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When taking their business online, small business owners need more than just a well-designed website; they also need a service to host it. Web hosting services are needed to actually publish a site online for others to see. Specifically, Web hosting services store the data files that make up websites, and then upload those files to the Web for viewing by those who access the website through its official domain name.
While the main job of a Web hosting service is to publish the website online, they do much more. Many Web hosting services are a one-stop shop for businesses' website needs. The services give business owners the tools they need to create, publish and maintain a website.
For those who have never created a website, the majority of Web hosting services provide easy-to-use building tools that let business owners build their website, on their own, from the ground up. Businesses have complete control over the site's design elements, as well as the functionality to accept sales via shopping-cart software.
In addition to offering easy-to-use tools for beginners, Web hosting services include increased programming options for those wanting a more unique and individualized website that's different from the provided templates. Among the other popular features most Web hosting services include are the ability to select and register domain names, email functionality and options for easy mobile optimization.
These services boast secured servers that defend the website from hackers, as well as security tools that are constantly checking for malware that could infect visitors’ machines. Additionally, many Web hosting services provide the ability to use a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate, which secures data when it is being transmitted to and from the website. This is especially necessary for sites that will be collecting payments. The SSL certificate ensures credit card and other customer information is safe and secure.
Web hosting services also provide users with technical support should a problem occur with the website. This is especially critical for businesses without dedicated IT specialists who are versed in website programming.
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Types of Web Hosting
These types of Web hosting services are considered a form of shared Web hosting, also known as virtual hosting. This means that instead of having a dedicated server for just one website, the Web hosting service is storing numerous websites on its servers at one time. Each site is located in its own section of the server. By renting space with the Web hosting service, the small business owner is freed from hardware and maintenance fees that are needed when hosting the site on their own dedicated server.
Other types of Web hosting include colocation hosting, which is when a business places its own dedicated server in someone else's data center; dedicated hosting, which is when a businesses leases an entire server for its own use; and in-house hosting, which is when a company houses its own server. Each of these is considerably more expensive than a shared Web hosting service.
Cost of Web Hosting
Web hosting providers charge a monthly fee for their services. They base their fees on several factors, including the number of websites the business needs hosted, how much storage space is necessary, how many website-building tools are provided and the number of email accounts needed.
Some Web hosting services charge a flat fee for hosting an unlimited number of websites that take up an unlimited amount of storage space, while others have a tiered pricing system based on the business's specific needs.
Smaller Web hosting packages are adequate for small businesses with one simple website, but businesses that have multiple sites, or those that want a website that can expand as their business does, may find they are better suited for a more robust or unlimited package. Bothoptions are very cost-effective for small businesses.
Specifically, monthly fees for unlimited domains, disc space, transfer bandwidth and email accounts range from $2 to $10 a month. In addition, many of the services offer a discount for businesses that commit to several years of hosting.
For an extra charge, many Web hosting services also offer increased security protection that guards the website from hackers by running regular checks for any signs of viruses or other types of malware that may have infected the site, thus protecting shoppers’ personal data.
Pros and Cons of Web Hosting
For small businesses, using a Web hosting service offers a number of benefits. First and foremost is the cost. With Web hosting services, small businesses free themselves of the added costs — such as costs for increased hardware and network capabilities — that come with having to host the website on their own. The Web hosting service handles all of the initial purchasing of equipment and its maintenance, which is a significant cost savings to any business.
These services are also especially advantageous to those without any Web design experience. They provide website builder tools, complete with templates that walk users through every step of the process. Most users can create a professional-looking site that will attract consumers in less than an hour. All in all, the services provide everything needed to build a site and get it up and running, which is what most small businesses are looking for.
The major downside of a Web hosting service is that small businesses are sharing server space with other small businesses. With that reality comes the risk that if one of those sites is doing something nefarious, like sending out spam, other sites on the server could become blocked by anti-spam software, making it harder to reach consumers.
The only way to avoid that risk is to use a server that is dedicated to just one website. For most small businesses, that isn't a financially viable option.
The other major downside is that a number of Web hosting services have unreliable service. This makes it critical that business owners review all of their options carefully before committing to a Web hosting service.
What to Look for in a Web Hosting Service
Even though businesses are always looking at their bottom line, they should choose a Web hosting service based on more than just how much it costs. The factors for consideration include whether the service offers a hosting package that fits the business's specific needs. For businesses with simple website needs, any of the highly rated Web hosting providers should offer the necessary tools and services. For those with more robust websites that require large amounts of storage and bandwidth, it is important to find a service that can meet those needs.
Business owners choosing a Web hosting service should look for website builders, one-click installation of supported apps and an integrated control panel for easy site management, and email functionality.
For advanced Web designers, the service should include custom cron jobs, a script library, raw access logs and customizable error pages. The best Web hosting sites should also provide sufficient server access options.
Finally, business owners want a Web hosting service that will be there for them when they are needed most — in times of peril. When something goes wrong with the site, the Web hosting service should be available to provide technical support. Small businesses want a service that boasts 24/7 phone support, as well as options for help via email and live chats. They should also offer user forums, video tutorials, knowledgebases and getting-started wizards that walk new users through the entire process of getting their site up and running.
Best Web Hosting Services
Our sister site, TopTenReviews, has done extensive research on Web hosting services. The services the site ranks as the best include Just Host, which offers easy-to-use features for beginners as well as added tools for advanced users; Go Daddy, which offers a wide array of features, including tools for marketing and SEO; and iPage, which, in addition to unlimited bandwidth, disk space and emails, offers basic shopping-cart tools and around-the-clock support.