What You Need to Know About Web Hosting for Your Small Business Website
Q & A with Bill Watt
Q: Web hosting can be intimidating. Can you break it down?
A: Hosting can be intimidating because the technology behind it is really complex. However, for small business owners, the part they need to understand is simple: Your website is made out of a bunch of files. Your hosting is simply the place where you upload those files so people can view them on the Internet. All of the techno-wizardry going on to make that happen is your hosting provider’s responsibility.
Q: What options do small business owners have for hosting their websites?
A: That depends on how they want to build their site, which we’ll get into in a minute. Most do-it-yourself website builders have hosting baked right in. If, on the other hand, the small business owner hires a designer, that person might handle the hosting or recommend a shared hosting account from a third-party like GoDaddy. This means they share resources with other websites hosted on the same server, as opposed to buying a server that’s dedicated to their site alone (which is much more expensive and labor-intensive). They might even look into WordPress hosting.
Q: What are a few key considerations when choosing a hosting provider?
A: You absolutely can find the hosting you need at an affordable price, but it’s a mistake to make a decision based on cost alone. Service and reliability are critical. A website that’s slow or that goes down frequently isn’t going to help your business. And how frustrated will you feel if you have a problem and can’t get though to a support person quickly, anytime? Pick a hosting provider with a strong reputation for customer support, speed and uptime.
Q: How do you start building a website?
A: The number of different tools and technologies available to help build websites means that you can get started today and expand your skills as you go. For instance, you could start with a simple do-it-yourself website builder and then branch into more open frameworks like setting up a simple WordPress site. These frameworks have plenty of things to learn about, and you can dig into HTML or test different plugins and see how they impact performance or functionality available to users.
You can also start with a more fundamental approach and learn how to craft a basic HTML page. There are many awesome books and entire sites dedicated to helping people develop these skills. One of my favorites is from Codecademy. Everything you need to gain exposure to all the basics of web building is nicely contained in their training framework — and it’s free! There are other sites, like Lynda.com, that have a much broader set of classes and videos, available for an “all-you-can-eat” monthly fee.
Q: If working with a website designer, what information does the business owner need to provide?
A: Assuming you’ve got a designer building your site and you’re getting ready to push the site “live,” then the next steps are to provide the details of your hosting account — including creating a username and password that the designer can use to publish their work. Usually the designer will be able to log in and find everything they need, but they will sometimes need to ask you for FTP, sFTP or other credentials.
FTP or sFTP are methods that your designer might use to push your site from their local development environment up to your hosting account so that you can see the final product. It might make sense to ask the designer how they will preview the work for you, since putting a “work in progress” site in front of your potential customers isn’t always a good thing.
Q: There’s a lot of buzz about WordPress. What’s up with that?
A: WordPress is an amazing thing … but defining that thing can be fun. 🙂 A good place to start is on the official About page on WordPress.org, and compare that to the “About” page on WordPress.com. Most people think of WordPress as a framework for building websites, but it is also a community of people building cool stuff on that framework. There are companies building commercial tools on and for WordPress and a foundation dedicated to the OpenSource vision.
When we talk about using WordPress for building websites, a popular misconception is that it is only for blogs. WordPress boasts a ton of different uses, from commerce to online publishing and everything in between. It is very likely that many of the sites you visit in an average day of surfing the web are built using WordPress. Check out this showcase from WordPress.org for a small sample: https://wordpress.org/showcase/.
Q: Can you make changes to a hosted website?
A: It all comes down to a couple of details:
Do you have access to your site? If the answer is “no,” then that’s a good place to start! Many developers will ask that site owners not touch the site to make sure that nothing breaks. If you really want to make a change, a good first step is to make sure you have a backup, just in case something goes wrong. Even better… take that backup and make your changes locally if you can, so you know that you’re not breaking anything before you touch the production site.
Do you know what tools were used to build your site? After having access, knowing what tools were used is the next detail of interest. If it was a site builder or other interface meant to make the process of making updates easier, then you’re on a good path. If your site uses a more full featured framework like WordPress, Joomla!, or Drupal, then it might be an easy thing to make edits… or might not be.
Do you need to make big changes or simple changes? And lastly, how big a change are you talking? Many changes are simple, and once you get access and know where to look, things like updating a phone number, loading the latest menu, or other simple changes can be done pretty quickly.
Q: Can you find out who’s looking at your website?
A: There are a number of tools, like Google Analytics, that help you get a sense of traffic patterns and where people are finding your site. For instance, if someone shares your site on Facebook and then their friends click through, these analytics tools show you that people are clicking through from Facebook and which pages they’re accessing. Generally these tools will not tell you that “John Doe” is accessing your site, but they can tell you if a specific user is visiting your site multiple times in a given time period, where they’re from, where they found your site, what content they accessed, and how long they stayed on your site. This is useful for knowing the content you have that appeals to users — which can help you focus your efforts and marketing.
Bio: Bill Watt is Head of Product Management for Hosting at GoDaddy, where he is responsible for building the hosting tools that support Web Pros and consumers alike. For the last 20+ years Bill has been building solutions ranging from commerce tools to productivity applications to media sites. Before joining GoDaddy, he led product at several startups including Current TV, Outright, FairMarket, and led various product teams at eBay. He currently splits his time between Silicon Valley and Phoenix, Ariz., and consumes as much coffee as possible in all locations.