Small businesses make up a significant proportion of business websites online, and the internet has given the chance for small companies to compete against larger corporations on a level that would not be possible in the brick and mortar world of shopping.
Operating a small business online means establishing a brand, enhancing reputation, and encouraging consumer confidence – these are all things that can be achieved with the right web host. There is certainly no shortage of web hosts on the market, but how do you go about finding the best one? The easiest way to narrow down a search is to look at the sort of features a web host can offer.
Here are some of the essential elements that a small business should expect from a good host.
Reliability and reputation
Two of the things that will go a long way in helping you find the best web host will be the reliability and reputation of a company. Whether or not a company is reliable will be a good indicator of its reputation. Finding out whether a company meets your needs in each of these departments will be pretty easy: simply type in the name of the web host followed by the word ‘review’ and you will be provided with dozens of reviews from industry insiders and consumers. Within a few minutes, you will be able to make an informed decision on a company.
Private SSL Certificate
For small e-commerce businesses, an SSL (Secure Socket Layer) certificate is imperative for processing transactions safely and securely. There are two types of SSL certificate: shared and private. Most web hosting companies will offer the shared version and will usually do so for free; however, for totally secure trading and consumer confidence you will need a private SSL certificate. A private SSL certificate is a sign of security and trust and consumers will feel much more comfortable making a purchase knowing that security is impenetrable. Ideally, the SSL certificate should come with the following features:
- Malware scanning (monitoring site for suspicious links)
- Protection against session hijacking attacks
- Unlimited secure servers
- Multiple browser recognition
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Dedicated IP address
A private SSL certificate will need to go hand-in-hand with dedicated IP address. Once again, this allows for enhanced security over shared IP’s which are often open to spam.
Any business selling something online will need web hosting that offers e-commerce features. The best hosts will all offer a wide selection of features with shopping cart and plug-in options aplenty. However, your search may be limited if your website is already built around a certain e-commerce model. It is best to have no e-commerce model installed before deciding on a host, this way you will have more companies from which to choose.
Multiple email addresses
You would be hard pressed to find a web hosting company that does not offer unlimited email addresses these days, but the email application used can differ in terms of quality. You’ll probably need separate email addresses for managers, technical support, customer services, and advertising departments, and an application that provides excellence in security and anti-spam will be essential.
Another great email client feature to look for is auto-responder, which allows the sending of customisable automatic response emails to customers.
Customer service and support
Web hosting companies live and die by the quality of their customer service and support. If customers are unhappy with level of support provided by a company, you can rest assured that they will sound off about it online. When searching for web hosting reviews, take some time to check out how customers rate companies for their service. Every host should provide several points of contact and be able to offer 24/7 support – you should expect the following features as standard:
- Freephone number – There should always be a contact telephone number and it should always be free to call.
- Email address
- Live chat – instant messaging should be provided on-site with a real customer service representative and should be available 24/7.
- Ticketing system – this process provides you with a numbered ticket after a query and offers a guaranteed response time. Obviously, the quicker the response, the better.
Providing such services is a good sign that a web host is legitimate, but it does not necessarily mean they are the best – that comes from how quickly and efficiently they can resolve customer problems.
Web development tools
If your website has already been designed and developed, development tools will not be an important factor in your choice. If, on the other hand, you are choosing a web host before building a site (as many people do), such tools can prove useful. Better still, a host will provide 1-click installation of popular content management systems such as WordPress and Joomla.
The web-hosting package that you need when starting out in online business will be very different to the package needed two or three years down the line. If you expect your company to grow then the best web host will be the one that is flexible enough to grow in kind. Upgrading your package could mean moving from shared hosting up to virtual private server (VPS) hosting and you will need to know that this advancement can be done quickly and efficiently.