Having an online presence plays an increasingly important role in business success today. Thankfully, smaller companies without a dedicated IT team or the resources to outsource, can now take advantage of user-friendly, affordable website creator tools to produce their own sophisticated sites. The process starts with choosing the right web hosting partner, and that can be a difficult decision for non-technical owners and managers.
The right web host will depend on a business’s unique needs and must support not only the requirements today, but also in the future. It’s important not to take this decision lightly and select the right provider from the outset, as switching web hosting companies can be time consuming and costly.
Our partner UK2 has highlighted a few key areas small business owners or managers should pay attention to:
1. Start with a full list of your needs and choose a provider which offers easy-to-use tools
It’s important to choose a provider which fits your ultimate business objective and gives you the tools and services you need to make your online presence a success. Make a list of all of your requirements across technical and skills-based areas. For example, does your site need to offer PayPal checkout? How often – and how – do you plan to update the content? How tech-savvy are you? How much tweaking do you plan to do yourself?
You should also think through how you plan to build and market your site. For example, great swathes of the web are built on WordPress because it’s easy to use and customise, so choosing a partner with specialist WordPress skills and product suites will make the task more straightforward. Good providers also offer other value-add tools like SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) keyword tools and reports. These will be really useful in helping you to understand how your site it performing in terms of search awareness and the better services will also give you guidance on tweaks you can make to build online awareness.
2. Service Level Agreement and Support
The service level agreement (SLA) defines what you can expect to receive from your provider in terms of hardware, network and infrastructure uptime, and compensation for any downtime. SLAs vary in their scope and protection for your business, and you should choose one that is affordable but meets the minimum performance needs of your website. Take time to assess your minimum requirements, particularly in respect of technical support and guaranteed uptime.
The SLA should also cover factors such as variations in demand – if your business experiences an unplanned spike in traffic, does your SLA allow upscaling of resources to cope? Some web hosting firms charge for this extra traffic if it is not covered in the SLA so you’ll need to factor this in to the overall cost comparison of different providers.
Support is a key component of the SLA. Receiving notification that your website is down outside of business hours is highly frustrating and potentially serious. Initially 24/7 support will likely be crucial, but as your business grows you may want to have more control over your site and its performance, so support may not play as vital a role.
3. How your data is stored
There are three commonly used types of hosting:
- Shared hosting is where one server stores data from many different users. It’s a cheap and reliable way to host a web page, as it is likely to be fully managed by the provider’s technical support team. Shared hosting is the best option for hosting small business pages and for those who are new to the world of web hosting.
- Dedicated hosting involves one server dedicated to a single user. Dedicated hosting packages allow users to have complete control over how the server is configured. As all of the resources on the server belong to one user, the user benefits from improved data transfer speeds (bandwidth) and increased storage space. It is helpful to have some technical knowledge before hosting a dedicated server, but not essential.
- Cloud hosting is made up of multiple servers working together to provide more power and limit downtime, which means that if there is a problem with an individual server’s hardware another server can pick up the load and the service will not skip a beat. Do however, choose a reputable company as every site goes down once in a while and you will want to make sure your hosting provider has robust security measures in place.
Bandwidth is the volume of data uploaded or downloaded by your site over a period of time, usually measured as bits of data transmitted per second. Poor bandwidth can make or break your website as it determines the amount of data transferred by visitors to the site. A site of mostly static pages, with no digital media content, will have a much lower bandwidth requirement than a site with dynamic content such as video. As a result, there has been a sharp rise in the number of ‘all you can eat’ deals in the market, as more websites adopt the bandwidth-intensive content that keeps visitors engaged on the site. These deals offer a level of protection from the uncertainty of business, ensuring that any unplanned spikes in visitor numbers do not cause your site to crash under the load.
This is not an exhaustive list of considerations and there will be some other factors, such as security and data centre location, that will play a part in your final decision of which web host to choose. It can be a daunting experience, but taking time to think about the areas covered here in advance of discussions will pay off. And a final piece of advice is to choose a company which has a reputation for good customer service. It’s important to know you can count on your web hosting partner when you need them most.