The rise of the internet over the past couple of decades has truly transformed our lives. For the start-up business owner, an online presence can kickstart your business in a way that simply wasn't possible in the past – getting your message out instantly to the farthest reaches of the planet.
But with so many web hosting options out there, how do you choose the right package for your needs? Join us as we run through your options, and take a close look at the different types of web-hosting services available and what they offer.
What is web hosting?
You don't need to be particularly web-savvy yourself to understand the benefits of setting up a website for your start-up. A dedicated website serves as a digital shopfront, giving you the opportunity to showcase exactly what your business offers in a form that's accessible to anyone, at any time, and from any internet-connected device in the world.
That all sounds good in theory, but the tricky bit is creating a site that works properly and does everything you want it to (on what's known as the front end), and which is easy to manage and maintain behind the scenes (the back end).
And that’s where web hosting comes in. To explain briefly, every web page you visit on the internet is composed of elements such as images, logos, adverts, text and other page design components. These are stored on the servers of a web hosting service, and made available when someone attempts to load the page in question.
Just how much storage space you'll need depends entirely on the site. Chances are, however, that if your business is just getting off the ground, your website will be starting small too, and there are plenty of affordable hosting services aimed directly at start-up companies.
Free hosting services
It doesn’t get more affordable than completely free, and it might be tempting to opt for one of the many free hosting services until your business takes off, but this can easily end up being a false economy. Free web hosts typically make their money by imposing advertising on your site, which could mean anything from a banner ad along the top of the page to pop-up windows that open every time a visitor to your site opens a new page.
This means your site’s survival effectively rests on the web host’s ability to attract advertisers, and the regularity with which new services are arriving on the scene only to vanish again down the line should serve as a warning. You also have no control over the content of the ads either, so for example the website for your start-up organic fresh produce business could end up having ads for a major take-away chain plastered all over the homepage.
Other likely limitations include restrictions on the type and size of file you’re able to upload, a seriously restrictive limit on how much web space the site takes up as a whole, and a requirement that you use the web host’s own site-building tools to put your website together – tools which often only work with that particular web host.
In short, while we wouldn’t say going with a free hosting service is guaranteed to end in tears, there are some serious risks involved that, as a start-up, you’d be wise to think long and hard about before proceeding.
Commercial web hosts
The more sensible option for most start-up businesses, then, is to use a commercial web host right from the start. You get more space to play with, a more reliable service overall, plus you don't have to put up with pop-ups or adverts for someone else's business distracting visitors to your site. But that still leaves you with a vast array of options to choose from, at widely varying costs, and while that means you're bound to find a package to suit just about every need, it can also be confusing if you're not altogether sure what those needs are.
Template-based web building sites
However, there are a number of simple, template-based web building tools that operate on a subscription model (rather than making money through advertising), which include web hosting within the package. A few operate on a 'freemium' model – where a very basic website is offered for free, but you can pay more for premium features, such as greater storage space, but most use a low-cost subscription model, ranging from around £2-£25 per month.
If you don’t know how to develop websites yourself, these are worth looking into. Examples include Basekit, Moonfruit, Mr Site and Google’s own Getting British Business Online. When it comes to hosting, offerings vary, and the free/lowest cost offerings often come with restrictions on storage space. Again, you will be restricted to the site's own web building tools.
If you'll be developing a site yourself, or commissioning a web developer to build it for you, you'll need to look at specialist web hosting companies.
Turn to page two
for detailed information on the key things to look out for when choosing a web hosting provider and package, whether it's a simple web-building service, cloud hosting or your own dedicated server…