Which Server is Best for Small Business?

Does your small business have a website? If not, it's time to build one. Companies without an online presence face an incredibly difficult uphill climb, because we live in a connected world where people discover products and services by searching on the Internet—you don't want to miss that potentially lucrative boat. Sure, creating a business website may take months of painstaking planning, debating, and compromise, but setting up a decent website doesn't have to be painful, provided you have the proper tools. And the most important tool is the right Web hosting service.

The Small Business Hosting Basics

If you aren't familiar with Web hosting, here's a simple explanation. A Web host is a company that has servers that you'll use to store and deliver the audio, video, documents, and other files that make up your website and its content. These servers can be of the shared, dedicated, or virtual varieties. If you want to learn more about those hosting types, please visit the highlighted links that are sprinkled throughout this article for primers on each of them.

There are dozens upon dozens of Web hosting services clamoring for your dollar, including super-popular services (such as GoDaddy) and the lesser-known offerings (such as such as SiteGround). Large businesses can spend hundreds and (sometimes thousands!) of dollars each year on dedicated hosting or virtual private server (VPS) hosting, the two categories we're focusing on for small businesses with website needs.

One thing we learned while reviewing Web hosting services is that reading the fine print is a must, especially if you are concerned about keeping prices low. Many Web hosts have several increasingly expensive tiers, with introductory features in starter packages and more robust offerings in higher-priced plans. We recommend a healthy course of comparison-shopping before pulling out a credit card; you'll want to sign up with a service that has the features that best align with your website-building goals.

Small Business Hosting Prices

If you're a small business owner, you're going to want to run with either dedicated or VPS hosting. A dedicated server will likely cost you more than $100 per month; it's definitely not cheap web hosting. The benefit? Your website lives on a server all by its lonesome, so it takes advantage of the server's full resources. You'll probably need to handle firewalls and maintenance yourself, however, unless you opt for a managed server, which costs even more money.

If you want to save some cash, VPS hosting is generally a sufficient—and more wallet-friendly—option. VPS hosting falls midway between shared and dedicated hosting. By building your website in a VPS environment, you won't share resources with the other sites that live on the same server, the way you would with shared hosting. In fact, your site lives in a partitioned server area that has its own operating system, storage, RAM, and monthly data transfers, so you can expect smoother, more-stable site performance. You can get solid VPS hosting for approximately $20 to $30 per month.

Don't be swayed by the big fonts touting the monthly fee: Make sure that a particular pricing tier actually offers what you need. Some hosts charge extra for access to website builders that can help you design your site. Other hosts require you to commit to a three-year hosting agreement in order to get that low per-month price. Or the price is an introductory one, and after a month, you will revert to a higher price. Until you know what features you need and how quickly you plan to grow, you might not want to commit to annual plans.

The Features You Need

When you begin shopping for a site, it's good to have a list of the features you need. For example, you'll want a Web host that offers unlimited monthly data transfers and email, a choice of solid-state or traditional hard drive storage, and 24/7 customer support. Even the server's operating system selection is important; Windows-based servers offer an environment to run scripts written in a Microsoft-centric framework, though Linux-based servers are also available (and more commonplace).

Please note that if you're planning on selling a product, look for a Web host that offers a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate, because it encrypts the data between the customer's browser and Web host to safeguard purchasing information. You're probably familiar with SSL; it's the green padlock that appears in your Web browser's address bar as you visit an online financial institution or retail outlet. A few companies toss in a SSL certificate free of charge; others may charge you $100 for that extra layer of security.

Uptime's Importance

All the aforementioned features are valuable parts of the Web hosting experience, but none matches the importance of site uptime. If your site is down, clients or customers will be unable to find you or access your products or services.

To test this important aspect of hosting, we include uptime monitoring as part of our review process, and the results show that most Web hosts do an excellent job of keeping sites up and running. Sites with uptime problems aren't eligible for high scores. All services suffer ups and downs, sometimes for reasons beyond their control. Those sites that fail to quickly address the problem are penalized accordingly.

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