Big Deal!

This is not an insignificant choice.  You can make a very wrong decision here that can not only cost you money, but it could cost customers or even your entire business.

That Doesn’t Matter!

I see many small business owners focusing on disk-space, bandwidth, uptime and price when choosing their web hosting company.  For most of you, none of these specs, as displayed on a hosting company website, means very much.

Most small businesses websites won’t need more than the minimum disk space and bandwidth plans offered by most hosting companies. If you’re going to be doing things like letting hundreds of people upload photos to display on your website, you’ll need to pay attention to disk space and bandwidth, but in my experience, 99% of small businesses will do fine with the smallest hosting plans offered.

If yours is one of the 1% small business types that has much greater needs, or perhaps requires a dedicated server, you probably shouldn’t be DIY’ing your own website!

UNLIMITED disk space or bandwidth – Don’t believe it!  Disk space and bandwidth cost money, even when you’re the hosting company.  There is no way any company could truly offer “unlimited” amounts of these criteria.  What they do is choke your bandwidth to slow your website, or just kick you off their server when your hogging too much space or b/w.  Don’t believe me?  Just Google it!

Why does “UPTIME” not matter?  Because everyone claims 99.9% uptime, which is nearly 45 minutes per month of downtime.  If that downtime is during business hours, that’s unacceptable.  I doubt that many hosting companies apply any real statistics to this percentage, and let’s face it – if your site was down for an hour everyday between three and four in the morning, if your business is all local, would you really care?

And why do I say that PRICE doesn’t matter?  Most hosting plans that small businesses will be looking at, vary between $5 and $25 per month.  If $20 per month difference is a make or break deal for your business, you may need to try a different line of business!

So What DOES Matter?

  • Operating System
  • Security
  • Support
  • Speed
  • Memory
  • Location

I’ve put these in order of priority.  So, let’s take them in order:

OS

There are two major operating systems for web servers – Unix/Linux and Windows.  Most corporations and governments use Windows web servers. Why?  They have Windows desktop systems because most users are already familiar with that OS and won’t need much additional training.  They have Windows developers because they can be certified and eliminate the requirement to test for qualifications (in theory!).

Since corporations and governments already have Windows developers and since to most managers “a coder is a coder”, they are comfortable with having their desktop programmers do their web projects.

The majority of websites are on Unix/Linux operating systems.  Microsoft developers generally cost more than open-source developers.  Microsoft is the single support source for Windows servers for security updates, etc.  Open-source (Unix/Linux) have many more “eyeballs” on the code.

For small business owners, a Unix or Linux OS running Apache, LiteSpeed, Nginx, etc.) web server is the way to go.

Most of the platforms we discussed in an earlier article, are programmed with PHP (Ruby on Rails is an exception).  PHP is one of the easiest and fastest languages to code with, which lowers your costs.  Recent upgrades to PHP have dramatically improved security issues.

Security

The biggest hosting companies have the biggest exposure to security problems and therefore the most experience – or so one would think.  They do generally have good policies and tools to decrease vulnerabilities, but that does not mean that a fifteen-year-old using free software he downloaded and learned to use just yesterday, can’t hack into the average website.

This bring up the Yin/Yang issue of web hosting.

I’ve had people call me with hacked websites on huge websites (big names!) who couldn’t get help getting their sites cleaned of the malware – even though visitors to their sites were being attacked and Google had dropped them to the bottom of the barrel.

One client – with over thirty small business websites, all hacked – had been begging GoDaddy for help for months without satisfactory results.  He’d completely reinstalled all of his sites several times without solving the problem!

Google will penalize your websites in a nano-second, if it detects malware, and it will likely take you months to regain your rankings – if you ever do!

So, what’s the point of spending time and effort to build an effective, profitable website, only to have it trashed?

At this point the subject of Security begins to blend with Support, so I’ll add that heading..

Support

Support is the key and the solution is to host with a small business “reseller”.  This is probably run by a web developer who has a good understanding of web servers and web security issues.  Yes, it costs a little more because he has to make his “cut”, but you get the benefit of small business support, experience and tech savvy.

This means you may give up being able to get support at 3am (but if you’ve ever tried that with a large hosting company – you’re likely to get your 3am response at 3:30am, four days later and from a support person who couldn’t even spell ‘tech’!), but your small business support guy will listen to you and he’ll take your problem seriously – because, to him you’re 1 customer out of 30, not 1 out of 50,000.  Also, he’s likely much more experienced and better trained than the minimum-wage person who handles support tickets for the big hosting companies – and to whom you mean next to nothing.

Before I studied web security, I had a client who was hit with a denial of service (DOS) attack.  It looked like it was from a single computer, but at the rate it was going, it would eat $100 worth of bandwidth in just a week!

Several years ago, I was a hosting reseller on a large, well-known hosting company and quickly put in a ticket to them for help.  Two days later, I got a response that basically said that it wasn’t their problem and there was nothing they could do.

I’d block the IP address, but they’d change IP, so I blocked the entire range of IP’s and they entirely changed their IP.  All I could do was add a one-second delay to all requests to stop the bandwidth bleed, but of course this was not a satisfactory solution.

Last month, I got a call from a new client who had the same problem.  This time, I had the solution (Cloudflare), which I implemented in about five minutes and the problem was solved at no charge to my client.

And then there are the little things – like having trouble with a database or an email account.  Why wait days for a big hosting company’s support system that’s only going to tell you they don’t help with that sort of thing?

A small business hosting reseller will probably just fix the problem and give you some quick, simple, free training in less time than it would take to type out an excuse.

Making problems quickly disappear is well worth the extra money you’ll pay for that kind of support.

Speed & Memory

Website speed not only makes for a better user experience and makes  your website seem more professional, but it helps your search engine rankings also.

But, like bandwidth and disk space, speed costs money.  The more clients a hosting company has on its shared hosting servers, the less processing time its cpu can spend on  your website.

SSD drives are faster than conventional harddrives, but again – these cost more.

Memory also helps speed by allowing processes to occur in RAM instead of harddrives, but memory also costs money.

Location

There is a speed component to this since it obviously will take longer to send data from Miami to Seattle than from Kansas City to Seattle (or to Miami, etc.)

But even more important, there are legal considerations.  If you’re concerned about issues like –

  • Whether data on your website is allowed outside the country
  • Whether a government entity might want access to your data
  • Whether your website will be readily accessible to all countries

Then you’ll want to do some research to decide where you want your website to be hosted.

Web Hosting Horror Story

If you want to read a real (true) horror story about an almost very successful website business, click this link.

Disclaimer – author is Hank Castello, who is a small business hosting reseller and owns CompuSolver.com, SmBizHosting.com, Web-Solver.com and other websites.