How to Find the Right Web-Hosting Service
In order to display your company’s website, you’ll need to rent digital space from a web-hosting service.
You could buy your own equipment instead, but that’s usually not a cost-effective option for small businesses: Maintaining an in-house server requires an IT professional, expensive software licensing, and an ongoing investment in infrastructure.
Not sure where to start? A Google search for “web hosting” is likely to return an intimidating number of options. Here’s how to narrow down your choices.
1. Decide what kind of hosting you need. First, determine which of the three standard types of hosting you need.
Shared Hosting — If your website isn’t very large or complicated, each of its pages probably contains less than 1 MB of data. In computing terms, that’s small, which makes your hosting needs pretty basic. Because most small businesses don’t need a lot of space or high-end performance, web-hosting companies sell shared-hosting plans, under which your website is housed on the same server as others.
But there are drawbacks. If you share a server with other sites that use a large amount of resources — a high-traffic e-commerce or video-sharing site, for example, the performance of your site may suffer due to sharing the same server resources.
Shared hosting can cost less per month than a cup of coffee, but as your business grows, you may find your site's load times slowing down or laden with unexplained error messages. As you grow larger, you might run out of bandwidth as your monthly traffic increases. When that happens, you may want to upgrade.
Virtual Private Server — VPS hosting is faster than shared hosting, in part, because your site is running on a partition of the drive that’s exclusive to you. The operating system is yours alone, and you may customize it to your individual needs. Features vary by company, but dedicated IP addresses, the ability to chose your server software, and upgraded customer-support options are common.
VPS hosting is three to five times more expensive than shared hosting. And, unless you’re well-versed in server technology, you’ll likely need an IT consultant to help set up and maintain the server, as well as to take advantage of the added functionality available to you in a VPS package.
Dedicated Server — A server is all yours. You can customize it to your liking, and it moves lightning-fast. If you notice performance issues similar to shared hosting with your VPS service, your IT consultant or employee may recommend a dedicated server. This type of hosting will run you an average of $100 per month, but when your small business evolves into a large corporation, you’ll be able to justify the expense.
Still not sure which option you need? If you’re leaning toward a VPS or a dedicated server, you’re either well-versed in server technology or you have an IT expert advising you. Tip: Nearly all web hosts will allow you to upgrade, so starting with the shared plan carries no risk.
2. Consider a few other important factors. Make sure whatever web-hosting service you choose addresses your small business’s additional needs.
Tech Support — Your web host should have 24/7 tech support. If it doesn’t, find one that does.
Bandwidth and Space — Some web hosts offer "unlimited" amounts of both, but read the fine print. Like other “great deals,” the devil is often in the details. The host may put a cap on the size of your database, and if your site is pulling too much of the shared server's resources, they may throttle the website's performance or require you to upgrade to a more expensive plan.
Control Panel and Support — If a web host doesn’t have an online demo of its control panel, ask to see one. Some features, such as setting up custom email addresses, are easy to handle on your own when the control panel is easy to navigate. Also look at the online support documents; the bigger hosts may even have how-to videos to help you. You can learn some basic maintenance tasks and avoid having to pay an IT contractor an hourly wage to do them.
3. When it comes to costs, evaluate more than the monthly fee.
Because of the amount of competition in the market, prices among companies are similar, ranging from a couple of dollars per month for shared hosting to hundreds for a top-tier dedicated server. As with any decision, evaluate more than the price: Read reviews, talk to colleagues, and do all of the due diligence that comes with making a big decision.
Before hiring a developer, stipulate that you will consider recommendations for a web host but plan to purchase the web space on your own. Securing the host yourself cuts out the middleman and allows you to control the expense.
Finally, if there’s not a major price difference, strongly consider using your developer’s recommendation, because he or she already knows how to work with the host’s interface. This could save you the cost of extra development hours. A seasoned web developer also probably has a pretty good idea of whether or not a particular host is reliable. You don’t want to pour resources into developing a web presence only to end up with a host that constantly has issues that make your site inaccessible.
The cheapest plan is rarely the best, and sometimes going with a larger, more established host with the resources to rapidly resolve problems is better. Many hosts advertise “99.9 percent uptime.” Although there’s no way to verify that figure on your own, a company that doesn’t promise that level of commitment should rank lower on your list of potential service providers.
Tim Parker is a business writer for Intuit and is passionate about solving small business problems.