How to Use a Web Host for Your Online Business

By Greg Holden

Not all web hosting services are intended to help you create your own full-fledged business website. They come in different varieties, depending on the type of business you want to run and the amount of control you want to have over your presentation. Here’s a look at some common hosting options.

A big e-commerce marketplace as host

You can operate an online storefront with your business name and a catalog full of browsable items if you sell regularly on eBay, Amazon.com, or another big marketplace. On eBay, you can create an About Me page or an eBay store; on Amazon, you can open a webstore. In either case, eBay or Amazon itself is your host, and you pay a monthly fee to host your store.

A small specialty marketplace as host

Small marketplaces can be a wise choice because they’re smaller than the big venues, you generally pay less for hosting, and get more personal support. If you sell handmade crafts, Etsy is an obvious choice. For artists, ArtFire is a good option. Such storefronts are excellent choices for a business that already has a website and wants to expand to improve marketing and reach more customers.

An e-commerce “shopping cart” service as host

Services like Volusion, Shopify, ZenCart, X-Cart, Ecwid, and other businesses that provide store owners with shopping carts and related services also provide storefronts, hosting, and support for a monthly fee. The term shopping cart is somewhat misleading, because these services give you much more than just a system for shopping, making selections, and checking out. You get a full-featured storefront with design templates and phone or e-mail support as well.

A hosting service dedicated to websites as host

If you don’t necessarily want to set up an e-commerce storefront, many hosting services are happy to help you create a home page and associated web pages so people can find you online.

What’s the difference between a web host like HostGator and a shopping cart host? Not much. HostGator hosts an e-commerce storefront and gives you a shopping cart. A storefront hosted with Shopify looks just the same as one hosted with HostGator.

You might get better customer support and more e-commerce options with a shopping cart host because it specializes in hosting for online businesses. But all these hosts give you space on a web server; a URL so people can find you; and a way to post text, images, and other content online.

You don’t need a storefront if you sell by placing ads on Craigslist or if you add merchandise to Amazon.com’s marketplace listings, for example.

In all of these cases, a web host provides space on special computers — web servers — that are always connected to the Internet. Web servers are equipped with software that makes your web pages visible to people who connect to them by using a web browser. The process of using a web hosting service for your online business works roughly like this:

  1. Decide where you want your site to appear on the Internet.

    Do you want it to be part of a virtual shopping mall that includes many other businesses? Or do you want a standalone site with its own web address that doesn’t appear to be affiliated with any other organization?

  2. Sign up with the host.

    Sometimes you pay a fee. In some cases, no fee is required. In all cases, you’re assigned space on a server. Your website gets an address, or URL, that people can enter in their browsers to view your pages.

  3. Create your web pages.

    Usually, you use a web page editor to do this step, although many hosts help by providing a “store builder” or other utility.

  4. Transfer your web page files (HTML documents, images, and so on) from your computer to the host’s web server.

    You generally need special File Transfer Protocol (FTP) software to do the transferring. But many web hosts can help you through the process by providing their own user-friendly software.

  5. Access your site with your web browser and check the contents to make sure that all images appear correctly and any hypertext links you created go to the intended destinations.

    At this point, you’re open for business — visitors can view your web pages by entering your web address in their web browser’s Go To or Address box.

  6. Market and promote your site to attract potential clients or customers.

Choose your web host carefully, because the host affects which software you need to use to create your web pages and get them online.

You can host your own site if you have a direct connection to the Internet, such as through DSL or cable, and are competent with computers. However, turning your computer into a web server is more complicated than signing up with a hosting service.

Your Internet service provider (ISP) may not allow you to set up your own server anyway; check your user agreement first. You need to install server software and set up a domain name for your computer. You also have to purchase a static IP address for your machine.

If you’re interested in becoming a webmaster, check out MegaPath. This ISP encourages users to set up their own web servers and offers eight static IP addresses with a DSL line for $59.95 per month.

One of the best shortcuts to success is to find a good web servicing host or ISP and then use that company’s software tools and service reps when you need help building your website, processing forms, running scripts, and performing similar tasks.

A web host called pair Networks offers a typical selection of hosting options. It also provides e-commerce services that go beyond basic hosting arrangements: a secure server, a shopping card, credit card authorization, and a dedicated server. These services range from $10 to $50 per month.