How to choose a web hosting company

As the world transitions and becomes more digital there is a demand for even the smallest of businesses to have an online presence. This is especially true since the work from home movement and the pandemic that without a doubt fast-forwarded the inevitable, the inevitable being that every business will be connected, everyone in the business will have access to the internet and files will reside in the cloud instead of the computer in the back of your office.

Small businesses now have the opportunity to compete with the bigger players, simply because the cost of hosting has come down tremendously and services are being built to make the task of hosting your own email and website a walk in the park. The service we are going to look at is Cpanel, this is a server management system that does all the heavy lifting for you.

Cpanel is especially great news for skilled professionals who want to expand their services beyond the borders of their own country. A simple example, since the pandemic began it is no longer odd for a business in the UK or the US to employ a remote employee sitting on the other side of the world, and the advances in hosting as also made it extremely easy for said skilled professional to create a website showcasing his or her skills to the world. 

Myself, for example, this website is hosted by a company that runs Cpanel and through this website, I have clients throughout the world and that simply would not have been possible without having a website online, the best of all is that it doesn't have to be a big expense.

What do you need to create a website

A website consists of 3 components and each one serves a specific purpose and it's best to separate them when possible, this is where bigger companies (the evil giants) try and hook people in by doing everything for them from domain registration to email hosting and then a year down the line the terms changes and suddenly you are between a rock and a hard place because they sit with your emails and you might not be comfortable enough to move away from them.

Let's dive into the three components and what each one does

  • A domain: This is the URL which you give people to find you on the internet, for example, the domain of this website is erikthiart.com and that domain is registered with Gandi.com. I do not want to make it too complex but in essence, the domain is a human-readable name that acts as a placeholder for the IP address of the server on which your website sits (for example erikthiart.com points to 129.232.184.164) if you want to learn more about how this work please read this article next, they explain DNS incredibly well.
  • Hosting / Server: Now that you have a domain you need to point that domain to someplace, that place is what we call the server and that is where the hosting comes in. This is also the part where your emails will sit. Therefore as you can imagine and the reason for this blog post, the hosting is the single most important part of the equation, because if you neglect this part then you have set yourself up for serious damage down the line or if all goes well your business grows, You need a host that puts you in control and that can scale with your business. 
  • The Website: This is the last piece of the puzzle, what you are reading here is text saved in a file that sits on a server and is accessed through the domain. There is no need to complicate it any further than this. In theory, if you have a text file on your desktop you can show that file to me if you have a domain that points to your PC (yes, it's a bit more complex than that, but the point still stands all that a website is, is a file on a server with a link to that folder’s location on the server.)

The critical part of this breakdown is that you understand that you can have your domain and you're hosting separately. You do not (and should not - there is one exception which I will get to) use the same company for both the domain and the hosting. You use a domain company for your domains and you use a hosting company for your hosting and I will help you find the best one.

PS: if you follow me on Twitter (@ErikThiart) then I will gladly help you, for free.

How and where do you buy a domain for your business

If you live in the United States or the European Union then there is only one place worth going to and that is Gandi.net this is not a referral, I do not get anything for suggesting them, all I want is for you to learn from my mistakes and the mistakes of clients who get screwed because they were not informed. My clients and I have walked a long road with Gandi spanning decades.

If you live in South Africa (even the rest of the world) then you register your domain through Domains.co.za same story, there is nothing in it for me, I am suggesting them to you because they are the best in the business, second to none. They are run by some of the smartest guys still alive today and they do not cater for every Tom, Dick and Harry so that means when you need help you won’t get the Tom, Dick and Harry treatment, instead you will get access to a staff member with exceptional knowledge and understanding of the issue even if you do not know how to explain or express it in words.

How much does a domain cost?

  • A domain ending in .com will cost $15.50 per year (£11.55 if you live in the United Kingdom)
  • A domain ending in .co.uk will cost $9.88 per year (£7.39 if you live in the United Kingdom)
  • A domain ending in .net will cost $18.50 per year (£14.70 if you live in the United Kingdom)
  • A domain ending in .co.za will cost R65 per year ($4 and £3 respectively)

As you might have realized there are many different domain extensions, but to be frank with you, the ones above are the only ones you should be looking at, or any other country-level domain applicable to your country, for example, .co.za is South Africa and .co.uk is the United Kingdom. For reference here is a list of all the domain extensions available.

I say this because if you have a bakery operating in the high street of Yorkshire and the Humber do you really want or care if someone in the United States (.com) or South Africa (.co.za) finds you, I would guess not, for your bakery a .co.uk domain would be the best choice because your audience is based there. 

The same applies if your audience is more international like this blog for instance then getting a .com domain makes more sense. 

Where to host your website

What you want is a host that offers you a Cpanel account, do not fall for anything else, this takes care of security, and all the complexity of hosting your website is removed. The beauty of Cpanel is that this also enables you to create your own professional email address instead of using your Gmail address for your business. You can still continue to use your Gmail account and simply create a forwarder for your domain to forward an email to your Gmail account. Please connect with me on Twitter if you want me to help you with setting up your email.

If you live in the United States then your best host will be Inmotion Hosting, I have walked a long road with this company and know them personally. They have a sophisticated backend and own the hardware they run your site on so you can be assured you will get barebone performance (that means it is fast).

The best host for small businesses in the UK is Krystal these guys have come a long way, I have been following their success from the early 2000s and they have not once moved away from their roots. Make no mistake they are massive beyond measure, yet still remain in complete control of their system from the hardware to the software that runs on top of it. Krystal is the largest independent hosting company in the UK and they are more than capable to assist you in any way you could imagine, from a hosting point of view.

Here is where that exception comes in that I mentioned earlier, if you live in South Africa then you can use Domains.co.za for both your domain and your host. The reason for this is that they have combined the very best of Gandi and the very best of Krystal into a system that puts you in complete control from a business perspective, should you ever want to leave or move to a different service provider then you can do so without the need to ask anyone for permission, as all the tools are made available to you by default.

They are the best in the business, on a global front they can stand head to head with any giant and put them on their back, through in-depth knowledge, old knowledge. They remind of the famous scene in Harry Potter where the all-powerful Lord Voldemort succumbed admitting he was defeated by “Old Magic” something he had not foreseen. Domains.co.za are like that, they are the sorcerers of Linux and they have access to old knowledge, forgotten knowledge, lost knowledge, lessons learned from scenarios that most hosts today don't even know exist.

What does it cost to host a website?

If you live in the United States and you choose a standard business hosting plan then it will cost you $6 per month through Inmotion Hosting.

In the United Kingdom, a standard business hosting package will cost you £5 per month.

You will pay R90 ($5 / £4) per month for a standard hosting package in South Africa.

How to build a website for your business

Now that you have the domain and the hosting you will need a website. You have two options, you can either do it yourself or you can hire a person or company to do it for you.

If you decide to do it yourself then the easiest would be to install WordPress through Cpanel and watch a few tutorials on youtube, WordPress is easy to use and it is more than sufficient most of the time, especially for static websites or websites where you do not make a lot of changes to.

It gets more complicated than that, WordPress is more powerful than that and can run very large eCommerce and online websites, but that takes professional skills and is out of scope for what can do.

Doing it yourself will take time and will be incredibly frustrating in the beginning so understandably you might be put off and not willing to take on the task of getting your business online by yourself. 

That is when you opt to rather pay a professional to do it for you and the good news is that when you are in the industry as long as I am you end up knowing who the bad guys are and who you can trust. 

One such business is Let’s Digitise, they are able to assist you from start to finish. They work with Krystal, Gandi, and Domains so you know you will be in good hands.

PS: A great resource to get you starting in WordPress development is this course on Udemy. Even if you end up abandoning doing it by yourself, the knowledge you gained in the process of trying will save you a fortune down the line when you eventually hire someone to do it for you as you will be armed with the knowledge to follow what is required and know if you are being undercharged or overcharged for the work.

Bonus resources to help get your business online

You can always reach out to me on social media if you ever get stuck or just need to understand certain aspects in more detail.

How to set up your own email address on Cpanel

  1. Log into cPanel.
  2. In the Email section, click Email Accounts.
  3. In the Email field, type your preferred username and select the domain name from the drop-down menu below. ...
  4. In the Password fields, type the desired password twice.
  5. Make a selection for Mailbox Quota.
  6. Click Create Account.

Cpanel makes creating an email account so easy that I do not mind setting it up for you if you get stuck, all you need to do is contact me, preferably via twitter.

How much does an SSL certificate cost

Nothing, any hosting company worth their salt uses Let’s Encrypt as the SSL provider and makes this available to all Cpanel users for free.

Let me know if your hosting company is charging you for an SSL certificate I would love nothing more than to challenge them publicly and show them some old magic.

How do I get my website to rank on Google when people search for my business

Let me give a quick lesson in SEO, an SEO 101 if you will.

The crux of the matter is, SEO is a dirty business because there are no set answers so no one is wrong, and that leaves room for creative salespeople to sell you gimmicks. I can sell you any approach to enhance your SEO because it will be rooted in the truth, but it will not be the full story. I will tell you that you need to do meta tags, and yes that is important, but the content is more important, the metadata and schema of your website without quality content won’t make a difference.

The bottom line is this; Google has a reputation, and that reputation is that if you want the answer to something you are going to use Google and not Bing.

Think about that statement, it means the content on your website must be of such high quality that Google will be confident enough to recommend your website to its users.

That is what SEO comes down to, at its very core SEO means, what can I do to gain Google’s trust and how can I make Google look good. How do I structure my website and the content of my website in such a manner that Google doesn’t take a risk by suggesting my site to someone?

These are the risks that can impact Google negatively and what you need to do to ensure you don’t become a burden for Google, but instead a quality resource it can reference;

Risk A: A website that is not established (at least older than 1 year) will not rank, because anyone can buy a domain for cheap and it lasts one year. To Google, this can be seen as a fly by night (fly by year). However, if your site is still around after the year is passed your trust goes up tenfold. It’s a bit more complex than this, Google is smart and has 100s of other data points to rank you on, but it’s important to understand that you will not show up on Google overnight and a big role is whether you are sandboxed because your domain and website is still very young.

Risk B:  A website with little to no content, think about this, why is Google going to point the user to website A when Website B has double the content for the same niche (and is older / has more domain authority – the content still needs to be relevant). Point being, your website needs to have content, more (relevant) is always better. Write the content for people though. Google is pointing people to your website not robots, so make sure you don’t obsess over keywords and other cheap tricks, instead make sure if you tell your friend or client to go to your website they will find exactly what was intended to be found. 

In order to rank on Google, your content has to answer the user’s search intent.

It doesn’t matter how people try to slice it, that is what it comes down to, Google wants 100% certainty that the site it is going to refer to the user will cover the intent of the user. 

It means that Google wants an absolute guarantee from you (in the form of relevant content) that it will not risk its reputation by associating itself with you and your website.

There are many other technical ways to get an edge over your competition (metadata, navigation structure, code quality, schematic markup, social flow) I can and will probably write another article on SEO because there is such a vast amount of stuff related to SEO that is important, but all of this assumes that A and B from above are in place. You can to a certain degree, overcome A by focusing more on B, but ultimately both are important.

My edge, with my clients, because I know and spend most of my time reading up on and researching this is that I tend to apply these techniques to websites from day one, but I am still beholden to A and B, it just means my websites will rank better in the end, but my journey is the same, I cannot avoid content and cannot avoid time.

PS: If you want to learn more about SEO, then the only resource worth reading is the research that is put out by MOZ, https://moz.com/blog 

Then there is also the Local SEO Checklist that is worth reading about.

How do I know if the company building my website knows what they are doing

If you are currently using a company to build your website and you would just like a professional opinion on whether they are on top of things and not overcharging you then get in contact with me over Twitter. I get asked numerous times to vet tech companies and contractors. I won’t sell you anything or try to persuade you away, I will merely give you a fact-based response and you are free to do with that information as you please. (I do not charge for this, I like to keep everyone in the industry on their toes otherwise we all get a bad reputation, getting rid of the bad apples is past time activity for me.)




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