SEO Essentials: the Proper Web Server and Platform

Your web server, web hosting package, and e-commerce/web publishing software can all play an important role in the execution of your search engine optimization strategy. If you want to increase traffic to your site, your choices in these areas can help — or hurt — your online success. Keep reading to learn which ones are your best options.

If you want your online venture to be successful, you need an effective technical and marketing plan. And an important part of any effective technical and marketing plan of any successful online venture is the proper selection of hosting server and the associated software platform.

Do not underestimate the importance of the right hosting server and software. They are among the contributing factors to executing one of the most important online strategies for increasing website traffic and conversion — a strategy you’re probably familiar with if you’re reading this site. It’s called “search engine optimization.”

This article will provide tips on the proper selection of server and web software platform that seems to be the most effective in contributing to an SEO marketing and technical plan. It will discuss all possible issues and advantages experienced by webmasters and online business owners as well as the SEO in charge.

All of these things should be considered as early in the business planning stage or any periodic website review as possible. This is necessary to avoid any future delays, additional costs and hassles in executing search engine optimization projects.

{mospagebreak title=Proper Web Server Selection}

Of course, web servers cannot be a factor in SEO; Google can’t discount the value of a website just because of its web servers. But a mismatch in the selection of web servers to the depth and scope of your search engine optimization projects, as well as the associated budget, can affect your SEO in the long run.

Before we discuss this point in detail, let’s examine which ones are the most common web servers used by the world’s busiest websites:


Apache is the most commonly used web server across the million busiest websites. The following are the underlying factors and reasons for this popularity:

  • Most common web hosts will offer an Apache-based server, and you can easily find one. 
  • Apache is open source, so it is free. Since it is common and free, it is  supported by a lot of developers, which means you can easily get support for free in the open source community and forums. 
  • Apache is commonly used along with PHP (the most popular server side scripting language). This is more popularly known as a LAMP configuration: an Apache web server in a Linux operating system using PHP and MySQL. 
  • Because of this popularity, many of the most popular web applications are optimized to run on Apache, such as WordPress (blogging or CMS), Joomla (content management system) and OScommerce (e-commerce applications). Being optimized means it will run without compatibility issues or server-related problems. These web applications are also free (open source). 
  • One of the most effective methods of moving content is a 301 redirection, which can be required in some instances (for example, when moving websites, such as moving from old to new URLS). It’s easiest to do this in an Apache server when compared to any other type of servers.

Bottom line: if you are about to start a website, Apache seems to be a reasonable server to start with. You can easily get support and implement one of the most useful pieces of open source web software without compatibility issues. In relation to SEO, doing complicated things such as moving content seems to be easier with Apache than with IIS/other servers.

Since Apache is open source, you save money in putting up your website in contrast to other popular web servers, like IIS, which can be costly to set up and maintain. For IIS, for example, you need to buy a high end version of Windows. You can divert the cash you save to finance your SEO campaign, which is a better decision in terms of ROI.

{mospagebreak title=Proper Web Hosting Package Selection}

One of the most serious mistakes webmasters and online business owners commit is the wrong selection of web hosting packages. This will affect your SEO campaign in the long run, and will limit your efforts to maximize your campaign.

If you are selecting web hosting packages, make sure they allow full FTP access to your website, full CMS access to the website template, and 301 redirection.

If you have full FTP access to your website, you can freely upload and download any files you need. You can also configure important server directives such as .htaccess for Apache or global.asax in ASP.NET. Full FTP access is very important in SEO for two reasons:

  • You can upload files which directly affect your SEO campaign, such as  robots.txt and sitemap.xml. Preventing duplicate content is easily implemented with robots.txt; if you are not allowed to upload files, then you’ll have problems using this protocol. Htaccess in Apache is used to do server redirects and rewrite URLs (done at the development stage of the website); global.asax is used for this in ASP.NET.
  • SEO onsite improvements such as making the website template SEO friendly (like revising title tags, putting internal links on a dynamic web template) needs detailed work with template files which can be best manipulated through an FTP work. Doing back-ups (an important aspect in SEO onsite work), is also convenient and easy to be done through FTP.

Why is full CMS access to the website template important? Many dynamic websites are powered with a database (such as MySQL) and a content management system. Some hosting providers limit your access to just adding and editing content, but not editing the HTML/PHP or ASP templates. This limits your ability to improve the website templates you are using to make them more SEO-friendly. So make sure you confirm with them that you are allowed to modify and edit template files. This is important.

Finally, if you select IIS as the web server, make sure you or they can facilitate important 301 redirection. Remember, moving sites can best be implemented with a 301 permanent redirect. Although Google and other search engines recently added features to help move websites, a 301 permanent redirect is still the best solution.

If you use IIS, keep in mind that some online business owners or webmasters find it hard to move websites. Doing so requires access to the Windows server computer control panel, such as the one shown in the screen shot below:

In Apache, redirection can be configured in an .htaccess file.

{mospagebreak title=Proper E-commerce/Web Publishing Software Selection}

Some E-commerce application software and web publishing software can make it difficult to implement onsite search engine optimization improvements. In short, there is some software that is not just good for SEO.

Basically, any commercial website needs two major web software platforms. One is for the shopping cart, so you can show products and let customers make purchases. The other is for blogging or other content, and usually involves using a CMS. 

Selecting the proper shopping cart software/blogging/CMS platform can be tricky, but below I’ve included some helpful guidelines.

First, an ASP.NET platform, PHP-powered templates and other templates powered by other server-side scripting languages will do just fine for SEO — but there are lots of developers and support for the PHP language. This means you can easily look for someone to help the onsite SEO if your website uses PHP-powered templates.

Second, note that some E-commerce/CMS templates are unique. For example, there are templates that are files that are generated locally (by a specific computer) and then uploaded to the web server.

A typical example is Actinic’s shopping cart software. While this shopping cart is great, it can be a bit difficult to work with the files if you hire someone (in another location) to do SEO work for you. Some website owners in this situation may even give remote desktop access to the SEO firm to execute this job. Find some shopping cart software that can be easily edited and made to work without resorting to some complicated website and file access issues.

Third, some shopping cart/e-commerce templates rely heavily on JavaScript and flash. While this is becoming more common, trendy and more fashionable, it could cause some issues with your SEO. Search engine bots can run into problems crawling for website content if your site relies heavily on JavaScript, especially for navigation. You should make your website as crawlable to search engines as possible. To find out if your website is crawlable, try this test:

  • Open the template in the browser (you could ask your developer to do this test). 
  • Turn off the browser’s JavaScript feature. In Firefox, this can be turned off by going to Tools -> Options -> Content and unchecking “Enable JavaScript.”
  • With JavaScript turned off, try reloading the page. Niow, starting from the home page, you should see hyperlinks. If you don’t, you have a problem. If you can see hyperlinks, try clicking those links. If they take you to the correct page, this is good. If they give you the wrong page or cannot be clicked, then crawling issues may be introduced when this template is used for the website.

The bottom line is to make sure that the template uses HTML-based text links, not flash or JavaScript. This should eliminate any crawling issues with your website, which is one of the top priorities in any search engine optimization campaign.

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