Everyone shops online. And for purchases people make offline, many do research online first.
One of main ways people now learn about the small businesses they buy from is by doing searches online. If potential customers go looking for a small business online without finding it, they’re likely to doubt whether the business is legitimate or still around.
The way people shop today means that every small business needs a website. No matter what you sell, a website is simply a necessary part of doing business today. You can’t put it off any longer.
The good news is that once you have one, more customers will be able to find you and you’ll have a new opportunity for making the case to them to choose you.
One of the first things you need to get your small business website up and running is web hosting.
Why Your Small Business Website Needs Web Hosting
We often think about the web as though it exists outside of physical space, but that’s not exactly how website hosting works. For every website online, all the different words, images, and other files that combine to create the website are taking up space on a physical server somewhere. In most cases, those servers are owned and maintained by web hosting companies.
Small businesses typically rent space on these servers in order to have a website that’s accessible to anyone online. In some ways, it’s a lot like the money you spend to rent space for a storefront or office, except much cheaper.
While, as someone surfing the web, you’re not generally aware of web hosting, you can trust that every website you visit is hosted somewhere. It’s a necessary, if often invisible, part of having a website.
That makes choosing your web hosting provider and plan one of the first choices you need to make when you’re working on launching a website for your small business.
Typical Cost of Small Business Web Hosting
The cost of web hosting for a small business varies a lot based on your particular needs and priorities. But for most small businesses just starting out—assuming you won’t be selling products through your website—you can plan on a basic shared hosting plan that costs in the range of $2-6 a month.
If you’re planning on learning how to build an ecommerce website (which means you’ll sell products and take payments through the website) then you’ll need some additional features that bump your starting rates up to around $5-$20 a month.
And if your small business website starts to see a lot of traffic after you launch, you may end up needing to upgrade down the line to a cloud hosting plan, which generally costs in the range of $5-$50. In rare cases, if your site gets extremely popular, you may even need to go for a VPS hosting plan, which costs $20-$100 per month or a dedicated server which starts at around $80 a month.
But if your audience is fairly small, then you don’t need to worry much now about potential upgrade costs. The main thing is to find an affordable web hosting plan that does what you need so you can have your website up sooner rather than later.
Top 10 Things to Look for in Web Hosting for Small Business
While each small business is different, in most cases there are ten main things you need in a web hosting plan for small business.
As a business owner, you already know how important security is. You have to take responsibility for any sensitive information a customer provides—especially their payment information. That responsibility extends to the web.
Unfortunately, hackers and scammers abound online. You have to be careful to protect your website and any information you collect from your visitors from people who would take advantage of it.
Security For Small Business Websites without eCommerce Features
If your small business website won’t be accepting payments, you still have some work to do here.
Hackers can potentially hijack your website to put it toward their own purposes. They can start redirecting your traffic to their own spammy websites. They can load malware to your website that infects your visitors’ computers. Or they can slip links into your pages that lead visitors to spammy or malicious pages. And in extreme cases, they might try to hijack your website, replace it with something else, and demand money to give it back to you.
All of that would obviously be bad! There are a number of steps you can take to cover your bases for website security, but the first step to protect yourself is choosing a web hosting provider that has a good reputation for security. They should offer SSL certification as part of their web hosting plans and be compatible with a security software like Sitelock.
Security for eCommerce Websites
For small business websites that will be collecting customer information and payment through the site itself, the stakes are even higher. Your customers are trusting you to keep their payment information safe from hackers so they don’t fall prey to identity theft.
To do that, you need to take the same steps as other small business website owners—use a web hosting company with a solid reputation, get an SSL certification, and implement a security software like Sitelock.
But you also need a merchant account with a reputable site like PayPal or BluePay to ensure you can safely process credit card payments. Make sure when choosing your hosting provider that they’re compatible with the payment processing company you have in mind.
When your website is up, you can finally be confident that everyone who goes looking for your brand online will find you. That is, unless, they get a screen saying that your website is unavailable and to come back later.
Every web hosting provider will occasionally need to do maintenance on its servers. And some will go offline from time to time due to other issues, such as hacker attacks, hardware issues, or even weather problems. Web hosting companies call the time that servers are working properly and websites are available uptime, and it’s an important factor to consider in your search.
When someone tries to visit your website and can’t reach it, they may not bother coming back. An unreliable web hosting company could lose you customers.
Look for a web hosting company that promises at least 99% uptime. And check their claims against what third-party sources say about how well they pull it off. An overly ambitious claim won’t be worth much if you learn too late that it’s not accurate.
HostGator promises 99.9% uptime for all our web hosting plans—a claim that’s been independently confirmed by third-party reviewers as well.
Speed matters online. If your website takes longer than a couple of seconds to load, a lot of visitors will bounce. And website speed is one of the ranking factors Google uses to determine where sites should show up in search engine rankings.
If you want people to find your website and stick around once they do, then your pages need to load fast.
Choosing the right web hosting provider and plan is one of the most important decisions you can make when it comes to website speed. For your website to load quickly, your servers need to be functioning well and they can’t be overloaded.
Make sure you select the right web hosting provider and plan (more on that part later) to ensure speedy loading times for your visitors. Test out your website speed regularly so you’ll know right away when it’s time to upgrade.
4. Ease of use
You’re probably not a technical expert and that’s okay. Small business owners have enough to do without trying to learn how to code or use complicated pieces of software. But that does mean that you need to make sure to choose a web hosting plan that doesn’t require an extensive amount of learning to figure out.
If you’ve never dealt with web hosting, you will need to learn some of the basics, like how to use your web hosting platform’s cPanel and load your files with FTP. And you’ll want to get familiar with the particular features your web hosting plan provides—at least any of them that will be useful to you. But ideally, the learning process should be quick and the platform should be pretty intuitive.
A good web hosting company for small business will be easy to use and have ample resources to help you learn all the information you need to get started. Look at the customer reviews for a web hosting provider to get an idea of how well they do on ease of use, and look into the kind of resources they provide for new customers.
5. Customer service
Even if a web hosting platform is easy to use and the service functions well, there’s always the chance that at some point you’ll need to get in touch with customer service. A bad customer service experience can completely ruin your relationship with a company, so it’s worth doing your research before committing to a web hosting provider.
Check that your web hosting provider offers 24/7 customer support, so you can trust you’ll always reach someone when you need them.
Check the reviews to see if the company has a decent reputation for being helpful when people do reach out. If other customers are generally satisfied, there’s a good chance you will be too.
6. eCommerce options
Even if you aren’t planning to start selling products through your website right away, if you think you may want to down the line, it’s a good idea to look now for a web hosting provider that offers ecommerce features or is compatible with ecommerce software.
Any ecommerce website will need the functionality to include product listings, a shopping cart, and a checkout process. Make sure any web hosting plan you choose has those options now, or will make adding them easy and intuitive when the time comes.
7. Backup features
If you’ve ever lost valuable documents when your computer crashed then you know how important it is to keep backups. That’s just as true for your website. You can always try to make a point of creating manual backups of your website on a consistent basis, or you can make things a lot easier by choosing a web hosting provider that provides an automated backup option.
Many web hosting companies offer this as an inexpensive add-on to your plan, so you can focus on running your small business and trust that the backups are there if you ever need them.
8. SEO tools
Creating a small business website is a big step toward getting found by more customers online, but you can make your website even easier to find by using SEO best practices. Some web hosting providers offer SEO features that make implementing SEO basics a little easier.
Look for a web hosting plan with features that make it easy for you to submit your website to search engines, customize your URLs, and add unique meta descriptions to all your pages.
As a bonus, any hosting company that offers SEO services or reporting features as an add-on to your web hosting solutions can bring more of what you need into one place.
9. Website builder
For small business owners, you don’t need to learn HTML to build a website, you just need a good website builder. You can invest in a website builder separate from your web hosting, but you can accomplish two goals at once by choosing a web hosting provider that also sells a website builder.
A good website builder:
- Offers easy to use drag-and-drop functionality
- Has a large number of responsive templates
- Includes plenty of customization options
If you want to make the website creation process easier, consider a web hosting plan that comes with a website builder.
Even acknowledging that it will bring you new business, you only have so much money to spend on a small business website. You need web hosting services that fits with your budget.
Most web host plans will charge either on a monthly or yearly basis. Make sure before you sign up with a web hosting company that you consider both the upfront costs and the ongoing costs of the plan.
Also pay attention to all the features that are included in the different web hosting plans you consider. If you’ll need to pay extra for a feature that’s not included in the plan you go with, you want to factor that into your decision.
The Different Types of Web Hosting for Small Businesses
For most small businesses, you’ll benefit from a web hosting plan listed below:
- Shared hosting – This is the most affordable web hosting option. With this kind of plan, your website will share a server with a number of other websites. It’s often the best option for small businesses that don’t expect to have a lot of traffic to start out and don’t have a ton of money to spend. You may find if you start with shared hosting that you’ll need to upgrade down the line to another hosting option when you start to see more traffic.
- Cloud hosting – This is still a reasonably affordable option, but one that provides more storage and server space due to moving your hosting to the cloud. It allows for more flexibility for your website to grow in real time, so if you expect to see big growth soon after launching, it may be a better option than shared hosting.
- VPS – With a VPS, your website still shares a server, but with far fewer sites. You have a lot more of the server space to yourself and, as a result, can handle much higher amounts of traffic without worrying about crashing or slowing down. It costs more than shared or cloud hosting, but makes sense for small business websites that get a high number of regular visitors.
- Dedicated server – For most small businesses, a dedicated server would be overkill. But if your website gets extremely popular and you find you need some heavy-duty hosting power, then this option may become worth it. Like it sounds, with this type of plan you’d have a server all to yourself so don’t have to worry about running out of storage or traffic spikes slowing you down.
Choosing Web Hosting Sites for Small Businesses
Finding the right web hosting plan is an important first step to getting your small business website up and running. Making the right choice now can make it easier for you to get your site set up and keep it working well for years to come.
But don’t let all the information about web hosting services out there overwhelm you. The last thing you want is for indecision to slow you down and keep you from getting your small business website up.
If you find you’re confused about how to choose the right web host for your small business, HostGator has skilled customer support staff available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Contact us and we’ll do our best to help you make the best decision for your small business.
Still wondering about the benefits of web hosting? Check out our blog today for additional helpful resources and articles.