A website is essential to the success to any small business these days, even if your company has nothing to do with technology. Your website is your calling card, a place where most people will get their first impression of your business. If you want your business to stand out, you need a solid e-commerce tool (especially if you are selling things online), a useful and well-designed interface, and a reliable site that users can always access. A solid web hosting service can give you all three of those. So which web hosting is the best? Let's look at the options.
Free Web Hosts vs. Paid Web Hosts
When comparing free web hosts to paid web hosts, it's really a matter of you get what you pay for. While free web hosts are great for small sites that are just starting out, they lack some of the key tools a small business needs to grow and be successful. Here's a quick comparison of free vs. paid web hosting:
Storage: The most popular free hosting sites have storage allowances ranging from 1500MB to about 10GB. The vast majority of the paid sites we reviewed offer unlimited storage space. While it's true that a simple site will not need a ton of storage, if you plan to add images or grow your site in the future, you can run up against a 1500MB or even 10GB limit easily. Which brings us to our second problem.
Upgrades: If you do outgrow your free hosting, it can be difficult to transfer your site to a new host from many free sites, and you're not likely to be able to redirect your old site, which could mean some visitors may get lost in the move. Paid hosting services generally offer easy upgrades to larger packages, and they'll allow you to download your entire site if you need to move it to another host.
Domain Names: Many free sites do not let you use your own domain name, so you'll be stuck with something like www.freehosting.com/yourbusinessname. If you can use your own domain name, you'll have to pay for it yourself, while most paid hosts offer a domain name free when you sign up for paid hosting.
Ads: Free web hosting services need to make money to support themselves, and often they do this is by placing ads on your website. You generally do not have any control over this advertising. Since they need the revenue from the ads they place on your site, lots of free hosting services also prohibit you from using ads of your own on your site, so if you were planning to use ad revenue from your traffic, think again.
Support: Free hosting will generally not come with much support, and certainly not 24 hour phone support, which paid hosts usually offer. They also offer 24 hour support by email and live web chat, which is invaluable if you're having trouble with your site. If you're a beginner, we think quality support is pretty much a necessity.
And really, paid web hosting services don't cost that much. Most of the top web hosts cost less than $4/month, which comes out to be less than $48/year; not a lot to pay for hosting your entire website.
So what should you look for when choosing a web host for your small business? It really depends on your business. If you want to find a host that is specific to your needs, try this web hosting chooser. Otherwise, here are four web hosts that we really loved based on our in-depth reviews and research:
Best Bargain: HostMonster
HostMonster is the top choice for an all-around great web host. It just so happens that it is also pretty cheap, at $3.95/month for the cheapest plan. It combines a cheaper price with a slew of important service, including great customer service and tech help, as well as an outstanding site builder, WordPress capabilities and good e-commerce tools.
Best for Beginners: Yahoo! Web Hosting
Yahoo was far and away the best web host for beginners that we looked at. It is excellent for those who want easy online site, blog, and shopping cart creation, since its interface is easily understandable for the less tech-savvy among us. It sets the standard for usability, particularly for beginners, and their solid performance stats really complete their web hosting package.
Best for Advanced: HostGator
If you have a team of engineers or pretty much know what you are doing online, then HostGator would be a good web host for you. It offers unlimited MySQL databases, Shell Access (SSH) for advanced administration and shared hosting accounts on both Windows and Linux servers, which are a bit of a rarity. HostGator supports a wide range of programming languages, including CGI, PHP, Ruby on Rails, Perl, Python, SSI and ASP. Also, out of the three and half years of performance data we've collected from different web hosts, HostGator has some of the highest scores in both uptime and response time.
Best for eCommerce: FatCow
If you are selling anything on your site, you are going to need good ecommerce tools to help you sell and track your sales. FatCow offers an easy cart solution with Shopsite, one of the most intuitive shopping cart creation programs we used. The basic version of Shopsite (and a number of other cart solutions) is included with your FatCow account, though you can also pay to upgrade for larger stores.