A website is becoming an essential part of marketing for every small business.
“How to choose the best small business web hosting service?” is a question every business owner needs to answer before setting up a website.
There are a lot of companies offering a wide variety of web hosting packages.
The last thing that you want is to sign up up with a problematic hosting package after all the time and confusion.
With that in mind, let’s quickly move onto the list of things that you should look into before passing your credit card information to any of the hosting companies.
- 1 What to Look at?
- 1.1 Types of Hosting Package
- 1.2 Operating Systems
- 1.3 Control Panels
- 1.4 Disk Storage / Disk Space
- 1.5 Bandwidth
- 1.6 Uptime / Stability
- 1.7 Customer Service
- 1.8 Reviews
- 1.9 Onboarding Tutorials
- 1.10 Price
- 1.11 Accepted Payment Methods
- 1.12 Backups
- 1.13 Software Compatibility
- 1.14 Website Builder
- 1.15 Server Location
- 1.16 Upgrading / Downgrading Options
- 1.17 Transfer Process
- 2 How to Find Them?
- 3 What Can Go Wrong?
- 4 Ask Questions!
What to Look at?
Types of Hosting Package
Although the specific offerings may be different, the types of hosting packages can be broadly categorized into the following:
Many small and medium-sized businesses will probably end up using a shared hosting package because of its affordability. Additionally, a shared hosting package is usually more than enough to cope with the traffic that most websites receive.
Signing up for a shared hosting package will place your website on a server shared among other customers who are also subscribed to the same package. An affordable price for such packages can be offered because the server costs are shared among customers hosted on that server.
Since the server resources are shared, the performance of your website might be negatively impacted if other websites hosted on the same server receive a sharp increase in resource utilization. The usual causes for the increase includes traffic spikes, problematic website software or hacking attempts.
If you are familiar enough with web hosting, and understand what types of operating system and software are best for your servers and websites, a shared hosting package may not be for you. Almost every hosting company want a stable server environment for customers sharing the same server. Thus, installation of special software or operating systems is strictly not allowed on a shared server.
Dedicated hosting can be expensive as it involves the leasing of an entire server. It is only for small businesses that are expecting a high volume of daily visitors to their website or e-commerce businesses that are planning to process commercial transactions in a more secure environment.
With dedicated hosting, performance capabilities of the leased server is enjoyed by your website entirely. Slowdowns or downtimes caused by usage spikes on another website should be rare. Small businesses with sufficient IT professionals will also be able to enjoy more flexibility in terms of hardware specifications as well as the installation of custom operating systems and software.
A dedicated hosting package can either be managed or unmanaged. This dictates the level of support and scope for server management service. Although there is no industry-defined scope for server management, you can always do your research and sign up for managed hosting packages that are transparent about their offerings.
Virtual Private Server (VPS)
A VPS is a package that positions itself between shared hosting and dedicated hosting. Although you may be sharing the same physical server with other websites, the available resources on the server are divided accordingly, either at the hardware or software level.
Without shelling out hefty sums of monthly hosting fee for a dedicated hosting package, a VPS allows you to have a hosting package that is safer and more stable than a shared hosting package.
While shopping for the right small business hosting package, you will come across two major operating systems – Linux and Windows.
Although the operating system does not have a huge impact for HTML websites, it comes into the picture if you decide to use website software that only works on either of the operating systems.
For example, if you are setting up your small business website using WordPress, you will need a hosting package that uses a Linux server. This is because Linux servers support the usage of PHP (a programming language) in WordPress.
cPanel is the control panel used in many web hosting packages. Even so, custom control panels with complicated layouts are still preferred by some of the hosting companies.
Navigating around the control panel and guessing which icon or button relates to the execution of a desired function can be a waste of time. You might even break something unintentionally.
Before signing up with a web host, beginners are advised to scan through the onboarding guides in order to gauge the user-friendliness of the control panel adopted. Referring to relevant tutorials before performing any tasks or actions using the control panel is also an advisable move to avoid unnecessary errors.
Disk Storage / Disk Space
Like a computer, the disk storage and disk space offered by a web host refers to the size and volume of files and databases that can be stored onto a server. Depending on your business, the need for storage may vary.
To illustrate, a videography business that is planning to store high definition videos using its server will require a large disk space. To get started, most small business websites do not need to have a large disk space and the allocated storage volume can always be increased when the need arises in the future.
Even though a lot of web hosts are claiming that they offer unlimited storage through shared hosting packages. you should be reminded that “unlimited storage” does not necessarily mean “infinite storage”. As explained earlier, the resources on a shared hosting server are allotted between a number of customers.
If your website is taking up excessive storage space on a shared server and starts causing issue for other customers, your host will step in with a suggestion to move your website onto a dedicated server.
“Bandwidth”, in networking terms, refers to how fast data can be transferred across a network. In the world of web hosting, it refers to the amount of data transfers allowed.
Unless you are going to upload and serve video content using your server or have a highly visited website from the start, which are both unlikely in most cases, the basic bandwidth offerings should be sufficient. Similar to disk storage, you can always upgrade for a higher bandwidth limit.
Again, despite the fact that almost every shared hosting package claims to offer unlimited bandwidth, keep in mind that because server resources are shared, you will not get infinite bandwidth. Your web host will reach out and move your website onto a dedicated server if its bandwidth usage is consuming a lot of resources on a shared server.
Uptime / Stability
Uptime is the amount of time when your server is up and running without any problems. Some web hosts go the extra mile by providing a network uptime guarantee.
For example, a 99.9% uptime guarantee implies that in a 30-day month, if the server goes down for an accumulated period of longer than 43 minutes and 12 seconds within the 30-day window (calculated using Ez Uptime Calculator), your hosting fee for the month will be refunded. However, this usually excludes downtime caused by scheduled server maintenance and issues with scripts or website software.
On a dedicated hosting package, hosting fees are usually prorated and refunded to customers for the amount of downtime that happened within a billing period.
A simple Google search for “[name of web hosting company] uptime” will reveal customer service threads on the issue, how the company handles downtime and how easy it is to claim for a refund.
Placing your website on a server belonging to a web host that offers outstanding customer service should be of the highest priority, especially if you know nothing when it comes to web hosting and managing a website.
Apart from being there to guide you on selecting the right package to sign up with, a customer service representative should also be helpful when you face problems with your website.
The best way to obtain insights on a web host’s customer service track records is to perform searches containing keywords such as “issues”, “complaints”, “help” and some other similar keywords together with the name of the host. Doing so will reveal customer service threads on forums maintained by the web host, which should give an idea of how existing customers are treated. Of course, only hosting companies that are proud of their customer service standards will make their forum threads public.
Another thing to look at is the accessibility of customer support. Do they only provide email support? Do they have a phone number that you can call and speak to a real person? Do they provide 24/7 live chat support for prompt assistance?
To learn more about the responsiveness of hosting companies in supporting inquiries, you can perform a test by calling the customer support numbers with a few “dummy questions” in mind. After a couple of calls with different hosting services, you should be able to judge on the quality of customer service provided.
Today, before purchasing an item or signing up for a service, it is very common for us to read up on product reviews published by reputable outlets.
In the world of web hosting, things can be a little different. You need to take extra precaution when reading reviews that you come across on the Internet. The primary aim of many web hosting review websites is to earn a commission from your signup with any of the suggested web hosts.
Only trust a review if both the pros and cons of a particular web host are explained thoroughly. More importantly, you should only place trust on websites with adequate disclosures regarding sponsored reviews and whether the independence of such reviews is affected by the commission payment. In a competitive market, it is hard to find a web hosting service or package that stands out from the rest and comes without any flaws.
If you have friends or business connections with a website, you can always ask for their recommendations together with their experiences with different web hosting services. These are often more reliable, and he or she might even be able to provide the necessary guidance to get you started.
Setting up a server can be daunting for first timers. Before signing up, make sure that you have spent time browsing through the tutorials and help articles provided by the web host.
Are the tutorials comprehensive enough? Are they documented in your preferred medium (text, video or printable notes)? Since the clarity and comprehensiveness of tutorials are so important for beginners, it is better to avoid hosting companies that restrict their tutorials from public viewing.
“You get what you pay for.”
There are a lot of services that offer free hosting. Even though not paying anything for hosting sounds attractive, websites hosted on these services often have spammy and intrusive ads, buggy features, as well as customer support that is almost non-existent.
Today, web hosting packages are priced competitively. In many cases, levels of hardware specification is the only differentiation for the varied fees.
To save money, sign up for hosting packages with a free trial or a heavily-discounted hosting fee for the first month. During the trial or the first month with discounted fees, familiarize yourself with the control panel’s interface as much as possible and understand what you will be paying for with the full price.
Another way to save on hosting fees is to do a simple search for coupon or voucher codes that you can use during the process of signing up.
Signing up for longer periods ranging from 3 months to 3 years instead of paying the fees on a monthly basis will attract lower prices. However, if you are unfamiliar with a hosting service, it is not advisable to sign up for long periods and pay a huge amount upfront. With some hosting companies, you might face difficulties in getting a refund in the event of any unexpected issues.
Accepted Payment Methods
Credit cards are widely accepted by hosting providers.
If you do not have a credit card due to personal finance issues or age limitations, you can find out from the shortlisted hosting providers on whether payment options such as PayPal or check, are accepted.
Some web hosts will have an optional feature of charging your credit card or PayPal account automatically every time hosting fees are due. This can help to save time and take away the hassle of logging into the billing account just to make payments.
Backing up files and databases is a periodical activity to prevent significant loss of data in the event of a server crash, hacking attempt or technical error.
Although the responsibility primarily lies on our shoulders as website owners, it is a plus if our web hosting package includes scheduled data backup. Scheduled data backups become very useful when we forgot to perform a backup on our end, and unwanted events, such as a server crash or a successful hacking attempt, take place.
A lot of web hosts do not promote the fact that they are backing up your data even though most of them do. The best way to find out is to ask them about it together with the relevant fees that will be charged for data recovery.
Website software can be content management systems such as WordPress or Drupal, forum software such as vBulletin or phpBB and e-commerce software such as Magento or osCommerce. These software may require different server specifications in order to run flawlessly.
Remember to check with the hosting company on whether the website software that you are planning to use is compatible with the hosting package that you are signing up for.
If the technical support team is familiar and experienced enough with a website software, additional support related to the installation and maintenance of the software will be of great help in the future, especially when there is a need for upgrading or debugging.
A website builder is offered by many web hosts as a complementary feature. Although it may not have the robust features of a content management software like WordPress, the website builder should be sufficient for non-techie business owners that only require a 5-page HTML website.
There are also services out there that position themselves as website builders that offers web hosting, easy-to-use customization options and a gallery of design templates. The monthly fees of these services may be slightly more expensive than those offered by web hosting companies. Even so, because of their easy-to-use interface, business owners who don’t want to spend extra cash on web design are more than willing to pay for such services.
The location of a server refers to the location of where your website is hosted. Visitors will experience a faster loading time if your website is hosted at a location near to them.
For example, if most of the visitors to your small business website will be from New York, it is unwise to sign up with a web host in Singapore and have your website hosted in the country.
To a certain extent, search engines may rely on server location to determine the relevance of a website for search queries entered by its users.
Upgrading / Downgrading Options
How easy it is to upgrade or downgrade from your existing hosting package?
As your website becomes popular, a seamless transfer to a more powerful hosting plan is always preferred. On the other hand, a downgrade to a cheaper plan should be simple and easy if your website does not require the amount of resources that you have planned for.
Check with the customer service representatives. They should be able to provide the necessary procedures to upgrade or downgrade your existing hosting package.
When you become familiar with the ins and outs of website management, you will need to make decisions about switching to a better package that could be offered by another hosting company.
Will your current host allow for the transfer to go ahead without any hiccups? Will it incur extra charges? Will there be terms and conditions that you have to fulfill as a customer? Are there any transfer problems encountered by existing customers?
The answer to these questions should be available under the Help section on the official websites of hosting companies. Of course, you can always direct the question to customer service representatives helping out with pre-sales questions.
How to Find Them?
Looking for the perfect small business web hosting service is not hard at all. There are a number of ways that can get you started:
Friend or Influencer Recommendations
Friends who own and run websites are more than willing to share their experience with different web hosting companies. Ask for their recommendations and learn about things that you should be aware of with web hosting packages.
Most influencers today have a website that helps to build their authority and influence on the Internet. If none of your friends own or run a self-hosted website, you can always approach individuals whom you look up to or learn from that own a website.
People love to write about their experience with web hosting companies, whether on their own blogs, review sites or discussion forums. You should be able to find all these by performing simple searches using search engines.
You can even search for a web hosting company that is the best in offering your requirements and specifications.
In order to corroborate findings, always make sure that you have read enough pros and cons about a particular hosting service before making any purchase decision.
Websites You Love
Another way to find out and decide which web hosting service should you sign up for is by looking at which hosting company are your favorite websites using. Your small business website may not be flooded with visitors but the hosting company that they are using may offer light usage packages for users like yourself.
You can identify the hosting company powering your favorite websites by performing a WHOIS search. You can also browse to the footer section where most websites will disclose, either voluntarily or sponsored, the web hosting company that they are using.
What Can Go Wrong?
As a reminder of why signing up with the right hosting provider is crucial, here are some of the things that could go wrong with a bad provider:
Prolonged Website Downtime
We don’t want to see our website goes down. A few minutes of downtime is acceptable but some companies, due to the lack of knowledge and experience with server issues, will prolong the time needed to get the downed server back online.
What if your website is the top sales driver? Do you want to see it go down during peak hours of the day when sales inquiries are coming in?
Lousy and Unhelpful Customer Support
The last thing that you want to face when a problem arises is to be served by a customer support representative who does not understand your problem and has no idea on how to solve the issue.
This will stall your progress and delay the time needed to get things done. The really bad ones may even offer the wrong solution that will cause even more trouble.
As a small business, we need to be concerned about our budget and spending. You certainly don’t want to pay for features that you don’t need or something that you can get at a cheaper price elsewhere.
Limited Upgrading / Downgrading Options
Extending from the previous point, we don’t want to pay for features that we don’t use. Nevertheless, it is hard to determine future usage. Some web hosts can be very restrictive about plan changes. Extra fees that can be as high as double your monthly hosting fees may be imposed for every upgrade, downgrade or other changes made to your initial package.
The guide above should be more than enough to help you in researching and deciding on which web hosting service to sign up with.
Do you have any feedback about the guide above? Have you come across any problems or questions when choosing the best web hosting service for your business? Share them in the comment section below and let us lend a helping hand.