How to Choose a Web Host for your Small Business Website

To choose the best web hosting service for your small business website, you need to first determine your web hosting requirements. For example, the hosting requirements for a law firm will be different to that of an online store selling handmade jewelry. The law firm would not need support for an ecommerce site where as the online jewelry store will definitely need support for an electronic store front. The online jewelry store also needs more space and bandwidth because users of such a website will be browsing through a lot of pictures of jewelry and ornaments.

The following are some questions that you need to ask to choose the right web hosting plan for your small business:

  • Are you launching a brand new website?
  • How much traffic are you expecting for your website?
  • Is your website content heavy? Do you have multimedia content such as Pictures and Videos?
  • What kind of software tools will be used to build your website? WordPress Blog? Ecommerce Shopping Cart?

In the following section we’ll look at the main features that you need to look for in a web hosting package.

1. Hosting Type

Web Hosting companies provide customers with different hosting options. The most common hosting solution for a small business website is either Shared Hosting or Virtual Private Server Hosting. In Shared Hosing your website will reside on a computer that host many other websites. Your website will share the same IP address as other websites in that computer. In a Virtual Private Server setup, your website will share the computer with few other websites. While your website shares the same physical computer with other websites, your website will have its own operating system and IP address.

For many small businesses Shared Hosting works just fine. In case Shared Hosting is not adequate for the traffic you receive, you could move to a Virtual Private Server setup. If the traffic volume is really high, then you may have to consider a Dedicated Server for your website. For information on different types of hosting, read my post titled Types of Web Hosting Solutions.

2. Guaranteed Uptimes

Your web hosting provider should provide you with guaranteed uptimes. Uptimes are usually indicated in percentages, for example, 99.5% or 99.9%. Web hosting companies have different ways to calculate the uptimes. Many hosting companies calculate this number for their advantage. For example, a hosting company might exclude scheduled maintenance from the downtime. The information on how uptimes are calculated is usually buried  in the fine print. Therefore the uptime % is not a great indicator of the service provided. But still it is important that you find a hosting company that provides some form of commitments to maintain uptimes. Instead of relying on the uptime information provided by the web hosting company, you should check uptime information published by independent review sites. The best way to find the reliability of a web host is to ask people who use it. TechThinker.com is hosted at HostGator and I am very happy with HostGator’s uptime. According to the site WebHostingStuff.com, HostGator has an uptime percentage of 99.99%.

3. Disk Space and Bandwidth

Nowadays almost all web hosting companies provide ample bandwidth and disk storage space. Bandwidth refers to the total amount of data that can be downloaded from your website on a monthly basis. Disk space refers to the amount of hard disk storage that is allocated to your website on the server computer. In order to exceed a bandwidth of 20GB a typical website should attract around 200,000 visitors per month!

4. Level of Technical Support Provided

Support is a very essential component of a good web hosting package. Make sure your web host provides 24/7 support 365 days of the year. Ensure that the web hosting company you choose provides phone support manned by actual people (instead of automated systems). Many times you can resolve an issue if there is proper documentation. Make sure your web hosting company has good support information and FAQs on their website. Some companies also provide customer support using Internet chat services. A chat based support system is very handy when you want to share a lot of information. For example, you can easily cut and paste the error message. But, reading out the error via the phone might be frustrating and time consuming.

5. cPanel Support

Most web host packages come preinstalled with a Graphical Administration Tool that can be used to perform various tasks. cPanel is the most common and popular admin tool. With cPanel you can do a number of tasks with ease. Example of such tasks include installing a WordPress blog, backing up your website data, displaying web statistics and logs etc. Therefore it is important that you choose a web hosting package that comes preinstalled with cPanel. Another benefit of cPanel is that it allows you to easily transfer your website from one web hosting company to another web hosting company (provided both companies support cPanel).

6.Total Number of Domains Supported

Some hosting packages only allow you to use one single domain name. If the package does not allow multiple domain names then you can only host a single website on that domain. For example, the HostGator’s Hatchling Package does not support multiple domain names where as HostGator’s Baby Package does support multiple domains. If you plan to create new websites in the future under a sub domain, make sure that the package provides support for sub domains as well. For example, a sub domain will look like the following: smallbusiness.techthinker.com.

7. Linux vs. Windows Hosting

Unless your website is built using Microsoft software technologies (such as Active Server Pages) it is highly recommended that you choose a Linux operating system based web hosting package. Linux servers are generally more faster and secured than Microsoft Windows servers. They also have other benefits such as the ability to to create .htaccess file to give custom instructions to your web site.

8. Price & Payment Options

If you want a Shared Hosting package you should be able to get a good plan for about $10 a month. For a Virtual Private Server Hosting expect to spend anywhere from $25 to $50 monthly. If the price offered by the web hosting company is really cheap beware about the quality of the service they provide. Having said that it does not always mean a cheap price means poor quality.

Look for a web host who is willing to provide you with flexible payment options. Make sure that you are not locked into a contract. While by locking into a contract you may be able to get some discount, it will be hard to leave the web hosting company if you are not satisfied with the level of service provided.

9. Reseller Hosting?

Resellers buy hosting packages in bulk from a large web hosting company and then provide you a web hosting service. Resellers usually do not have direct access to all computer systems. Therefore in case of an issue they might have to contact the actual hosting company to get it resolved. Sometimes a reseller is able to provide you a better price than the actual web hosting company. Resellers are able to provide you a better price by stacking many websites into a single machine. Doing this might slow down the performance of your website.

10. Datacenter Close to Your Audience

It is best that you choose a web host that has the data center closer to your audience. For example, if you are from Australia and majority of your customers are from the United States, it makes sense to choose a web host from the US, instead of choosing an Australian based web hosting company.

Do you have any other tips for choosing a web host? Please feel free to share them in the comments section.

Types of Web Hosting Solutions

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Free Hosting

With this type of hosting you do not pay any money for the service. Most of the Free Hosting solutions in the market are less reliable compared to a paid hosting service.  Since the service is offered free the hosting company has Terms and Conditions which do not always serve in your best interest. Some Free Hosting services require you to display ads and some are designed as a marketing tool (or bait) to upgrade you to a paid hosting package. I do not recommend Free Hosting service if you are serious about your online venture. I only recommend Free Hosting services for projects that are in Testing or Prototyping phase.

Self Hosting

Self Hosting refers to hosting your website at home on your own computer.  Personally I do not recommend this option either. First of all, you have to spend time setting up and maintaining your web server.  This time and effort could be well spent on developing your online business. Secondly, you should have good working knowledge of web servers and networking. Other common problems with self hosting include problems such as maintaining consistent speed and uptimes. Unless you are a techie who really wants to have full control of your web server, do not consider self hosting as a viable solution to your Internet business.

Shared Hosting

This is the most common and popular choice of hosting for a new website that has a low volume of traffic. In shared hosting your website is hosted on a computer along side with many other websites, thus the name Shared Hosting. Your website has to share resources with other websites on the same computer. Nowadays you can get a decent Shared Hosting service for around 5$ – 10$ a month. Cheaper services tend to put more web sites on a single computer while quality services tries to keep this number down in order to maintain good performance and customer satisfaction.

In Shared Hosting your website shares the IP address of the computer with other websites. Sharing the same IP address can pose you with some problems.  For example, if another person’s website on the same computer is involved in email spamming, Spam Blocking Software might block all emails from that IP address. As a result your outgoing emails could end up in the spam folder.

Dedicated Hosting or Dedicated Server

Dedicated Hosting is the Lamborghinis of Web Hosting solutions. Dedicated Hosting is suitable for major online businesses and stores. In Dedicated Hosting you have exclusive access to the entire computer and its resources. You do not share the computer with others. Dedicated Hosting is expensive and only justified if your website attracts a very large volume of traffic. Dedicated Hosting comes in two flavors: Managed and Unmanaged. In Managed Dedicated Hosting the hosting company takes cares of the administration of the server. In an Unmanaged operation the hosting company leases the server to you and you are responsible for the maintenance of the computer. This gives you more control over the computer. In the Unmanaged option the hosting company is only providing you the infrastructure support. Dedicated Hosting Packages are priced from $100 – $500 a month.

Virtual Private Server

Is your website too big to be hosted on a Shared Hosting and not big enough to justify the use of Dedicated server? If this is the case then a Virtual Private Server based hosting might be the solution for you. Mid size companies and websites that have a good volume of traffic can consider a Virtual Private Server hosting. In this hosting solution you  get your own virtual server. A number of virtual servers can use the same physical computer.

So what’s the difference between a Virtual Private Server and Shared Hosting? Unlike in Shared Hosting where an IP address is shared with multiple websites, in a Virtual Private Server setup, each server sharing the same physical computer has unique IP addresses and completely different sets of Operating Systems. Virtual Private Server provides increased isolation and protection. Price for Virtual Private Server range from $30 – $ 120 a month.

Grid or Cloud  Hosting

Grid or Cloud Hosting is suitable when your website traffic is highly volatile. For example, if on some days you have very low traffic and on other days you have very large volume of traffic, then Grid or Cloud based hosting could be your choice.

In Grid Hosting a cluster of computers work together to host a website. During low traffic periods few or one computer can handle visitor requests. During heavy traffic periods more computers will support the website. This means you only use computing resources as and when required.

Grid based hosting is highly scalable. In Grid based hosting you only pay for the resources you use allowing you to save money. Grid Hosting prices can range from $10 – $20 a month.

Reseller Hosting

In Reseller Hosting your hosting company will provide you with an account that will allow you to manage hosting services for your clients. In this account, your web hosting company will provide you with special administration features that will allow you to create user accounts for your own clients. This means you act as a mini hosting company. This option is suitable if you want to provide web hosting as a value added service to your clients. For example, if you are a website designer  you can provide hosting services to your clients under Reseller Hosting program.

If you have any questions or doubts please leave a comment.

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