Finding the right type of web hosting for your online store can be a time-consuming and confusing process. For starters, should you choose a hosted eCommerce platform that takes care of hosting for you, or seek out an open source platform and host it yourself?
What are the advantages and disadvantages to hosted or self-hosted eCommerce platforms? Is using free hosting a good idea? What is cloud hosting? When should you consider using a dedicated server? When might you consider managed hosting?
This article uncovers the answers to these common questions and takes a look at five types of web hosting options available:shared hosting, virtual private server, cloud hosting, dedicated server and managed hosting.
We weigh up the pros and cons of each type of website hosting so that you can decide on the best solution to host, support and scale your online business.
Your web hosting is what enables your business to be viewable online by your customers and potential customers. As such, it’s an incredibly important element to your business and one that is often overlooked by many small or new businesses.
Website hosting also plays a big role in your site uptime, web page loading time and overall site performance. If you have thousands of visits to your online store or certain times of the year that your website traffic peaks, you will need website hosting that accommodates this.
Numerous studies confirm a clear link between poor site performance and decreased sales.
Others have shown that customers will leave websites that take longer than a few seconds to load. Finding an efficient way to host your store is fundamental to your business growth.
If you’re comparing eCommerce platforms, then it’s likely that you will have come across the two main types of solutions available to you:
What’s the difference?
A hosted eCommerce platform is one that hosts your website on your behalf and equips you with all the tools you’ll need to launch and grow your online business. Both Shopify and BigCommerce are popular examples of hosted all-in-one eCommerce platforms.
In comparison, a self-hosted open source eCommerce platform is free to download and use, but you will be responsible for hosting and installing the software. Good examples of open source platforms include Magento and WooCommerce.
Compare WooCommerce with Shopify in this eCommerce platforms review.
Hosted eCommerce platforms charge an ongoing monthly fee in exchange for the software and hosts your online store for you. In the long-term, this is often a more expensive process than downloading free software and paying a monthly fee for website hosting.
The software is located on external servers (also known as being “in the cloud”) which allows you to access your online store through your web browser. If you have a poor internet connection, then this may affect your business productivity and performance.
This can especially be the case if the external servers are hosted several countries away from you. For example, a UK-based business using a platform with servers hosted in India is likely to run into more issues than a company using local servers in the UK.
So, what are the benefits?
Firstly, you don’t need technical knowledge to get your store hosted online. All you need to do is pay and log in to your user account to get started.
As hosted eCommerce platforms control your website hosting, it will also update your software automatically and fix any bugs or issues, which can save start-ups and small businesses a lot of time, money and extra resources.
A disadvantage to hosted platforms is that they are hosted “in the cloud” which gives your hosting service provider (e.g. Shopify) full access to your data, unless otherwise stated. This can be a deal breaker for some businesses who seek full control.
Self-hosted eCommerce platforms are free to download and use, but as the name implies, you are the one responsible for hosting and installing your online store. You will also need to update, maintain and fix any bugs when problems arise.
What’s more, self-hosted eCommerce platforms require the site owner to sort out site security and registration for an SSL certificate. To do this successfully, you’ll need a level of technical knowledge or the time and capacity to learn.
As self-hosted platforms can be set up anywhere, you’re free to choose your web hosting provider. Plus, you also have full control over your data and business – it will not be shared with anyone, unlike a hosted platform.
This freedom helps to facilitate an easy move if you outgrow your web hosting plan or come across a better deal elsewhere, without needing to migrate from your eCommerce platform, which isn’t possible with a hosted software solution.
Generally speaking, having full control over your business web hosting is more cost-effective in the long run. As your business grows, the more control you will want over your data and the more robust website hosting you’ll need to support your business growth.
Although free web hosting is an option, if you’re serious about your business then we recommend avoiding this at all costs.
Because the disadvantages far outweigh the advantages.
The one attractive pull for free website hosting for a business is that it is free. For companies serious about creating a profitable business, this is where the advantages end.
What are the disadvantages of free website hosting?
For starters, a free web hosting provider is likely to have its company name in all URLs.
This is extremely poor for search engine optimization purposes and it may also decrease customer trust. As you may know, trust is a key component of increasing online sales.
What’s more, a free website hosting provider can close its free service at any time. While such a service is likely to give you notice, you will still need to switch to another hosting provider; you may as well skip this step and go straight to premium hosting options.
Keep in mind that anything that is hosted by a free website hosting service is not your own property (it belongs to the service provider) so you will not be able to sell your business.
If you choose to go with an open source self-hosted eCommerce platform, then you will need to research and compare types of web hosting to take your business online.
Below, we discuss five types of web hosting.
As your business scales, you may find that you’ll need to evolve your website hosting so that it continues to support your goals and needs.
If you don’t expect tens of thousands of daily website traffic and don’t have a big budget for marketing and promotion, then a shared hosting plan is most likely to be your best bet.
Shared hosting providers tend to be low cost, facilitate unlimited traffic and server updates and maintenance is taken care of by the hosting company itself.
Unfortunately, you will not be able to scale your business effectively through this type of web hosting plan since you cannot access nor make any changes to the core server.
While shared hosting is the cheapest of the five web hosting solutions, keep in mind that it is also the least secure. As a website can be affected by other websites on the shared server, it has a higher risk of viruses or attacks.
A shared hosting plan can be a cost-effective starting point, but when those sales and site visits start flocking in you’ll need to think about going up a level.
Consider moving towards either cloud hosting, a virtual private server or a dedicated server.
A virtual private server (VPS) is a combination of shared hosting and dedicated hosting, which is why it can be confusing to many businesses as to whether it will fit their web hosting needs.
With a virtual private server, you will have your own hosting environment within a sever which enables you to reboot it and make alterations. VPS hosting does not limit growth in the same way as shared hosting does.
One advantage of a virtual private server is the price, especially in comparison with dedicated servers of the same class. What’s more, virtual private servers don’t require as much technical knowledge as a dedicated server.
VPS web hosting guarantees more speed and stability in terms of site performance. Dedicated computers host your online store, which minimizes the chance of slow connections or reduced speed/loading time.
Business growth can be handled easily through a virtual private server, but your VPS will require regular maintenance, including updates and security patches. If you don’t have the time or resources for this, you may find managed hosting better suits your needs.
As users of VPS hosting have their own private space, security threats are far less likely than with shared hosting; however, vulnerability may be an issue if the hypervisor (the center of the server) is compromised.
Cloud hosting (or cloud VPS hosting) is a type of web hosting that refers to an unlimited number of machines that are connected in a network and act as one. The virtual machines use the same data stored on separate networked servers.
With cloud hosting, you have more control over customization. You can tweak network architecture, firewalls and IP address.
In terms of performance, cloud hosting guarantees high availability and uptime due to the multiple servers in use.
It’s also more scalable than typical VPS hosting.
Data storage is unlimited and a whole network of servers and data storage servers are there ready and waiting for when your website traffic gains sufficient traction.
Due to the web-based nature of cloud hosting, it may be more susceptible to hacking or virtual attacks, although security of the system is considered to be fairly high.
Cloud hosting does cost more than VPS hosting. As you only pay for what you use, costs may become unpredictable if you experience random spikes in website traffic.
You will also need more technical expertise than with shared hosting or VPS hosting to configure and gain maximum value of the cloud-based hosting solution for your business.
A dedicated server is a physical server that you buy or rent solely for your own business.
Dedicated servers are mostly favored by large businesses that require high level data security or have high demand for server capacity.
Just like with cloud hosting or VPS hosting, you will still need technical knowledge to maintain and update the dedicated server. Dedicated servers do cost more than other hosting options, but there are plenty of reasons businesses choose them.
For instance, a dedicated server is your own personal server that is not shared by anyone.
You have full use and access to its resources, such as CPU, RAM and storage and can install any OS and application software you see fit.
What's more, a dedicated server can handle thousands of website visitors on a daily basis.
Performance is also enhanced as you have the full power of the dedicated server, unlike a shared server where resources are shared between customers.
A disadvantage to full control is that you run the risk of mistakes being made, such as accidental deletion of important information. You may find that daily monitoring of the system is needed to look out for these errors.
Another factor to consider is that as you have full control, you also have the responsibility of ensuring that the server is secure. It’s your job to make sure security features like firewalls and virus detectors are installed successfully.
Seeking a type of web hosting that has the strengths of dedicated servers but doesn’t require technical knowledge or regular monitoring?
A managed hosting plan may be the answer to your needs.
Managed web hosting is similar to dedicated hosting in that the necessary hardware is owned by the hosting provider and rented out; the difference is that the daily management and maintenance of the server is taken care of by the hosting provider.
A managed hosting provider is far more likely to have the technical capabilities and knowledge to ensure that your data is backed up and stored correctly. They can also provide specialist staff to ensure the server is configured properly and effectively.
What’s more, managed hosting providers will ensure that your dedicated server is secure.
They will take care of elements such virus scanning, firewall configuration, spam filters and installing system updates, saving you on time and money.
If you were to do this in-house, you may find the costs of hardware and the expertise needed to be an expensive cost. For some businesses, managed hosting provides a cost-effective solution to their problem, without compromising on suitability.
The best types of web hosting for your online store will depend on your needs and capabilities.
If you are just starting out, then a shared hosting plan is likely to be sufficient as you’re unlikely to have the demand to warrant a more robust solution.
Or, if you’re experiencing a high volume of website traffic or random spikes throughout the year during peak times, then you’ll most likely want to consider a type of web hosting that can handle this demand, such as a virtual private server or cloud hosting plan.
However, if your business is scaling quickly and you have (or anticipate having) thousands of daily website visitors to your online shop, a dedicated server or managed hosting plan is likely to be a more suitable solution.
Starting out with a dedicated server may save you more money in the long run but having the capacity to do this will depend on your current resources and business capabilities.
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