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Website hosting: A guide for small businesses

If you’re a disruptive, scaling startup, then you need an online presence to match. Website hosting provides the foundations for a unique and powerful website

Why should you choose website hosting for your small business website?

After all, using a website builder, you could set up an affordable website in no time – and hosting is included in the package.

But perhaps you're after something a little more… bespoke.

Web hosting gives you infinitely more control over the design and functionality of your website. And, as you scale, your business will benefit from much greater creative freedom and flexibility.

That’s why, if you’re an ambitious, fast-growth startup, website hosting is for you.

Below, we’ll delve into how web hosting works, look at the different types of web hosting on offer, and highlight some of the best web hosting providers you could get started with today, including Bluehost, HostGator, InMotion, A2Hosting, and Hostinger.


What is web hosting?

Your small business website is comprised of numerous files – text, images, videos – which are hosted on a server maintained by your hosting provider.

Web hosting is the process of renting space on that server. It is the physical location of your website on the internet. When a user visits your website, data is transferred from the server to their screen.

The larger the files, the more storage you need on the server. The more visitors your website receives, the more bandwidth (data transfer capacity) you need.

The cost of a web hosting plan tends to be directly proportional to your storage and bandwidth allowance. For example, Bluehost’s hosting plans range from its £2.38/month Basic Shared plan (50GB storage and unmetered bandwidth) to its £96.90/month Premium Dedicated plan (1TB of storage, 15TB of bandwidth).

As you can see, your website hosting provider bears a lot of responsibility for the availability of your website online. That’s why it’s vital you choose the best web hosting provider.


Uptime

Uptime is the amount of time that a hosting provider’s service is up and running.

Most respectable website hosting providers will guarantee a minimum uptime of 99.9%. This is the industry benchmark.

Why not 100%? Well, we may be at the pinnacle of technological advancement, but the sheer scale and complexity of the infrastructure required to keep more than 1.7 billion websites online globally means that technical errors do occur.


How does web hosting work?

Hosting server

There are several types of web hosting available, catering for everything from the smallest personal blog to vast video streaming sites and ecommerce operations.

So, web hosting works differently depending on how the server’s resources are allocated to customers.

The different types of web hosting are:

Shared hosting

Your website shares a single physical server with multiple websites.

Shared hosting is the most affordable option, because your website is only allocated a portion of the server’s resources.

Because of this, it’s only suitable for small websites and blogs with low traffic, although you can scale up to a VPS or dedicated hosting plan as your website grows.

For our money, InMotion has the best shared offering, with excellent features, unlimited disk space, and a free domain. Check out InMotion’s shared plans here.

Pros: 

  • Cost-effective
  • Flexible
  • Straightforward setup
  • Lots of professional technical support
Cons:

  • Limited resources
  • Limited customisation
  • Less security

Virtual Private Server (VPS)

A great option for growing businesses, your website is stored on a virtual server that has been configured to act like multiple dedicated servers.

This means your website is allocated a dedicated amount of disk space and bandwidth, and can run its own operating system and applications. VPS hosting is also more secure, and offers a greater degree of flexibility than shared hosting.

If you’re looking for value for money, A2 offers excellent VPS plans for a great price.

Pros

  • Greater flexibility for growing businesses
  • Greater range of features and functionality
  • More affordable than a dedicated server
Cons

  • Setup demands more technical expertise
  • You may not be issued with your own IP address, and may have to share with unscrupulous sites – which could damage your ranking

Dedicated

Your website is stored alone on a single server. As you’re allocated 100% of the server’s resources, your website should experience faster load times, better uptime, and enhanced security.

Dedicated hosting gives you maximum control over the applications and operating system, meaning you can customise the server to the needs of your business website.

If dedicated hosting sounds like the option for you, check out the great plans on offer from Bluehost and HostGator.

Pros:

  • Enhanced performance, security, and reliability
  • Maximum control and flexibility over the server
  • A unique IP address, ensuring your ranking won’t be damaged by other sites
Cons:

  • The most expensive option
  • Requires much more technical know-how
  • The physical server is still the property of the hosting provider

Cloud

Your website data is spread across multiple servers, which are all connected through the cloud. This makes cloud hosting a highly flexible, scalable and reliable option for small businesses.

As there’s no need to maintain any hardware, cloud hosting can be cheaper, too. There’s also a diminished risk to your data, and disaster recovery from the cloud is easier than from a physical server.

Does cloud hosting seem like the best option for your small business? Check out A2Hosting’s excellent cloud plans here.

Pros:

  • Reduced costs compared to a physical server
  • Easier to scale your plan
  • Disaster recovery is easier
Cons:

  • The cloud can be more vulnerable to data breaches than a physical server
  • Likewise, access to your data is entirely reliant on access to the internet

Reseller

As a hosting reseller, you buy a large amount of server storage space and bandwidth from a provider at a wholesale rate. You then sell some of your allocated server space to other business websites for a profit. Essentially, you’re becoming a small-scale hosting provider.

Why would you choose this option? It’s common for web designers or developers to become hosting resellers as an extension of their service. It allows them to offer hosting and domain services to clients instead of passing them on to a third party provider.

Buehost offers its reseller plans through provider ResllerClub.

Pros:

  • Make a profit from your hosting plan
  • Run a hosting business with minimal upfront costs and maintenance
  • Maintain relationships with valuable clients
Cons:

  • Your hosting business is vulnerable to technical issues from your hosting provider, which you have no control over
  • Technical knowledge required

What’s included in your hosting plan?

Hosting is a highly competitive industry. And, in their drive to match each other's offerings, you’ll find that many providers’ plans are somewhat uniform.

This can make it hard to choose between them, but it does help you to understand what you should expect as a minimum from the best web hosting providers.

From our research, a basic plan should include most of the following:

  • Free domain
  • 24/7 hosting
  • Free SSL certificate
  • 99.9% uptime rate (minimum)
  • A money back guarantee
  • Unmetered/unlimited storage and bandwidth

Unlimited and unmetered

It’s important to note that unlimited and unmetered don’t actually mean unlimited or unmetered.

Your hosting provider will base your allowance on what it deems to be ‘normal’ usage of data/bandwidth.

Normal usage is determined by regularly examining customer usage data, then using statistical analysis to define normal.

What happens if you exceed your usage? Nothing too bad in normal cases. For example, Bluehost’s shared usage policy states that it will send you an email asking you to reduce usage, which you have 48 hours to respond to. Some providers may impose fines for repeat offenders.

Of course, you can always upgrade to a larger plan if you need more storage and bandwidth.


Using a web hosting platform/service vs hosting locally (self-hosting)

Generally, this article has covered the process of using a website hosting provider, where you pay for space on a server owned and maintained by that provider.

This means the responsibility for the day-to-day management of the servers, hardware, and software that keep your website online is entirely in the hands of the provider.

However, there is a way to have absolute control over every aspect of your website: self-hosting.

Self-hosting involves owning and maintaining the server and system that your website lives on. You might do this because you don’t trust third parties, for complete control and flexibility, or to cut costs.

You certainly won’t be cutting costs with the initial outlay. Here are a few of the things you’ll need to invest in just to get started:

  • Static IP – this is the numerical version of your web address, which computers use to find your website online
  • A server – a powerful computer to host your website on
  • A very good internet connection – essential if you want your website to be able to handle loads of traffic without crashing
  • A DNS – ensures that your domain name leads to your actual IP address (you’re undiscoverable without it)
  • An operating system – the software your server runs on, such as Windows or Linux
  • Scripting knowledge – you’ll need to program your own website using a programming language such as PHP, ASP.NET, Java, or Python
  • A lot of time and resources – as you can see, the above will require a lot more of your valuable time and attention than if you use a managed solution

There are special circumstances where self-hosting might be the best option for you, but for most small businesses, using a hosting provider such as Bluehost, InMotion, or HostGator is cheaper, easier, and much less resource intensive.

For more information, check out our extensive guide on how to host a website.


The best web hosting providers

By now, you should have a better idea of which type of hosting might be best for your business, and a better grasp of the features and terminology you need to make your decision.

There are more than 330,000 web hosting companies in the world. We’ve scoured the market and identified five providers that we think offer the best solutions for small businesses.

They are:

  • Bluehost
  • HostGator
  • InMotion
  • A2 Hosting
  • Hostinger

Ready to get set up with a web hosting plan today? Just click on the link for one of our tried and tested providers to get started.

Or, for a more in-depth analysis of what makes each provider one of our top platforms, you can read our page on the best web hosting for small businesses here.


Bluehost

Bluehost Best overall provider for small businesses £2.38-£96.90/month Try Bluehost

Reasonably priced, full-featured, and highly rated, Bluehost is our top pick of web hosting providers for small businesses.

With its basic shared plan you get a free domain for the first year, a free email address, a free SSL certificate, and unmetered bandwidth. And it’s easy to scale up to an affordable or VPS plan if you outgrow that.

As a partner since 2005, Bluehost’s WordPress plans are top-of-the-range, offering automatic installation and updates, Office 365, and verification on Google My Business.


HostGator

hostgator Best for ease of use £2.22-£112.24/month Try HostGator

If you want to get your website up and running with minimal fuss, HostGator is the provider for you.

Like Bluehost, it uses cPanel, a simple control panel for website and server management with a user-friendly graphical interface, which is great for beginners.

HostGator also gives you the option to add on numerous extensions for privacy, security, and productivity, so you can really tailor your hosting package to the needs of your website.


InMotion Hosting

inmotion logo Best for speed and security £5.12-£424.52/month Try InMotion

If speed and security are your main priorities, look no further than InMotion. As well as all the top of the range features you’d expect, InMotion offers hack protection, custom firewall, and DDoS protection to keep your website safe.

It’s a little pricier than some of the other hosting providers we’ve reviewed, but you more than get your money’s worth. It’s been CNET-certified for 17 years, and has an A+ rating from consumer protection agency the Better Business Bureau.

It’s also an easy to use hosting provider, with free website migration, a ‘one-click’ app installer, and a free drag-and-drop website builder for new sites.


A2Hosting

a2 hosting logo Best for support £2.40-£233.59/month Try A2 Hosting

A2 Hosting wants to make sure you have the best setup for your small business website, whether you have technical expertise or not.

Every plan is automatically given the optimal configuration for your website, so you shouldn’t need to make any adjustments. And, if you do need help, it's highly trained “Guru Crew” are on hand 24/7.

You don’t get a free domain or website builder (as with some of the other providers), but it does come with an unparalleled anytime money back guarantee.


Hostinger

Hostinger logo Best for affordability 80p-£7.45/month Try Hostinger

Hostinger is our top pick of affordable website hosting providers, with plans starting from just 80p.

With the most basic, shared plan, you get one website, one email, 100GB bandwidth, and a free SSL certificate.

You might not be getting the advanced features and ‘unlimited’ storage offered by other providers, but Hostinger is an excellent no-frills choice, with an easy-to-use system and scalable plans.


Our criteria

Hopefully, one of the above web hosting providers is jumping out at you as the best option for your small business website.

If you’re ready to get started with a plan, or if you just need more information, simply click on the link to the homepages of each provider.

These aren’t just the first five web hosting providers we came across – they’re tried and tested by small business owners like you using five key criteria. These are:

Types of Hosting

We expect a top hosting provider to offer all the three main types of hosting (shared, VPS, and dedicated), as well as cloud and reseller hosting options.

Only one of our hosting providers doesn’t offer all three, and that’s Hostinger, which doesn’t offer a dedicated plan because its focus is on affordability.

InMotion offers the widest range of plans, with six different pricing tiers for its dedicated hosting solution, ensuring you can find the best match for your business.

Hosting Features

We’ve covered the features you should expect from your hosting provider at a bare minimum.

When making our selection of the top hosting providers, we’ve assessed them on these key features, but also on to what extent they’ve gone a little bit further than the competition to offer a great user experience.

We think Bluehost offers the best range and quality of features of the five providers.

Disk Space

Arguably one of the most important metrics, your allocated disk space dictates how large your website can be.

We’ve assessed our website hosting providers on how much bang you get for your buck – or, in other words, which provider is giving you the most disk space for the most competitive price. If it’s maximum disk space you’re after for your massive website, A2 Hosting’s Mach plan offers an astonishing 2×1,000GB of storage and 20TB of bandwidth.

Uptime

We’ve discussed uptime in detail above, and we’re happy to report that all the listed providers have an uptime rate of 99.9% or more.

What’s important here is how they support their claims, or compensate for downtime. For example, A2 Hosting credits its customers 5% of their monthly fee for every hour that their site is down.

Help and Support

Web hosting can be a complicated business. You need to know that there’s expert help and support on hand should you need it.

Most providers promise 24/7 support, but what really matters is the quality of that support. For our money, A2Hosting’s Guru Crew is the best of the bunch.

Value For Money

It’s not just about which is the cheapest or the most expensive – it’s about how much value your hosting provider delivers for the price you pay.

We think, considering the quality of its product and the range of features on offer, Bluehost is the best value for money.


Are there free web hosting providers?

It is possible to have a completely free website hosting plan, but we’d advise against it.

On the surface, many appear to offer fantastically comprehensive plans – but as they say, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Free hosting doesn’t have a great reputation for speed and security, which could, at best, give your site visitors a poor user experience – or at worst, expose them to cyber attacks.

Besides, most of the providers we’ve recommended offer a free trial, so you can enjoy a great service and see if they’re the right choice for you without spending a penny.

Bluehost offers a 30-day free trial, after which your account automatically renews at introductory rates.


What is green hosting?

Green hosting

It might seem strange to think that your entirely virtual business website is having an impact on the physical environment, but web hosting is actually very energy-intensive.

That guaranteed 99.9% uptime rate requires the server your website is hosted on to be switched on at all times. Those servers are stored in data centres, which are powered by fossil fuel, and require vast cooling systems to prevent them from overheating.

The upshot of this is that data centres are responsible for an astonishing 2% of global carbon emissions, rivalling even the aviation industry. And, on current projections, this could grow to 14% by 2040.

Green hosting seeks to reduce this environmental impact using a variety of methods:

  • Carbon offsetting schemes (investing in renewable energy or planting trees to counteract the use of fossil fuels)
  • Using renewable energy to power data centres
  • Energy conservation

If, for some reason, you're not eco-conscious, there are still compelling commercial reasons to opt for a green web hosting provider. Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of how their choices affect the environment, with more and more people opting for brands that broadcast their green credentials over ones that don’t.

Many of the hosting providers listed above have green options, but there are also some excellent purpose-built green hosting providers.

Interested in going green? Get started with one of these great green web hosting providers today:

GreenGeeks

With GreenGeeks, you’re not just offsetting your carbon footprint – you’re creating a positive energy footprint.

That’s because this Californian provider offsets three times the amount of energy your website will use in the form of wind power credits.

And with shared plans starting from just £2.39/month, being eco-conscious isn’t going to cost you the earth.

Join more than 45,000 others and get started with a GreenGeeks plan today.

Green Hosting

If you’re keen on going local as well as going green, how about Green Hosting? This 100% wind powered hosting provider operates from UK-based servers.

It only offers three simple plans, ranging in price from £5/month to £10/month, so isn’t suitable for large, complex websites.

Check out Green Hosting here.


Web hosting vs web builders

Now you’re a little more clued up about web hosting, you’re in a better place to decide whether it's the best option for your business.

For avoidance of doubt, website hosting is required for all websites.

What we’re really comparing here is bespoke website design (for which you’ll need a separate hosting plan) and using a web builder (where hosting is included in the plan).

Many hosting providers, including HostGator, InMotion, and A2Hosting, offer a free website builder as part of their packages. However, these tend to be inferior products compared to the top website builders.

Let’s compare the pros and cons of web hosting and web builders.

Web hosting pros

  • More creative freedom over the design of your website
  • More flexibility over features and tools
  • Easier to scale
  • Plans usually come with useful free add-ons, tools and features
  • Better SEO opportunities

Web hosting cons

  • Usually more expensive because you still have to pay for a web designer, or spend time coding your own website
  • Less control over the security of servers
  • Pricing isn’t always transparent, and  introductory offers can increase significantly after they expire

Website builder pros

  • Affordable, all-inclusive plans
  • No coding skills are required to create a professional-looking website
  • No technical knowledge required to run your website (everything is done for you)
  • Loads of great add-ons and extensions to tailor your website to your business

Website builder cons

  • Templates from web builders can be quite uniform
  • Limited options to customise
  • Load times can be slower
  • You don’t have control of the code, which can damage SEO

Does a website builder seem like a better option for your small business website? Check out our breakdown of the best website builders for small business here.

Edd Wilson, senior technical SEO specialist at Impression, explains why hosting offers better SEO opportunities than a web builder:

“Website builders can certainly offer a user friendly set up which allows a business to establish an online presence quickly at a much cheaper cost, however, you may quickly find yourself limited if your business begins to scale quickly and more investment is required on the website.

“Optimisation efforts such as crawling and indexing limitations, website structural changes and page speed optimisation can be quite limited through a website builder, and as content and the size of your website grows, you'll certainly want to be in control of these areas in order to grow your organic traffic.

“As a growing business with increasing traffic, this will also likely put further strain on your website server, and you'll want to provide security for users who are providing details through your website. An advanced hosting option such as a dedicated server will allow you fulfil these areas.”

Next steps

So, would your small business website benefit more from the freedom and flexibility of website hosting, or the affordability and accessibility of a website builder?

Well, if you’re an ambitious, fast-growth startup, you need a unique and powerful website to match. Website hosting is the foundation of that website.

Click on the links below to get started with a plan from one of our tried and tested web hosting providers. If you’re unsure, which is the right one for you, our top pick as a great all round provider is Bluehost.


FAQs

How much does small business web hosting cost?

Introductory prices for most of the top hosting providers start from less than £2.50/month for a sharing plan, around £15 for a VPS solution, and range from around £100 to nearly £500 for dedicated hosting.

Bear in mind that renewal prices can range from 5% to more than a 50% increase on the first term.

The length of your contract will also affect the price of your plan. Bluehost gives you the option to choose 12, 24, or 36-month terms. The longer the terms, the lower the monthly cost.

You can also choose to pay monthly or annually. Paying annually is always cheaper.

What is the difference between shared, VPS, and dedicated hosting?

Shared, VPS, and dedicated are the three main types of website hosting.

A shared plan means your website shares a server with other websites. This means you’re allocated limited resources. Shared hosting is only suitable for small, simple websites. VPS is a virtual server that acts like a dedicated server, but in a shared environment. It is suitable for larger, scaling websites. With dedicated hosting, 100% of the resources on a server are dedicated to your website. It’s great for large, complex websites.

Should I self-host my website?

We would advise against it. Self-hosting a website is very time and resource-intensive. While it gives you maximum control, privacy, and flexibility, you need to have excellent technical skills to achieve the same results you could get much more affordably with a website hosting provider.


Henry Williams
Henry Williams

Henry has been writing for Startups.co.uk since 2015, covering everything from business finance and web builders to tax and red tape. He’s also contributed to many of our industry-renowned annual indexes, including Startups 100 and Young Guns, and created a number of the site’s popular how to guides. Before joining the team, he reviewed films for a culture website, and still harbours ambitions of being a screenwriter.