Choosing the best web host starts out like every other choice. You look it up online and hope to find a clear-cut solution that fits your website like a glove. But then you find yourself faced with unfamiliar terms like "shared hosting" and "managed hosting." Now you're worried about whether you're truly choosing the right option. If you're here, chances are you're brimming with questions. Which web host is best for your website? How can you make sure you're getting your money's worth? How much server space do you really need? Wait, what's the difference between web hosting and a web domain anyway? As a small business owner, these concerns are magnified as you're likely firing up your website on a budget. Here's where we can help you. (You can also just contact us right now if you'd rather have someone take care of it for you.) We want to make your life easier so we put together this essential guide for barely tech-savvy, small business owners looking to nab the best web hosting. We'll give you a practical rundown of the main types of web hosting, sneaky things you should look out for, and tried and true tips to make sure you're making the right choice. So take a deep breath, count to ten, and read on.

What is web hosting?

Let's start at the top. Web hosting is a service that lets you post your website on the internet. Think of it this way: a website is like a physical store. When people want to visit it, they look up the address (your domain) and then when they want to see something or make a purchase, they ask the clerk (your web host) to show it to them. Back into slightly more technical terms, your web host is where all your website's files live. They're stored on a server (or bunch of servers) which the web host dips into and sends the right files to your users' computer through their web browser.

Why is a good web host important?

You know the general reason why a good web host is not something that should be chosen lightly. But it's common for website owners to overlook a few important details and only realize what they're missing after they've typed in their credit card information. Let's avoid you becoming one of them, shall we?

1. Keeping your website online

If you go for the super budgeted option you found on a seedy-looking site, then your website will probably be offline more often than you'd like (which is never). Turns out lots of web hosting providers will oversell their resources and then not be able to keep up with the demand. So you'll end up losing a lot of business when potential customers click on your website with all the hope in the world, just to find it's offline. Talk about money down the drain. So when you're scanning web hosting providers trying to find how they plan to keep your business up and running, look for the words "guaranteed uptime" or anything addressing their plan of action if your website ever goes offline.

2. Loading your website quickly

In our practical guide covering all you need to know about website speed, we mentioned that the ideal server response time is 200 milliseconds -- which isn't long at all. If your web hosting provider is cheap then their equipment will also be cheap. Which usually means their services will be slow and their poor server will choke up trying to assist all your website visitors simultaneously. Not to mention many web hosts set tight limits on the amount of traffic and bandwidth you can have, which only slows down your website even more and also frustrates your visitors.

3. Ranking high in search results

SEO just follows you around like a cloud of angry bees, doesn't it? But yes, your web host can affect your ranking if your website is slow or almost always offline. In fact, Google actually punishes websites that go down more often than is reasonable. So it's worth spending a little more to make sure your website stays on Google's good side.

What are the types of web hosting services?

Here's where business owners start to wring their hands. There are various types of web hosting and the right one for you depends on what you'll be using it for. Here are your main options and when you should choose them.

Shared hosting vs. Dedicated hosting

In a nutshell, shared hosting means you share a server with other people. It's a bit like sharing your Wi-Fi with your neighbor, it's slower than if you had the connection to yourself, but it's also cheaper to pay for. You've probably already figured out what dedicated hosting means. Yep, you got it. It means you get a server all to yourself. You could say it's the VIP of web hosting. Which one is best for you? Well, if you have a small website and don't really expect a million visits per day, then you'll do just fine on a shared server. Plus, as a new website owner, it's good to start small then scale up when you're ready. On the other hand, if you plan on having a seriously popular website (we're talking Instagram model popular), then get that baby onto its own dedicated server for faster service and fewer limitations.

Managed hosting vs. Collocated or Self-service hosting

Managed web hosting is a form of dedicated hosting. You pay for an entire server and have the web hosting provider take care of the complicated stuff like server setup, hardware and software maintenance, security and backups, customer support, all that good stuff. Managed web hosting is a great option for small to medium businesses who need the space but don't have the means or the IT team to keep everything running smoothly. Collocated web hosting basically means you B.Y.O.S (Bring Your Own Server). You rent a space in a data center's dark room of servers and pay them to keep an eye on your equipment for you. But you're in charge of backups and all the technical software stuff. So maybe don't choose this option if you're not all that tech-savvy. Self-service hosting is a step further. You do it all yourself. You set up your server at home and keep your computer running all day long so your website stays online. (Just imagine the electrical bills.) Sounds simple? It's not if you're an innocent small business owner. You'll be in charge of power, cooling, backups, security, software updates, the list goes on. Stay away from this option unless you really know what you're doing.

Website builder vs. WordPress web hosting

Have you seen those helpful sites like Wix and Squarespace where you can drag-and-drop an entire website and they take care of pretty much everything? That's website builder hosting. It's a simple option for small websites like an online portfolio or a blog. Nothing too complicated. WordPress web hosting sounds exactly like what you think it is. It's where a hosting provider sets up your website based on WordPress' specific needs (security, software updates, etc.). So if you have a WordPress website, this is the option for you.

Bonus: Static web hosting

Here's one you don't see all that often, but it's the cheapest one around. You see, a static website is like a poster on the internet. You just have some text and media up there that won't change all that often. There are no fancy log ins or even a server sending your visitors any files. Why bother with a website like this? Well, say you have a restaurant and just want to put the menu up with your contact details. Or you're hosting an event and only need a page with videos and images for people without social media to access. With static websites, there's no Content Management System (CMS) like WordPress or Joomla involved. It's just a simple, no-fuss website. Providers like Amazon S3 and GitHub Pages are popular ways to host these static sites. Just a little something for you to consider.

What to look for in a web host?

Ah, the million-dollar question (after "how to make a million dollars"). While price is always a major factor, you'll need to look beyond your wallet when choosing the best web host for your business. Whether you're hosting ten websites or a simple blog on your love of blue cheese, you should always make sure your future web host has the following essential things.

24/7 support

Imagine your website is online and business is booming. Then suddenly, on a rainy Friday night, you get an email notification that your website is offline. You're losing money every minute that goes by but nobody over at your web hosting provider is answering. Why don't they have a phone number!? Oh wait, is that an email from them? ...And it's an automated response saying support hours start on Monday from 9-5. This is a very common pickle to be in for many website owners. But it's also a very avoidable one. When checking out web hosting providers, always look for their support hours and how you can contact them. If it's only via email, there's a good chance it'll be slow. Look for live chat support and social media messaging to be safe.

Security and backups

The last thing you want is to lose everything after some punk across the world decided to hack your website. Cyber attacks are getting all too common nowadays, so it's important that your web host is prepared for them. On the other hand, if your website just happens to have a bad day and fail because a) the server experienced an outage, or b) life is unfair; you'll want to know that your web host regularly makes backups of your site so you can just put everything back the way it was.

Limitations

Can you add more than one domain? Will you get an email with your domain name to look professional? What e-commerce options do they offer? Here's where you go nuts with the questions that are specific to the kind of website you're looking to set up. If their plans and FAQ pages aren't helpful, get in touch with them and get all the answers you need before pulling up your credit card.

A reliable reputation

This is an important one. Make sure the web host is the real deal by putting on your detective hat and doing a bit of research. Look up their name and add the word "reviews" to your search to see what others are saying about it. Dive into forums and check their online feedback from around the web. (Be very aware if you can't find much about them!) Taking a few extra minutes to check if they're an established provider can make all the difference between a reliable service and a company that takes your money then packs up and leaves. Here's a list of reviewed hosting services you might want to start with.

Reasonable fees

We said "look beyond the price", not ignore it completely! Lots of web hosts offer convenient web hosting plans with attractive signup prices, but some of them like to tack on sneaky fees when they renew your package a year later. So make sure you check all the prices, including future ones if you ever want an upgrade. Again, we insist, do try your best not get sucked into the cheapest provider you can find. Sometimes going cheap will end up being twice as expensive in the long run. Always go for quality over quantity. This is your business, after all.

Want more help setting up your website?

After reading this you should feel at least a teensy bit more confident about choosing the best web host for your small business. But we get it, you're a busy person, tech-speak is boring, and you don't really want to deal with all the fine print involved in getting everything set up. If you need help choosing a reliable web host or creating a small business website with all the bells and whistles, get in touch now and we'll squeeze you in for a free consultation to see how we can make your life easier. Get in touch! You might even make it in time to grab our limited premium package including no-fuss hosting migration! Just ask.