Frequently I come across small business owners who have issues with their website. They find a web designer and then it all goes wrong. The issues I have heard several times over are:
• I cannot update my own website.
• My web designer charges a large fee for updating a little bit of text on the website.
• My web person charges a lot for updating a photo on my website.
I just had a meeting with the owner of language school in Tenerife who is having issues with her website. Her previous website was with WordPress, but because the person who set up the website was French, they used a French WordPress system which the language school owner could not understand and therefore it was difficult for her to make changes to her website.
Now she is with another web person, and it’s another horror story.
What I couldn’t understand was why she couldn’t simply change her WordPress to be displayed in Spanish, and my fears were confirmed when she said her previous French person simply registered a website on www.wordpress.fr – the actual WordPress website.
So how does WordPress work?
WordPress started out as a blogging platform on www.wordpress.com many years ago. If you wanted a cheap or – mostly – free website, you would register a sub domain on wordpress.com.
Without getting too technical here, you are “subletting” a bit of free space on the WordPress servers, and they give you a sub domain, i.e. your business name before the wordpress.com bit. It’s like living in an apartment with the number 15, but you live in Flat 2, so it’s 15/F2. The number 15 represents wordpress.com and F2 is your username when you first register on the WordPress website.
WordPress calls this the “user” and you could check if your username was still free. Similarly, if the Flat 2 is still free, you can use it. And as long as you don’t delete it, it’s yours for life, for free. For example, “mybusinessname.wordpress.com”.
For free – sounds appealing to many small businesses starting out, but this can be costly in the future. Also, the 15/F2 doesn’t look professional, on a website, so the small business would buy a domain name, such as www.mybusinessname.com and then point that domain name to mybusinessname.wordpress.com. So in effect, you’re buying a fancy name which disguises the actual address. This is like an address re-direct you can get from your post office if you have moved house. Your proper domain name (www.mybusinessname.com) is your actual address you want the people to use (it’s also easier to remember!), and your content is located on the WordPress Servers under mybusinessname.wordpress.com.
When using the WordPress site on www.wordpress.com, there are some limitations. Mainly, you have no control over which server is used, and if the server is down, your website is down. Things that are cheap or free are usually cheap and free for a reason.
So why are so many people using WordPress for their business website?
WordPress is an Open Source Software. This means it’s continuously developed and improved by many developers around the world. It is then provided as a downloadable zip file to web developers, similar to downloading an App on your phone. The App is downloaded and installed on your phone and you can use it. If you have a fast phone with lots of memory, the app will load quickly, if you have a cheap or old phone, the app might not work or only work very slowly.
If you have no understanding about servers – most people don’t, so don’t worry about it – you’d ask a web developer to provide you with a WordPress website which is hosted on a server that either the web person recommends, or you can choose it yourself. This is where the hosting comes in.
(Very!!) generally speaking, there are two types of hosting: Shared hosting and Private hosting.
So what is shared hosting?
When the hosting is very cheap (such as £1 to £5 per month), this is usually an indicator for shared hosting. Shared hosting means – you are letting a flat in a block of flats. The difference is, that you don’t know how many flats are available in the block of flats, and if some flats house 20 people or 500 people. So imagine, you move into a block of flats, and once you’ve paid the rent for the next year (it was cheap after all!), you realise, that every time you want to use the lift, you have to wait for 20 minutes because there are so many people wanting to use the lift too and you have to wait your turn. In Website terms – you would have a slow website. This means, the website is displayed slowly to the person who wants to see the content. Google will also notice this and then penalise you for living in such a cheap flat and will not show your website in the search results very high up, but much further down the list.
For that reason, shared web hosting should be chosen with care and only be used by businesses or individuals, who do not rely on their website as the main source of income or for client conversions.
So what is private hosting?
Many hosting companies offer VPS hosting. This means Virtual Private Server. So in terms of the flat analogy, this means you are renting the penthouse of an apartment block, but you have your own private lift, which is always available to you. No waiting. Ever! You obviously have to pay for this service, but VPS hosting packages have come down in price over the years. If you want the hosting company to look after the security and provide backups (highly recommend), you would pay for that accordingly. Good VPS services are available from £15-£20 per month and you can usually “build” your own server. This means you can set the RAM, server space, Operating System etc. that is to be used on your server. You are basically furnishing your penthouse, and you determine the quality of the furnishings.
Another alternative would be that you have your own server and run this at your own premises. But that’s getting all a bit complicated.
So where does WordPress come in?
Your web developer would download the WordPress Software from the WordPress website, and then they install WordPress on either your shared hosting or VPS hosting. It looks identical to the WordPress solution on wordpress.com, but it’s independent from wordpress.com. It’s run on your own server using your terms.
Once WordPress is installed, the language can be changed in a matter of seconds. If your WordPress was installed in English, a little switch can change it to German, or Spanish, or one of the many other languages it was translated to.
How to choose a hosting company?
The first question should be: What country is your business serving? Are you a UK business? Then you should buy your hosting from a UK company. Do not buy cheap US hosting. Your website would be located in the US, and if people from the UK are trying to access your website, the data needs to travel a long way for it to be accessible to the UK website visitor. I know the internet is fast and getting faster all the time, but delivering website content across the Atlantic still takes longer than requesting the same content from a UK data centre and Google will reward faster websites with higher search rankings. So it’s an important consideration.
How much should you pay?
Shared web hosting can be quite cheap. However, you should shy away from web hosting companies who offer web hosting for free, or for a tiny fee, such as £1 per month. Usually, they need something in exchange for the small fee. This could mean they will place a logo on your website that advertises their hosting company and the logo can be quite prominently displayed and you have no control over it.
Also, cheap hosting packages will not have many features included in the package.
Private web hosting is available from between £15 to £20 per month and allows you more control on how your server is “built”.
So when you consider using WordPress for your business website, please buy proper hosting from a reputable hosting provider and consider what your plans for your website are. If you only use your website as an online business card which people will find after you have given them your business card, or after they have had your leaflet, shared hosting is absolutely fine.
However, if you plan to sell products online, if you want your website to rank highly in search engines and you need your website to provide your visitors with information, if you need the website to be displayed really fast on mobiles and other mobile devices, and you need it to convert visitors into customers, you should consider private hosting (VPS). Treat your website like a member of staff. If you pay for them properly, you will get better results from it in the long term.