Small Business Websites – Don’t Risk Your Future On Inadequate Hosting

Posted: Monday May 9th

No small business start-up can afford to under-estimate the vital importance of a website. The effectiveness of an internet presence can make or break a new venture. Yet hosting, which helps guarantee the smooth running of the site, is frequently chosen simply on price. That could be a catastrophic mistake.

At its most basic, hosting might be described as just a bit of space on a big hard drive in a remote location. So if that’s the case, why don’t businesses save the money and host their website themselves?

Well first, there’s the maintenance issue. A website should be available 365 days of the year, 24 hours a day. If something goes wrong with the hard drive that holds the website data, or the main computer, the connection to the internet, or even the electricity supply, that site will disappear until the breakdown is resolved.

Next there is security. We are all aware of hackers. If a company hosts its own site it has to be prepared for attacks at any time, and skilled enough to defeat them. Finally there are software issues. Your computer may run fine on it’s own, but what happens when you connect it to the rest of the world wide web?

Most companies can’t afford to have a hardware expert, a software engineer and an internet guru available all day and night, so for a few dollars a month you pay a hosting company – and leave those problems to someone else!

In reality, of course, your hosting company provides much more than just hard disk space. At the very least they should provide some kind of double redundancy system and file back-up. In other words, your website won’t be on one hard drive but two (or more), so that if one should fail the other takes over in a fraction of a second. Nobody would ever know there was a problem.

A good hosting provider doesn’t stop at just maintaining the availability of your website. They will also provide you with email services and more besides. You may not initially need all that is offered, but you need to look to the future. While it is not prohibitively difficult to change hosting, it is obviously better if you don’t need to.

So as your company expands it might well want to take advantage of mysql databases (which are used by things like shopping carts), extra ftp accounts, multiple domain names, sub domains, blog software, cron jobs or any number of options which good hosts include with your monthly rental. You may not know what half those things mean right now, but you will be surprised how soon one or more of them will become important to your web development!

As you may now realize, hosting is quite a complex subject, and it is perhaps unfair to expect most small business owners to know all the ins and outs. However, if that’s the case, how can you make an informed decision about which company to choose?

The key is flexibility. It’s easy for a company to say they give you 50 gigabytes of server space, which is almost certainly adequate to start with, but what about bandwidth? Server space is the actual amount of hard drive your site uses but bandwidth is at least as important, if not more so. Bandwidth can be viewed as your site’s capacity to handle visitors. As more people access it, more bandwidth is consumed. Ten times your actual server space allowance is common.

An important issue here is what happens if you exceed those allowances. It’s surprisingly easy to do, particularly if your marketing efforts create a sudden traffic spike. Some budget hosts will simply cut you off until you pay for an upgrade. A good host will absorb any short-term excess and contact you to discuss the best way forward.

You should also be able to rely on your host for a degree of technical support. Even quite experienced web users run into situations from time to time where they lack knowledge. At times like these it’s good to have a well-staffed ticket system, or interactive online support, to help you resolve any issues as quickly as possible.

As a new business start-up you probably won’t need things like virtual or dedicated servers for a while, but it’s worth finding out if your potential host provides an easy upgrade path.

There are hundreds of different hosting companies online with a mind-boggling number of options. The easy choice for small business owners is to pick the cheapest. However, when you consider the importance of the decision it is worth taking a bit more time and finding the correct solution at the start. If you aren’t sure about anything, try asking the hosting company you are considering selecting. If they are capable, and want your business, they will find you the answers!

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