WordPress Hosting…. Do I have an Option?

In many ways WordPress has had a revolutionary influence on the Internet. Starting life as a humble blogging tool, the popular application soon evolved features common to those found in many specialist CMS applications, but without the steep learning curve.
The result has been explosive growth in the number of websites and the diversity of people able to publish them. Where previously technical skills had been required to create a website, now it is within reach of just about anyone.


On the positive side, the Web has become an even more democratic place for publication than ever before. The downside, for those who care about such things, is that many websites have become homogenized in their appearance, and not always for the better.
Whether we choose to look on the bright side or not, the simple fact is that WordPress is here to stay. For those lacking the technical ability to develop websites manually and lacking the financial resources to pay a skilled developer to do the job for them, it remains a viable means of self expression.
Skilled developers may find the limitations and overheads of WordPress to be somewhat frustrating, but it does provide a safe way to hand over editorial control to clients who don’t wish to pay for ongoing site management.
Having decided that you want to go ahead with using WordPress, you then come to the important decision of how and where you’ll host the site.
The choices for hosting type include:
• Managed WordPress hosting
• Standard hosting with WordPress installed

Advantages of managed WordPress hosting
Dedicated managed WordPress hosting is the quickest and simplest way to get a WordPress website up and running. This is suitable where you only will be hosting one site from a specific server location.
If you’re scratching your head in confusion at that statement, it’s probably not a matter that’s going to affect you. The fact is, you can host more than one site from a single server location, and there are certain circumstances where that may offer advantages. With managed WP hosting, that option is off the table.
A notable exception is Hosting Ireland, which does allow multiple sites to be hosted from a single account, making it ideal for web developers and resellers looking for an inexpensive way to provide fully developed WordPress sites to their customers.
The main thing in this case is that everything is already installed and ready to go, with none of the distractions found with regular hosting.
Managed hosting can also give you a little more security from attacks, though it’s not going to necessarily be able to fend off all attacks. The other side of it is that managed hosting makes it a little less easy to do investigative work on your own if your site security does get compromised. You’ll have to rely on tech support to do that for you.
You also typically won’t need to worry about keeping your WordPress installation up to date, as the hosting provider may take care of these things for you.
There have been some situations where updates have produced negative results, such as if you have plug-ins that are not compatible with the latest version of WordPress, but usually a call to tech support can resolve the problem for you.
One of the biggest advantages is that 100 percent of your hosting allocation is dedicated to your WordPress hosting, so if that’s all you’re intending to use your server space for, you don’t have other things taking up space and resources when you won’t be using them.

Disadvantages of managed WordPress hosting
Remarkably, even though managed hosting imposes greater restrictions and is less flexible, it is usually offered at premium rates. Presumably the slightly higher price is due to the configuration work performed by technicians when the site is initially set up for you, and the greater dependency on tech support that is expected.
Apart from cost, the main disadvantage is that there’s less flexibility. You’re locked into using WordPress, even if you later change your mind about wanting to. You can only realistically host a single site from your server space, and you don’t have access to the tools you’d find in a regular hosting set up such as those found in cPanel.
For novices who have no intention to use advanced features, this won’t be a major problem as these features aren’t necessarily ones you’ll want to access.
Another potential drawback is probably that you don’t have direct access to the MySQL database that the site uses, but that may be considered an advantage by some users, particularly those who need to work on a collaborative basis.
You’re better off with managed dedicated WordPress hosting solutions when you have a high traffic site and you don’t have time to take care of the administrative side. It’s the kind of hosting you need when you prefer to call tech support for help with problems instead of rolling up your sleeves and hunting for the solution yourself.

Advantages of regular hosting
Regular hosting is the most flexible option, because you can do anything you want with your allocated server space, including installing WordPress. If that’s all you’re going to do with it, then you may prefer the simplicity of managed WP hosting, though there are still some reasons to consider regular hosting.
With regular hosting you can easily create databases manually, and you have access to a vast array of website tools. It depends on the server software you’re running, but most sites are running in a cPanel environment installed on Apache servers.
You’re also able to install and test many different kinds of CMS or other software, and you can host multiple sites, subdomains and so on very easily.
Another advantage is that it’s usually cheaper, but money isn’t always the top consideration for all customers.

Disadvantages of regular hosting
Regular hosting is best for people who are confident in using web technology, and who dislike working with tech support. They see tech support as an unnecessary delay in getting problems solved instead of a welcome helping hand.
That’s the main difference between people who are likely to choose regular hosting instead of managed hosting when their chosen publishing environment is WordPress.
When you don’t have managed hosting, you have to do a lot more yourself. You can contact tech support when something goes wrong, but you’ll first have to experience something going wrong.
You will be responsible for installing and hardening WordPress yourself, and you’ll have to keep it updated yourself.

Where to get managed WP hosting in Ireland
There are a lot of different businesses offering managed WordPress hosting in Ireland, but of course they’re not all equal. Among the most popular and best offerings are:

WP Engine – This is a pricier option with plans starting at around 19 euros per month. These plans don’t have unlimited bandwidth, but what is offered is still fairly generous. This is the right choice for those who prefer to deal with giant global corporations rather than local businesses.

Hosting Ireland – Plans start at 5.99 euros per month, with unlimited bandwidth, 10GB of space (2 extra euros per month for 5GB extra if you should need it), and more extras than we can list. You also get 2 months free with annual subscriptions.

WordPlace is aimed squarely at complete beginners. Their paid plans start at just 5.99 euros per month, and come with 1GB of disk space and 10GB of bandwidth. They do offer a free SSL certificate, but not every site will need one, and the quality of the certificate is entirely up to the provider.

In Summary
Managed WordPress hosting is the perfect solution for website customers who are planning only to use WordPress in their hosting and who prefer to leave the management to the providers.
As you can see from the three top WordPress hosting companies in Ireland listed above, the pricing for managed hosting doesn’t have to be off the charts. The unlimited bandwidth offered by Hosting Ireland certainly makes them the most attractive option, but WP Engine has the reliability of a huge corporation and WordPlace has the free SSL option on offer.
Hosting Ireland was also the only one of the three that made managed WP hosting optional, and the cost for this is only 1.40 euros more than the standard regular hosting plan, so this is further food for thought.

Comparison of Website Builders in Ireland

When it comes to publishing a website, people generally have two options:

• Build the entire site themselves, or
• Pay a developer to build it for them

But sometimes it can be the case that you lack the required coding skills to develop an entire website all by yourself, and also lack the financial resources to pay a competent developer to build a site for you of a suitable quality.

Should you just give up? Heck no – because there’s a reasonable compromise available, and it’s one that might help you meet your publishing needs without a major investment of time and money.

This solution, as you can no doubt tell from the title of this article, is to use an automated website builder.

Now, it is important to understand that these systems aren’t for everyone. If your site needs to do something very advanced, this method may not be best for you. But if you just need a general business website that doesn’t need to be uniquely special, automated site builders can save you time and money.

In this article, we’ll review the most popular automated site builders in Ireland, so you can evaluate whether this is the right way for you to meet your publishing needs, and decide which company will be best for you to work with.

What we’re testing.
For each provider, we’ll examine the available pricing plans, quality and variety of templates offered, performance, and ease of use.

1. Wix
Wix is the most well-known of the automated site builder providers because it was one of the earliest ones and indulges very heavily in marketing, especially on social media.


• Pricing
Wix has the option to include a free, ad-supported, Wix branded website, with no obligation to upgrade to a premium service. For most businesses, this would not be desirable, because it makes your site look amateurish and cheap. Just because you didn’t pay to have your site professionally developed doesn’t mean you want everyone to know it!

• Template selection
Wix has more than 350 free templates to choose from, however as is usually the case, the popularity of this provider means that many businesses within the same nice may end up with very similar websites. You can avoid this problem by using one of their blank templates, however this also means you’ll need some design skills.

The selection of templates feels limited. If you were creating a website for a restaurant, for example, the choices are limited to: Burger Corner, Pizza Restaurant, Vegetarian Restaurant, Steakhouse, Mexican Taqueria, Asian Restaurant, Mexican Restaurant, Restaurant Site (haute cuisine / nouveau cuisine), Tapas Restaurant, Vietnamese Restaurant, French Cuisine, Sushi Restaurant, and Italian Restaurant.

So unless your restaurant fits into one of their neat little stereotypes, you’ll need to invest extra effort and time into modifying the template to work for your business.

• Performance
This may depend on what browser and operating system you use. On my Linux system running Firefox, Wix appeared to cause a gvsd metadata loop to start up on multiple occasions, which leads to excess hard drive access. It also increased the resources used by Firefox until the gvsd metadata loop was manually shut down, whereupon the system returned to normal. If this happened only once, it wouldn’t be worth mentioning. The fault may not be exclusively caused by Wix, but it was the only provider that triggered this issue on the test system.

Accessing a site already built with Wix was not impressive either. The page loading time was excessive, and I was also not impressed that Wix hides the page source in encrypted form.

• Ease of use
After signing up for a free Wix account, you are asked what kind of site you want to create. There is no delay waiting for your email address to be verified, etc. Select the category of your site, and then choose a template. A very lengthy delay then ensues, with a splash screen to show it is working, but no progress indicator, so the user will not be sure how long it is necessary to wait.

Waiting for this process to complete gave me plenty of time to notice this warning in the browser about their SSL certificate:

After 10 minutes, it still had not completed, so I restarted the process. After another 10 minutes, I abandoned their site on the basis that it clearly wasn’t working correctly. Reliability is important for any hosting service, and persistent errors are not acceptable.

Other reviews have described the editor as “easy to use” and I guess this can be accepted as true. I was disappointed not to have the chance to see for myself, however.

2. Register365
This provider gives the option of building the site yourself or having them do it for a fee. It’s worth taking into account that the fee is too low for them to be creating you a genuinely bespoke website, but if you’re comfortable with buying off the rack, it’s probably still better than going for a total DIY job. On the other hand, if you prefer to tackle the task yourself, it’s completely possible with their Website Builder tool.


• Pricing
Register365 is massively undercutting market leader Wix, and on the face of things the value offered is much better. There are just two pricing options, and they’re super-competitive:


• Register365 is also providing more value straight out of the box than Wix does, as many features of Wix that are optional add-ons are provided by default by Register365. However, we still can’t recommend them unless you’re never going to travel the world, and never going to work with any subcontractors located internationally.

Why? Because if you log in from a non-European IP, they will lock you out, and the only way to resolve this is by phoning them, because they only provide phone support (which is not good enough). They will do this even if you registered in the first place from that non-European IP. So for us, Register365 is a no-go, because you should be able to log in from where you want.

It is super-discriminatory to assume that you’re an intruder based on where you’re logging in from, and ought to be illegal.

• Template selection
Register365 only provides somewhere between 100 and 200 templates, which means you’re even less likely to find a suitable one for your business than you would have on Wix, and even more likely to end up being “twinned” to one of your competitors due to using the same template.

• Performance
Register365 did not trigger any of the performance issues encountered on Wix and was impressively quick to load. The only downside was the log in screen, which has quite an amateurish appearance, and not what we’d expect from a major service provider.

Their lack of support for globalised industry also has to count as a point against in terms of performance.

• Ease of use
The interface was a little more complicated than expected, but it’s still easy enough to get to grips with. You start by selecting a template for your site, and then clicking the “Edit” link. CloudSite templates are made up of components called widgets. You can edit each widget directly by clicking on it in the editing area, and you can drag-n-drop widgets from the left panel.

The knowledgebase for this system is scanty, and for this reason it’s not easy to recommend Register365 to anyone with no prior experience in designing and building websites. Considering that this would be the main market for this kind of service, the logical conclusion is that updating the knowledgebase to be more comprehensive should be their highest priority.

This service demonstrates the concept of “you get what you pay for”. It’s the cheapest option out there, but it’s lacking in too many areas to be an easy recommendation. This service could be of interest if you’re strictly a local business and you aren’t interested in a nomadic lifestyle or working with a widely dispersed global team.

3. Hosting Ireland
This service was the easiest to get up and running with quickly. Registering was a snap, and required only a name, email address, and password to be entered. Once registration is completed, the user is taken immediately to begin the process of building their site.


• Pricing
Hosting Ireland offers three different website builder packages that you can create a website with. At first the pricing may seem high, but when you take a look at the inclusions, you can see that these packages actually represent excellent value. The Premium package, in particular, comes under notice, offering a free IE domain and free SSL certificate included, at only €149 per year for an annual subscription.

What makes Hosting Ireland stand out is the added value from all the inclusions. While their regular hosting is even more affordable, and also excellent value, if you need the simplicity offered by a website builder application, these packages are an excellent choice.

• Template selection
The number of templates available was low in comparison to Wix, but then none of the website builders (including Wix) are offering anywhere near enough templates to meet the demand. The starter site had the lowest number of templates to choose from, while both of the higher priced options include more than 100 templates. It’s worth noting that these templates offer certain enhancements as standard inclusions that would be paid extras under most of the other services in this review.

• Performance
The performance was impressively fast during testing, and there was virtually no lag, even when tested using a Wi-Fi connection.

• Ease of use
There wasn’t a great deal of difference in ease of use compared with Register365’s CloudSite, with the only real difference being that the widgets are dragged down from the top of the screen instead of from the left. There are also more widgets to choose from.

4. LetsHost
At first glance, it looks like LetsHost is offering very similar deals to HostingIreland, but actually the differences are definitely there to be seen. LetsHost has a more solid focus on eCommerce, and offers it even on their lowest package deal, but they’re not including as many freebies and bonuses.

• Pricing
LetsHost has three packages to choose from:

In some ways this looks good because the basic price is not too high and includes eCommerce at every level, but then you start to notice a few things.

The first of these, which was really the standout compared with HostingIreland, is that there’s no SSL included, and no free domain included. This thing about “membership” was also confusing, since that should be something entirely under your control, not something your host should be involved in at all. And very alarmingly, they imply password protection is only available on the premium plans, but also it’s not clear what they mean by this.

The most concerning thing, however, is that this service stands alone in charging transaction fees, and it’s not clear whether this transaction fee is merely passing on from their payment services provider (Weebly), or is added on top of Weebly’s transaction fees (which would make it a total of 6%). We’re going to assume that it’s not added on top. Either way, for a host branding itself as a stand-alone host to be routing checkout through Weebly just feels slimy.

• Template selection
This service has more templates than most of the other services except Wix, but the wording on their site implies there are “thousands of variations”, which is kind of true, but you could say that about any site using templates. A variation just means using different fonts and colours to the default.

As an example of how meaningless this is, consider a site that offers 100 different templates, and for each template there are 10 foreground and background colour options. This means the number of variations is 104 (or 10x10x10x10 = 10,000).

If you then have 100 different fonts you could choose from, the number of possible variations becomes 106 (or 10x10x10x10x10x10 = 1,000,000).

So effectively, claiming there are thousands of variations possible is a meaningless statistic, and it’s not helpful to consumers in making a comparison. All the different providers have thousands of variations.

• Performance
The performance of LetsHost was impressive, with fast loading times even for large images and video backgrounds. Some of the links and scripts on their own website didn’t work when clicked, so that was a minor concern. Otherwise the platform itself seems quite sturdy.

• Ease of use
LetsHost uses a left column drag interface. The buttons are clearly marked and easy to understand. Navigating within the control panel was a little more complicated compared to HostingIreland but easier than Register365.

Overall verdict
If you like working from templates, don’t want to pay anyone to assist you, or you want a simple eShop where you don’t have to do any real work to configure it, an automated site builder is for you. Otherwise, regular hosting and a bespoke site built with HTML and CSS is better, because it’s going to give you a lot more control over the end result.

From the sites reviewed above, HostingIreland offered the best overall experience in terms of value for money, performance, and ease of use. If they added some more templates to their offering, it would be as close to perfect as an automated website builder can get.

Securing Your Site and User Trust With SSL

Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) has two important functions associated with site security and integrity:

• When your SSL certificate is digitally signed by a trusted third party certificate authority, it helps to verify that your site is identifying itself correctly

• SSL encrypts all communications between the user and your site, making it difficult for somebody to extract anything useful even if they are able to intercept the communication

Every site that is owned by a business, non-profit organization, or government agency should have an SSL certificate. The only exception is where your site does not collect or disseminate any sensitive information.

When you have an SSL certificate, users can connect to your site via the HTTPS protocol. The “S” in HTTPS stands for “secure”. Although we use the term “SSL”, which is the one most people are familiar with, the standard has actually been superseded by something called TLS (Transport Layer Security). But you don’t need to worry about this because TLS is going to be enabled by default on any modern web server.

Even though the technology is enabled by default, sites that have an SSL certificate still need to set the HTTPS version of their site as the default protocol for inbound connections. A 2014 survey by Moz showed that less than 18% of respondents were already using HTTPS, and as recently as 2015, it was found that less than 2% of the top 1,000,000 sites had HTTPS set as the default protocol.

As a user, you can ensure that HTTPS is used whenever possible regardless of a site’s default settings by installing the HTTPS Everywhere plug-in.

SEO advantages
Using SSL may give your site a boost in Google rankings. In August 2014, Google announced that it would take SSL into account as a ranking factor.

It also must be considered that HTTPS does slightly lower the speed of a site, so if your site is already slow (which it shouldn’t be – fix it!), you could see your rank actually slip as a result of adding HTTPS. It will really come down to the differential between the benefit from HTTPS and the benefit from having a fast site.

Google wants sites to use HTTPS because it makes it easier to verify the integrity of a site, but that doesn’t automatically mean you need to do it. Most sites will benefit from having HTTPS, but because SSL certificates aren’t free, you might choose not to have one if the cost can’t be justified.

Risk vs. reward: the privacy and security advantages of SSL
You have to think about the financial cost of purchasing and renewing your SSL certificate. If there’s nothing on your site that needs to be confidential, you may not need to go to the trouble.

But if your site collects personal information from the user, has password authenticated log-ins, or engages in any sort of e-Commerce, you absolutely must have SSL if you want to avoid problems and retain the full confidence and trust of your users.

How to get an SSL certificate
Buying an SSL certificate is not like a regular purchase, because there are a few tests and checks that have to be done before a certificate can be issued. This is for the protection of everyone, including you. Usually the easiest way is to get your Hosting company or SEO manager to obtain the SSL certificates for you, because this will simplify the process greatly.

If you’d prefer to do it entirely on your own, your first step is to generate a Certificate Signing Request (CSR) on your server. This is a block of encrypted text that looks similar to a PGP signature. What you need to type to generate the request depends on what server software your web host is running.

Most websites are hosted on Apache servers, and Apache uses a service called OpenSSL to generate a CSR. Here’s an example of how to generate a CSR for a company called Widgets-R-Us Inc, with domain widgets.com, based in Los Angeles:

openssl req -new -newkey rsa:2048 -nodes -out widgets_com.csr -keyout widgets_com.key -subj “C/=US/ST=California/L=Los Angeles/O=Widgets R Us Inc./CN=widgets.com”

The section that’s relevant about the company is the -subj section. This contains a string value with specific values, as follows:

• C is a 2 digit country code, for example: US, UK, IE, FR, DE, BE, and so on.
• ST is the state or province
• L is the city
• O is the organization name
• CN is the “common name”, which is a fully qualified domain name (FQDN).

There’s an optional value called OU that can appear between O and CN, but it is rarely used, and can cause problems. Currently (at the time of writing) the SSL certificate of Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is affected, for example. OU stands for “organizational unit” and means a department within the organisation.

After generating the CSR, it would look something like:

—–BEGIN CERTIFICATE REQUEST—– MIIHVjCCBj6gAwIBAgIQVXENtd02KRwAAAAAUNuvdTANBgkqhkiG9w0BAQsFADCB ujELMAkGA1UEBhMCVVMxFjAUBgNVBAoTDUVudHJ1c3QsIEluYy4xKDAmBgNVBAsT H1NlZSB3d3cuZW50cnVzdC5uZXQvbGVnYWwtdGVybXMxOTA3BgNVBAsTMChjKSAy MDEyIEVudHJ1c3QsIEluYy4gLSBmb3IgYXV0aG9yaXplZCB1c2Ugb25seTEuMCwG A1UEAxMlRW50cnVzdCBDZXJ0aWZpY2F0aW9uIEF1dGhvcml0eSAtIEwxSzAeFw0x NzAzMDIyMjA5MzNaFw0xODAzMDIyMjM5MzFaMIGNMQswCQYDVQQGEwJBVTElMCMG
—–END CERTIFICATE REQUEST—–

In this case it is contained in the generated file “widgets_com.csr”. You need to open that file in a text editor, then cut and paste all the text (including the begin and end instructions) into the online form of the SSL certificate authority you are ordering from. Do not confuse the csr file with the key file.

Once the certificate authority has validated your domain and company, it will email you a copy of your SSL certificate, which you then need to install on your server.

Due to the complexity involved, most people prefer to have professional assistance rather than opting to do it themselves.

eCommerce Plug-Ins for WordPress…

WordPress is the technology driving a significant portion of small business websites, largely due to heavy promotion of the fact that it’s easy to manage and that just about anyone should be able to create a simple functioning website with it.

Hold that thought for a moment, because we’re about to slide into very different territory to anything resembling a simple website. From here we enter the murky waters of eCommerce, a dark and mysterious art that has led many to their doom. Or great prosperity. It’s all a matter of perspective.

The fundamental thing to be aware of is that eCommerce is like jumping in the deep end of the pool. If you’re not totally confident you can swim, you really ought to have somebody with experience watching over you to make sure you don’t go under.

The good news for small business operators is that plug-ins for WordPress do help to make the process of getting into eCommerce a little simpler. It’s still best to get help setting everything up unless you’re prepared to put in a lot of effort to learn techniques that you may only ever employ one time.

But once these items are properly set up, you should be able to manage your website with the same ease that you have always done under WordPress, just with the added benefit that your website can make money for you directly instead of indirectly.

Some of the best eCommerce plug-ins available currently includes:

• Ecwid – This could be one of the simplest to get up and running with, provided your sales environment isn’t overly complex itself. For a simple online store selling a small range of merchandise (either physical or digital), Ecwid fills that need perfectly, and without a steep learning curve to master it.

One thing to be aware of is that the developers of this plug-in have decided to monetise it by limiting how many products you can list on a free version, plus also restricting some features. Then the more you are willing to pay per month, the more features they’ll unlock for you and the more products you can list.

• WooCommerce – This is currently the most popular eCommerce plug-in for WordPress, but before you rush to join the hordes downloading it, hit the brakes and think for a moment. This was never a line in a Spiderman movie, but it should have been: With great popularity comes greater vulnerability.

You do need to be aware that if you use the most popular solutions for your site, there will be more people trying to hack you and greater chance that they will succeed.

Another possible drawback to WooCommerce is that you can’t just plug it into any old template and expect a good result. You really need to either have a template that was designed specifically with WooCommerce already in mind, or else be a template wrangling guru.

On the positive side, you can take some confidence from the fact that a large community of users also means easier access to support if you need it. The interface is also extendable, although that involves extra cost and effort. This is a good choice for eCommerce experts who are confident building their own systems or who regularly set up eCommerce solutions for their clients.

For the complete beginner, WooCommerce may have a little too much on offer, making it difficult to know where to start with it, although the documentation is very good.

• WPEPPA – Or as it is more properly known, WordPress Easy Pay Pay Acceptance is a plug-in that could be described as the polar opposite of WooCommerce.

Where the latter is sprawling, complex, and extendable, this plug-in does just one thing, and that is it makes you able to accept payments via PayPal, Visa, MasterCard, and depending on certain geographical factors, possibly other cards as well.

This plug-in is most suitable for those situations where your needs are simple and you don’t really want to get too fancy. You just want a simple tool that gets the job done, and this is it, provided you don’t mind PayPal’s high fees and tendency to block accounts when they think they smell a rat.

• Easy Digital Downloads – If you mostly sell digital items or things that have no physical existence (like, for example, psychic readings or prayers), the Easy Digital Downloads is a good choice. Just as with WooCommerce, it is extendable, but it’s different too because it’s actually easy to integrate into any WP theme, not just those which have been specially built for it.

While it is a little complex (the “easy” in the name means easy for your customers, not for the person setting up the shop), there is a lot of quality documentation available and for the most part it is quite intuitive. It’s suitable for beginners or experienced users, provided that the product range is essentially non-physical.

If you really know what you’re doing, it’s possible to wrangle it into selling physical goods as well, but why go to all that trouble when WooCommerce already lets you sell both types of products without having to get your hands dirty?

• Cart66 – When you want the most flexible range of payment options and the surety of having full PCI compliance without having to actually put in any of the groundwork, Cart66 is the right choice for you. This isn’t as extendable as many of the others on the list, but there are so many features built right in to the system that you probably wouldn’t find many scenarios where you’d need to extend it even further.

Cart66 deserves to be more popular than it is, but that lack of popularity is also one of its strengths, because as mentioned earlier, more popularity normally equals more vulnerability. There used to be a free version available, but today visiting the website only offers the possibility of a free trial, and thereafter pricing starts from $9.99 per month.

This plug-in is very flexible and can be used just about anywhere. It also is a lot less pedantic than many other eCommerce plug-ins, giving you more freedom to define what you sell and how you sell it.

There are plenty of others to discover
It’s never easy to compile a list of the best products, as people have greatly differing needs and there is a huge range of options out there. With the above list, you have a starting point, but you can certainly explore other options if you find that these don’t quite meet your specific needs.

eCommerce Hosting Options Worth Considering…


Image Credit: CWCS (CC BY 2.0)
The first thing to be aware of when shopping around for eCommerce hosting services is that actually any hosting service can support eCommerce. What this means is that if you’re being given the option to pay a little more for specific eCommerce hosting instead of regular hosting, you need to look very carefully at what additional value or benefits are being provided to justify the extra cost.

Once you’re satisfied that it’s a genuinely good deal, you then need to consider whether it’s the best one to meet your needs. Sometimes the most popular services are not always the best, so it’s important to evaluate each and every one on their merits and not simply make the choice based on the fact that it’s a popular service.

With that in mind, we review three of the most widely used eCommerce hosting services in this article, and the results are shown below.

1. Shopify
This is the most popular eCommerce hosting services around, and is aimed at complete beginners to eCommerce.

Shopify has a lot of good points, such as:

• Simple to set up an online store
• Provides an integrated payment gateway and you can pay to add others
• Hosting is genuinely fast and reliable
• The basic service is PCI compliant
• Analytics are built into the system
• Customer support is typically good (can vary, depending on who you talk with)
• Large amount of documentation and resources available
• Everything you need in one place
• Does not charge for bandwidth
• Shared SSL certificate provided by default
• Abandoned cart recovery available – annoy your ‘almost’ customers to your heart’s content

The negatives may include:

• Need a verified credit card to sign up for a free trial
• High cost compared to regular hosting
• Charges transaction fees in addition to the subscription fee (may be waived)
• Uses “themes”, which limits you a bit if you prefer to design the site yourself
• Uses a custom markup language which should not be necessary
• Each product can only have 3 options to select from
• Difficult to migrate from Shopify to another service, due to the way it’s all set up
• Chargeback policy should be more transparent – too many are confused by it
• No adjudication or dispute handling system between merchants and buyers
• Difficult to integrate with other eCommerce options (eBay, Amazon, etc)
• Allegations of fund locking and store cancellations based on suspicion
• Consumers may not realise they have to actively cancel the free trial to avoid being charged
• Forces EU VAT compliance on digital goods (may not be negative, if you live in the EU or intend to travel there).

To get your transaction fees waived, you must use “Shopify Payments”, which is only available to customers with a verified US, Canadian, Australian or UK address. Tough luck if you were born in Mobile but you now live in Mombasa.

2. Volusion
When a service provides a lot of documentation, it’s usually a good sign. Except, when like Volusion, they provide way too much documentation. Aside from the fact that it would be very difficult to read all of it, the sheer volume is indicative to the new user that they will be in for a difficult time as they try to become familiar with the system.

Positives of Volusion include:

• Does not charge transaction fees
• Subscription fee is slightly lower than Shopify
• Very fast loading times
• Unique SSL certificate mandatory
• Simple and intuitive interface (does not equate to easy set-up, however)
• Excellent integrated inventory management
• ‘Volusion Payments’ seem not to be restricted by nationality
• Simpler chargeback management than Shopify (but maybe not always)

Negative points include:

• Charges for bandwidth
• No simple way to view bandwidth consumption
• Fewer apps compared to Shopify
• Fewer themes compared to Shopify
• Only some themes use responsive design
• Uses themes, which is limiting if you like to create your own design
• Created with ASP.Net, meaning they run it on Windows servers
• Added annual cost of SSL certificate
• Sometimes charge unexpected fees without notice or warning
• Google accused Volusion of link manipulation
• Requires some technical proficiency to get best results
• Very difficult to migrate to another service
• Stupid name

For the small business customer, there are too many negatives to justify the investment. Capped bandwith with no simple way to view bandwidth consumption is the biggest problem, but there’s also a number of other things, such as the extra coding and configuration you’ll be required to do before you can get up and running.

For big business, the absence of transaction fees, the ability to do everything on your own domain seamlessly, and the high speed network may be enough to offset these frustrations. If you can get past the stupid name, you’re doing a lot better than many others.

It may sound like this review is being rough on Volusion, but not nearly as rough as these guys are being, so you can make up your own mind about whether Volusion is a good investment of time and money for you.

3. BigCommerce
This system is just a baby in comparison to Volusion and Shopify, but they are big in every other way. Providing very similar services, but in what feels like a more personal way.

Pros of setting up your shop with Big Commerce:

• No transaction fees, period
• Integrated card processing gateway
• No bandwidth limits or capping
• Huge range of features from the outset, you don’t need to keep adding extras
• The friendliest, happiest user education system of all, through “BigCommerce University”
• The education provided is detailed, informative, and very on-point
• Fast (but not Shopify or Volusion fast)
• Everything works really well, you don’t need to be a technical expert to get a simple store working
• Abandoned cart notifications, so you can be a pest to customers who don’t complete their purchase
• Customer service is very professional and efficient – they care about retaining existing customers
• Plenty of support options
• Not locked in to templates. You can use the templates provided, modify them with plain HTML/CSS or build your own templates. This is not found at Shopify (where you have to learn a whole new markup language) or Volusion (where “customisation” is a foreign word not in their vocabulary).

Cons of setting up shop with BigCommerce:

• Inventory management is inferior to Volusion, roughly on par with Shopify
• Fewer add-ons available than with Shopify or Volusion
• Lowest cost is higher than lowest cost on Shopify or Volusion, but also is high value
• Difficult to migrate out from the platform to something else
• Takes a long time to learn every possible thing which is why there’s so much support
• Some customers have complained about volatile policy

The real plus with BigCommerce for developers and people with any sort of technical skills is that BigCommerce is the most open system with regard to allowing you to customise things to your heart’s content. By not locking you into templates or themes and allowing you to code directly in ordinary PHP, HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, it is the most flexible of the three systems reviewed here.

For the non-technical, there’s no problem at all, as everything will work very simply without you needing to learn any hocus pocus, but on the other hand if you do want to make adjustments, anybody you hire to do the job will be able to do it because it’s straightforward coding.

BigCommerce is also somewhat of a standout because they have the least number of people calling them crooks compared to the other two top services. Of course this doesn’t mean the other two services are crooks, it just means there are a lot of people saying that they are. You may find some reassurance in knowing that the eCommerce host you select hasn’t drawn a considerable amount of public hostility

The verdict
All things considered, it really depends what you’re looking for. As a beginner, and needing only a simple online store, Shopify may fill your needs easily.

Volusion does have some strengths, especially for big businesses who can absorb high operating costs, but that issue of charging high overage rates on bandwidth coupled with the fact that there’s no simple way to monitor the bandwidth consumption, makes it difficult to recommend Volusion for the small business operator.

Point-for-point, BigCommerce provides the best value for money to the merchant, and provides outstanding customer support and documentation. Ironically, BigCommerce seems to be the best choice for small businesses that are serious about committing to eCommerce and are willing to go beyond the basics.

Could G Suite be just what your looking for……?

Need business grade email, calendar and document management? The G Suite could be worth considering….

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