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Just Like Cleveland: SEO Requires a Powerful ‘Back End’ to be Truly Awesome

One of the things that Cleveland used to be known for was building things. As one of my favorite YouTube videos [NSFW] sings, “Here’s the spot where there used to be industry — this train is carrying jobs out of Cleveland.” Today, Cleveland is getting back on the map after half a decade of languishing on the sidelines — but not because manufacturing is back in. Cleveland had to pick an entire new backdrop (medicine) to develop. The last few years have involved massive investments into medical schools, medical technology development, and other health-care related expenses, and Cleveland is just starting to reap the benefits.

SEO, Jared? SEO?
Patience, your honor, I promise I’ll show the relevance shortly. Seriously, though, very few people out there talk about the relevance of your website’s back end — that is to say, your web host/servers — to your SEO. That’s because, until very recently, no one actually knew. We all knew that Google hit “slow” sites with ranking penalties, but no one knew what they were based on or how big they were.

That all changed thanks to the guys at Zoompf, who published an excellent study in Moz just a couple of weeks ago. Their study basically proved that the only way in which “speed” had an impact on SEO was in the “TTFB”, or Time to First Byte — in other words, the time between when Google’s spider queried the webpage and when the spider received the first byte of data back.

So?
Well, for a few months now, I’ve been advising people to take actions that reduced their page load times — both the time it takes before you can interact with the page (the ‘document loading time’) and the times it takes until the entire page including all of the background images and other frou-frou is loaded (the ‘full render time’). It turns out that while keeping load times is still good in terms of an end-user experience, it’s not at all important for SEO.

This makes sense, because Google itself owns some very render-intensive pages, like, say, YouTube. It also makes sense because tracking time-to-full-render is much more resource-intensive than tracking TTFB. It also means that if your goal as a webmaster is to rank high up on the SERPs, you should actually put a bit of effort into building up the back end of your website.

How Can I Improve My Back End?
Unfortunately, I’m a web designer and SEO expert, not a web server geek, but I can tell you this: there are two kinds of TTFB: one for static content like a normal website, and one for dynamically-created content like a WordPress blog. If your TTFB for dynamic content is slow but your static TTFB is fast, the problem is almost always software. If both are slow, you’re going to have to invest in some better hardware or switch hosts.

Much like Cleveland’s switch from manufacturing to medical, getting off of HostDaFoolz and on to a serious, paid service like HostGator’s Business program can get your TTFBs into the range that Google likes.

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