Whatever size of website you have, this article will help you find the best web hosting services for you as well as the best hosting deals to go for.
The first step is to identify what your needs are - with one eye on future growth of your website - then choose an appropriate plan at the right price. Value for money is not just going for the cheapest. Web hosting companies usually offer three main paid-for tiers of hosting packages.
Shared hosting means you share a server with other sites and web hosting accounts. The site can often be slower and these plans are for sites that don't use a lot of bandwidth.
With a dedicated server, you have the entire web server for your own use. Faster performance is pretty much guaranteed.
Virtual Private Servers (VPS) or Cloud Servers enable you to scale resource as and when you need it rather than being restricted by the limitations of a physical server. They draw from a pool of processing power, memory and storage depending on your requirement.
Finally co-located hosting enables you to purchase your own server and, while it will be kept in the vendor's data centre, you'll have complete control over it so you can install anything you need onto it.
Some providers arrange their web hosting deals according to business segments (small businesses, e-commerce, artists, resellers), features (WordPress compatibility, email hosting, cloud computing, managed service providers) or platforms (Linux or Windows).
Many packages include a wealth of features that you may or may not place value upon, including control panel, the ability to create online stores easily, easy site builder tools and varying levels of support (either on the phone or live chat).
Our list is made up of UK providers (those with a UK storefront with a UK phone number) as well as some foreign web hosts that comply with several ground rules like having EU data centres, a right to cancel, a cooling period, a full refund policy and/or a free trial period.
If you don't want to build your own website then do consider simpler, easier to learn website builders.
Late last year, Godaddy, one of the biggest web hosting companies in the world, announced that it was acquiring Host Europe Group which owns the brands 123Reg, Heart Internet, Domain Factory, Host Europe and many others.
Best small business web hosting deal
1&1 | Plus | Web space: Unlimited | Included domains: 1 | £3.99 per month for 12 months, then £6.99 a month
Unlimited web space and an unlimited number of websites. What more could you want than that? There's full SSL certificate support, while you can have up to 500 MySQL databases plus there's 24/7 support. 1&1 also provides 'click and build' web apps, meaning you can rapidly roll out new features, too.
View this deal: 1&1 Plus
Best value web hosting deal
123-reg.co.uk | Linux Essentials | Web space: 10GB | Included domains: 1 | £2.49 per month
The features you need to make your first personal or community website a success with an included domain and hosting for a single site. You can host a MySQL database up to 500MB, plus you get up to 10GB to store all your pages, posts and images.
View this deal: Linux Essentials
Best WordPress hosting deal
Fasthosts | Ignite | Web space: 10GB | Included domains: 1 | £2.50 per month
As well as 24/7 support and 10GB of web hosting space, you can have two databases up to 1GB in size. You don't get a dedicated SSL certificate and advanced scripting, so more complex sites will need to plump for the £7 a month deal called Momentum (20GB of space).
View this deal: Fasthosts Ignite
Best Windows web hosting deal:
Windows hosting is necessary for websites that use ASP.NET and MS SQL, which are only available on the Windows hosting platform.
EUKHost | Windows Intermediate | Web space: 50GB | Included domains: 0, but 3 supported | £4.99 per month
As well as support for three domains, you can have unlimited sub domains and email addresses with this package. There's also 24/7 technical support and unlimited monthly bandwidth, too!
View this deal: Windows Intermediate
Web hosting services in the UK...
Oneandone is the other big web hosting player, vying with Godaddy for world domination, and is the biggest one in Europe. Located in Germany, it offers a bewildering array of services with prices starting from as little as £2.99 per month (excluding VAT).
It does provide with freebies (a free domain and unlimited storage for example), a free web design software (NetObjects Fusion 2013), 24/7 phone and email support, a graphics archive, a 30-day money back warranty, transparent replication (they call it Geo-redundancy) and a whopping 300Gbps network connectivity.
- Check out 1&1 web hosting deals
123-reg started as a domain registrar (hence the name) but rapidly expanded beyond selling just dotcom domain names. Its packages start from only £2.99 per month (Linux Essentials, payable yearly) and come with at least one free .co.uk domain name and 100 mailboxes.
All websites are hosted in a UK data centre and are therefore ruled by British laws. The secure facility is served by a 10Gb network connection with direct acces to major internet exchanges.
- Check out 123-reg hosting packages
UK-based web hosting means UK-based in-house support most of the time. It is the case with Heart Internet which promises all year free support that deal with issues in minutes rather than hours. Like for 123-reg, Heart Internet servers are hosted in UK data centres (the company is German-owned) and all packages come with ample space (from 5GB), bandwidth (from 30GB) and email boxes (from 1,000).
Its beginner package is called Starter Pro and at £2.99 per month (plus a £11.99 set-up fee) is ideal for small websites and beginners alike. A novel feature is its smartphone control panel application that allows users to manage their websites and domain name from a smartphone or tablet.
- Check out Heartinternet hosting packages
One of the grandees in the UK web hosting and registrar landscape, Easyspace has been around for more than 18 years (having been launched in 1997). It has 10 data centres across the country and not surprisingly, offers UK based support, both via phone and online, like most of the competition.
It offers unlimited bandwidth on all its servers with free setup and 100% uptime guarantee. Its packages start from only £28.80 per year (for the basic Pic 'N' Mix) with 3GB space, no database or email accounts. You do get multi-year discounts, free Google Adwords credit (£75), free stock photos and a free domain name.
- Check out Web hosting from Easyspace
Easyspace's logo is an orange elephant while Planet Hippo's a hippopotamus; clearly there's a theme here. One of the smaller of the web hosting services in this listing, Planet Hippo has managed to keep its prices at a lower level compared to the rest of the competition. Its One Account Linux costs just £1 per month excluding VAT.
Its cPanel Unlimited is what steals the show though, offering "unlimited everything" for just under £3 per month. You also get a free domain with that package. As with other service providers, you get 30-day warranty, 24/7 UK-based support (but not by phone) and all of Planet Hippo's servers are based in the UK.
- Check out the web hosting offers at Planet Hippo
The US-based web hosting company is one of the largest in the game and probably the best known one as well. It is also the largest domain name registrar in the world with tens of millions of domain names in its portfolio.
Its cheapest package, is decently kitted at £4.80 per month, rising to £6 after the first year. It is the most expensive in the comparison.
Like most web hosters, it comes with free backup and restore, an uptime guarantee (99.9%), unlimited storage (100GB for the Economy package) and bandwidth and a free domain with the annual plan.
A pretty nifty feature provided by Godaddy on all its package is the ability to increase hosting capacity on demand (e.g. when you experience a sudden surge in traffic) from within your hosting account.
- Check out GoDaddy web hosting deals
Based in London in start-up territory (Shoreditch), UK2 offers the cheapest starting package of all the providers in the list at 99p a month (although you need to subscribe for two years). It also offers affordable unlimited packages with unlimited emails, bandwidth, free SSL certificate (great for improved security and search visibility), a free domain and a dedicated IP.
Prospective customers will like the lack of setup fees or hidden charges, the 30-day money back guarantee plus 24/7 UK-based phone support on a freephone number and UK-based data centres.
- Check out the web hosting packages from UK2
This is a French web hosting company you probably never heard about but OVH is the third largest hosting company after Digital Ocean and Amazon with more than one million servers scattered over 17 data centres.
It also provides with web hosting services for as little as £2.03 per month with its Personal package offering unlimited traffic, a free domain name and even a GeoCache CDN (content delivery network) that essentially keeps copies of sites in different locations to slash the time users have to wait to access your website, increase redundancy and improve your search ranking.
- Check out the OVH web hosting packages.
Fasthosts is another web hosting company that managed to thrive over the past decade, often adorning the back pages of our tech magazines. Based in Gloucester, the company, now owned by German giant, United Internet, states that it has UK data centres and offers free 24/7 phone support.
Like most of its competitors, it offers a 30-day money back warranty and all its packages come with unlimited bandwidth. It is also quite generous with a massive 50GB web space, £155 worth of online advertising vouchers and a free domain name. Note that paying upfront for three years slashes the price of the hosting to just under £4.60 per month.
- Check out the Fasthosts web hosting packages
One is different from the other web hosting company here as it pitches itself more as a web builder than a web hoster, encouraging potential clients to use its own web editor, one that doesn't require coding.
What's even more surprising is that it offers a year's free hosting (although you need to pay £10.80 for the initial setup) for its entry level package (one that still comes with a free domain name, unlimited email accounts and unlimited traffic). The company seems to focus exclusively on the shared hosting business and support is exclusively web-based, great when you are at your desk with internet access, not so much when you're away and roaming.
Today e-commerce has become a massively lucrative channel for retailers. However, the quality of the hosting services that many small businesses are using often leaves a lot to be desired. A recent report showed that one in three Britons have abandoned their online transactions because of poor website design and inefficient hosting.
Research from hosting company 1&1's '2011 Digital High Street Audit' finds worryingly low levels of consumer satisfaction with the small business websites available to them. The risk to firms from providing a bad online experience is clear – 49 per cent of consumers believe that a bad website makes a worse impact than a business having no website at all. This conclusion has led 37 per cent to walk-away from companies completely, in favour of using a competitor. An additional 9 per cent of Britons have found themselves reducing their spend with small companies as a direct result of being deterred by a poor company website.
Oliver Mauss, CEO, 1&1 Internet said: "Research shows that keeping an ugly or badly functioning website online can comprise a risk to sales revenue. Consumers have ever higher expectations, and it is essential that every company website inspires confidence. Businesses that invest carefully in their web experience will see higher levels of customer spend, retention and referral".
Choosing the right server to host your website
The hosting services your business can choose from will usually mean making a decision whether a shared, dedicated or cloud based server is right for your business. Very small businesses will usually opt for a shared or managed service as these are sometimes called. Costs are low, but your business will be sharing its server with several other enterprises.
"Businesses that invest carefully in their web experience will see higher levels of customer spend, retention and referral". Oliver Mauss, CEO, 1&1 Internet
A dedicated server as its name suggests is just one server reserved for your business. Dedicated servers are not as expensive as they once were and can make economic sense if you want your business to have its own server platform and not have to worry about other businesses on a shared server impacting your online business if they have problems.
It is important to look closely at the service level (SLA) that will be attached to your dedicated server. Look for any additional costs such as maintenance, or other 'extras' that are not covered in the rental cost. And lastly, try and buy server space that you can expand into. You don't want to find after a few months that you have outgrown your server and need to move to a new one.
Lastly as the cloud has made a major impact right across the business environment, business website hosting has also been touched by the cloud and now offers an alternative to the traditional hosting methods. The power of cloud hosting is the flexibility it offers. In effect your business can buy just the space and hosting services it needs now and expand at anytime with no disruption to business.
Abby Hardoon, Founder and MD of second generation web hosting company Daily.co.uk says: "Hosting is very much a horses for courses thing - it's a question of getting the best and most appropriate solution that you can afford. There's no need to hamstring yourself financially, though. If you're just starting out or you're a relatively small business and you know your way around a server, you might like to consider a Virtual Private Server (VPS), for example - they provide the flexibility of a dedicated server but at a reduced cost.
Your business hosting checklist
There's more to choosing a web host than just choosing the right server, you should also consider other parts of the service including the domain name. Business host PEER 1 Hosting offered this advice when choosing a hosting service for your business:
1/ Get the right domain name host
A search for 'domain name registrations' on Google generates a number of different companies offering this service. Always read the small print on any domain name registration to ensure it is not going to be sold from under your feet in a year, once your website is established, or that the price isn't going to suddenly go up. If you have a very common name or are in a competitive market then it is worth considering buying the other domain name extensions (.co.uk, .com, .net etc) and pointing them to your website.
2/ Do you host with your web designers or a third-party?
Once you have your website built you then have to find a home for your data to be hosted. Many web design companies offer this as part of their service, however this locks your online business into one company. Choosing a separate web host gives you more control and means that you are dealing with the web host directly instead of through a third party. This can come in handy if you anticipate spikes of traffic, perhaps as a result of a marketing campaign, and you need the host to ensure your site does not collapse under this extra pressure.
3/ Read the contract small print
Many hosting providers will give you an all-in fee for set-up, hardware, operating system, support and bandwidth. This may seem like an easy option but the problem with these deals is you can't see exactly where your money is going, and so can't see if you're paying for things you don't need. The best way to ensure you're not taken for a ride is to ask for a breakdown of services and individual quotes for support, bandwidth, additional hardware etc. It's the only way to know what's being delivered, what isn't, and what is surplus to requirements.
Often overlooked the hosting services you buy for your online business are vital to get right. Consumers that have become highly critical of the online stores they buy from want to see solid websites that perform efficiently and are available on demand. The right hosting service can ensure your business becomes a destination site in its sector that your customers are sure to shout about right across their social networks.