In 2017, people spent over $2.3 trillion buying products online, and experts expect that number to grow every year for the foreseeable future. For anyone considering entrepreneurship, eCommerce has become one of the most lucrative options—and one that notably has lower startup costs than opening a storefront.
You don’t have to worry about real estate costs or hiring people to show up onsite all the hours you’re open. You just need good products, enough staff to provide quality customer service (for a small enough eCommerce business, that could just be you!), and an eCommerce site.
When your business exists exclusively online, getting the website part of it right is essential. For new eCommerce businesses, one of the most important choices you need to make as you build your eCommerce website is which web hosting provider and plan to go with.
Why You Need Web Hosting for your eCommerce Site
If you’ve never run a website before, then you may think of the web as something that exists only in cyberspace. We don’t often think of a website as something that takes up physical space. But it does—it has to in order to work.
Every website you encounter online is taking up storage space on a physical server somewhere. In most cases, it’s a server owned by a web hosting company. How web hosting works is that the website owner rents the space by paying them either monthly or yearly.
For eCommerce sites, buying that little bit of physical real estate on a web server somewhere is the closest equivalent you have to spending money on a physical storefront. But you’ll be pleased to know, the cost is significantly less, and for a “storefront” that’s accessible to people around the world, not just in your own geographic area.
In other words, while it’s a necessary expense you have to factor into your eCommerce business budget, it’s a pretty good deal for what you get.
The Typical Costs of eCommerce Web Hosting
eCommerce web hosting starts at round $5-$20 a month for a basic shared hosting plan that provides the main security features you need for an eCommerce website. But you’ll still probably need to plan on getting eCommerce software for additional functionality at that price point.
For services that provide eCommerce functionality and website building software along with hosting, the costs grow to around $30 to over $250 a month, depending on the features you want and the amount of traffic you anticipate receiving.
A new eCommerce website probably won’t need to plan on a huge amount of traffic to start, which means you can get by with a more affordable web hosting plan in your early days. But you do want to start thinking now about how your costs and needs will change as you grow. As your eCommerce website starts to see a lot of traffic or have higher storage needs, you should expect to upgrade to a:
- Business cloud hosting plan ($10 to $50 a month);
- a VPS ($30 to $100 a month);
- or even a dedicated web server ($80 to over $1000 a month).
If those numbers seem like a lot now, don’t worry. If your eCommerce business grows to the point where you need a more expensive option, it will mean you’re bringing in a lot more money.
And, when considering the cost of web hosting, keep in mind that your eCommerce site will make you money. If you go with a less reputable web hosting provider or try to make do with the wrong plan, you could end up losing money due to slow load times or your website being down when customers try to visit. This is one instance where investing in quality can increase your earnings.
10 Things to Look for in Web Hosting for eCommerce Sites
While every website needs web hosting, web hosting for eCommerce requires some specific features for you to get everything you need. These are ten of the most important benefits of using web hosting for an e-commerce website.
1. eCommerce software compatibility
One of the main features every eCommerce website needs is shopping cart functionality. Your visitors need an easy way to add items to a shopping cart as they browse and to check out when they’re ready. And your website needs to be set up to safely accept customer payment information.
All of those features are standard with any eCommerce software you use. Some web hosting plans may come with eCommerce features like this included, while with others you’ll need to look into a separate software product that provides them. In either case, you want to be sure that the web hosting plan you go with offers the compatibility you need to add these features to your website. And ideally, you want the process of doing so to be simple and intuitive.
Every business depends on customer trust. When people hand you their payment information, they’re taking a risk. That risk is higher on the web where hackers have the skills to hijack the information people provide through forms—if you don’t take the proper precautions.
You need to make the security of your customer’s information a top priority—both because it’s your responsibility as a business owner, and because a security breach that puts your customers’ information in jeopardy would also be a PR disaster for your business. Your customers have to know they can trust you if they’re going to keep buying from you.
Look for a web hosting provider that promises to provide basic security for your site. They should have a plan for protecting their servers from DDoS attacks, strong firewalls, and secure facilities with restricted access.
Make sure you choose a plan that includes an SSL certificate. Having a current SSL certificate ensures that your website is protected from most hackers, and your visitors see a lock icon next to your URL in the browser, which lets them know the site is trustworthy. Many visitors won’t provide payment information to a website that doesn’t have this (and rightly so), so it’s a requirement for all eCommerce stores.
You should also make sure the web hosting provider you go with is compatible with security software like Sitelock that goes the extra mile to keep you protected. With how common high-profile security breaches are today and how high the stakes are, it pays to cover your bases here.
When your website is your only source of sales, every minute a person can’t access the site, you could be losing money. One of the most important factors to consider in your web hosting search is how consistently your web hosting provider’s servers work. The term web hosting companies use to describe the portion of time websites are up and available is uptime.
Web hosting servers will occasionally need to go offline for maintenance. If they’re not well maintained, they could go offline due to issues such as hacker attacks, hardware glitches, or even weather problems. If you go with an unreliable web hosting provider, all these problems could add up to a portion of your visitors seeing error messages when they try to come to your website.
To avoid that—and the loss of profits that comes with it—look for a web hosting provider that promises at least 99% uptime (99.9% with a guarantee like HostGator promises is even better). And check that third-party reviewers can confirm their claims.
Website speed both plays a crucial role in how long visitors will stick around (hint: not long if your site is slow) and how a website will rank in the search engines. If your eCommerce site takes a long time to load, you lose the visibility you need to reach new customers. And any potential customers that do make it to the site are likely to bounce before they buy.
While there are a number of steps you can take to improve your site’s speed, one of the most important factors in site speed is your web hosting. You need a web hosting plan that can handle the amount of traffic you get without it slowing down your performance.
Make sure you get a plan that’s the right fit for your needs to start, but test out your site speed regularly so you know sooner rather than later when it’s time for an upgrade.
5. Customer service
Every minute your eCommerce website isn’t working just right can cost you in profits. When you have a problem, you need to trust you can get help fast.
A good eCommerce web hosting provider will offer 24/7 customer service so you can get the help you need the moment you need it. And just as importantly, they’ll have a reputation for providing good, helpful service. Availability doesn’t matter much if the help you get is subpar.
Check customer reviews for different providers before you decide which one to go with. People are pretty quick to share bad experiences in their reviews to save others from suffering the same fate.
6. Email addresses
When you have email addresses that match your domain, it makes you look more professional and makes it easier for customers to know where to find you. Many web hosting plans come with email address support so you can set up email addresses like firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, etc.
It’s something your customers expect that makes you look that much more legitimate and helps you stay on brand in all your communications.
7. SEO features
Before people can buy from your eCommerce store, they have to be able to find you. Much of online visibility is tied directly to the search engines. While good SEO involves a number of different steps, optimizing each of the individual pages on your website is an important part of the process. A web hosting provider that includes SEO features can help with that part by:
- Making it easy to customize the URLs and fill in meta descriptions for individual pages
- Making it easy to submit your site to the search engines
- Providing keyword ranking and competitive analysis reports
- Offering SEO services so you can hire a skilled professional and keep the billing all in one place
For your eCommerce business to be found by the people most likely to make purchases, you need to make SEO a priority. The right web hosting company can take some of the work out of your hands.
8. Website builder
If you’ve never built a website from scratch before and don’t know how to code, you can save money on a designer (or time on trying to learn it all) by using a good website builder. A website builder allows you to choose from a number of templates to use as a basis for your site, and then make changes to the template to customize the site to your needs.
A good website builder:
- Offers an intuitive editor with drag-and-drop functionality
- Provides a large number of responsive templates (so they look good on mobile)
- Includes plenty of options for easily customizing your website
While you can purchase website hosting and a website builder separately, you can save yourself a bit of expense and trouble by going for an eCommerce web hosting company that offers both.
9. Automated backups
If you’ve ever watched your screen freeze up while you were in the middle of working on something important, then you know how important backups are.
For an eCommerce website to be successful, you’ll have to put a lot of work into writing and designing each page, listing all your products, keeping inventory up-to-date, and updating the site with new deals and offers. If your website crashes, you don’t want to lose any of the work you’ve put into it.
You could try to make a point of remembering to back your eCommerce site up manually once every few days, but there’s a good chance you’ll forget from time to time. Many hosting providers offer automated backups as an add-on to your plan. This takes it off your plate, while ensuring that you always have easy access to a fix if something goes wrong with your website.
10. Room to grow
Ideally, your eCommerce site will grow over time—grow in visitors, grow in orders, grow in staff, and maybe grow in the number and types of products you offer. The web hosting you need today won’t necessarily match the needs you’ll have in one year, or in five. Look for a web hosting provider that makes it easy for you to scale as needed. That means easy upgrades to plans that allow for more storage and can handle more traffic.
Making a decision now that makes it easy for your web hosting to grow with your business for the years to come will save you time and trouble down the line.
The Best Web Hosting for Your eCommerce Site
A good eCommerce site can potentially earn you significant profits. Finding the right web hosting is important because its the base of your entire online store. Take some time to brainstorm what you need in a web hosting plan now and what you expect to need in the next few years if all goes according to plan, then find a web hosting provider that can deliver both.
If you still have questions about whether or not you need web hosting services for your eCommerce store, HostGator has knowledgeable experts available 24 hours a day that can help. Get in touch and we’ll help guide you toward the best web hosting decision for your business.
Still wondering why web hosting is important for your eCommerce site? Check out our blog for more articles and resources on our web hosting services.
Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based freelance content writer and lifelong learner with an ongoing curiosity to learn new things. She uses that curiosity, combined with her experience as a freelance business owner, to write about subjects valuable to small business owners on the HostGator blog. You can find her on Twitter at @atxcopywriter.