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.
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.