Web hosting services (hosting providers) provide space on a web server, which is a special type of computer where you store your website files. This makes your website accessible to visitors via the internet. You are essentially renting space on the web server, and you pay your hosting provider a monthly or annual rate, which can be set to automatic billing to ensure your website doesn’t go down.
But hosting rates vary, and so do the services and features they offer. How do you know which hosting provider to choose, and what type of web hosting package do you need? Are there any specific features you should look for when choosing a hosting provider?
Types of Hosting Packages
Many types of hosting packages are available; we’ll focus on those that are relevant to small business owners, and we’ll focus on the most common types of hosting packages. The descriptions below are overviews meant for laypersons — not tech experts. Here are some types hosting packages you’ll want to be familiar with:
Managed vs. Unmanaged Hosting: Unmanaged hosting means you get a server with an operating system but no other software installed, including security, privacy, and content management software; you have full control of your server as well as full responsibility for it. With managed hosting, you don’t have full control over the server (no root access), but it comes with various software installed, and the provider assumes much of the responsibility for server operations (check your hosting plan for the specifics). You still get access to your server and can add, remove, and change a lot of the content and software, but there are some limitations. Most small business owners do not need a dedicated server and don’t have the resources to take on full management of web resources, so managed hosting is widely preferred.
Shared Hosting: Your site will occupy the same server as many other sites sharing server resources, like RAM and CPU. Shared hosting often comes with resource limitations, and if your site’s traffic (including bots and webcrawlers) reaches the maximum allotment, you’ll need to graduate to a more robust type of hosting.
Reseller Hosting: Many website service providers (designers, website managers) purchase hosting packages that include hosting for multiple websites, usually on a shared server. These packages aren’t necessarily expensive; you can get shared hosting packages for an unlimited number of websites for less than $15 per month. Providers then resell hosting, often at a huge markup. Some of these providers offer technical support, making the cost worthwhile. However, many are simply reselling something a small business owner could purchase themselves at a much lower cost. I recommend that all of my clients purchase their own hosting and domain names.
Virtual Dedicated Server [or Virtual Private Server (VPS)]: A VPS gives you more resources than shared hosting. Your website still sits on a shared server, but a virtual wall is built around your website. In terms of service level, this is a step up from shared hosting but not as robust as dedicated hosting.
Dedicated Hosting: You get your own server and full control over it, although you don’t own it. Basically, this is rental of a web server. Dedicated hosting is usually unmanaged, meaning that you are responsible for security and maintenance, which means that you’ll probably need someone with strong IT skills to oversee the technical aspects of your server.
Cloud Hosting: Cloud hosting is relatively new and provides scalable hosting with servers that are balanced by load, which means the cloud pulls resources from multiple servers that are connected to the cloud. Local problems, like power outages or technical failures, are compensated by load balancing. On the other hand, since you may not know where your data is stored, you might have less control over your files and could face security or privacy risks. Cloud hosting often charges by the amount of resources used, as opposed to a flat fee, which can be a hindrance to small business owners who are on a tight and closely managed budget.
Recommended Hosting Features for Small Business Owners
The features you’ll want to get with your web hosting plan will vary depending on your needs and goals, but here are a few features that are widely available and commonly used by small business owners:
- Content Management System installation: Almost every modern website runs on a content management system (CMS), and most hosting providers now offer easy installation that gets your CMS up and running with a few clicks. CMS can range from simple blogging software to robust e-commerce platforms.
- Technical Support: Few small business owners are tech experts. In fact, few website designers and other online professionals are experts in web-server hardware and software. Good technical support comes in handy when you run into technical issues like hacks, failed installations, site downtime or overload, and security or privacy issues.
- Secure Sockets Layer (SSL): The easiest way to understand SSL is that it’s secure. You can easily identify a website with SSL because https* appears in the URL instead of http*. Traditionally, only websites transferring highly confidential data (like credit card information) required SSL; however, these days, search engines are downgrading sites without SSL due to an increase in hacking which is why I recommend SSL for all of my clients.
- Upgradable hosting packages: Some hosts will offer a wide range of hosting packages, which allows you to start small and increase your service level as your website and its traffic grow.
- Domain registration: In addition to storing your website files online, you’ll also need to register your domain name (this is usually done annually, so it’s not a one-time purchase). Most hosting providers offer domain registration (some will even include one free domain registration per year with purchase of hosting services)
*HTTP stands for Hyper Text Transfer Protocol. HTTPS stands for Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secure.
How to Choose a Hosting Provider
Switching domain registrars and hosts is tedious and time-consuming, so it’s best to research providers in advance and choose services that you can grow with.
When you first launch a website, it will get very few visitors. Shared hosting is sufficient for most small businesses. Over time, as you add to the content and increase the traffic to your site, you may need a more robust hosing package. If you choose a hosting provider that offers a range of packages, you won’t need to move to a new company later; you can simply switch to a different hosting package.
Also, some hosting companies offer excellent technical support — professionals you can call, email, or engage in an online chat who will lend technical assistance when needed. This is a valuable feature for many small business owners and website administrators who aren’t experts in server-side website maintenance.
If you decide to seek out a hosting provider, take some time and do a little research first. There are plenty of reviews online, but read them with caution and discretion. As with most products and services, nothing beats a good recommendation from someone you know (especially someone with expertise in building and managing websites), so start asking around.
Buzz Pro Studio provides website services to small businesses and independent professionals, specializing in website design and maintenance. For more information or to get a no-obligation quote, contact me.
Melissa Donovan is the founder of Buzz Pro Studio, providing website services to small businesses and independent professionals.