I’ve had a lot of people ask about websites lately–specifically, where to host their website.
As the saying goes, nothing in this world is certain except death and taxes. Therefore I will preface this post with caveat there is not one right answer for every business, not even smaller, local businesses.
With that disclaimer out of the way, I will tell you what I generally advise clients (and anyone who asks.)
It is a good idea to own your own website. That means you have purchased the domain name rather than relying on a free site.
Fortunately, that is not usually a big expense. If your exact business name is not available as a domain name (www.YourBusinessName.com) then there are some options, but if possible, secure your name. There may be reasons that we would advise buying other domain names (instead or in addition to your business name)–but that should be handled on a case-by-case basis. A domain name typically costs less than $10 a year to buy and renew. There will be plenty of people who want to charge you a lot more–but before you plunk down your hard earned money, realize that it probably isn’t necessary.
A domain name is great, but it doesn’t do you any good all by itself. You have to have “hosting.” Webhosting is a service that you must pay for to have your domain actually online. Think of it like renting a storefront. You can have a great business name, but if you want to have customers buy from you, you need your store. The webhosting is like the building. Once you have the building, you fill it with items to sell and your decorate it. That is comparable to building the website–you decide what you want on the site and how you want it to look. You determine how you will interact with your customers, what the function of the site is, etc.
Now that we are clear on the basic terminology, let’s get back to webhosting. You have many different options when it comes to hosting your website.
You can have your website hosted for free, but for most businesses it is worth spending the money to have the website hosted elsewhere. Some companies will provide a domain name as part of their webhosting service. Many companies will offer an affordable package that gives you a domain name, hosting, and designing for a low monthly fee. This may be the right option for your business, either in the beginning or long term. It may also be a terrible choice for your business. Knowing what purpose your website will have can help determine your hosting needs and what is your best internet solution. These may change and grown over time, and you can’t possibly know everything that you will ever need in a website. Don’t worry too much about what your business will look in 5 years, at least not for your website. Focus on what you need right now, and what you envision for the upcoming year.
The exact cost of web hosting will depend on how much “cyber-space” you will be using. Similar to the size of your storefront, the more bandwidth and disc size you need, the more hosting will cost you. Most local businesses will not need to spend thousands to have a website. But if you host a lot of videos directly on your site, you will need more space than someone who has a lot of still photos. Will you be making sales on your site? Will people have to login to access your site or will all the content be open to anyone? Are you planning on collecting email addresses or other personal information on your site? All of these things impact how your site will be built–and the type of security and hosting that you might need.
As your online presence grows and you get more visitors, you may need to boost your hosting package, especially if you sell products online, so choose a hosting company that will allow you to grow over time. Sure, you can change hosting companies later, but it is often easier (not to mention less expensive) to upgrade rather than actually move your site. That doesn’t mean you should feel trapped paying for a lot of services that you don’t currently, or may never, need. You wouldn’t rent a store that is 10,000 square feet if you only need 1,000 right? Pay for what fits for the near future and hopefully you will be able to expand where you are…but you can always pack up and move if you need to.
When looking at hosting your website, you want to choose a company that has good reliability. Just like you don’t want to have the lights go off while customers are in your store, you want your website up when people are looking for you–and that can be a lot more hours than your brick and mortar store is open. You don’t want your customers to find your website is down or running too slowly. A minor inconvenience one time may be okay, but people are fickle and they will move on if your site regularly doesn’t meet their needs.
In the old days, it was necessary to know a lot of computer coding in order to build a website. That isn’t the case any more. For most local businesses, simple sites are great. You can do a lot of the work yourself if you want–even if you don’t want to build it, you can do some of the updating. Your website might include a blog or a photo gallery that you update, letting your customers know what you are up to. This can be fun and a great way to engage with your audience, and a way that you can save money.
How much interest you have in working on your website AFTER it is built can also be a consideration in what your site looks like and where it is hosted. If your intention is to engage with your customers and add pictures or a blog, then you don’t want a site that requires a lot of coding to get that done.
On the other hand, “simple” sites can have challenges too. Unless you know how to build a website that will do what you want, then your energies may be better spent on other aspects of your business. This is a good time to remember that you don’t have to be a master of everything. Would you attempt to do the electrical work in your building? Or would you give up, throw in the towel on your business because you don’t know how to put up the lights? Would you take the time away from getting your business running to learn how to do the electrical work? Most people wouldn’t, they would hire an electrician or whomever they need to fulfill their vision.
The same should be true for building your website. Find someone you trust to help fulfill your online vision. Let them know your goals for today and the near future. They can help you plan out the best website for your local business, including making recommendations for hosting your website. Just like you will have to direct the electrician where you want the lights to go, and about any special equipment you have so he can be sure you have the proper outlets and power type, you will need to direct your website designers on your needs and desires. Just as a good electrician may advise you to make changes to save money or for safety, your website designer may make suggestions to improve your site–including where to host it to suit your needs.
Hosting your website is part of the puzzle, but an important part. By working with someone who understands your business you can be assured you are getting all the pieces put together so the picture of your business is clear to not only you, but to your customers as well.