When planning an online expansion strategy or simply IT infrastructure innovation, one of the critical decisions an organization needs to make is choosing a reliable web hosting provider. Although a website’s development is influenced by multiple factors, the servers it runs on largely determine its performance in terms of security, availability and page loading speed. Correspondingly, end users’ experience depends on the quality of hosting services and this is why they can be seen as a pillar of business growth.
As a greater number of organizations start focusing on improving their online presence, web hosting becomes an even more important resource. Considering the power of the Internet today, no serious business can flourish without a website, which is why organizations increasingly invest in developing one. Namely, recent reports suggest that a company website is a primary digital channel small and medium sized businesses plan to invest in: 37% of decision-makers in 2013 and 40% in 2014 shared this view. Compared to all the other channels such as search display and social media, a company website is a much more important digital resource, which automatically increases the value of web hosting services as well.
Evidently, the web hosting industry keeps growing as more and more businesses realize the importance of high server reliability and providers’ constant support. To determine how exactly web hosts support business growth and how valuable these services are to individual organizations, we talked to CIOs and web hosting experts of different companies in Australia and abroad.
Company website is the new shopfront
In the Australian business ecosystem, web-based marketing and sales strategies have been dominant for years and their potential is more frequently utilized. As an expert who has been working in the field for over 10 years, Willem Reyners Tay, Media and Marketing consultant at SmallBizDigital tells us why having a website is critical.
“Your website is a lead generation, sales and customer service tool. Making sure your website is always online is imperative if you want your business to grow. How would you feel about a business that never answered their phone? The digital equivalent is a website that is down or takes too long to load.”
Reyners Tay also adds that in the digital world, a company website is the new shopfront, where the hosting represents the foundations of the building: “If you don't build your shop on good foundations, then it will come back to bite you.”
Web hosting should give you flexibility and control
When talking about the key decisions organizations must make when choosing a web hosting solution, Reyners Tay emphasizes the vast variety of options for hosting the businesses website. However, he points that “DIY platforms like Wix and Squarespace are ok to get something up quickly, but as your business grows, you will need the flexibility of your own website, that you control.” Once the business exceeded the offering of such platforms, the key decisions it needs to make are:
- Location - local servers will tend to be faster than ones based overseas.
- Bandwidth - bandwidth is the website's connection to the internet. The more visits you have the better for your business, but this also uses more bandwidth. Make sure you are using a hosting solution with either unlimited bandwidth, or a solution that leaves lots of room to grow.
- Processing power - some websites work servers harder than others. A big ecommerce site uses lots of computing power, whilst a business card website for a plumber uses very few. The amount of processing power also tends to grow as more users visit the site. Often cheap web hosts will claim to have fast servers and unlimited bandwidth, but have too many users on the same server, meaning your website will be slow to load and even become unusable
- Support - if something goes wrong with your hosting, it’s important to get help, fast. Make sure your hosting provider has great support options around the clock. If your website is down, you can't wait for business hours, your competitors wont. Look for companies with a 99.9% uptime guarantee as it's in their financial interest to keep your server running smoothly.
Finally, Reyners Tay once again points to the importance of choosing a local provider (incorporating an unsolicited compliment thereby):
“As my clients grow, we always end up moving to a local based hosting provider like Crucial. It might be a little more money, but Google loves a fast website, and if all your customers are in Australia, your best chance is with quality local provider.”
Your website is your best salesperson
On behalf of the team of creative technologists at Langoor, a company that helps other businesses handle digital strategy, websites, applications, digital marketing and Internet of Things, Prashant Rajkhowa, Account Manager, explains the role of company websites:
“If you think of your company’s website as your best salesperson, then web hosting is the head of the support team. You expect your best salesperson to be responsive, knowledgeable about your company’s products and services and easy to get along with. In order for your website to be all of these things, you need the right technology behind it and first and foremost is the hosting service.”
Rajkhowa continues the analogy by pointing out that “when recruiting for your salesperson’s role, you should only make the decision yourself if you know what you’re doing. The most common problems we've encountered in the online space are to do with domain registration and web hosting. And inevitably, the problems stem from decisions made based on half knowledge and price. Companies will rattle on about their premium products needing to command a premium price but will go for the cheapest hosting solution without a second’s thought. Hawking their products on late night shopping channels would be a better idea.
The biggest challenge for good web hosting companies is the fact that their product isn't visible. That makes convincing customers about their benefits that much harder. And while it’s highly unlikely that that will ever change, they know that when they gain a customer, it’s long term.”
A good webhost is like good writing
“A good web host is like good writing -,” Rajkhowa notes further, “you’re not supposed to notice it; it’s an expectation. The most critical decision you can make when choosing a web hosting provider is to be aware of how they react when things go wrong. In the last month, I experienced firsthand the way how one of Australia’s “leading” service providers dealt with a crisis – they don’t answer phones and have no qualms about keeping you on hold for hours on end.
I literally go out of my way to mention this to people because the best thing you can get from your web hosting service provider is pretty much never having to speak with them!
When selecting a web hosting provider, you need to find someone who can support at every stage of your business i.e. someone who can grow with you. When selecting the right product from their menu, you should obviously pick something that fits your needs now but you should be aware of whether they have the products you’ll need a year or two down the line.
So it really just comes down to people and relationships. Everyone’s going to offer you pretty much the same technology but in crisis time, you need to know that that quiet guy you've never spoken to ever will be up and ready to help you out.”
From small business to big audience: Supporting growth anytime
In reply to our question, Sarah-Jane Peterschlingmann from ATech, an Australian cloud and VPS hosting provider suggests that a poor choice of a web host from the start can “cripple business growth.” She gives an excellent example of a lawn mowing business, describing how big and how viral it can become in short time:
“A lawn mowing business starts out with just a single operator. The key web hosting requirement is for a brochure web site so that customers can easily find and connect with the business. If the business owner’s website goes offline for a while or is slow every now and again – let’s be realistic – it’s probably not going to send our lawn mowing business into liquidation or anything. As the business grows however, hosting becomes more and more important.
Let’s say our lawn mowing business grows to 100 staff and 20 different major locations and adds in a few extra services. Now customers use the website to get quotes, make, edit or view bookings, and to download the weekly podcast on the latest gardening tips. The podcast has developed a cult following and driven the customer base through the roof. Business is booming.
To minimise administration overhead, staff view the website on their mobile device before each job to check their next booking and ensure they have the appropriate tools and materials with them for each job.
Let’s imagine our business owner releases a new podcast which is particularly popular this week. The website gets a surge of traffic which causes everything to slow down, and then the website goes offline. New customers are unable to contact the business or make a booking. Current customers are unable to view or make changes to their bookings. And the staff on the ground don’t know where their next booking is or what tools they need to take with them to the job. The result is a lot of angry customers and frustrated staff. One customer is so furious she writes a negative review online and calls the local paper.
It’s bad timing as the business owner is meeting with a potential investor this week. This is not a good look. If only our friendly lawn mower had chosen a high quality web hosting provider from the start!”
Key factors to consider
Peterschlingmann further notes that the choice of a web hosting provider primarily depends on a business’s risk profile and budget. Still, she emphasizes 6 key factors that need to be considered:
- Support. It’s important to understand what quality of support you are going to receive. Ideally support should be available 24/7/365. Your customers are operating 24/7/365, so if something goes wrong – you’re going to want someone to reach out to anytime of day or night. It’s also great if you can get a support team that’s based in Australia. Many hosting providers use cheap overseas call centres, or leave you waiting for hours in a queue listening to that same awful sales message on repeat. So it’s a welcome relief to deal with an Australian support team with excellent customer service.
- Expertise. Similarly, it’s all well and good to have a responsive support team at your beck and call, but that’s only useful if they have the expertise to solve your problems when they crop up. Highly experienced technicians make all the difference when it comes to keeping systems online, and when things go wrong, it’s expertise that makes the difference between seconds of downtime and hours or days of downtime.
- Enterprise quality. For business, enterprise quality is a must. There is significant cost involved in delivering enterprise quality infrastructure and services, but the resulting reliability is worth it. The first thing any business owner should look at is the quality of the data centre. Some questions you can ask are: Is the data centre multi-carrier enabled? Are all facilities N + 1 redundant? How long can the data centre continue to operate in the event of power failure?
- Local. There are two good reasons why you should choose a local hosting provider. Firstly, your customers will generally get a better user experience and secondly, you avoid a lot of complex legal issues. Unless you’ve got a really good lawyer, you need to be careful about hosting overseas. From things like data sovereignty to privacy policies, there’s a lot to know, and it’s important to understand what you need to do to remain complaint. Hosting with a foreign owned company can also be risky when it comes to topics like data ownership and seizing data, so keeping it local can help to prevent business disruptions.
- Managed Services. There are a lot of differences between hosting providers when it comes to managed services. Some companies just give you the hosting space and leave it up to you to manage everything. Others will manage your system from head to toe leaving you free to do what you do best. Whatever your business, it’s essential that you choose a hosting partner that aligns with your particular needs. Small business operators will need to choose a company that understands small business, software companies will need to choose an operator that works well with more technical businesses and so on. Managed services will make or break the integrity and availability of your systems so choose wisely.
- Security. It’s also a good idea to understand the security profile of your hosting provider. One quick thing you can check for is ISO 27001 certification. You should also ask what firewalls will be used and understand the expertise of who will be managing the firewall. Ideally a clustered enterprise class firewall like Checkpoint is best, but once again this depends largely on the particular business. On-site security should include card access, security cameras and 24/7 on-site security personnel at a minimum.
Questions to ask
Adam Owen, a web hosting expert and content writer at WebHostingBuzz suggests that web hosting is a critical resource for business growth, especially as more and more businesses start expanding their online presence and shifting from traditional retail to ecommerce.
“As a result, it's critical that online businesses get web hosting right. If not, you risk downtime – which equates to lost revenue."
Owen also advises businesses to “take time to find a web hosting provider that meets their needs. Ask yourself this; if your business website is down, will you lose sales? If so, you need to ensure you have reliable web hosting with a 24/7 support team. In the modern world, downtime simply isn’t acceptable.”
Owen also comments on the key features businesses should pay attention to when searching for a web hosting provider:
- Are they competitively priced? Though you can switch web hosting providers down the line, it’s much more cost-effective to get it right first time around. You’ll be paying your hosting provider monthly or yearly for the foreseeable future, so make sure you can afford their pricing.
- Does their technical support team work 24/7/365? You’ll be getting visitors all year round, so it’s important that someone is there to help if your website goes down at 5pm on a Friday afternoon.
- Do they offer an uptime guarantee or SLA (Service Level Agreement)? Look for 99.9% uptime or above. Whilst 99% might sound good, it actually equates to just over 7hrs of downtime each month!
- Do they have a good reputation? To get a true opinion from genuine clients, search for “company name reviews”, or find the web host on Trustpilot, for example.
Internet users tend to form their impressions of a company based on the experience they have on its website and this is the single most important aspect web hosting services influence. Therefore, it is unsurprising that a greater number of businesses start taking this decision more seriously, which is supported by our respondents’ answers as well. To be able to properly organize all the customer support, sales and marketing processes in the digital age, organizations need to make a smart choice right from the start. The valuable advice given above should help business owners better assess current web hosting offers and understand how they can improve their growth potential simply by choosing a web host that is able to follow their growth plan.
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