Small business web hosting basicsSmall business web hosting basics is a primer to help entrepreneurs understand the basic concepts and technical underpinnings. Running a modern business means maintaining an online presence. The online presence may include a website, an e-commerce store, and other listings across the web. For some, this is an exciting opportunity to flex creative muscles or tackle new challenges. For others, it represents another obstacle to success. Regardless of which side of that fence finds you, this guide will take you through the ABCs of web hosting.

Small business web hosting basics

What Is Web Hosting?

Have you ever wondered where websites live? How does that information come to your computer, and what goes into making your favorite sites accessible at every hour of every day? Answering these questions is the first place to start when understanding web hosting for small businesses.

When you load up a website on your computer or phone, your device is talking to another computer somewhere that sends you the information that was requested. That other device is usually called a server, or more specifically, a web host. For a website to be accessible, the host device has to be on, functioning and connected to the internet. Your first step to setting up a site is to decide if you are going to host it yourself or outsource that part of the process.

Equipment 101

Web hosting equipment is as varied as the websites that populate the internet. To state the obvious, the bigger and more complicated a website is the more sophisticated equipment it needs to run well. This means that choosing your web host is also a choice of equipment. While many companies do host their websites with simple equipment, you should only consider this option if you have reliable IT resources that can maintain and upgrade your server as your needs increase.

If you want to go this route, you’re usually better off using what is called a dedicated host. This means you’ll be using a single computer or server that exists solely for keeping your webpage online. The rule of thumb for buying equipment is to anticipate growth and get more than you need today. With web hosts, you also want to make sure that you can readily expand storage. You also want to keep bandwidth in mind. If your site becomes popular, it will need to be able to handle crowds, and that means excellent and reliable internet connections.

Understanding the Cloud

Now that you’re starting to understand some of the basics, you can prepare for a few more critical decisions. One of the biggest is whether or not you need cloud services. So again, answering the fundamental question is the first step: What is the cloud? Just like how websites are hosted on other computers that you access via the internet, cloud servers let you work on things that aren’t stored in your home or office. Cloud services are necessarily the same things as web hosting services. If you go with a cloud option, it means you won’t be housing or maintaining your equipment. Instead, you are counting on the host to take care of that part for you.

As scary as it may sound to relinquish some of the control, cloud-based web hosting is the most popular option for most businesses of every size. This is why web hosting is such a booming business. If you choose to go this route, you need to consider the packages available. In general, the bigger and more complicated your site becomes, the more powerful hosting you will need. You can get just a provider by how often they upgrade their equipment and how accessible they make those upgrades to you. Switching hosts are very doable, and it does happen often enough, but as your site grows it will become a significant and potentially expensive undertaking, so choose a host you think can take care of you in the long term.

Website Software

There are a few ways to go about actually building your pages. Many people use simple tools like WordPress and create everything directly on the host servers. Many others choose software packages that include web hosting. If you are building everything yourself, you want to consider free trials to look for a control panel and interface that feel intuitive and accessible. If you are hiring someone to build the site for you, take note of the control panel or software that they use so you can learn a little more about it. It will empower you to have more options for maintaining your website in the future.

What Is a Database?

Things are getting increasingly technical. Now that you’ve tackled the cloud, it’s time to look at databases. There are almost countless reasons to consider having database access. You can keep inventory online, track purchase histories, manage your staff, perform sophisticated analysis and just about anything else that number management does for businesses. By investing in a suitable database structure, you’re making aspects of your business systematic, easy to track, easier to access and more flexible. It’s also an absolute requirement if you want to sell product or services online, but more on that in a minute.

The biggest takeaway is that most web hosts and providers can also host your database, mainly putting in on the cloud. It means that even if you want to do powerful and complicated calculations if you have an excellent host, your information will be on powerful enough machines to handle anything you can throw at it. You also want to understand that providers will cater to different specialties. A small business building its first website typically doesn’t need the services of a primary data center, and using one would lead to overpaying for your hosting.

How to Sell Online

So you’re ready to invest in that database because you want your website to generate money. Whatever you are selling, there are a few essentials that must be considered. First, you have to think about how you will process money. The general term for this is E-commerce. Some payment processes are built for online use, like PayPal, but if you want to be as accessible as possible, you need multiple options. This means taking credit cards, which means you need a merchant account. You may already have gone through this process, but even if you have, your account may not support online payments. Whether you are shopping for a first account or looking to expand your services, always shop around for the best deal, you can find.

Tech Support

This final part of the guide is what will keep your business on its feet. If you’re going online, you need access to expertise. You may have an in-house person, and that’s acceptable, but if you’re outsourcing any aspect of your online business, such as with cloud services, then you need also to consider the support available. Is there someone you can talk to 24/7? What are the downtime procedures? Before committing, you want to know exactly what you can expect when problems happen because, given enough time, they will.

So, those are the small business web hosting basics.  To learn more about other aspects, please review the following articles.

Factors to consider while selecting a web host for a small business

Factors to consider while choosing an e-commerce host for a small business