Having a presence online for your business is vital. Don't you agree?
Whether you are an established business or just starting out, your business website will be an essential part of your business.
If you are just starting out online and not familiar with web hosting services, this article is for you. Here I'll go over what web hosting is, what kinds of web hosting services are available, and things to look for and to avoid when looking for a hosting provider.
What is web hosting?
Web hosting is a service that provides the infrastructure to store your website and its files online and allows other people to view your website via the internet. Think of it like your home computer, where you store all of your files, pictures, and videos. Whenever you want to view something, you just open it up on your computer and enjoy. A web host does essentially the same thing except they store all of your website files on what's called a server, which is essentially a centralized computer (group of servers) that a web hosting provider owns that stores thousands of websites files for all of there customers.
What kind of web hosting options are there?
Shared hosting is when your website is stored on a web hosting providers server along with hundreds of other websites. It's kind of like renting an apartment in a building where you have lots of neighbors.
Very inexpensive. You can get a lot of features for very little cost
The shared hosting market is very competitive, this helps to keep prices low and features high
Very reliable, considering how cheap it is and support is usually pretty good (depending on the provider)
Security. Since you are hosting alongside 100's of other websites, a major security breach by one website can potentially affect your website. Hosting providers are really good with monitoring security threats and it's usually not a problem, but the threat still does exist.
Reduced capacity. There are bandwidth and storage limits with shared hosting. Many hosting providers advertise unlimited everything, which is not the case. They reserve the right to shut you down or throttle your service if you are using too much bandwidth or disk space on their servers. For a small business, this is almost never a problem so I wouldn't worry about this
Dedicated hosting is when your website is hosted on its own dedicated server. You are the only website on there and do not need to worry about other websites affecting yours. Think of it like owning a nice single family home where your neighbors are far enough away as not to annoy you. You also have managed hosting where the hosting company actively manages your website and the server to keep it running optimally and to maintain a high level of security.
Great for large businesses and websites with lots of traffic
Full control over your server settings. You can customize your server without worrying about your neighbors, like with shared hosting
Can get expensive. Not really feasible for a small business or if your just starting out
Requires someone to actively manage the server to keep it running smoothly
Virtual Private Hosting (VPS)
A Virtual Private Server is when your website is hosted on a server with other websites, but it's partitioned off from them and offers costs closer to shared hosting but security and performance similar to a dedicated server. It's kind of like living in a luxury high-rise condo building, you have neighbors, but your walls are thick enough so you never hear them.
Better security features than shared hosting
Allows custom configurations even though technically you are sharing the server with other websites
Much cheaper than dedicated hosting, though more than you will pay for shared hosting
Still quite a bit more than shared hosting services
Quality of a VPS depends on each individual hosting company
Since you are still technically sharing server space, there may be some bandwidth and storage limitations, like with shared hosting
What is the best web hosting option for a small business?
It depends on your business.
If you are just starting out and will most likely not have thousands of daily website visitors in the near future, I would opt for the shared hosting plan. It's cheap, reliable and makes it really easy to just get started……which most of the time is the most important thing.
When I would consider an alternative to shared hosting is when security is vital (storing sensitive customer information like with e-commerce) or I will be anticipating a large jump in visitor traffic right off the bat, I might then look at a VPS or maybe a dedicated server if finances allowed. There is no set traffic number when you would make the switch, but if you are consistently hitting 20K unique visitors a month, you may want to start looking at it.
Tips on finding a good web hosting provider
Reputation. Ask other business people with websites what service they are using. Do some online research on a potential service provider, you'll probably find that there are lots of customer reviews and forum comments on all of the major web hosting providers. I have had the most success in picking web hosting providers by reading reviews (and complaints) from current and past customers. Look at their Twitter and Facebook pages to see get an idea of what customers think about them and how they communicate with their customers.
Support. Unless you are an online veteran, comfortable with programming, you'll want a hosting provider that is ready to help you out when you need it. Just like above, search online and look out for words of praise (or scorn) from current customers. It may even be a good idea to call the web hosting provider and see how helpful they are in answering your questions.
Scalability. If you will be starting out on a shared hosting platform, check to see if you will be able to easily upgrade to a VPS or dedicated server if your business starts to take off. Upgrading to a new level of service is not usually a big deal, but switching to an entire service provider can be a pain in the butt. Make sure you have room to grow if you ever need it.
Price. Don't base your purchase on it. You won't be high fiving yourself on the $2 a month you are saving when your website is down and your service provider is not returning your calls.
** Note: A company called EIG has purchased most of the shared hosting companies over the last few years, leaving very little competition in the shared hosting market. Unfortunately, it has been the case that when they take over a company, the level of customer service and hosting reliability takes a major drop. As an example, see reviews for Hostgator before 2016 and after, a stark difference in how customers feel about the company. For shared hosting, we have been using A2 Hosting for several years, very reliable and still independent.
More Web Hosting Tips
Dedicated IP address. With shared hosting, you share an IP address with the other websites on the server. If one of those websites is doing something they shouldn't and gets in trouble ( gambling sites, porn, etc), the search engines might punish them by restricting or banning the IP address of that user. That could affect your website and unfortunately, you do not get to pick your neighbors with shared hosting. For only a few bucks a month, it's still much cheaper than VPS hosting and gives you a little piece of mind. And if you will be attempting to run e-commerce on a shared hosting plan, which some companies will allow, make sure you get a dedicated IP address as well as a SSL security certificate.
Avoid free hosting. There are lots of web services that will host your website for free. While this may be great for a personal blog or hobby website, it's not a good idea for your business. Why?
- You will most likely not get your own domain, but a sub-domain. When you have your own domain, your website will look something like yourdomain.com , where with a sub-domain, it will look something like yourdomain.freewebhosting.com . It's much more professional and beneficial to you and your business to have your own domain. If you don't think such a vital part of your business (a website) is worth a few dollars a month, maybe you should rethink your business.
- Most free web hosting providers will place ads on your site to recuperate the cost of hosting it for free. It just looks unprofessional.
- You have no control over your website or performance. In exchange for getting it free, you give up any right to complain about the service.
- Support is usually poor to non-existent
* Some free hosting services offer you your own domain and upgraded features and service with a paid plan.
As you can see, there are lots of choices and decisions to make when choosing a web hosting provider. It's an important decision and I would take my time and do my research before signing up for a service. Your hosting provider is the foundation for your website, so be sure you don't jump into any old service or you might regret it later on.
If you have any questions about hosting providers, just shoot me a message and I'd be happy to help out. You can also check out my small business resources page and see what services and tools I use for my business.