPress is sometimes said to be slow, but it actually doesn’t have to be slow at all. If it’s running on old versions of PHP however it is, most certainly, slow. PHP 5.2 is more than 100% slower than PHP 5.6, and a whopping 400% slower than PHP 7 (source). If you’re getting a bad reputation because you’re allowing old stuff to stay around, maybe we shouldn’t allow the old stuff to stay around so much?

Modern programming language

PHP 5.2, which was released November 2nd 2006, is no longer a modern language. This makes developers unhappy because they’re missing many of the cool features every other modern language has.

As WordPress is gaining popularity, something else is happening because of this: more and more developers are turning their back on WordPress because it’s moving too slowly. Developing themes or plugins for WordPress, where PHP 5.2 is required, is a hassle and thus not as much fun. This is becoming a problem: we’re literally losing good developers. Those developers could benefit the entire community, but we’re missing out because we’re not getting with the times. Over time, losing developers means other products will move faster, and WordPress will lose marketshare.

Why isn’t WordPress simply upping the requirements to PHP 5.6?

There is a long and ongoing discussion in the WordPress community about upping the requirements for PHP to 5.6. The problem lies therein, that for a user, upgrading their PHP version is non-trivial in a lot of cases. It’s not something we want to burden a user with. So we’ve been waiting and waiting for web hosts to do their work. We’ve been waiting, literally, for years. Unfortunately, it turns out, not all web hosts are created equal. Not all of them pro-actively upgrade their customers to newer PHP versions.

As I type this, the WordPress stats page says 5.6% of websites is using PHP 5.2, 15.6% is using PHP 5.3, 23% is using PHP 5.4 and 15.4% is using PHP 5.5. That means almost 60% of WordPress installs is running on an unsupported version of PHP. So much for web hosts doing their work.

Because web hosts are not upgrading PHP, we have decided to start pushing this from within plugins.

Why don’t web hosts update PHP?

When you’ve seen all the above, you’re probably wondering why web hosts don’t pro-actively update their customers PHP versions. Well the good news is: lots of them do. If you’re on one of those hosts, and you’re running PHP 5.6 or higher: good on you! Other hosts though, seem to be intent on doing as little as possible while still keeping the customer.

We’ve heard all sorts of reasons from hosts to not want to upgrade PHP. The only one we understand to a certain extent is that they don’t want to break your site. Some software running on the same server as your site may not support newer PHP versions, probably because that software needs to be upgraded too. But in all honesty: you shouldn’t have to worry about that. We think a host should upgrade your PHP for you.

What is Yoast going to do?

Combined, all of the above reasons make us very intent on moving WordPress forward. Unfortunately, we don’t have the power to decide on minimum requirements. So we’ve decided to throw our weight behind this in a different way.

As of Yoast SEO 4.5 we will start showing a notice on the WordPress dashboard to administrators of sites running on PHP 5.2.  This notice will be big, ugly, and non-dismissible. In this notice we will explain why the administrator should upgrade the PHP version of the site.

If a web host integrates with our project, which we’ve called WHIP, the host can add some information about how to upgrade right within the notice. See the Github repo for info about how to integrate.

The notice will also encourage people to contact their host if they don’t know how to upgrade their PHP. Yes, this could be painful for some hosts. This notice is deliberately intended to make them work.

As a last resort, if a users host does not cooperate, we recommend the user to change to better hosting. We will provide a link to a page we’re building right now here at Yoast, with hosts that we’ve vetted. When we say we’ve vetted them, we mean it: we have verified that Yoast SEO works well on their servers and that they put new customers on modern PHP versions. The page isn’t ready yet, but it’ll be cool and we will not be using affiliate links on that page. This isn’t about money.

Does this stop with PHP 5.2?

This most probably does not stop with PHP 5.2. We will release it and watch closely what’s happening. If it works, we will start pushing the same notice for PHP 5.3 a few weeks later, and so on. We fully intend to see if we can get the minimum version up to 5.6.

I’m a theme / plugin developer, can I join?

You can of course join this endeavour! Our WHIP package is open source and very easy to implement. Put it in your code following the instructions on the repository and you too will be part of this move forward! Of course your feedback is highly appreciated on that repository too.

For developers that want to integrate WHIP into their plugin, we will make it possible to link to the WordPress.org hosting page. Those hosts are all PHP7 ready too.

Why are you telling us now?

We’re telling you all this now because we fully hope that we have to show this notice to as few people as possible. Upgrade your PHP versions. If you’re a host, integrate with our messaging system and start proactively upgrading your customers PHP versions. With 6.5 million active installs of Yoast SEO, you’re bound to have a lot of customers that are going to start asking for help. You might as well get started.

Are You Ready for WordPress 3.2?

WordPress 3.2 is going to be released very soon, and we want you to be ready! Take note: the minimum requirements are changing.

PHP and MySQL

As of 3.2, you’ll need to be running PHP 5.2.4 and MySQL 5.0. As we mentioned almost a year ago when we announced that this change was coming, the percentage of people running older versions of PHP and MySQL is relatively low. With more than 45 million people using WordPress, though, even a small percentage can mean a lot of people! Don’t caught with your pants dashboard down — make sure you’re running compatible versions of PHP and MySQL before you update tomorrow when WordPress 3.2 is released.

Log in to your hosting account, and check to make sure you have at least  PHP 5.2.4 and MySQL 5.0. Most of the major hosts already default to these or newer versions, but there are some exceptions. Check to see which versions you are running, and if you’re still on an older version, it should be as simple as changing a dropdown menu and clicking Save to get up to date.

If you don’t know how to find this information in your hosting account or you don’t even know how to access your hosting control panel because someone else manages that for you, don’t fret. You can find out if you’re ready for 3.2 with the Health Check plugin. In your dashboard, go to Plugins → Add New and search for “health check” (it should be the first result). Install it, activate it, and it will tell you if you need to update anything.

If you need more help, contact your host’s customer service and use this email template to ask them to help you.

Hi there. I host my domain [example.com] with you, and I run WordPress on my site. The minimum requirements are changing to PHP 5.2.4 and MySQL 5.0, and I would appreciate your help in confirming that my site’s setup meets these requirements. If I’m currently running an older version of PHP or MySQL, could you update it for me, or tell me how to do it? Thanks so much!

If your host replies that they can’t update to these versions, it might be time to look for a new host.

IE6 and Outdated Browsers

With 3.2, we’re also dropping support for Internet Explorer 6, a 10-years-old outdated browser that even Microsoft is ready to leave behind. From now on, if you access your WordPress dashboard from an outdated browser, we’ll let you know. Why? Because as web technology improves, so does WordPress, as we build features to take advantage of these improvements. If you’re using an out-of-date browser, chances are you’re missing out.

If your browser is out of date, you’ll see a friendly orangey-yellow box in your dashboard letting you know you a newer version is available (which you can dismiss, of course). If you’re using IE6, though, the box will be red, and your dashboard will not function properly. If you’re stuck on IE6 because the computer you use is maintained by a business, library, school, or the like, and you are not able to download a newer browser, here’s a sample email you can use to ask your boss/administrator/IT guys to update the browser.

Hi there. The computer I use at [where you use the computer] is equipped with an out-of-date web browser. Internet Explorer 6 was created 10 years ago, before modern web standards, and does not support modern web applications. More and more sites and applications are dropping support for IE6, including the new version of WordPress. Even Microsoft, the makers of IE6, are counting down until IE6 goes the way of the dinosaur (see http://www.ie6countdown.com/ for more information). Can you please install an updated version of IE or any modern browser (see http://browsehappy.com for more information) on the available computers? Thank you very much.

Welcome to the future!

 

 

Easinet

This site is for a Whangarei ISP which contracts Urban Legend web to provide website development and design.

The aim was for an effective, fast-loading, and simple design, as befitted the state of browsers at the time, and an emphasis on content.

It uses a flash animation on the landing page, and contains copies of newspaper articles for new computer users.