Cheap, shared hosting is great when you have no traffic. Startups don’t have a high IT budget, and it’s tempting to go with cheap $5-per-month hosting, but you soon discover this is problematic when you start driving traffic to your website. You can’t customise server resources, and you could share a server with thousands of other webmasters. Shared hosting is adequate for a new startup, but here are the telltale signs that you’re outgrowing your current hosting solution.

1. Your website performance is unacceptable

Visitors will wait a second or two for a website to load, but after too long they bounce from your website. Visitors expect a site to load within a couple of seconds; if it doesn’t, they will leave. You can use monitoring tools to assess a site’s performance and identify if it’s too slow. Google PageSpeed Insights lets you enter a website and determine if speed is adequate for both desktop and mobile users. It even gives you suggestions for components of the site that you can optimise for better performance. If it’s just your code, you can change it to speed up load times.

For sites with severe performance issues, it’s usually the shared hosting that cases the problem. With thousands of other websites on the same server, you compete for memory, hard drive space, and CPU power. Web hosting companies do as much as possible to limit resources for each shared host customer, but you can’t be sure that some other webmaster is using applications that take most of the server’s resources. It’s best to move your website to a data centre provider who offer dedicated servers, ensuring your website is the only website making use of the servers resources. Another issue with poor performance is search engine ranking. Search engines use site speed as a quality signal. Slow sites have a disadvantage compared to competitors with faster page load times.

2. Your website is in a ‘bad neighbourhood’

Although search engines explicitly state that shared hosting doesn’t affect your website ranking, you can be in a bad neighbourhood which inadvertently affects your search engine ranking and your website’s trust factors. For instance, suppose the other 100 sites on the same server often send spam messages. The host uses the same email servers to send email messages from their clients to their clients’ customers. If a host is known for allowing spammers, you could find that your own legitimate email messages are thrown into your recipient’s spam boxes.

You don’t want to house your website in a bad neighbourhood or you could find that your site is lumped in with the spam sites. Tools such as DomainTools let you research a server’s IP address and find out what other sites are hosted on the same machine. You can then assess the other sites that share a neighbourhood with your own website. A good host will let you request to have the site moved, but other hosts will force you to upgrade your contract to a VPS or a dedicated server. It’s easier to move a site to a different server with the same host, so you should choose a reputable host before you deploy your website.

3. Has your server’s IP been blacklisted before?

A blacklisted IP could be considered part of a bad neighbourhood, but even blacklisted IPs can be reinstated to good neighbourhoods. Unfortunately, having a previously blacklisted IP for a host server can have residual effects for legitimate business owners. Your emails might still be blacklisted by some providers, and other services might still have your site blocked. For instance, if a former site owner spammed popular web services, these services might block the IP. This means that even now that you use the IP for legitimate web services, you will have to contact these domain owners and ask that they lift the ban. This is much more tedious and difficult than just moving your website to a different web hosting company, specifically a different IP. You can still use the same hosting company, but you need a different IP.

4. Can your site handle spikes in traffic?

Most sites have seasonal traffic. Even popular sites see spikes in traffic at specific times of the day. Your site must be able to handle these spikes in traffic, but it’s difficult for a webmaster to identify when they happen. You can use analytics and logging tools to find the busiest times in the day when you get the most traffic. If you still can’t identify any spikes, several tools on the market let you emulate spikes in traffic. These tools help you develop a benchmark for traffic versus performance. It’s not unusual for an e-commerce store to see heavy traffic during Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Before you lose money from a crashed web server, use these traffic emulation tools to test your site. Just make sure you use them during off-peak hours, so you don’t crash your website during normal business hours.

5. Do you have an application that requires server configurations?

Customising your server resources is one of the biggest advantages to VPS or dedicated servers. The only way a host can ensure that no configuration interferes with other sites on the server is to keep standard setups and disallow any requests to change them. This means that if you need customisations, your request is immediately denied. You can expect to need custom configurations if you decide to build your own application.

A VPS is a virtual environment that acts like a dedicated server. You still have limited resources, but you don’t share the general environment with other users. VPS is the next best system upgrade when you determine that you need more resources. A more expensive upgrade is dedicated servers. You lease the entire server and have full control of it. The server just sits at the host instead of in-house. This option is good if you need the entire server and not just a portion of its resources. You can also work with cloud hosts, which lets you pay as you go. Each time you add an application or resource, you pay for it instead of paying for a set amount of resources or servers. PhoenixNAP and Amazon Web Services are two common cloud hosts that many site owners are working with the save money but keep the scalability and flexibility in pricing.

It’s imperative that you move hosts should you discover that you need more resources. It’s a mistake to let performance suffer and leave your website to shared web hosting. It can cost you thousands every month and limit your growth.