Previously we discussed why a content delivery network (CDN) can speed up your site.
But what if your situation is different? What if you are using a small shared hosting account but want to house a lot of media. Is it better to:
- Upgrade your hosting account and get more bandwidth/server space
- Use a file host for your media, such as an image host (Photobucket, Imageshack, etc.), audio host (Libsyn, Talkshoe, etc.) or video host (YouTube, Vimeo, etc.)
The answer isn’t straightforward and there are many pros and cons to both systems. In the end, there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution here so it is important to weigh the benefits and take an honest look at your hosting setup.
Media Hosts Are Cost-Effective
In general, a dedicated media host can save you money if your existing host can not handle the traffic. For example, Photobucket offers a “Pro” account for $25 per year, or about $2 per month, that allows you to host unlimited images in high resolution. Imageshack has a similar account for about $68 per year, or about $5.60 per month.
These accounts are usually much cheaper than standard hosting accounts that can handle large volumes of media. Despite promises of being “unlimited”, most hosts have rules against hosting large amounts of media and may still disconnect you. Likewise, some video hosts, such as YouTube and Vimeo for video, as well as Talkshoe for audio, are completely free, making them zero-risk (at least financially) for hosting that kind of content.
In short, if your existing host can’t handle the traffic of your media or may disconnect you for hosting it there, a media host may be a cost-effective way to get the content back online.
Who’s Speedier? Your Server or the Media Host?
The big question is whether your server is faster or slower than your media host’s? It isn’t as simple a question as it seems. Though Photobucket, for example, may have faster servers, they also host many times the images and content and likely handle much more bandwidth. Also, using an image host forces your visitors to access another domain to find their images, that causes them to make a new DNS query and connect with another server. There is a speed overhead for that process.
The flip side, however, is that if your server is overloaded or the browser doesn’t wish to make too many connections to a single server (and there are a lot of media files), spreading the load out may be faster.
The only real way to test this is to set up your site with your new media host and then run a site speed test, such as Pingdom’s to see if it is faster. However, even that only covers one perspective out of millions of potential ones. After all, speed is always relevant.
A Separate Media Host Threatens Reliability
Using a media host creates a second fail point for your site. If you have all of your content on just your server, your site is up and fully functioning so long as that one server is running. If you add in a media host, both have to be functioning for your site to be working. Granted, if your media host goes down your site will work, but you’ll have no images, audio or video.
The good news is that most media hosts are more reliable than a simple shared host, so the damage is minimal. However, it is important to stick with a reputable and reliable media host, the same as you stick with a reputable and reliable Web host.
If you go with a company that has been around for a while and has a good reputation, you will probably not notice any issues with reliability of your site, especially if you’re on a traditional Web host.
Most SEO gurus seem to believe that it is better to keep your images on your own domain. However, the actual benefit you get from keeping your images local may vary as even sites with lots of images do not always perform well in Google Image Search.
Other multimedia content doesn’t carry so much risk, but it is worth noting that most media hosts create their own pages for your content, meaning it could be that there are two separate URLs for your podcast or videos.
Realize that you may be sacrificing some of your SEO to the site you host with, but also acknowledge that it probably isn’t a huge amount of your SEO potential, that is, unless you’re focusing primarily on image and or other multimedia content.
Maintaining the Quality of Your Media
Finally, it is important to consider how these hosts will alter your content by using them. For example, using a video site such as YouTube will reduce the resolution of many videos as well as the audio quality. Likewise, most MP3 hosts will compress the audio, often times sacrificing clarity. Even image hosts often reduce image size or pass other filters over the image, such as white balancing an image, to make it look better.
When you put media on your server, you have 100% control over how the public views it, but when you put it on another site, there is a layer in between you and that level of direct control.
Sometimes the trade off is worthwhile, especially with video sharing sites that make the content easily viewable and freely hosted, but you need to be aware of it and sometimes it isn’t. This is something you have to judge for yourself.
Also, be wary that many media hosts will display ads over and near your content and you will likely have no control over those ads. If that worries you, you should probably host your own content, upgrade your account or seek out another partner.
Is it worth getting a media host for your content? It depends. However, given how inexpensive CDN hosting has become, especially for image hosting, you may actually save money and mitigate many of the problems associated with having a media host by going through route. You get greater control, better reliability in large and, in may cases, better pricing.
Which route is best for you is a matter of looking at the types of content you have, how much your current hosting can handle and how much traffic you’re expecting.
If you’re smart about how you spread your content, you can improve reliability and speed while saving money and keeping other issues to a minimum.
Plan ahead and be honest about your current and future needs and you should be fine.
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