Web Hosting for Small Businesses: The Definitive Guide
You already know how important it is, as a small business owner, to have a functional, beautiful website that will connect with your customers. Even the smallest companies can find the exposure they want and need to be successful on the internet. This is only possible, however, if you have a real idea of what you as an owner need and what hosting companies can offer you. Building a website is only half the battle. Even after we’ve built you the best website, destined to bring thousands of customers to your door, you must pick a place to house that website. Web hosting for small businesses is a vital piece in the digital marketing puzzle.
Most websites, especially those for small businesses, occupy rented space on a server. The companies that own these servers are called “hosts,” as they provide a place for your website to live. Finding a hosting company that offers competitive pricing and customizable features is essential to running and maintaining an e-commerce or informational website.
Because most small businesses have neither the manpower nor the resources to purchase and manage a dedicated server, website hosting companies are the next best option. With more and more web hosts entering the market every day, there are a number of companies that can serve your needs. Before you pick any hosting service, carefully evaluate what features they offer and for what price. In the hosting game, it isn’t all about finding the lowest price. Companies offering the lowest price will also skimp on services, services which your website might desperately need or which make doing website maintenance much easier.
Storage: Few websites really take up that much storage space on the server. Most servers offer unlimited storage space, allowing for growth, within reason. Once you hit about 10GB, which, with customer information, pictures, and a few distinct pages, will not be that difficult, most companies will require you to purchase an upgraded plan.
Upgrades: You want to pick a company that allows for a developing business. There needs to be ample opportunity for you to not only expand your webpage, but also add more features as your budget permits. If a web hosting company does not have plausible upgrade plans, when you exceed your storage space, you will have to move to a new host, which could make it difficult for customers to find you.
Domain Names: The main reason to not host your website with a free hosting and building services like Blogger, Weebly, or WordPress, is the way the construct your domain name. In order to offer you a free service, they require your domain name to contain theirs (yoursitename.wordpress.com). To circumvent this, either purchase and use a domain name from another service, or pay for one of their premium plans. In general, when you sign up for one of these plans, they offer you a “free” domain name. Most companies that host websites provide a domain name as part of their services.
Customer Service: If your website ever goes down, you need a company that can not only respond immediately, but also at any hour of the day. If they do not offer 24/7 support, it might be best to move on to a different company. You never know when your website is going to crash, and because you’re not in possession of the server, you have to rely on the company to take care of it, before it starts to affect your bottom line.
Pricing: With the number of companies jumping into the game daily, web hosting is becoming a commodity, and just like any commodity, high supply means low prices for the buyer. There are plenty of companies reviewed on this list that offer rock bottom pricing plans, many of which are still equipped with some great features. Before you pick a barebones plan, just because it’s cheap, look through some of the upgraded plans and determine whether or not the extra services are worth a little additional money.
Advertisements: Advertisements are common with free hosting services. The company still wants to make money off of your website, even if that money isn’t coming from you. In general, even if we build your website and provide the content, neither we as your designers nor you as the owner of the website, have any control over which ads they stick on your site. Furthermore, most companies will prohibit you from placing your own advertisements on a free website, so forget about supplementing your income with a little ad revenue. If you’re willing to pay for your domain name and hosting, however, you don’t have to worry about what advertisements they’re going to put on your pages.
Below is a list of web hosting options for small businessess, their benefits, their drawbacks, and their pricing plans. As you look for the right plan, consider your specific needs. If you don’t care about extraneous advertisements, or a customized domain name, a free service might work for you. However, if you want a fully-optimized, supported, and backed-up website, choosing a paid plan is in your best interest. With the sheer number of companies and their varying plans, you can find something that will fit your needs, without breaking your budget.
Hosting with Your ISP
Some internet service providers (ISPs), like Comcast, roll a free domain into the price of their internet package, which some small businesses consider to be a great deal. It’s not. And here’s why: that free webpage is going to be limited not only in data transfer, but also in storage space, far more limited than even the smallest basic free hosting program. With rarely more than 10MB of storage space, you are looking at a sparse website, definitely no e-commerce tools, and maybe one picture, if you’re lucky.
Your ISP’s free domain has a few uses however. If you are just starting out and want to claim your business’s ideal domain name, go ahead and grab it using this service. If you’re not ready to set up a whole e-commerce platform, and just want to carve out your corner of the internet, this service could work perfectly for that. You’re going to have to do all of your search engine optimization and design work yourself, and hope that it all falls under your maximum usage limit, but as a landing or informational page for customers seeking you out on the internet, it’s a fairly good deal.
If you want to do anything else other than put up some information and start climbing Google’s search rankings, you have two options. First, you can go with one of your ISP’s upgraded programs. Like any host’s upgraded programs, they have more features, more storage space, and a better data-transfer limit. They also can add up to $100 onto your monthly bill—for the same service you can get from other hosts for about $4. Second, and more recommended, you can simply use a different host, one with better features at a better price.
The only reason to use your ISP’s hosting service is to plant your flag before another company does, or because for some reason, it seems more convenient to have them both housed by the same company. If you’re willing to grossly overpay for services, just so they are managed by the same company, then ISP hosting is for you. Otherwise, you are going to be much better off going with just about any other host.
Though beginners often complain about BlueHost’s clunky interface, it is also a favorite of web designers, like us. Why? Not only do they have the 24/7 support that is vital to the life of your webpage, but they also have the largest collection of scripts available. This makes your webpage both a snap to design and infinitely easy to customize. Do you need a blog and an e-commerce store on the same site? No problem, they’ve got scripts for that. While the interface gives some business owners a little bit of trouble, it more than makes up for it in the ease of use elsewhere on the platform. They succeed in every category, from upgrades to pricing.
The most basic plan, which works for most companies, especially those on the smaller side, runs less than $4. This includes unlimited storage and file transfers, as many email accounts as you want, along with that free domain name, and site templates that make our job, and yours, much faster. If you need a functioning website up today, we can easily get one up and running with BlueHost. Even their deluxe plan only costs about $20/a month. If you’re doing enough business to need those features, that is still a great deal.
What really puts BlueHost over the top is the sign-up offers. Not only have they reduced their plan prices, they also are offering a Google AdWords add-on, to help boost your webpage’s visibility even before your SEO starts to take hold.
There are cheaper companies out there, but not ones that have such an exhaustive list of features and a support staff willing to help you or your design through those first couple of interface hurtles. Before you go running for the companies that offer $2 or even $1/month hosting, make sure you’d rather save a few bucks than take advantage of what BlueHost has to offer. At Roja Interactive, we definitely recommend BlueHost over just about any other hosting services.
While we do recommend BlueHost, because of their customer service and script resources, we also enjoy using HostGator. Admittedly, HostGator is not for everyone. If you were building and designing the website on your own, this host might be beyond your reach, unless you are fairly familiar with its particular brand of programming. If you use a web design and management company like ours, it’s much easier to recommend HostGator. It is one of the only hosting companies that offers both Windows and Linux hosting, as well as most programming languages.
They are also one of the most reliable servers in the business, topping every other company when it comes to uptime, and to responding to issues. It’s also cheaper than BlueHost, with basic plans starting at $3.96, vs. $3.99. As an added bonus, on upgraded plans, you can host unlimited domains for a single account, without worrying about running up against a data transfer or storage space limit. Instead of packing webpages onto their servers, HostGator works to make sure that they have plenty of room for their clients to expand their pages, and to handle whatever unexpected traffic hikes might roll around.
They even make it easy to switch your domain over from another host, with a completely free download and transfer process. If you are trying to build the webpage yourself, be aware that the interface isn’t as friendly as some of the more streamlined hosts.
The standard plan offers a single domain and unlimited storage and bandwidth, along with a shared SSL certificate, ensuring that whatever information transferred over your webpage is completely protected. As you upgrade plans, you’ll receive that unlimited domains feature, along with, in their “Business Plan,” a toll-free number for your customers. They’ve also got the 24/7 support and the ability to rent out an entire dedicated server, if you think your webpage needs it.
As an added bonus, HostGator’s headquarters and server units run completely on renewable energy, in case you’d like to help save the planet while you open an e-commerce store.
1&1 has recently launched a massive marketing campaign, making it one of the best known companies in the current market. It’s definitely a favorite of businesses who have neither the time nor the resources to put a lot of effort into building a webpage. It incorporates a template system, not unlike Blogger’s with the ability to add apps. Their “MyWebsite” building platform is not included, however, with their standard hosting programs.
With these more standard programs, we still have the ability to use their templates to build a website, it’s just a little less intuitive. They have all the necessary scripts, however, making it easy and simple to set up an e-commerce page. What sets 1&1 apart from their competition, however, is the ability to create a corresponding mobile webpage, as well as manage your email correspondence. They have tools to create and schedule automated emails, like newsletters or coupons, which make your life a little easier.
The Starter package isn’t good for much, unless you run a very, very small business, with hardly any web traffic. Luckily, the next two upgrades pack a lot of features, without jacking up the price too much. Their best deal, the midline package, starts at $5/a month, and then jumps to $9/a month, after a year. A SSL certificate is not included, however, so watch out for that. And you can call them at any time of the day or night to report a malfunctioning webpage, but they don’t have a live chat feature, which come users find annoying.
GoDaddy is another hosting company that is pouring quite a bit of money into their advertising campaigns. With a starting rate of $3.99, they can offer unlimited bandwidth for all of their plans. The “Economy” plan touts one webpage and 100GB of storage, while both of these options are unlimited with the next two upgrades. They’ve got lots of scripts on hand for designers to use, and have the ability to offer options for mobile websites and even advertising credits for AdWords and Facebook.
All of this makes GoDaddy look like a great deal, but their users have started defecting of late, as they’ve changed their usage policies. Many of the features which were once unlimited are now restricted, or require you to pay more in order to access the same functionality available from other hosts for about the same price (sometimes lower). They also can’t boast a great selection of domain names. 1&1 for example, can offer .com, .org, .store, etc. domains, while GoDaddy users have to stick to .com, .co, or .net domains. Also, you’re going to have pay extra for that domain name. It isn’t included the package.
They do have, however, some of the best customer support in the business, along with a very high uptime percentage. Most users say that the websites are easy to set-up and manage, and they even have integrated SEO tools, though, again, you’re going to have to pay extra for those.
GreenGeeks use the same website building interface as BlueHost, with the added bonus of being an environmentally friendly hosting service. They don’t have the same three level upgrade packages that most hosts provide, and they might not need it. They standard plan has unlimited storage, data transfer, email accounts, and the ability to host unlimited domains from one account. Plus, when you purchase that domain name, it’s yours. You don’t have to feel like you are renting your website from another company.
Alongside all of their unlimited features, they have a long list of scripts and easy-to-install apps, which make it a great option for even novice website builders. Plus, there’s that free marketing package, to help you get your website noticed in the internet marketplace.
Like 1&1, they’ve also recently added on an automated email system. Unlike 1&1, however, GreenGeeks’ is unlimited. Instead of having to pay for every email in your address book, it is all rolled into the cost of hosting. Other features include two different shopping cart platforms to choose from, dedicated SSL Certificates, and the ability for you customers to create and log in with a customized, password protected account. They’ll even monitor your website to make sure it’s impervious to hackers and bots.
And because they’re a green hosting company, you get to stamp your webpage with an environmentally-friendly badge. It might not seem like much, but for some consumers, it can mean the difference between choosing a different company, or making a purchase with yours. If you’re not sure you want to use GreenGeeks’ interface, their webpage provides a free demo.
This host doesn’t do a lot of advertising, and therefore isn’t as well known outside of the small web hosting community, but that’s mostly because they’ve got a number of enterprise-size clients. This doesn’t mean that they’re going to skimp on customer service, even for a company of one person.
Their lowest tier plan doesn’t actually include any hosting capabilities; it is just an email account. The other end of the spectrum is a huge program, designed for gigantic companies with thousands of employees and millions of daily site visitors. Luckily, there are plenty of plans in between these two extremes. The goal of LunarPages is to cater to companies of all sizes.
Their cheapest plan that includes web hosting only includes 5GB of storage and 50GB of bandwidth, not much, when you consider the needs of a growing business. The website makes it clear that this package is perfect for hosting dedicated blogs. The next step up, however, has unlimited storage and transfer, and the second step up even includes upgraded security functions and the ability to build a helpdesk for visitors of your website. If your small business becomes a large one, they can convert your storage to a massive cloud-oriented system.
The one major downside of using LunarPages is that they charge extra for the marketing program that comes standard with most other hosting companies. Included with this price, however, is email and social media marketing plans, which are easy to start and manage.
Some users have complained about the nature of their service, but most are happy with it, and even find that they don’t have to use it too regularly. With great upgrade abilities and a relatively low cost, LunarPages is a great fit for most businesses.
DreamHost has been repeatedly chosen as the best deal when it comes to web hosting. Not just because it is relatively inexpensive (plans start at $4.95), but also because it offers a great range of features for the price. Designed for small businesses, this host has unlimited storage, bandwidth, domains, and email accounts, along with a built-in domain, e-commerce solutions, and site building function.
For those who demand that a company have great support, DreamHost boasts an all-American, Utah-based support center that handles all of the phone, chat, and email correspondence. With tutorials, forums, and live chat, any concerns can be easily dealt with.
With so many unlimited options, it seems that DreamHost is ideal for any size of business, however, many users find that there is a secret restriction, when it comes to MySQL databases. This limitation makes it difficult for small businesses to expand if they need to, making DreamHost perhaps ideal for small businesses that intend to remain small, while not entirely ideal for businesses expecting to grow.
On the plus side, the site building function is easy to use, and even allows for the complex websites and tools needed for e-commerce websites. They also take care of making sure search engines know about your company, but you will have to do all of the SEO work yourself. Quality content, coupled with the AdWords credit that comes standard with your plan, it’s not that hard to find a good ranking on most search engines.
Yahoo’s plans start off fairly cheap, at only $3.74 per month, for the first three months, and then $4.99 for every month afterwards. Their lowest tier, however, only offers about 100GB of disc space and 1,000 GB of data transfer, which is about what you’re going to get for free from your ISP. You don’t reach “unlimited” anything until you start paying $11.99 per month ($8.99 for the first three months). You also have to pay a higher rate if you want to use a programming language or third party site builder.
Being stuck with Yahoo’s site builder might be an advantage for small businesses who want to build their own pages, but it is a detriment to businesses who prefer to use Python or would rather employ a design company. Those who use the site builder find it easy to use, but it doesn’t make up for the fact that you have to upgrade in order to install, for example, script for a shopping cart.
It also doesn’t have much in the way of customizability, making all of its pages look rather generic, even when you do purchase the more expensive plans. What it does have, however, is a great support system. This stems mostly from the size of Yahoo’s other enterprises, but if you are looking for a hosting company that has plenty of resources if you get lost, from a call center to online tutorials, Yahoo is a good option. If customer service comes second to any other hosting feature, however, other hosts make better candidates.
If HostMonster is the best deal overall, FatCow is the best deal for e-commerce websites. They use Shopsite, which is a favorite shopping cart script of website designers, and pack a number of features most e-commerce sites will find essential. The biggest plus of this host is ease of use, which makes them the perfect match for small businesses that want to build a simple website, or employ a design firm to spice it up.
Unlike other hosting companies, FatCow prices by the year, instead of the month. For the most basic package, it’s $49 a month, which makes the whole service comparable to other similar hosts. The domain, website builder, and shopping cart are all free, along with the same unlimited storage, access, email, and domains many other services offer. They don’t have any upgraded plans, and with the advertising credits for Google, and Facebook, and Yahoo, and a free yellowpages.com listing, it seems likely that you will quickly outgrow the service.
Unlike HostMonster, however, the service really is unlimited. On the other hand, one of the drawbacks of FatCow is also one of its benefits. Some users find the interface too simplistic, without enough variation for truly customizable websites. There are plenty of advanced features, however, to ensure your website is as optimized and functional as possible. Another problem some users face is access speed and traffic analytics. Most of the other hosts on this list provide their clients with specific traffic statistics to help streamlining marketing endeavors.
Just Host is one the cheapest options on this list, starting at just $2.95/a month, they offer the same features of most other plans, at a better price, and without the limitations. There’s even the 24/7 tech support everyone wants, and an anytime money back guarantee, that assures if you sign up for the service and it doesn’t meet your needs, you don’t have to worry about losing money. There’s also instant website setup, along with site building functions, and all the necessary e-commerce functions. While there is no way to upgrade to a better service, there is rarely going to be the need for an upgrade.
Just Host also has a great site building and management interface, one that even the most inexperienced user can navigate without too much trouble. As with any of the site builders on this list, it will take some time to get used to the interface, but most find it manageable.
There’s also a great setup tutorial, which gives users a head start in how to contact support and implement even the more advanced features. One of the biggest draws of Just Host is the ability to build a simple website, or for more skilled website builders, to use those advanced features to create something more complex. Along with the extra security features, Just Host is a great choice, especially for the price.
Currently offering a $1.00 per month special offer, iPage is definitely one of the most affordable web hosting companies on our list. With unlimited storage and data transfer, expanding businesses can easily increase their usage, without have to upgrade to a more expensive plan. This $1.00 plan even includes inbox serves, complete with spam and virus filters.
iPage has three different suit builders to choose from, each of which caters towards specific functionality. Though they support all of the blogging and e-commerce needs that most small businesses need, they are short on supported programming languages and overall scripts.
What is lacks in complexity, iPage makes up for in marketing packages. There are the same AdWords and Facebook credits, but there are also Yahoo and Bing search optimization measures. All of these services ensure that your customers can easily find your company as soon as your website goes live.
The main flaw of iPage is the lack of analytics, which make it difficult to truly understand how your website is doing in the scheme of things. However, the enhanced security features and extremely low price make it a very low risk investment. Current users tout its usability and flexibility, and find customer support friendly and knowledgeable, in everything from the most basic setup instructions, to the most advanced script malfunctions.
If you are looking for a basic web hosting company, MidPhase offers some great basic features, for a fairly competitive price. Where it falls short, however, is in the unlimited and advanced features, as all of these add an additional cost. The boast providing enterprise-grade hosting services to even their smallest clients, but those services are going to come at a significant price.
Their “Personal” program, which starts at $2.95, is designed for use by blogs, providing unlimited storage and bandwidth, but other significant limitations, such as what scripts and apps can be installed on the webpage. The “Business” program, which comes most of the features your business will need, starts at $7.95.
One of the reasons some small businesses jump for MidPhase, even at the higher price, is the ability to enable a PayPal based shopping cart and specialized spam and virus protections. It also has two different reporting services, giving their clients a multi-faceted view of their analytics.
Users say that in comparison to the websites that come out of other hosts’ building services, those on MidPhase look more professional. Their platform makes it easy to both build a quick and easy website, and, for experienced programmers, to delve into the code for a more customized website.
Free Website Building/Hosting Companies
Most small businesses find that, when working with a design company like us, a traditional web hosting company fits their needs. We navigate the site builders, and we handle the site setup and ensure that the website has all the functionality you need. This frees up your time and energy to focus on your business.
If you insist on building and managing the website yourself, and also do not want to spring for any of these hosting plans, there are a few hosts that provide free domains. For all of these, your domain name will be tagged with theirs, but if you want a no-cost hosting solution, this is the price you have to pay.
Weebly: Weebly is fairly new on the scene, and is currently being used mainly to create wedding pages and blogs. They have implemented a few new features, however, which make it easy to set up an e-commerce page, with simple drag-and-drop product lists and shopping baskets. For more advanced features, however, you will have to sign up and pay for their premium service. There are hundreds of ready-made templates to choose from, some of which are easier to customize than others. With their site building tool, it is easy to move around some elements, while other are more static. Services like customer support, mobile webpages, and unlimited domains are only available with the premium package.
Blogger: Blogger was one of the first free website building and hosting companies, and they still provide a number of customizable templates. Most templates have a pre-selected array of compatible colors and pictures, but anyone who has a little experience with HTML can switch up the colors, backgrounds, fonts, and pictures to their liking. Any e-commerce plug-in must be paid for, and to remove the .blogger.com from your domain name, you must pay. Plus, if you decide to monetize your site, you will have no control over what advertisements they place there.
WordPress: WordPress is slowly gaining popularity as a hosting service, just because of the sheer number of add-ons and plugins available. With a little HTML knowledge, or by following one of the many tutorials available online, you can easily change almost every aspect of your webpage. Some of the most basic plugins you will need are on a subscription basis. All of the scripts you need may end up costing more than any basic hosting package.
Should I Use the Host Company’s Email Service?
Many of these hosting companies provide you will the option to add email services to your plan, some at extra cost, and some as a standard piece of the package. If you choose one of the larger web hosting companies, that has a very high guaranteed uptime, using their email services shouldn’t be a problem. If your webpage was ever to have a real problem, however, and could not be easily recovered, your email would also go down, leaving your customers no way to contact you in the meantime. Separating your email hosting from your website hosting can solve this problem.
We highly recommend HostGator. Both of these hosts have great customer service, premium features, and an interface that helps us create the best website for your needs. Remember that the cheaper you go, the fewer services you are likely to have. It is not worth saving a few dollars to have a webpage that does not function as you need it to.
For a truly professional page, stay away from the “free” hosting/building websites. Consumers are familiar with their templates and that recognition will only hurt the credibility of your business. Having a tagged domain name doesn’t help, either, and can even make it more difficult for consumers to find your webpage.
In the long run, investing in a host that has all the features you need, with an easy-to-use interface, and plenty of customizable features, will serve you much better than opting for a free service.