A few decades ago, building and managing an online store was so tricky that it wasn’t worth the effort. However, in today’s modern age where 79% of Americans now shop online, having an online storefront has become almost necessary for most businesses.
The rise of eCommerce has brought with it countless options for having an online store, but the main ways to do this are through eCommerce platforms and general web hosting. Before you even begin to build your online store, you need to figure out which eCommerce hosting option best fits you and your business.
What is eCommerce hosting?
To get your website up and visible to Internet users, you need to host it. When your eCommerce site is hosted, the data of your website is stored on a hosting server and is given a domain URL that anyone can use to navigate to your site. Since you’re most likely going to be running an online store, you’ll want to look at hosting services that specifically cater to eCommerce.
eCommerce hosting does everything that a general web host does, but with the added necessary features that an online store needs to operate. While eCommerce hosting services have many features that general web hosts usually do, like web design, plugins, and content management, they also have must-have eCommerce specific features, like SSL certificates (issued by a certificate authority), shopping cart functions, and payment processing. Here are the must-have features for an eCommerce host.
If you’re running an online business, security is of vital importance. So, it would be best if you made sure that the hosting solution you use has a robust security plan, including server protection from DDoS attacks, strong firewalls, and secure facilities with restricted access.
On top of those basic security features, they should also offer a plan that includes an SSL certificate which ensures your website is protected from most hackers. Visitors can see that you have this by looking at the lock icon next to your URL in the browser, assuring them that your site is trustworthy. Many visitors won’t even consider putting their payment information into a website without an SSL certificate, so not having one can be detrimental.
If your website is down, you’re losing money. Uptime refers to the time that your website is up and running, so it’s vital that this is as high as possible. The only time that servers should be down is for occasional necessary maintenance. It would be best if you looked for a hosting provider that guarantees at least 99% uptime with 24/7 monitoring. It’s also a good idea to check with a third party reviewer to verify their uptime claims.
Loading times are crucial in the online world; if your site takes too long to load, users will bounce right off and go somewhere else. According to Kissmetrics, a staggering 40% of online visitors will leave a loading page if the site takes longer than 3 seconds to load. One of the most critical factors in site speed is your web host, so you need to make sure that you have a hosting plan that can handle your site’s traffic without slowing performance. It’s also best to test your site speed regularly so you know when it might be time for a plan upgrade.
A key feature that your hosting solution should offer is a way to build your site. It should allow you to choose from several customizable templates that you can use as a basis to your site. Ecommerce website builders can vary widely in capabilities and customizability from platform to platform, so make sure that the one you choose has options that are right for your business.
Another critical element to website building is responsive design, which means that your site is optimised to function just as well on a screen of any size, including desktops, tablets, and smartphones. This is especially important for the growing mobile market because, according to Pew Research Center, 51% of U.S. adults who ever buy something buy on their phones. So, make sure that the site’s design template is optimised for mobile, or else you’re losing a considerable percentage of potential customers.
One of the most important marketing tools in eCommerce is SEO or search engine optimisation (in email marketing this is arguably marketing automation). Without it, your site won’t be ranked high enough on search engines for potential customers to find you. While there are several external options for SEO optimisation, having it included in your web hosting provider’s services keeps everything in one convenient place.
A good SEO optimisation feature needs a few key things.
- It should be easy for you to customise URLs and enter meta descriptions for individual pages on your site, like product pages.
- It should be easy for you to submit your site to search engines so it can be ranked.
- It should provide keyword ranking, and competitive analysis reports to help you build the best SEO strategy for your site.
A virtual shopping cart feature is required for your online store, or else customers will have no way of checking out and finalising a sale. Shopping cart features allow customers to create an order for the products they want, pay for them by providing their payment information, and get it shipped to them by entering their shipping information. Hosted eCommerce platforms typically offer easy to use payment processor features and shipping service options for you to implement into your online store.
Having a data export option is crucial for backing up or moving your online store’s data. It helps site administrators organise that data, which often includes customer and inventory data, into spreadsheets or CSV files for easy access. This also helps simplify the process of sending large amounts of site data virtually in the case that your website information about customers and products needs to be moved to a new version of the site.
Flexible pricing plans
When looking into what type of hosting you want to use, one of the most important factors to you might be price. Both hosting services and eCommerce platforms usually have tiered payment plans for different types of businesses, so look at their offers and determine what’s right for you.
While buying a hosting plan might be slightly cheaper than an eCommerce platform plan, you’re going to be sacrificing many features that you’ll end up paying extra for. eCommerce platforms include hosting services, online store building, and more all in the same price. You’ll also have to consider additional fees, like licensing fees, set-up fees, and payment for extra developers.
Different ways to host
There are two flavours of eCommerce hosting: eCommerce platforms that offer general hosting and hosting providers that cater to online businesses.
General hosting providers, like HostGator or GoDaddy, often offer plans that are cheaper than that of an eCommerce platform. However, that extra money you’re saving translates to a significant loss in features. Hosting providers sometimes offer website builders, but they’re usually limited in their capabilities and require much technical skill to use. This can force you to have to use a third party for building your online store, making things much more complicated. Having responsive templates, shopping carts, and data export is also a gamble so that you might be stuck without essential features.
eCommerce platforms many other hosting providers, usually do all of the hosting work for you. This keeps all of the elements of your online store in one place, boosting convenience and efficiency for your online business. These platforms also handle all of the backend work and maintenance for you, so you never have to worry about having to do any coding or finding a third party for payment and shipping solutions. eCommerce features are also much more plentiful in an eCommerce platform, including a wide variety of site template options and shipping and payment gateways.
Setting up your hosting
Once you’ve decided on the eCommerce hosting route you want to take, you’ll have to set up your hosting. Here are the first few steps that you’ll need to take to get your website up and running:
- Choose your provider. If you’ve decided to choose you’re a general web hosting provider, follow the previous must-have features to determine which service is right for you. If you’re going with an eCommerce platform for your web hosting, then their service will take care of hosting for you.
- Choose your payment plan. The payment plan that you decide on is usually determined by the features you want and the size of your business. If you have a smaller business, you’ll most likely want to go for the less expensive plans. Alternatively, if your business is more substantial, then you might want the more expensive plans with a broader array of features.
- Choose your domain name URL. If you’re going with a web hosting provider, you may be limited in the domain names that you can choose. You also may need to pay extra for the exact URL that you want if it’s of higher demand. However, most eCommerce platforms register your domain name for you without any extra cost or hassle.
- Import store data if you have any. If you’re moving your online store to a new web host or eCommerce platform, you’ll need to be able to import your customer and product data into your new site.
If you follow these guidelines, choosing one out of the multitude of hosting options will be much easier. Be sure to keep in mind the most important features that your eCommerce host should have: security, guaranteed uptime, fast loading times, SEO features, a customizable website builder, and flexible pricing plans to name a few.
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If you’re unhappy with your current web hosting solution, it’s easy to switch. Remember that your site’s hosting provider is one of the most essential services that need to be consistent and effective to keep your online business running smoothly.