Every business needs a website, but finding the right website hosting package isn't always easy. Many plans are targeted primarily at home users, and don't have the power that businesses need.
Take email, for instance. We've seen hosting plans offer as few as five email addresses for a website, and with inboxes limited to a few hundred megabytes, that’s potentially a major issue for any business. Be sure to check out the email specs of any hosting plan before you sign up.
An SSL certificate is a must-have these days for any professional or business website, but these aren't included with every plan. Fortunately, they don't have to be expensive. Many hosts now offer free SSL certificates from the Internet Security Research Group's Let's Encrypt project, and although web stores might need something more, these are perfectly adequate for standard sites.
Business websites can't afford to fail – ever – so reliability is key. Choose a Virtual Private Server (VPS) or dedicated hosting plan, if you can afford it, to avoid the hassles of shared servers. Look for support that can be accessed at speed with telephone and live chat available, as well as emails and tickets. You'll probably want a plan that includes automated backups, too, but that's another area where you'll need to check the small print: backups are often an optional extra.
Think about an upgrade path, too, especially if you're starting with a basic shared hosting plan. If your business grows then your website needs might also expand, and it will make your life much easier if your chosen host has the add-ons and extras to cope.
There's a lot to think about, but fortunately, there are also some excellent hosting providers around that understand exactly what small businesses need. In this article we've highlighted five web hosts who have something to offer everyone, from the smallest home business to demanding corporate users.
- We've highlighted the best website hosting services
Shared hosting is slower and less reliable than VPS and dedicated plans, but it's still perfectly adequate for many simple websites, and the best plans will handle all the main business needs.
DreamHost's shared hosting plan scores well on the fundamentals. There are no limits on bandwidth, emails or MySQL databases. Your site is secured by a free Let's Encrypt SSL certificate, and preinstalled WordPress allows you to get a quality site up and running in an afternoon – plus SSD storage as standard will keep performance high.
Handy extras include the ability to host unlimited domains from a single account. And in a nice touch, DreamHost doesn't just offer a free domain name with each shared hosting plan (except the monthly plan): there's free privacy protection, too. If you've registered a domain without that, and been inundated with emails and phone calls from ‘website designers’ and assorted scammers, you'll know how valuable that can be.
It's a strong all-round package, but if you need more, DreamHost also offers everything from managed WordPress and WooCommerce, to VPS, Dedicated and Cloud Hosting plans.
Billing is flexible. You can avoid long-term contracts by signing up for monthly billing, which costs $10.95 (£7.80) a month for shared hosting. Choose the three-year plan and the price drops to $7.95 (£5.70) a month, though. Don't be put off by the longer term: DreamHost products are protected by an exceptional 97-day money-back guarantee, so there's plenty of time to test the service for yourself.
Cloud hosting is a smart technology which spreads your website content across multiple devices, improving redundancy and speeding up load times. It's an interesting idea which has many business benefits, but if you choose wisely, you can try it out for less than the cost of some shared hosting products.
HostGator's Business Cloud, for instance, delivers on the business basics with support for unlimited websites, unmetered storage and bandwidth, and a private SSL certificate.
As this is a cloud plan, three mirrored copies of your website are spread across multiple devices. If there's a hardware failure, your website can immediately be switched to another server.
All HostGator cloud plans give you shared access to a defined level of system resources (CPU time and RAM). Another benefit of cloud hosting is that you can purchase more of these and see the benefit immediately, with no downtime or time-consuming migrations required.
The high-end features continue with a distributed Varnish caching setup to accelerate the loading of your static content, freeing up RAM and CPU time for producing dynamic content.
Despite all this functionality, HostGator's Business plan is reasonably priced at $9.95 (£7.10) a month for up to 36 months, $17.95 (£12.80) on renewal.
Optional extras are also good value, with CodeGuard's daily backups available for $2 (£1.45) a month, and SiteLock's malware scanning service is only $1.67 (£1.20). We've seen other hosts charge two or three times as much for similar functionality.
While we've highlighted HostGator's cloud plans here, as an interesting improvement on regular shared hosting, the company also provides managed WordPress hosting, good value VPS packages, dedicated servers and more. There really is something here for everyone.
Most business hosting products are focused on power and functionality above ease of use. That's not a problem if you know what you're doing, but small businesses don't always have the technical expertise to manage this kind of hosting, and it could take quite some time and effort to figure out how the service works.
GoDaddy Business Hosting is a hybrid product which aims to offer the dedicated resources and similar performance to Virtual Private Server (VPS) hosting, with the simplified cPanel-style management of a shared hosting service.
GoDaddy's baseline Launch plan gives you 2GB RAM, one CPU and 60GB of storage, for instance. These resources are solely for the use of your website, which should give you improved and more consistent website performance, no matter what's going on with other sites hosted on your server.
Restrictions elsewhere are kept to a minimum, with support for unlimited websites, databases and emails, and unmetered bandwidth. (‘Unmetered’ means there's no fixed limit, but GoDaddy reserves the right to complain if your site is hogging resources.)
There's a SSL certificate thrown into the mix, and GoDaddy has included a one-year, one-user subscription to Microsoft Office 365 Business Email.
GoDaddy's Enhance plan is available for $49.99 (£39.50) a month, renews at the same price. The Grow plan gives you 3 CPUs, 6GB RAM and 120GB of storage for $69.99 (£55.30) a month, renews at the same price. The high-end Expand plan (which is for resource heavy sites) increases RAM to 8GB and storage to 150GB, with 4 CPUs. The price is - $99.99 (£79) a month, same on renewal.
Overall, the range is a little more expensive than some VPS products, but if you're looking for easy setup and simpler website management, GoDaddy could be worth a look.
Basic shared, cloud and similar hosting plans are easy to use and can deliver good performance, but they also limit your control over the server environment. You can't choose to install Windows, for instance, or do anything else that would affect other websites hosted on the same server.
Virtual Private Servers (VPS) are isolated environments which you can tweak, adjust and customize however you like. As a bonus, you also get CPU time and RAM allocated just for you, improving both performance and stability.
Liquid Web's starter VPS product gives you two CPUs, 2GB RAM, 40GB SSD space and 10TB bandwidth, for instance, and is priced from $59 (£42) a month.
Some hosts have cheaper VPS plans, but that's often because specifications have been trimmed to the bare minimum. Liquid Web takes a more honest approach, with even the most basic plans including items that are often chargeable extras elsewhere. For example, that $59 gets you built-in backups, Gigabit transfers, unlimited sites, a dedicated IP address, CloudFlare CDN, DDoS protection, antivirus, antispam, cPanel/WHM or Plesk Onyx, and more.
All VPS plans are highly configurable, with Linux options including CentOS 6, CentOS 7, Ubuntu 14.04, Ubuntu 16.04 and Debian 8, and high-level plans support Windows Server 2012 and 2016.
Whatever you're installing will include server management by default, which means Liquid Web will handle maintenance tasks such as operating system updates. Proactive system monitoring allows the company to detect and fix some problems before you even notice them, and speedy, responsive 24x7x365 support will help you with anything else.
Factor in the 100% uptime guarantee and generous service level agreements and Liquid Web has a lot of business hosting appeal.
Dedicated server plans are the top of the standard hosting tree. Instead of sharing resources with others, you get the entire system to yourself, ensuring the best possible performance and reliability.
The OVH dedicated hosting range has several benefits, and these start with its choice of data centers. While other providers can typically host your site in just two or three locations, OVH has a far more global reach, with centers available in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Poland, Singapore and the UK. Hosting the site nearer to your target audience will improve performance all on its own.
Configurability is another highlight. Operating systems supported include CentOS, Debian, Ubuntu, CloudLinux, Gentoo, Slackware, ArchLinux, OpenSUSE, Fedora, FreeBSD, SmartOS, Windows Server 2012, Windows Server 2016, SQL Server, VMware, Citrix Xen, Hyper-V Server and more.
Advanced options include support for NVMe, non-volatile memory-based storage which can be five times faster than SSD.
Prices are reasonable, especially considering the range of functions on offer. You can get a very capable system for between $74-$137 (£56-£104) annually, and there's plenty of extra power available if you need it.
If there's an issue here, it's the OVH website, which does a poor job of presenting your options. There are too many baseline server configurations, they're poorly organized, and it's hard to find what you need or figure out your configuration choices.
We found our way around the product range eventually, though, and overall, OVH's extensive set of features and data centers make it a must-see for demanding business users.
You might also want to check out our other website hosting buying guides:
- Cloud hosting
- Dedicated server
- Small business
- Email hosting
- Website builders
- Best website hosting