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Web hosting for a small business - recommendations?

(24 Posts)
Celery Fri 21-Aug-09 21:03:16

Can anyone recommend a build it yourself web hosting site? Needs to be able to accept Paypal atleast, credit cards if possible.

There are so many to choose from, Mr Site, 123reg, Host Clear, register.com, Just Host, and the list goes on and on. So confusing!

I'm not completely computer illiterate, but it needs to be fairly simple to do, and reasonably professional looking. Thanks.

Celery Fri 21-Aug-09 21:54:25

bump

NetworkGuy Sat 22-Aug-09 00:30:56

The ones I've seen which accept credit cards normally have higher hosting costs, and I have to admit to not having gone with any of them, so far.

I do websites, sometimes from scratch {for example, one client had a lot of data, and the processing needed took it to a 44,000 page site {about import/ export trade data}) but have not built any e-commerce sites.

PayPal is easy to use (you can create 'add to cart' buttons in the Merchant section of the PayPal site, or 'Buy it now' if you don't need a cart, someone is simply buying 1 item, or subscribing to pay a fixed fee monthly or annually, and that will repeat unless cancelled).

PayPal will, however, take something between 3% and 4% as a fee, but that goes down once you register as a business and income goes over certain bands... You need to make sure you verify your address and bank details, and "lift" the transaction limits (there's a pretty low limit of under 2000 pounds on income before they block transactions if you miss that).

PayPal does accept credit cards and debit cards, even without someone setting up an account first (depends on the amount of the transaction though, I think, because otherwise a stolen credit card might be used for a large purchase).

In the past I've used the site building tool at iPower.com but I know that Google Sites is available for free (I was experimenting with it after I registered a new domain the other day with name.com - it was a simple 'tick box' option to make use of Google site builder and I tend to try such things just to see how good/bad they are... given it was free it was more tempting to experiment with... but I've not really done much more than edit a couple of pages... right now I canot recall how many differnt page 'themes' were available... the experimental site was www.dump-all-spam.info - LOL I have just had a look and seen that I had stopped before adding a 'contact page' on the site.

In a separate thread I made a comment about Mr Site - it has a 2 GB traffic quota which might not be much if a site has lots of product photos (a friend running chesterwalls.info uses 8-10 GB a month, without trying to attract visitors by way of Google AdWords, or Yahoo!)
The 2 lower cost packages from Mr Site have a quota limit, the most expensive doesn't - but it's awkward to guess how popular a site will become, and whether it's worth the extra cost.

When registering a domain, some firms throw in complimentary vouchers for say $50 credit on Google AdWords, which would do no harm in getting the site noticed.

Heart Internet offers some templates and web design software on some of the hosting packages, and the price for a .co.uk is reasonable too. I am using them for one site (but it was primarily to check their control panel, and the domain is not actively being used yet).

A site I saw mentioned on ThinkBroadband.com is Avagoo.com which I have only visited tonight to check on facilities. Says it has a free site builder and shopping cart so worth a look, at least.

NetworkGuy Sat 22-Aug-09 00:40:43

Forgot to mention - cPanel is a very common control panel - I've been using it on web hosting for a good 6 years from memory (they're on cPanel v10 now, on most hosts) and includes 'Fantastico' which is an add-on that allows for different types of PHP packages to be installed in a matter of 2-3 screens of info.

Not vital to you if the site builder and cart are all you need, but may be handy if someone else spots the thread and wants to put up their own photo gallery or blog or forum... (Coppermine is a photo gallery I've tried, not really into blogging, and a forum needs the help of some volunteers to block spammers and nasty / illegal posts).

NetworkGuy Sat 22-Aug-09 01:13:18

Have just checked one of the various web hosting accounts I have and see that there's the sitebuilder software available for me to try out (without needing to open an a/c with Avagoo)...

I might do a bit of trial and error tonight... or maybe I should get some sleep and try it out after some chores are done! Hmmm, it will probably give me black bags under my eyes and a shocking headache if I'm up until the sun is out (yet again)...

(Must admit this was a reseller account I found on Ebay and costs a quid a month - I like to have some hosting services "in reserve" in case of downtime / failure / sale of service to someone else, as those things have happened in the past, along with firms moving service from one country to another!)

Celery Sat 22-Aug-09 07:53:51

Thanks Networkguy. Some reallly helpful information there.

jammydodger Sat 22-Aug-09 08:22:44

Do you have any opinions on Squarespace Networkguy? (sorry, slight hijack but soirt of related!!)

ABetaDad Sat 22-Aug-09 08:36:33

NetworkGuy - thank you for the really useful info in your posts. Another slight hihjack if I may.

I am going on a Web Design and then a Dynamic Web Design course from September. They are using DreamWeaver web design software on the course. Is it really the industry standard software or should I do the course and then convert to using another software?

I am not really interested in web design but want to know the technical aspects of it as I am startng an e-commerce business. I will contract in the design work but want to keep an eye on what the contractor is doing from a positon of knowledge.

saintlydamemrsturnip Sat 22-Aug-09 08:45:32

I am not techy. Know a bit of html, but like to do sites myself.

MrSite is very easy to use. Squarespace I found a bit harder, but I think looks better (I have used both).

Here's my MrSite site. It took about 6 hours to put together last weekend. I don't have a Squarespace site at the moment, but for my next idea I think I'll go with them. I would have for this, but already had the MrSite site, so wasn't worth paying the extra for Squarespace.

I haven't tried a shop but it looks easy enough to do.

NetworkGuy Sat 22-Aug-09 14:33:16

jammydodger - sorry not heard of them but found this in response to a query about them (query asked if they offer VPS hosting, and what they do) :-

" WYSIWYG website creator - Has a super nice interface and is quite cool to play with. Not exactly my cup of tea, though. Basically like a hosted Wordpress blog, but different."

I assume this is squarespace.com - might have a 'play' myself - like to know what's out there!

ABetaDad - DreamWeaver is certainly popular, but I have to admit I don't follow "industry standards" or even "popular" software as much as some - for example, I would not touch Macromedia Flash unless I was paid a million - it's not handled by search engines, and represents a security risk as there's no easy way for someone to see what will happen when a particular object is activated.

E-Commerce sites these days are not simple HTML code, but will have various background s/w on the server to make it all work - a database of product descriptions, images, and pricing (if you are doing this now, consider putting VAT as a variable to make the change from 15% to 17.5% more easy - have seen some small businesses cursing about them having to go through their db to make the changes - major pain to have 400+ products and have to manually adjust by removing 2% from marked price)...

There are various web design newsgroups, and one or two so-called 'guilds' (seems to me more like money maker for a website owner to take a fee and say 'these are good guys and can display a logo to say to' without needing anything more than some cash to 'join the club' so it's another sector of the 'industry' I ignore like the plague! Sorry if I come across as a Victor Meldrew!)

You'll also have bits to interact for payment services such as PayPal, Google Checkout, WorldPay, etc. It's a whole area I have bypassed (perhaps lowering my income, but also limits my headaches massively, and I don't have to worry about how to report info to the end user, such as when transactions are rejected!)

NetworkGuy Sat 22-Aug-09 14:53:15

saintlydame... Nice site, but one thing I spotted immediately is the slowness to load the first page. I would have tried a web-based tool that would report on the way to improve download speed, but it is blocked from looking at anything on Mr Site.

I see you have a 1.2 MB photo (scaled down to 800x531) which is the thing that slowed down loading (someone on a dial-up modem would perhaps give up).

Hope you don't mind but I saved a copy of the photo (with a tiny bit of white border around it, it was only a copy, crop, and save quickie) here which is 804x539 and only 130 KB, so a bit over 1/10 the download time. I know it's your copyright and will wipe it ASAP but there was no easy way to demonstrate the download speeds (or guess the size) without at least making a copy and saving it on the web/

I saved it with a quality level of 90% so it will not be an exact match - if I'd been able to use the web tool, it would show a series of images, going from 100% down to 30% or lower, with the expected load time, and file size. Can honestly say that for many images, 80% or 70% is good enough though it depends on the content of the photo, of course.

I didn't view the 'Flash' gallery - I don't know if they allow you to upload the photos nd then MrSite creates the Flash object, but you may want to consider doing lower resolution photos there too.

One slightly negative comment (not about your site, one bit) is that the web address for pages shows "mrsite.com......" and that means that your own domain name is not going to be handled very well by search engines, and if someone developed a business website, and later wanted features that Mr Site didn't offer, then the search engines could point to the Mr Site area for months before showing the new website.

It's one reason for recommending people use their own domain, rather than save pages with an ISP address... if you switch ISP, the pages (and e-mail address) may stop working... and bang goes years of your web site users if they cannot find you again, quickly.

A friend had a site about the Roman Walls in Chester on his own website - switching from bwpics.co.uk/chesterwalls to chesterwalls.info was quite a learning experience for him (but I helped with some 'instant' '301' redirection code for the old pages on his photography site to search engines would quite quickly learn of the new web address... You'd havelittle/ no chance of doing that with Mr Site though, perhaps.

Off for a coffee and some breakfast

NetworkGuy Sat 22-Aug-09 14:58:02

Oooops...

"on his photography site to search engines"

"on his photography site so search engines"

ABetaDad Sat 22-Aug-09 15:31:10

NetworkGuy - thanks ever so much for that.

Loads of practical stuff there. My idea is really to contract out as much of the nuts and bolts as possible. I have a couple of friends who have run web businesses and they used that model. My skills are not and never going to be the tech stuff but I do not want to know enough to stop someone building me a duff website and lumbering me with a load of hassle later like having to go through 400 products and change all the prices 2% by hand shock.

saintlydamemrsturnip Sat 22-Aug-09 16:22:01

Thanks networkguy I have very fast cable modem so miss that sort of stuff - I'll redo that tonight.

The other things you mention are all reasons I prefer squarespace - it's slicker and much more flexible - plus the page names make sense etc. I may well move interaction in mind to squarespace when I can as it's still user friendly enough for me to maintain myself.

NetworkGuy Sat 22-Aug-09 16:36:40

Ah sorry, ABD - I somehow thought you would be doing ecommerce sites for others, with someone as staff, and wanting to know enough to know if they were building sites for others using suitable methods... Sorry, my misunderstanding.

Given I now understand better - then learning how to use DW and anything else (JavaScript, PHP, Perl, Ruby on Rails, Joomla, etc, etc, etc) could be a complete waste of time, if the site built for you uses none of them...

If you're planning on taking courses, it's only going to be worthwhile if you were going to use it yourself (IMO) else you could buy some appropriate books when the site is being built, to see if you can follow what's being done... and it may be very technical.

I look at lots of sites to see what's going on, and it is usually very tricky, the more so when the data being displayed is pulled from a database (such as happens when a blog is displayed, newspaper articles, photo galleries, any site which has dynamic content, and so variables will have different content for each page, even if the same code is used every time.

When I say "look at lots of sites" that may include extracting all the CSS and JS files, but anything running with MySQL (db) will have content that appears on a web page but clearly one never sees the code used to extract it.

I also install (from cPanel/Fantastico) various PHP packages (free, but source code is under GNU licence so could never pass off as one's own) just to look at the source code, change colours, replace animated GIFs with static GIFs, etc, to tailor to my needs, and learn about the techniques used.

I have 4 shelves of books and several GB of electronic books about coding and have been in IT 30 years but still regularly find stuff which I cannot figure out without taking days or weeks researching. So sorry, but not being involved with e-commerce, I'm not much help, but foresee you having considerable difficulty in understanding, as a non-web designer/programmer, exactly what goes on, without a hefty technical manual being written (which is unlikely to be part of your requirements for the site, or the quote(s) you received).

Up to a point, you are at the mercy of the designer - some web designers use T+C to restrict maintenance to themselves, and never pass 'ownership' of the code to the customer. It's unscrupulous, but may happen without the user considering it (similarly with copyright - in my view it should rest with the buyer of the service, the end user, but I've seen reports of complaints that web designer claimed copyright and when some dispute arose, domain owner found he'd be sued if he used the same graphic elements and site had to be built new from scratch - again, not something I'd 'forecast' for someone - but if there's a multipage contract, make sure you own everything afterwards and aren't locked into a maintenance contract at rates which can change later.

If the web designer is open and up front about either having a fixed fee and it's all yours, or a reduced fee and monthly/annual fee which includes maintenance, all well and good. If it's hidden in small print, then carefully look at the rest of the small print.

My clients get the source, on a CD, in case I'm hit by a bus. They can then upload on another host with minimal changes, and hopefully all would return to normal (less me!)

NetworkGuy Sat 22-Aug-09 16:57:26

Sorry - meant to add, for ABD, that you will probably have to judge how good or not the person is from existing sites (may also be worth contact with website owners, to check on how easy they find it to make changes, and what happened on the VAT front, for example - it would put your mind at ease to know they were happy with the developer you chose / will choose). Not clear if you've someone in mind already - if not then the DW course could easily be an unwanted expense.

Not sure if you've come across Lynda.com online training videos, but for $25/month (I think), you'd get access to lots of material, and when you are aware of what your designer uses, can see what's what from the online study course.

I should point out (1) I have not used that site, and (2) though it covers Flash, DW, and various other software, it is not dedicated to web site content, doesn't have anything on PHP, or Perl, though it does cover ASP (used on Windows servers, rather than Linux).

Until you know what your developer is going to use for the site, you are at a disadvantage.

Also, when it comes to hosting, in these uncertain times, say the hosting firm folded, would you or the web designer have a backup of your site, for prompt setup on another host, and what would the designer charge...

What costs are there for web traffic (one of my friends with a Hi-Fi shop went with a firm for an e-commerce site {since I don't touch them} and was later hit for traffic at something like 50 quid one month, for a couple of GB of hits on his site. It meant that paying for some Google ads and getting more visitors was hitting him on both fronts, Google and web hosting... hence my concern for some MrSite users, if there's a 2 GB limit on web traffic.

saintlydamemrsturnip Sat 22-Aug-09 18:41:27

Yes the 2 gb might be a concern. I'll check.

The main difference I find between mrsite and squarespace is that mrsite is easier to set up but in part that is because you hand over more of the control to mrsite. With squarespace you can set a lot more yourself but you need a basic understanding of website building (basic but still you need something).

NetworkGuy Sat 22-Aug-09 19:41:06

saintlydame... glad you took comment in way intended...

As for squarespace would only say that I worry about some of these systems (where you're paying a fee), insofar as the 'mechanics' behind the scenes aren't known, and while you might make a backup of your site (eg saving the different web pages), it isn't quite that easy to switch to another host, for example, if costs were hiked up in the future.

With deals going on behind the scenes, one could wake up one morning to find News Corp had bought some small hosting firm, and could whack up fees by 30% with minimal notice, or change so that content comes under their copyright, and continued use loses yours...

Some rely on user to look at website T+C and give you 30 days in which to cancel if you don't like changes. How often do people check T+C for changes ? Probably not more than once a year (if that)!

Anyway, I will see if I can find a couple of websites (where I was planning to recmmend switching to their own domain, or own hosting arrangement, but because they used Flash, I decided not to bother with them as I go for simple and reliable sites, with minimal animation/flash !)

Ah, here we go Free web hosting at webs.com

Also, Moonfruit (I came across this being used for the website of a freelancer who uses a 'btinternet.com' mail address (*), but have my reservations about sites built on Flash, sorry). Moonfruit has free and paid-for options (had to go to the one PC I have installed Flash on to even see that page!).

They mention e-commerce (which may be handy!) being included at the 49.95 level (I guess they might bump the prices up when VAT returns to 17.5%) so price-wise it has some similarities to MrSite, but the 49.xx quid level includes 10 GB/month of traffic, the 24.xx quid level includes 6 GB of web traffic a month, which looks good, considering you also get a 20 quid Google adword credit.

Anyway, whether someone chooses Mr Site or one of the many others, I'd urge them to see about taking a backup of pages, and Flash objects, so they have some way of showing what they want if anything goes wrong with the service.

www.archive.org and other web tools look around and archive sites. However, seeing that Mr Site blocked use of NetMechanic, then it will probably be blocking other things...

Search engines run 'spider' software, wandering around the web to find sites and note/copy content. If a search engine is blocked, it rather puts the kibosh on being found through a search engine, as the spider will see the restriction from Mr Site! That forces people to use paid-for advertising, for search engines, at least, plus any freebie directory listings they can get.

(One recommendation is never to use 'FFA' Free-For-All linking tools - they are the web equivalent of spam and frowned on!)

(*) after 8 years using an ISP-owned e-mail address, my ISP (in USA) was taken over and that e-mail address was lost to me, and since then I have always encouraged people to get their own domain (even if you have mail forwarded to your ISP of choice, or Google Mail or some other service) but give yourself the flexibility to change destination if the service introduces charges or closes down - another example: I had an account at ChicagoMailbag.com which died when ApexMail stopped running dozens of sites linked to newspapers across USA...

trellism Sat 22-Aug-09 20:00:18

I don't know if it's much help or exactly what you're looking for but Positive Internet (www.positive-internet.com) have a good reputation.

ABetaDad Sat 22-Aug-09 20:11:51

NetworkGuy - many thanks again. I recon you saved me several £1000 bills there and three months of frustration.

The power of MN strikes again. grin

NetworkGuy Sun 23-Aug-09 03:27:49

ABD - I just hope I didn't sound too negative about suggesting not to do the courses - just seems overkill (esp if they are as costly as some I've seen in the past, but never been funded by employers to attend!) - and it sounds like they were costly courses...

ABetaDad Sun 23-Aug-09 09:34:54

Yes they are fairly pricey at my local technical college. I can afford it and will write off aganst my business. Looking forward to doing it. I have used to be be a University lecturer so will be interestng sitting in with a bunch of 20 year olds doing practical work again but half of the draw for me is being able to interact and pick teh brains of technically minded people.

I am not a tech but very proficient with computers. My skill is really in bolting together the other bits of the business and the financng. Just need to know enough to not be given the run around on the technical issues. This is one bit I do not want to learn by trial and error.

saintlydamemrsturnip Sun 23-Aug-09 16:48:50

Squarespace is easy to switch hosts - have done it before ( from squarespace to wordpress - very very easy).

Can't give feedback on the others so might be harder. I have a virus so slept last night rather than changed my site - but I will do!

saintlydamemrsturnip Sun 23-Aug-09 16:53:20

Thanks for the suggestions btw. I'm about to start putting together an info site - know I don't want it on mrsite - was going to use squarespace but will look at your recommendations.

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