How Important Is Server Location?

Server location can affect a number of different considerations, including latency, cost, and security and privacy. Some of these discussions will be generalizations, and that can’t really be helped. Some distant servers will run really quickly with low latency while other servers, despite being next door, will run slowly. Some servers in a different country will be absurdly expensive while servers next door can be fairly cheap.

Nevertheless, when considering server location, here are some things that it may affect:

01Latency

This is the big one. The location of your server can change the amount of time that it takes for data to travel in between your site and users. While it can be seconds or milliseconds, that time can add up when you are trying to load material or process a sequence of requests.

There’s a few different considerations here. If you’re a large business, the origination point for your site might not matter too much because you’ll probably be using a CDN to spread your data around. A CDN is a content delivery network, basically different instances and caches of your site located at strategic geographical points. When a user requests information from your site, the origination point bounces the request to lower latency locations. If you’re a small to midsize website, then you might not be using a CDN. In this case, the location of your server might be more critical.

If you’re a small business, for example, catering to a single city, then it can be advantageous to put your site on a server in or near that city. You might not want your website in a different country. Then again, if you’re a small business, a 1 second difference in loading time might not be that big of a deal.

Using cookies and a cache on a user’s computer can also reduce latency. Cookies are preference, and a cache is critical files. If you can store your site’s cookies and cache on the user’s computer you can reduce latency because those files are loading from the user’s computer. 

02Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Indirectly, server location can affect your page rankings on Google. Websites that respond too slowly are known to get dinged for this in the rankings. Google knows that they need to answer the searcher’s query, but they also need to do it in a reasonable amount of time. And Google’s internal research has found that a reasonable amount of time, for mobile users at least, is about 3 seconds. If you can load under 3 seconds you might get a better ranking than if you spin your wheels for longer. While server location isn’t the only thing that affects load speed, it certainly affects latency and can change access to your site from different locations.

03Google’s Geological Rankings

Google doesn’t really care where you locate your website if you use their Webmaster tool. The Google Webmaster tool will allow you to target users who are geographically located in western Los Angeles, even if you have servers in Tokyo or Rio. However, if you aren’t using Webmaster to geographically target certain users, and you’re using a .com or .org address, then Google might use your server location to obtain geographical information. So there are ways to avoid being misinterpreted by search engines. You can put your servers in a location that is relevant to your users and then use the location of the servers, but there’s really no reason why you’d have to.

04Cost

Putting your server in a different country might be a more or less expensive way to host your website. Some countries have lower energy costs and lower taxes, so you’ll spend less money or more money on your servers by putting them there. There can also be tax differences in different states and regions. Depending on whether you purchase or rent server space, you’ll classify these costs as hardware or operation costs, which can affect your tax structures.

05Privacy and Security

Many different countries have different privacy and information laws which govern the way that governments can or can’t obtain information. Which means that there are some sites that will want the protection of a certain political-legal location and may want to avoid others. Of course, some countries won’t care if your servers are in another country or not. They may still take action if you’re running the site out of their country. For example, Japan doesn’t allow gambling. You can’t put a gambling site on servers in Japan. But you also can’t run a gambling site out of your house in Japan even if the servers are in a different country. When you run a website out of one country and servers out of another, you might find yourself at interesting government and legal intersections.

Additionally, some industries and data types have compliance regulations for where the servers can be located. You may not be able to store certain medical records or even medical-adjacent information on servers located in certain places.

More than Server Location

You should notice two things from this discussion: (1) none of these attributes are absolute, and (2) all of these categories have far more important considerations. Using location to drop latency will not drastically improve your speed if you have low bandwidth and are pushing the data limits on your hosting plan. Latency, in turn, will not increase your ranking if you have a poorly constructed site or have failed to do any hundreds of other search optimization tasks. Additionally, while location can affect cost, there is more of a correlation than a causation with this one. 

The big thing to notice is the privacy and security discussion. Assuming you aren’t storing sensitive records that hackers will actively attempt to break into your server facility and steal, then government and legal regulation is your big concern. Understanding data privacy laws and internet laws for different countries are important before outsourcing servers there. Also, when you run a website and business in one country and servers in another country, there can be interesting legal intersections that you run into.