It is nearly impossible to run a creative business without an online presence. At the very least you might have an Instagram account or maybe an Etsy shop. Many of us have a website of some sort to solidify our presence online. Or at least we need to build that. It’s not hard to create a beautiful website once you learn a few basics.
Some basic vocabulary first. A web host is the home, or the address for your site. It is not what you call your site; that is the domain. So, for example, my website is www.cherylarkison.com–my domain name. You can find me this way easily. Better than using http://98.765.432.10. Using a domain means my address is not just a series of numbers defining my address on the internet. And we all know that picking the domain name is the fun part! The work comes in picking a web host.
In the early days of living online, most of us hopped on Blogger or WordPress, followed the generic instructions, and built ourselves a blog. If we were really fancy we had a landing page, contact form, and About Me section. You can still do that but the internet has changed; it isn’t just about picking the best platform for building your site, it is about picking the best home for your site.
When you are choosing your home, there is a lot to consider. Your answers to some fundamental questions about your website and what you want it to be will lead you in the right direction for finding your web host, your address online.
Answer these questions:
How much do you want to do yourself?
From site design to programming plug-ins, from managing bandwidth to troubleshooting server issues, have a good handle on your own technical abilities, time, and desire to manage these things.
What is your budget?
You’ll need to account for any design/build expenses as well as the expenses for hosting, content management systems, and maintenance.
What is your website for?
Are you building a blog, a repository for your photographs, an e-commerce site, an online class? Knowing this is crucial because different needs mean some hosting options are more appropriate than others.
Okay, so now you’ve done some soul searching and business planning. After you’ve looked at all your requirements, you need to find the right webhost. But first, let’s talk servers.
A web hosting company is providing server space to house your website. You are essentially paying rent on the address. The server is technically where your website lives. There are essentially four different ways you can do this.
Shared – Which means just that—you are sharing server space with other websites. Usually the most affordable option, but performance can drop with crowding and your storage and bandwidth may be limited.
Dedicated – You get the whole server to yourself. As you can imagine, though, that can be expensive. It also requires some technical knowledge on your part to self-manage this. But it is the best option if you have large storage and bandwidth requirements.
Virtual Private Server – Somewhere in-between a shared and dedicated server lies the VPS. Fewer sites sharing, but not the entirety of a server to yourself. The cost lies in-between, as does the storage and bandwidth options.
Managed – For those with e-commerce on their own site and who don’t want to take on much in the way of technical work themselves, a managed hosting is a good option. It is more expensive than most other options, but it is more hands off, leaving you time to create the stuff you love.
There are also Resellers, a solid fifth option. You can be the reseller yourself – having the dedicated server space and letting some of it go out for rent, keeping what you need. Or you can purchase a plan from a reseller. It does require an extra layer of admin, but might be an option if you need more than what you can get on a Shared server plan.
That’s a lot of information to digest. I spoke to Adile Abbadi-Macintosh, Managing Director at Backgrount Technologies. This was his advice:
“Pick the right plan based on your needs. Every business will have different needs. Simple sites with low traffic don’t need a whole lot and can get away with a basic hosting plan, but sites that sell a product online, collect personal information, or experience higher levels of traffic need a hosting plan that offers high performance availability and security.”
What kind of security do you need?
All sites need some basic security – for you more than anything – to prevent hacking. But an e-commerce site needs greater security certificates to protect consumers as well.
What are your storage and bandwidth requirements?
A photo or download-heavy site requires a lot of storage, compared to a text-heavy site. That matters if you share graphics or videos. Bandwidth relates to how much traffic you get, or anticipate getting. The more storage heavy you are plus the more traffic you get, the more bandwidth you need.
Do you need email services?
Some hosts include this while others do not. You can tie your email to your domain name for consistent branding easily.
What is the help desk/customer service like?
Also consider how you like to be served. For example, would you prefer to be able to phone someone or instant message?
Do you have the ability to grow?
No one can fully predict the popularity of their website. You can design for the right now, but what happens if one of your images goes viral? What if Martha Stewart plugs your scarves and suddenly your traffic multiplies by the thousands? Picking a web host that allows you to grow and adapt, whether quickly or organically, is crucial.
Additional factors to consider are the cost, obviously, and whether you can use your own content management system. Most web hosts offer plans that give you a range of storage, bandwidth, security, and coding options, all for various prices.
Website development is a lot to think about it. Building (or moving) your site to the right address is an investment in planning far more than curating an Instagram feed. But in the end, you will own everything on your site and it becomes a spot for people to find you, consistently. At the end of the day, you need to make sure it is the right fit for you. One final piece of advice from Abbadi-Macintosh:
“Pick a reputable, well-known host. There are a lot of hosting companies out there who offer web hosting, but the problem is you don’t know what you are getting. It could be someone hosting your website in their basement. So when in doubt, pick a company that people know and have heard of.”