If your small business website takes too long to load, you may be losing customers and it may be time to consider whether you’re using the right web server.
Research from Nielsen Norman Group finds that you have ten seconds or less to communicate your value proposition. If visitors aren’t hooked early, they’ll likely navigate away. You have even less time on mobile devices; 53% of mobile users will click away from a website if the page doesn’t load within 3 seconds according to research from Google.
In short, you have one chance to make a solid first impression with your website and the hosting you choose can make all the difference. A range of hosting options are available and selecting the right one can be overwhelming for many small business owners.
To help you decide what is right for your small- or medium-sized business (SMB), we'll walk you through the different hosting options and share what you need to know about web servers.
Web hosting service providers are companies that supply the technology you’ll need to maintain a website online. More specifically, they provide the server or specialized computer that stores your website online.
A server can store multiple websites or be dedicated to storing just one. The distinct needs of your business will dictate whether you need a shared or dedicated server.
If you’re considering a dedicated small business web server, you need to consider how much server maintenance you’re willing to do, and more importantly, how comfortable you will be handling your server and your network.
The truth is, most SMB owners don’t have the time or training required for server maintenance or website security management. For these business owners, it’s much easier to delegate the technical side of hosting and website management to a company with proven expertise in this area.
Unless you have a very high traffic website, it’s unlikely that you’ll need a dedicated web server. Instead, you can take advantage of the benefits that come with shared hosting—including lower costs.
With shared hosting, you’ll be able to upload items to servers with standardized File Transfer Protocol (FTP) and back up your website offline. Plus, you won’t have to worry about maintaining the server’s operating system, managing network firewalls or connecting backup power in case of an outage.
Hosting options vary widely, so before you make your choice, you’ll really want to understand what’s out there. To save you time, we’ve done the research for you. Below you’ll find the basic information to know about the major hosting options.
Many hosts will allocate free space to your site; however, free hosting can have significant disadvantages for small business websites.
One of the biggest limitations of free hosting is that it doesn’t enable the use of a custom domain. Instead, you’ll be assigned a URL that is linked to the host’s domain. This means that your website won’t look like:
Instead, it will look something like:
This type of domain puts you at a major disadvantage because you won’t have a branded online presence that’s easy for customers to remember and simple for search engines to recognize.
Your free domain may come with free email, but your email address will similarly use the hosting provider’s domain and not a personalized business domain. Your email would look something like email@example.com. Overall, this makes your business look less professional.
What’s more, free hosting services typically don’t offer any technical support, which means you’re on your own if something happens to your site or if you have tech questions. Free hosting offers no guarantees regarding website availability, performance and uptime.
Finally, with free hosting, there will be limits to what you can do with your site because you will have a restricted amount of storage space. For example, if you want a website that includes videos and high-resolution images or that consists of a large number of pages, you’ll likely face roadblocks with free hosting.
With shared hosting, your provider supplies space for multiple websites on a single server. This offers an affordable, hassle-free solution for small business websites, as most don’t receive enough traffic to require a dedicated server.
With this option, you’ll have a wide range of value-added tools, including free domains, free website builders and free email addresses.
Best of all, hosting providers that charge monthly fees for hosting will offer phone, email or chat support so that you won’t be stuck with any technical questions or challenges. (Let’s face it, no business owner wants that headache!)
A key benefit of shared hosting is that you can ensure the security of your website. Reputable hosts put strong network security measures in place and have backup plans for network interruption or power outages. Your service agreement for hosting will also include guarantees regarding website availability, with the best providers guaranteeing 99% uptime or better.
Dedicated hosting provides all the resource management and value-added services that come with shared hosting, along with one extra benefit. With a dedicated host, your website files will live on their own server, which means they won’t share space with other business websites.
The biggest pro of dedicated hosting is that it ensures the performance of your website. However, this option also comes with a significant con: it costs more than shared hosting. So unless you have a high traffic website, it’s unlikely you need it.
Keep in mind that as your website traffic grows and your business needs change, you can always speak to your hosting provider about upgrading from shared to dedicated hosting services.
Do You Need a Dedicated Server?
As an SMB, it may sound ideal to have a dedicated server. With your own server, you won’t be sharing resources so you won’t need to worry about other people’s websites slowing things down or having your bandwidth usage reduce the speed of your server. But few websites require a dedicated server. High-volume websites like busy eCommerce sites or online publications with a large readership are the exception.
Self-hosting your SMB’s dedicated server can be risky. Everything depends on you, including the availability and security of your website. Plus, you’ll have to take care of maintenance, upgrades and patches for its operating system. Servers that aren’t maintained and patched can quickly become vulnerable to hackers who might try to disable your website or even steal customer information.
If you opt to host and run your own dedicated website server, you’ll need to take precautions to protect sensitive information — whether you’re protecting financial records, customer details or your own intellectual property. If your business is subject to regulations such as PCI-DSS or HIPAA, you’ll have to ensure your server is secured so you’re able to protect yourself from potential liability and regulatory fines.
Finally, with a self-hosted server, you’ll need to reserve enough bandwidth for high-traffic periods. If your site attracts significant traffic during certain seasons or if you receive unexpected publicity that brings traffic to your site, you’ll need to have enough network resources to keep your site up and running during these periods of high demand.
For most small businesses, a self-hosted, dedicated web server is overkill for their needs and puts the stability and safety of their website (and reputation) at risk. Most businesses simply need shared hosting to meet their website needs.
However, if you believe a dedicated server is necessary for your business, using a proven hosting service can help you mitigate the risk and ensure your time and energy is spent where it’s most impactful to the business. Using a reliable provider for shared or dedicated hosting will give you peace of mind that your website is available 24/7/365.