Page loading time has a direct impact on the online visitors’ browsing experience, and a poor one not only mars the overall website performance, but also puts off visitors who might be your potential customers. An optimal ‘website performance’ is not affected by a stand-alone element, but is the outcome of several metrics working cohesively.
So, amongst all the other things determining uptime of a website and its performance, where do we place ‘server location’? Here, we will look at a few decisive factors and how server location affects them.
Effect on Google ranking
It is believed that geographic location of a server affects its ranking on Google. Google’s Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller’s answer in response to a similar query helps get a clear picture on this. To quote him,
“From usability point of view, having a really fast site is awesome — and like others mentioned, sometimes local hosting (or local CDNs) can help there.
For search, specifically for geotargeting, the server’s location plays a very small role; in many cases it’s irrelevant. If you use a ccTLD or a gTLD together with Webmaster Tools, then we’ll mainly use the geotargeting from there, regardless of where your server is located. You definitely don’t need to host your website in any specific geographic location — use what works best for you, and give us that information via a ccTLD or Webmaster Tools”.
The search results shown by Google are based on its relevance to the user. There are several indicators that affect Google’s geotargeting.
If your website has a country specific domain like .in, .uk etc., then Google recognizes your website to be useful for these locations and thus you will be ranked higher in these countries. However, if you are using a gTLD (like .com and .org) and haven’t used the Geographic Targeting Feature on Google Webmaster tool then Google is likely to take your server location into account while ranking your website.
In case your website has a gTLD but you target users in a particular geographic location only, then you can provide Google with information using Geographic Targeting Feature to help it determine how your website will appear in search results.
In 2010, Google included ‘site speed’ as a new signal in its search ranking algorithms, making it explicit that speed matters! Also, research concludes that customers cannot wait for more than 2-3 seconds for a website to load and are put off by long loading time.
A speed test conducted for ten different cities, 3 based in US and 7 outside, examined the download speed from five servers closest to each city. The outcome showed a remarkable drop in the download speed as the location of a website from the server increased.
Hosting your website at a server distant from your location may cost you less if you are hosting in countries like India or China. Lesser operation cost and larger market in these countries brings down the overall cost of hosting.
While both the school of thoughts have valid arguments on whether the server location has an effect on the website speed or not, practical tests and common experience do show concrete evidence of websites performing better when hosted at a local server rather than a remote one.