Web Hosting Basics for SMBs (Chart)

4 Ways to Host a Website For a Small Business

Web HostingWeb hosting is at the heart of your online real estate.

Your online real estate typically consists of a public website with your brand and content. whether it’s a large website or a social media page, it serves as a identifiable location in the online world where you publish, distribute and curate content.

Mobile apps also provide a branded online presence. Apps use the same web protocols that browsers use on desktop computers. Technically speaking, both are considered user agents on the Web.

A mobile app (with your permission) knows more about you, your location and activities than a webpage accessed from a browser. This contextual marketing data enables highly targeted promotions.

But a mobile app still has to exchange that data with a web server and that server has to be hosted with someone, somewhere, somehow. (Need to get up to speed on the 2016 state of  mobile?)

Web hosting basics: 4 options

There are 4 categories of web hosting:  self-hosted, owned, third-party and social media. They overlap slightly but are distinguished by key features, limitations and costs.

Web Hosting
Self-hosted websites

Self-hosting is the typical arrangement for most individual and SMB websites. It’s like renting an empty house. It has the basic appliances but you decorate it and fill it with your stuff. It can be a quiet place where nothing much happens or a very busy place where people shop, socialize and play games.

Self hosting services are provided by hundreds of companies. They make it easy to launch a website and integrate all the other services you need for your online business.

  • Domain name service
  • Instant Website builders
  • App Installers (WordPress)
  • Database and file access
  • Email accounts and services
  • Marketing services

Among the major companies providing self-hosting are: Godaddy, Bluehost, Dreamhost, Hostmonster, Justhost, WP-Engine, Web.com and WebFaction (which the Actionable Marketing Guide uses and loves.)

Over the years hosting has become a commodity business with a mature market of services. There’s no dominant player to stifle competition. As a result, there’s a large range of products and services available to fit your needs at a low price. You can run a full WordPress website with your domain name and custom branding, for example, for less than $100 a year.

Depending on the self-hosting company and the hosting plan you select you can have multiple domains, websites, databases and email accounts. The hosting company will provide you with a secure connection to their webpage (sometimes called the cPanel,) where you configure and monitor your resources.

Screenshot of Godaddy cPanel

Screenshot of Godaddy cPanel

On a self-hosted account, you can create additional users with limited access privileges. This is useful when a developer needs to work on just one website without endangering other resources on your server.

To build a website on a self-hosted account, you can either upload files using the cPanel’s file manager or connect directly to the server using an FTP program. Most webservers are configured to look for a file named: index.html or index.php and serve that as the website’s home page.

Most major self hosting account providers have install scripts for a dozen or so webspace applications. Among the options are Content Management Systems (CMS) such as WordPress and Drupal, Shopping Cart systems like Zen Cart and WIKIs.

Screenshot of Dreamhost Install Options

Screenshot of Dreamhost Install Options

The Actionable Marking Guide loves WordPress. Because it’s so easy to use, customize and extend, we recommend self-hosted WordPress as the best solution for most businesses, solopreneurs and individuals. (BTW, get our ultimate blogging assessment checklist.)

The problem with self-hosted websites is that hosting companies change over time; they get bought and sold. A hosting company that is good today can be bought by a foreign competitor who then modifies the service terms and assigns too many customer accounts per physical machine thereby lowering customer support quality.

Self hosting does not mean running your own server like Hillary Clinton.

2. Owned hosting

Owned hosting means having physical ownership and control of the computer(s) running your websites. Like owning a plot of land and building your own house. Large corporations do this, but any Internet connected desktop or laptop computer can be a webserver hosting multiple websites and email accounts.

You don’t need any permission nor do you have to register the server with anyone–at least in the US. Your Internet service provider may have restrictions in their terms and conditions regarding what you can and can’t publish, but these are largely the same strictures against copyright infringement, slander and promoting terrorism that apply to newspapers and other forms of publishing.

The problem with owned hosting is that the Internet can be a nasty place with evil spooks and spambots. You have to be on the alert constantly. You must take proactive measures to keep them from breaking into your server and turning into a zombie.

In the owned hosting category are rackspace providers. They provide power, cooling and bandwidth for your computer, and managed servers which the hosting company owns and runs but you control all of its resources.

For the individual or small business, hosting websites on your own computers without a top-notch technical team is neither practical nor safe.

Amazon’s Web Services (AWS) Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) product isn’t for newbies. It’s a highly virtualized computing platform where you create an “Amazon Machine Image” (AMI) that mimics a physical computer, then launch one or more virtual server “instances” using the AMI template.

Hosting a website on AWS is similar to managed server hosting. It’s also like self-hosting in that there are installation scripts (from Amazon partners) to configure an instance for a specific purpose, such as running a WordPress website.

The advantage of EC2 is near-infinite scalability. You want to be there if your idea goes viral and traffic jumps a gazillion percent in one day.

Amazon charges for the CPU, memory, storage and bandwidth you use by the hour. The pricing formula, however, is so opaque that Amazon provides a “free tier” for a year so you can benchmark the costs.

3. Third-party hosting

Third-party hosting typically provides website hosting for a specific application. Automattic’s WordPress.com and Google’s Blogger.com platforms provide free hosting for bloggers. Shopify and Squarespace provide online stores without many of the hassles of running a retail business.

Third-party hosting is like renting a furnished apartment in a closed community. You get to hang your own sign and do some branding, but everything is templated. You generally don’t have FTP access to your website files and are limited to a fixed set of extensions.

On WordPress.com, for example, you get a almost a full working WordPress website for free. But you can’t add plugins or modify a theme file (although you can modify the stylesheet for a small yearly fee.) There’s also a fee for mapping your own domain name to your WordPress.com website.

Wix takes a department store approach to Web hosting. it’s almost free. You first pick the kind of the website you want from 12 broad categories. Then picking a sub-category and some options presents a selection of theme templates.

Screenshot of Wix Website Selection Panel

Screenshot of Wix Website Selection Panel

Wix provides ad-sponsored hosting with unlimited webpages. To use your own domain name, however, you must upgrade to 1 of 5 premium plans with additional features and support. The premium plans cost from $4 to $30 per month. About the same range of prices you’ll find in self-hosted setups.

Shopify and Foursquare are third-party ecommerce platforms. Each has its own approach to managing inventory and sales. You get good branding options but, like Wix and WordPress.com, your content presentation is limited by having to choose a template theme.

Shopify has 4 pricing plans ranging from $9 to $179 per month. It offers a 14 day free trial. Their templates are editable. This allows for greater customization than other third-party hosting platforms.

I like that Shopify allows you to connect with your Pinterest and Facebook pages to feature items from your Shopify store catalog with “buy” buttons allowing visitors to purchase without leaving that social media site.

For individuals, About.me provides a free and easy way to have a page on the web with your description and contact information. It integrates with social media platforms like Facebook, Google and Twitter.

4. Social media web hosting

With social media hosting, the community-building efforts of the social media platform take precedence over the individual’s promotional needs. LinkedIn for example, sends emails to your connections whenever you add or change content. (BTW, here are the 5 key social media trends for 2016.)

Facebook has pages for both individual users, companies and organizations.

On LinkedIn and other social media platforms. You can show your logo and select feeds to populate your page, but everything looks alike. It’s like renting a cubicle in a shared office space building or startup incubator.

Social media hosting is a necessary part of a modern marketing plan. It works best in conjunction with a standard website. And, because content must be fresh and easy to create, using a CMS like WordPress is a marketing no-brainer.

What kind of hosting works best for you?

This only scratches the surface of the website hosting world. There are many factors to consider that we don’t have room to cover in this post.

We put together the following chart to compare and contrast the essential features and limitation of the four hosting options.

Self Hosted Owned Host 3rd Party Hosted Social Hosted
Description Commodity hosting for any purpose often bundled with domain registration and email services. Hosting on a machine that you own and control. Hosting on an application platform. Social Media profile.
Who Uses it Individuals and small businesses. Big corporations with IT depts,
Individuals and solopreneurs. Mostly individuals.
Freedoms Can run any type of website,
Multiple domains, websites and emails,
Full file management,
Complete freedom within international law. Ease of entry and use. To join communities of your choice.
Limitations Resources limited by hosting plan,
Shared server is less secure
The physical limits of the machine – memory and bandwidth. low ability to customize
restrictions on what can be published.
Structured profiles. advertising.
Cost $3 to $50 per mo.
Extra for domain registration; some software fees
Initial hardware cost; Internet and electricity. Free and premium plans. Free for most.
Tech Level Medium. Very High. Low to medium. Low.
Support Good. None.  Very good. Good support from the community

©2016 Larry Aronson – Actionable Marketing Guide (Link to this article required for use.)

What type of web hosting does your company use? Do you have as an individual have a website? How is it hosted?

Happy Marketing,
Larry Aronson

Larry Aronson is the President of Larry Aronson Associates
and the Actionable Marketing Guide’s webmaster.

Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/29456235@N04/5396894948/

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