Finding the Best Web Hosting for Small Business

by Roko Nastic

Any small business hoping to establish a lucrative online presence needs to find the right web host. But how does a small business know which host is best? And what essential features are required from a web host? A small business needs to establish brand, reputation, and encourage consumer confidence. The right web host can help make this a real possibility.

10 Features a Small Business Needs From a Web Host

A small business, looking to find the best web hosting, needs to be aware of some essential hosting resources necessary to successfully trade online. A quality hosting provider will not only provide these key features, it will also oblige a small business with by supplying beneficial additional resources.

So what are these key ingredients, and why are they indispensable to a small business looking to procure online clientele? Listed below are 10 must-have features a small business should expect from a web host.

1. Reliability/Reputation

While this list is not compiled in order of importance, if it were, reliability and reputation would definitely hold the top position. The reliability of a provider will not only affect the reputation of a website, it will be paramount to continued business prosperity.

A web host will have a positive reputation for very good reason. It has earned it over a acceptable period of time, against stiff competition. Reputation suggests reliability and should be accepted as proof of a web host’s value and quality.

2. E-Commerce Compatibility/Features

It will come as no surprise that e-commerce is of significant importance for a small business seeking an online presence. There are various e-commerce platforms, packages, and applications. If a small business has already built a website around a specific model, or has one in mind, any appointed web host must be capable of supporting this e-commerce platform.

If a small business has yet to install an e-commerce package and is open to suggestion, there will be a wider selection of available hosting providers. It is best practice to research e-commerce packages before deciding on a host. While numerous hosts may suit the needs of a small business, an e-commerce platform not be as generic. It is a personal preference if the small business then opts to go with a larger host that supports their chosen platform, or a more specialized provider that deals specifically with that e-commerce package.

Another feature to bear in mind is the availability of alternative shopping carts and e-commerce plug-ins. Some web hosts will have a greater selection than others.

3. Private SSL Certificate Available/Provided

A Secure Socket Layer (SSL) certificate is essential for any small business wanting to encourage or process financial transactions online. Shared SSL certificates are usually available for free, but often fail to provide the level of security required for secure, impregnable online trading.

A private SSL certificate is a sign of trust and security. Not only will customers be more likely to make a transaction via a private SSL connection, many web browsers now warn users (during a monetary transaction) if a business does not possess a private SSL certificate.

A private SSL certificate displays the name of the business in the web browser, a shared SSL certificate will only show the name of the owner (usually the web host), which often appears suspicious to potential customers.

4. Dedicated IP Address

In order to obtain a private SSL certificate a website needs a dedicated IP address. If a website is sharing space on a server, the likelihood is that it is also using the server IP address, along with all other websites on that server. A dedicated IP address allows for enhanced security and can assist with combating SPAM.

5. Multiple E-mail Accounts

A small business will probably require multiple email accounts and an efficient, and secure, email storage system. The business may want separate email addresses for its manager, sales department, customer services team, technical support etc. For this reason it is important to ensure a web host has the resources to provide multiple email accounts and quality web email application. In reality, most web hosts will provide unlimited email accounts as standard, even with basic hosting packages, but the quality may differ.

For example, some web hosts may use the Microsoft Mail Exchange, which does provide a high level of security and anti-spam facilities. Other providers may use a lesser-known email application system such as Horde. It is important to check the security of a hosts email system, as well as the actual quantity it provides, as email contact with customers will be crucial to business development.

One more thing to bear in mind is an auto-responder. Many businesses use these to provide automated email responses to customers. Some web hosts will include use of an auto-responder as part of their email features, though these basic utilities may not be preferential for business use. Most businesses will still use an independent, dedicated auto-responder service like AWeber or GetResponse.

6. Quality Customer Service

A small business will be aware of the importance of good customer service and should demand the same from their web host. A reputable provider will have an efficient customer support system in place. Check to see if a host provides the following features:

  • Ticket System: Customer sends in a query and is issued a ticket number. Host will guarantee a response within a certain time frame (normally 12, 24, or 48 hours).
  • Email Address: There should be an easily identifiable contact email address.
  • Phone Number: Is there a contact number for customer services, or technical support? Is is toll free? What are the call charges?
  • Live Chat: Many hosts provide a Live Chat service where you can connect and instant message with a customer service representative. If this feature is available? Is it 24/7?

If a host claims to provide these services then check they are for real. Send a query via a ticket system and see how long a response takes; email the host; call the listed phone number; use the live chat service.

Probably the most important question to ask is: Does the host provide effective support? Simply having these systems in place is not enough. You need to know if a host will fix any problematic issues and get to the root of any concerns. Check online web hosting forums and review sites for impartial, honest feedback.

7. User-Friendly Interface

You don’t need a host that over-complicates its features with a disorganized or inefficient user interface. Most hosting providers will offer a trial demo of their control panel. Take the time to test this to see if features are ordered logically, functions are easily accessible, and overall operation is smooth and hassle-free. A control panel should aid website development, not hinder it.

8. Website Development Tools

Some small businesses may not have developed a website prior to choosing a web host. In this case, they will be probably looking for a web host that provides either a website design service, or a free website builder/development tool. The latter is probably more common among web hosts, but the quality of the utility will vary. Research the website tool (prior to relying on it to help develop a site).

If a small business is looking for a complete website design service, it would be more prudent to employ the services of an independent professional.

9. Guarantees

Check to see if a host offers a money back guarantee, and if they do, look to see if the offer is time-sensitive and/if restrictions apply. A host will normally also provide a guarantee of website up-time.

10. Scalability and Flexibility

With any luck, a small business will grow from strength to strength, and when it does it will need to upgrade its web hosting package. This could entail increasing resources but staying with same type of hosting account, or could mean moving from shared hosting to VPS, or even a dedicated server.

Whatever the upgrade, a small business needs be sure their chosen web host can provide any future hosting elevation without any fuss or delay. It is paramount for a small business to look to the future when choosing a web host and envisage what they may need, instead of simply considering what they need right now.

Helping to Build Consumer Trust, Confidence, and Satisfaction

A small business needs good web hosting to successfully compete online. It is crucial to find a web host that can provide the additional resource requirements essential to online trading. Establishing consumer trust and confidence means providing a secure and respectable business service.

A huge component of this is a web host who understands the ethos of online business and what a small company really needs from a hosting package. Finding a web host who provides all the above features will ensure a small business is on the right track to achieving online success.

This guest post is written by Roko Nastic who is the editor at WebmasterFormat.com – website where you could learn more about webmastering, online promotion, DNN hosts and more.