What’s the most important asset small business owners need when doing any kind of business online? I’ll give you a hint: it’s not your website design and it’s not how well you can do SEO. If your hosting plan doesn’t do the job you need it to, when you need it to, then anything you’ve invested in your business’ online presence is worth next to nothing.
With this in mind, here are a few basic, yet crucial, questions that every small business owner should ask before choosing to buy into a web hosting package:
How much traffic comes to your website?
If you are starting your business website from scratch then there are a few unknowns that you have to deal with. One of them is figuring out how much traffic you can expect to receive. Even if you have an existing website, you can’t always predict when a traffic spike will hit. Nevertheless, the more data you have about a pre-existing site, the better your chances of accurately matching your hosting plan to your requirements.
If you are just starting your business that means a certain amount of flexibility will be needed. If you really don’t know how much traffic to expect, here are three golden rules to keep in mind:
- Start small and scale up as your site gains traction.
- Ask your hosting provider if they will assist with an upgrade should you need one in the future.
- Don’t be tempted to go for a long-term contract lock-in unless you’re sure you can cancel without penalties if you need to.
Keep in mind: Don’t choose a plan that’s too close to capacity; you need to allow some breathing room in case your site experiences a sudden traffic spike.
Given that, you will basically have three options with web hosting.
Shared hosting. With shared hosting, several customers (dozens, even hundreds of other hosting clients) use the services of one hosting space. This is the cheapest option (ranging anywhere from $4-$15 a month), but as you might have already guessed, you can run into problems if either you or your co-clients, suddenly need a lot of bandwidth. For this reason, shared hosting is only an economical choice for low traffic sites.
Virtual Private Servers. A Virtual Private Server (or VPS) is a very scalable form of hosting and is much less expensive than a full dedicated server (see below). A VPS environment links together several physical servers through software to create a large scalable environment that can be tightly controlled. This is a great option for small business owners as it is relatively inexpensive, yet gives you all the benefits that a stand alone server has. Additionally, if you start to run out of resources in your VPS environment, you can add a node or have the hosting company increase your allotted resources, and that’s something you can’t easily do with a dedicated server.
VPS services range from about $30 to over $200 per month depending on your host and the features you choose.
Dedicated servers. Investing in your own dedicated physical server definitely has its advantages in terms of your ability to control the hosting environment. It’s also the most secure option because resources are not being shared with other clients. But as mentioned above it’s the most expensive choice. Most dedicated servers are $200 a month or more for basic options.
How will you be building the site?
Will you be creating the site yourself or will you be hiring a designer to do it for you? The choice you make will also affect the kind of hosting plan you will need. Running a business is incredibly demanding, and you probably already have plenty of tasks to handle without adding any more to the pile. So, consider some of the points below:
- If you are trying to do a DIY job, but you are not so technical, then you may want to look for a hosting plan that comes with a site builder tool. A site built in a tool like this will inevitably be less sophisticated than fully-blown professional website, but the big advantage is the sheer ease of use. Many hosts provide site builders as part of a basic hosting package.
- If you intend to hire a website designer, then make sure you ask this person for guidance before choosing a hosting service.
How critical is your site’s uptime and availability?
For some businesses, uptime is everything. If you’re setting up an ecommerce store, you’re probably going to want the best possible uptime and availability guarantees. Other small business owners may be OK with compromising slightly on uptime to save a little cash.
Whatever you decide, check your website host’s uptime guarantee and the terms and conditions behind it. Some hosts offer 100% uptime, with generous account credits for any unexpected outages. Other, less costly hosts may offer anything from 99% to 99.99% uptime.
- Most hosts publicize their guarantee and may also provide uptime statistics. So, you can see if the host is meeting their uptime goals.
- Translate the uptime guarantee into “real” time. A commitment to 99% uptime equates to more than three and a half days of downtime per year – it’s not quite as good as it looks.
- Digital technologies are not 100% fool proof and there is a strong need for quality customer support. A good hosting company should be in a position to have 24/7 customer support service through a telephone line, Live Chat or support ticket. You don’t want to have to wait for days with a pressing issue on your website.
Ready To Buy? Check the Reviews
There’s one other piece in this puzzle: user satisfaction. The only way you can truly know the quality of a wed hosting company is to benefit from the experience of other users.
Before you part with any money, make sure you check out the company’s user ratings and reviews on dedicated hosting review websites. Comparing hosts based on factual, unbiased hosting reviews is a great way to narrow down your options and make the buying process easier. Armed with the right knowledge, the hosting package you choose should serve your business well over the coming months and years.