Website Hosting Tips for Small Business

There are three main components to a functioning website:

  • Site files
  • Domain
  • Hosting

Your website files are the actual HTML, CSS, and Javascript files that make up your website content, structure, and design. Your domain is simply the address where those files live so that browsers can find your website and display it to users on the internet. Hosting is the physical space where those files are stored. Today, we’re talking about hosting; what to look for, what to be weary of, and how to get hosting for your website. It is important to do some research to find the right hosting provider for you! In order to do the research effectively, you are going to need to understand some terminology, know what features to look for, and be aware of the threats to avoid. Read on to learn more about web hosting for small businesses (or anyone else for that matter).

Types of Hosting

First, we need to go over the four main types of hosting and the terminology surrounding them.

Shared Hosting

Different hosting companies may call this service different things but the keyword you can usually locate is “shared”. If you see something like this, you know you are dealing with a Shared Hosting package. This is most likely the cheapest option you can find. Basically, it means you are sharing space on a server with other sites and applications. By dividing up a single server and sharing it with other tenants, this approach does save you money but it also opens up several issues that will hurt your website performance and security.

By sharing a single machine, you are going to be very limited in your storage space, bandwidth, and other key features. This usually isn’t a huge deal for smaller sites but if you plan on having any larger files or are expecting lots of traffic, this limitation may really hurt you.

Additionally, you will not get great performance from a shared environment. Servers that are configured to be shared are set up to be “one size fits all”. This means it won’t be set up for your specific site, tech stack, or website platform or CMS. If any of the other sites on your server experience high traffic or start having some problems, they can easily eat up the resources of that machine and cause your site to slow down or even crash!

Finally, there are the security concerns. Because you are sharing space with others, you have to depend on them to not introduce any security threats to your shared environment. If one of them has a vulnerability, that could introduce a security threat to the server or even to your website. Just because your security is good on the front-end of your website doesn’t mean you didn’t leave a back door open somewhere into the server. Security concerns like these can cause sites to slow down, servers to be taken offline for maintenance or repairs, and even full site outages or loss of data.

The bottom line is that Shared Hosting is cheap but you get what you pay for including the poor performance and increased risk.

 

Dedicated Hosting

Dedicated Hosting is functionally similar to Shared Hosting except this time, you get the whole machine for yourself. One site, one server. This can get a bit expensive but eliminates most, if not all, the concerns of a shared hosting environment. This could be the direction you want to go for larger online applications, higher traffic sites, or sites in need of increased processing power or data storage. Having your own dedicated server also allows you to configure that server exactly how you want it to perfectly fit your needs. This leads to higher performance, fewer security concerns, and a more reliable solution.

Dedicated plans like these are usually among the more expensive options provided by hosting companies but with that additional cost comes a better product and other perks like priority support or maintenance. If you are looking for a top shelf solution for your web hosting and you don’t mind paying a premium, Dedicated Hosting may be the solution for you.

 

VPS (Virtual Private Server)

VPS or a Virtual Private Server is sort of a compromise between Shared and Dedicated. Essentially, a single machine can be virtually segmented out into several private servers. This has some major advantages over shared or dedicated hosting but doesn’t fully exemplify the strengths of either option.

Going the VPS route allows you the advantage usually reserved for dedicated servers of custom configuration. Even though you are technically sharing space, you can configure your VPS however you like to make sure it is optimized for your site or application. It is also much more secure than a standard shared environment and, due to the nature of a VPS, there will be fewer applications per server meaning you will get a bigger slice of the pie when it comes to bandwidth, file storage, and other utilities that will impact performance.

All of that being said, a VPS will be middle of the road when it comes to price point. The advantages over Shared Hosting will make it a bit more expensive than the cheapest thing a hosting provider may have, but the utility of sharing a server will make this solution more affordable than a Dedicated Hosting plan.

 

Cloud Hosting

Cloud Hosting is the newest arrival of the bunch and potentially the most exciting. It is sort of like the next evolution of the Virtual Private Server hosting concept. When a site or application is hosted on the cloud, that really just means it is occupying storage space provided by a large collection of computers. Instead of putting your site files, or many people’s site files, on a single machine, a large collection of machines work together to create a huge, virtual, shared environment. Due in part to the robust infrastructure required to establish a cloud hosting environment, a site hosted in this way will have access to incredible performance, security and reliability.

If your site is tied to a single machine, you are fully dependent on that machine. If it goes down or requires maintenance, you could experience an outage. In the cloud, no one application is directly tied to any one machine. That means that servers can come and go in this environment without impacting any applications performance. This technology gives you unprecedented reliability compared to the other options.

Another big advantage to Cloud Hosting is that it is vertically scalable. This means that your hosting plan can grow and evolve as you do. For example, if you are starting small and don’t need a bunch or storage space and aren’t planning on experiencing a lot of traffic, you can go with a basic plan to get a small space on the cloud. Then, as your site and traffic grow, you can continually add resources to your hosting plan to allow you to grow from a very small site to a large, very popular site without having to move hosts or transfer plans. Just pay for more space and you’re good to go. This allows you to pay for what you need without compromising your future growth.

Cloud hosting may be the newest player in town, but it is the most advanced and it’s growing like crazy. Cloud hosting is the future of web hosting as we know it.

 

Hosting Features

In addition to the types of hosting offered by different hosting providers, there are a couple of features that you may want to consider in your research.

1. File Storage
This is the amount of space you will be given for storing your files. This includes images, videos, and other media files. Some hosting companies will restrict the amount of storage you get based on your plan and some will give unlimited storage. This may or may not be a big issue for you. Most business websites don’t need a bunch of storage as they are pretty small. If, however, you are planning on generating a large amount of content, incorporating large files, or even utilizing user generated content like a social media platform or public forum, this may be a limiting factor for you and well worth your consideration.

2. Bandwidth
How many people need to be able to access your website at once? The answer may determine how much bandwidth you need. Bandwidth refers to the speed of your network and, therefore, how many visitors your site can handle at once without having issues. If you exceed your bandwidth limits, meaning too many people are on your site at once, your user experience may start to deteriorate, your users could experience errors, or your site could even crash all together.

3. Backups
What happens if your site crashes? Experiences a fatal error? Or if you just made some changes you regret? I hope you have a site backup as that is the best, most reliable disaster recovery plan there is. When something goes wrong with your website (notice I said “when” not “if”) you are going to wish you had a site backup to revert to. This is something you may be able to set up yourself within your website but many hosting providers are now providing backup services along with their hosting plans. This can be incredibly useful as server-side backups are more reliable than any backup plugin or on-site tool. If your hosting company provides backups make sure to ask a few follow up questions to figure out what they are actually offering you. Here’s the list:

  • How many backups can you have at once?
  • Do they take a back up of the site files and database or just the site files?
  • How long do they store the backups they take?
  • Are backups taken automatically or do you have to manually request them?
  • Are there any size/storage restrictions tied to the backup feature?
  • What does the process look like to restore a backup?

     

4. SSL
A Secure Socket Layer Certification or SSL Certificate used to be a “nice to have” but is now a “must”! Search engines and human users alike are looking for this feature and it is now being offered by many hosting providers. Think of an SSL like a digital signature. This allows you to sign your site and say “yes, this is me and I am who I say I am”. It’s a basic security feature that is good for all sites to have but an absolute requirement for any site that collects personal information including but not limited to ecommerce sites. Many browsers will label sites without an SSL as “not secure” even going so far as to tag the sites with icons of red exclamation points or unlocked padlocks. Imagine putting your credit card information into a site that said “This site is not secure” across the top in big red letters! Yeah, I wouldn’t do it either.

Keep in mind some hosting companies charge a one time installation fee for an SSL, some charge an annual fee, and some give it away for free.

 

5. Uptime
Uptime is the percentage of time that a hosting company reports to keep their hosted sites live on the internet. This is mostly a vanity metric that doesn’t mean a whole lot. Pretty much every reputable hosting company out there will claim 99% or even 99.9% uptime. They get this number by averaging out all of their millions of accounts and it really doesn’t correlate to the reliability of their service. We recommend not putting much weight on this claim and instead going to reviews and testimonials to gauge reliability of service but we’ll talk more about reviews later.

 

Hosting Warnings

So we’ve gone over different types of hosting as well as a few key features to look for, but what should you be looking to avoid? Here are a few warnings to keep your eye out for.

1. Introductory offers
Hosting companies know that once someone signs up for hosting, they are not likely to leave for a long time. This is because moving hosts is a costly, time consuming, and potentially risky process that no one really wants to do unless they have to. Because of this, they will do just about anything to get you to sign up but may not work very hard to keep you around.

One way this manifests is in cheap introductory offers. In this model, a hosting company will give you a great deal on your first year of hosting making them comparable or even cheaper than their competitors. This entices people to sign up with them but, after that first year, the price jumps up 50%, 100%, or more. Some providers will clearly label this offer as “for the first year only” but others may be a little sneakier about it. Many people sign up for a multi-year hosting contract thinking they will pay one price only to be surprised by a large increase after the first year. Make sure you aren’t unknowingly walking into this trap.

2. Long Contracts
This warning is pretty similar to the first. Most hosting companies will charge annually with the option to sign up for longer multi-year contracts in exchange for slightly better rates. This isn’t necessarily a problem as we do recommend staying with the same hosting company once you’ve decided on one. A long contract in that case will save you money in the long run. Assuming you have followed all of the tips we gave you above, this shouldn’t be a problem at all! Just don’t skip the research and jump into a 5 year contract with a bad hosting company. This is the easiest way to lose money and give yourself a completely unnecessary headache.

3. Look for Reviews and Testimonials
As we mentioned before when talking about features, anyone can brag about 99.9% uptime or “best hosting in the world” but how do you know it’s the truth? Finding high quality reviews and testimonials is going to be your ticket to success. Of course any company of decent size is going to have its share of negative reviews, but look for recurring themes. If everyone seems to be complaining about different things and the other reviews are mostly positive, it’s probably a decent company with good offerings. If every negative review is talking about their site going down and support being nowhere to be found, that’s a serious red flag! Consistent negative reviews about a single feature or aspect of the company is the best way to find potential problems before signing up with anyone.

Also, don’t forget to talk with your friends! You would be surprised how many people have played a hand in publishing or maintaining a website and know a little something about hosting providers. Find a friend, coworker, or pier who has worked with the company you are looking into and ask them what their experience was. Input from real people, especially if that person is tech savvy, is invaluable and should be considered heavily when making a decision on a host for your website.

4. Bonus Feature: Support
Always check what support is offered by a website hosting company! Many of the biggest hosting companies out there provide a great product with amazing features but their support is terrible. Long wait times, unhelpful responses, or even no responses at all can lead to incredible amounts of stress if and when your website has some issues. Good quality support may in fact be the single most valuable feature provided by a good hosting company.

 

Summary

In summary, hosting your website with a reputable company that provides great support and the features you need is no small task. It will take a little time and research but you won’t regret spending either on this decision. Establishing your website with a quality hosting service is one of the easiest ways to set yourself up for success in the future. Not doing so is a recipe for failure. Use these tips to do good research, know your terminology, find good reviews, and don’t cheap out on the single most important part of a healthy functioning website: Hosting.

Feel free to contact us for more tips one website hosting or to have us build your website for you!
(Hint: we also provide word class cloud based hosting)

Check out this video from the Ask Wildman Show where we answered questions about website hosting and other issues live on air!

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