All websites are hosted on servers, which are essentially special computers permanently connected to the internet. However, if you are a start-up entrepreneur, it is not advisable to buy your own server, as they are expensive and require technical expertise to operate. For this reason, most people host their websites on the servers of a web hosting company. These companies have all the infrastructure and technicians in place to ensure their servers are safe and secure, allowing you to focus on your core business.
We asked Mike Hatcher, director of Hive Minder – a digital agency building, hosting and maintaining websites for businesses and creative agencies – to share his thoughts on what entrepreneurs should know about web hosting. Below are some pointers.
Pick a hosting company whose servers are geographically located closest to where the bulk of your target customers are. The further a user is located from your server, the longer it takes for them to load your website.
Cheap is not always best
Don’t just pick the cheapest web hosting option. Some irresponsible hosting companies will cram as many websites onto a server as they can, which means the server will run slower, and so will your website. To ensure you select a trustworthy provider, ask for recommendations from friends and business acquaintances. Reputable hosting review sites can also help.
Top-notch support essential
Unfortunately with web hosting things can, and do, go wrong. At some point your website will be offline or the target of a virus attack. During these times you need a provider committed to getting your website up-and-running as soon as possible. Outages often occur after-hours or over weekends, so choose a hosting company that has engineers on standby 24/7. Also make triple-sure your website is backed up on a daily basis.
Shared vs dedicated vs VPS vs cloud
Most companies offer different types of hosting options, including shared hosting, dedicated hosting, virtual private server (VPS) hosting and cloud hosting.
Shared hosting: Shared hosting means your website is on a physical server along with a number of other websites. It is usually the cheapest form of hosting, but the downside is that you are sharing the server’s resources with others. This might mean that if one of the other websites on the server receives a lot of traffic, it can slow down your website.
Dedicated hosting: With dedicated hosting your website is the only one on the server. The advantage of this is that all the server’s resources are devoted to your website, ensuring it is fast and secure. Dedicated hosting is usually the most expensive hosting option.
VPS hosting: This type of hosting divides one physical server into several virtual servers. It is similar to having your own dedicated server, but you are actually sharing the server with other users. Each virtual server is largely isolated from others on the physical server. This type of hosting offers greater control and security, without having to pay the high cost of a dedicated server. However, VPS hosting still has limited ability to handle spikes in traffic.
Cloud hosting: Cloud hosting is where a number of connected servers work together to host many websites. One of the benefits of cloud hosting is that additional resources are automatically made available if you experience a spike in traffic. You only pay for the resources you use.
Consider CDN to speed up your website
To make your website load faster, consider signing up to a content delivery network (CDN), which has servers located across the world. Every time you upload a file to your website, it is also copied to each of these servers. Therefore, when a user accesses your website, the CDN will collect the files from the server geographically closest to them, causing the website to load quicker. One great CDN service is called CloudFare, which has a free plan suitable for most start-ups. CloudFare has recently also launched three servers in Africa – in Johannesburg, Mombasa and Cairo – which is good news for start-ups on the continent.
Another important part of launching a website is registering your domain name. A domain name is essentially your online address, such as www.kampalarestaurant.co.ug or www.botswanatours.com. You can normally purchase a domain through your hosting company.
When picking a domain name, consider where your main trading location will be. If you are only going to do business in Uganda, for example, choose the co.ug extension. However, if you have ambitions to grow your business internationally, it is best to go for a .com extension.
In addition to a website, you also need an email address that reflects your domain name (for example: firstname.lastname@example.org). Most hosting companies include email in their packages – so this would be the simplest way to get an email address. You could also consider cloud-based productivity suites, such as Google Apps for Work, which in addition to your own custom email address also includes online storage and access to various software.