There are several important steps to consider when starting an online business, but one of the most important is where to place it.
The right web hosting provider or free web site builder can mean the difference between informed, satisfied customers and angry shoppers, or even an audience that doesn’t know you exist. For most small businesses and startups, the challenge is knowing what to look for before choosing the hosting provider that’s right for you.
Get the right hosting
This sounds like an obvious consideration, but not all hosting services are the same, even depending on your high-level needs. For example, if you expect your traffic to be low and stay that way for the foreseeable future, you should look into shared web hosting or VPS hosting options.
On the other hand, if you are expecting a steady influx of large numbers of customers, you might be better off choosing a dedicated hosting solution or one of the larger cloud players mentioned above.
Since you will likely hire in-house IT staff to monitor your website, make sure you choose a hoster that can handle the monitoring tools these people want to use. And if your website is the main resource for your business, you can also host other parts of your business on it, like your company’s email service or digital marketing tools.
The latter is especially useful if you don’t want to give up on important elements of commerce. Such as search engine optimization (SEO) or personalized marketing analytics. This all sounds overwhelming if you’re just starting out, but you will master these needs much faster than you think, so at least plan for them from the beginning.
Uptime is the metric you need when you want to know how reliable your hosting partner is. Services without good uptime can leave you in limbo when faced with large spikes in traffic. For example, even small online retailers may experience increased traffic on Black Friday or December holiday. If your customers get a 404 error because your hoster can’t handle the sudden load, you are losing revenue without a call.
To find out about uptime for potential partners, search websites like Cloud Watcher and Check Signal. Which publish uptime and reliability metrics for a long list of web hosting providers. Then contact other users. Many web hosts have support forums from which you can get started.
Questions? Reach out to small business groups such as LinkedIn Small Business or Reddit r / web hosting, r / ecommerce, and r / small business group. Every business needs a website these days. So the members of these groups need to have a good opinion of which hosts did the best for them.
Don’t be afraid of a little complexity
Small businesses or startups that may not have a smart IT professional on a paycheck tend to avoid complex web hosting services. Like Amazon Web Services (AWS) or Microsoft Azure.
This is because they are public cloud infrastructure providers. Which means they will definitely have a lot of the power and reliability of web servers, but you can customize it all yourself. Or you?
Both these services and others like Google Cloud and Rackspace have very long lists of value-adding partners. And did you know that many of these partners specialize in building and starting small businesses. With robust web serving infrastructure.
Matching Business Needs and Hosting Capabilities
One area where a dedicated web hosting provider can trump the vast public cloud is in the small business package. Bluehost, GoDaddy and similar providers offer special service packages for small business customers, which are often broken down into e-commerce sites or one-stop sites.
The advantage of these services is that they combine all the necessary components at a single price. As such, an e-commerce package could include an online catalog, a shopping cart, a payment system. And even a dashboard with metrics specific to what online sellers need.
Don’t take security for granted
Every hosting provider will tell you that their service is the safest online fortress on the web. Here you need to do your research along two lines. Find out what you need first. Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificates and data encryption are obvious measures offered by most vendors. But what about additional individual needs?
For example, if you work in California or the European Union (EU), you will be subject to California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), respectively. What kind of security and reporting features do you need to enforce these rules? If you serve other vertical customers, such as financial or healthcare buyers. These industries will also have different rules.
To sum up
Your best bet is to sit with your legal resource along with an IT security professional or consultant and ask them. To match those needs with the web hosting technology. Again, this may mean more money in the beginning. But it will be much less than recovering from a sudden audit or even a shutdown notification because you took the web host’s security requirements for granted.