Big or small? Your choices when it comes to web hosting services

Any startup, small company or individual wishing to create their own website has a range of hosting options at their disposal. Massive hosting companies dazzle with the simplicity offered by their TV adverts, while plenty of local and design hosting services will pop up near a web search, offering a more tailored service.

There are benefits and risks with any option you choose. Here we provide you with an overview of what these services offer, which should help nudge you in the direction of one suitable for you.

Very big and very glossy

The major hosting companies are hard to miss. They appear in to-the-point TV adverts, have glossy full page magazine ads in business magazines and occupy the top slots in any hosting web search. This huge advertising spend is because they are all competing in a pitched battle to offer their services for seemingly free or next to nothing. In reality, they survive by attracting large numbers of customers and gradually upselling them new features, more storage and other extras to make it worth their while.

Offers of free sites, what you see is what you get (WYSIWYG) design tools, free online support and other tempting deals might sound great, but as with anything free you need to look at the small print. Lower-end buyers will likely get the minimum amount of storage space, limits on the amount of bandwidth to the site and very little support. Only by paying more will you be able to expand your site, or customise it sufficiently to your actual needs.

If your business only needs a simple site design, without much input, updating or customisation, then one of these services could offer you a great deal. Alternatively, if your company needs a lot of site storage and bandwidth fast, then these services can probably provide these instantly, whereas a smaller provider may take some time to set that up.

However, for most startups and smaller businesses, rarely in the online world do things stay the same for long. You could easily find yourself suddenly having to pay quite a lot, even if those bills are broken down into small amounts over monthly payments, for added services just to fulfil some basic online needs.

These companies also survive on very large volumes and very thin margins. That means you may be a "valued customer" but you could still be caller 143 on their support line, and if they do suffer major downtime, or go bust in such a competitive atmosphere, they will likely take your site with them, or leave you in need of rapid relocation.

The small and personal approach

While smaller, local, hosting services might charge a little more up front, the service can be more appropriately tailored to your needs when it comes to web storage and bandwidth. The benefits can be huge. For a start, smaller hosters can likely put your site on the same types of cloud storage that the large companies offer, with the same high reliability, security features and up-time.

Instead of faceless online support - or, worse - being left to the perils of an offshore call-centre, you can discuss your business needs and plans with the hosting provide and come to a tailored arrangement. They can also provide a more nuanced estimate of costs if you need to upgrade in the future.

While a smaller provider will probably have less glossy offers and deals, their value will come in more immediate and aware support if there's ever a problem, and when it does come to upgrade. Many companies starting up a site have no idea of the technology and services that operate in the background.

As your business grows, a smaller provider can easily help tailor and provide more features, such as content delivery networks, online stores and other features for the website. You will have a better chance of negotiating a deal with a smaller provider than you would with the strictly impersonal web service upgrade screen that the major vendors provide.

These providers can also help store your website somewhere that is easily transportable should you need to take it to another service in the future, and while small providers are just as at risk of folding, the thriving independent hosting scene seems set for many more years of growth as more businesses go online and more companies find they need websites.

Pros and cons

Major host services

+ Very low cost for minimal services

+ Huge amounts of storage and bandwidth to put at your disposal

- Very impersonal, with limited advice and support

- Inflexible when it comes to pricing beyond initial deals.

Smaller hosting services

+ Able to set up and support your needs on an individual basis

+ Can often provide face to face support and advice

- May not be able to offer 24 hour support

Businesses should consider all the above factors when it comes to choosing their hosting service.

Jacob Colton is Director at catalyst2