Fasthosts challenges UK SMEs to harness the potential of the web

New research from Fasthosts, the UK's largest web hosting company, reveals that there are three major types of small and medium sized (SME) online businesses in Britain. Based upon Fasthosts' own customer analysis, the 'SME Indicator' study provides a benchmark for SMEs to assess the status of their current online presence, while highlighting how they can further develop their websites.

Fasthosts' research reveals a 50% increase in registered UK websites in 2006, compared to the previous year. With the number of businesses increasing their online presence, Fasthosts believes that it is essential for companies to understand what they want to achieve online, and know what tools and technical requirements they need to get there.

Fasthosts' 'SME Indicator' study identifies three main varieties of online business based on key attributes such as frequency of website use, amount of hosting services used, as well as use of servers and number of IP addresses required. These findings have then been used to create a simple car analogy, so businesses can easily reflect on where they are and where they want to be. So, what kind of website are you running?


Personal user

Personal users (The Compact) – The personal user is a small business, between one and five employees, but also includes personal website and blog owners. Websites in this category are smaller and tend to be updated only occasionally. The exception are blogs which are updated regularly, but are generally small - usually just one or two pages, whereas personal and small business websites can have several dozen pages.

Like the Compact car, Fasthosts found that this group of users prefer to run their websites like their cars – intuitively and economically. They use basic shared web hosting services and easy setup tools including site builders and standard POP3 email accounts. Fasthosts discovered that the Compact online business wants good value for money and reliability from their hosted IT services; many use low cost traffic driver tools to cleverly, but inexpensively, boost their search engine rankings.


Entrepreneur

The Entrepreneur (The Convertible) – Convertible-type businesses are sleek performers, who are versatile and dynamic. Online businesses in this category are entrepreneurial, possibly start-ups, with creative business ideas and strong financial motivation. The Fasthosts study highlighted that Convertible-type online businesses websites are likely to have been established for at least a year, and are updated on a regular basis. Their website may not be the cornerstone of their business operations, however, so they tend to be intermediate users of hosting solutions, having recently moved, or are considering moving from high-end shared hosting to entry level dedicated servers. A dedicated server solution allows companies to control their own security and anti-virus protocols in line with their company policies to protect valuable information. About a third of these customers are using Linux operating systems, either as a preference or to reduce costs, but few have the additional IP addresses required for advanced functionality.

However, like a Convertible, those in the entrepreneurial category want to be prepared to exceed expectations, and look to have their own online server to improve site performance and flexibility.


Serious user

Serious user (The Sports) – Like a Sports car, serious users are high performance outfits that utilise technology to gain competitive advantage. Fasthosts found that the online element of their business is integral to the company’s day-to-day operations, so they tend to invest heavily in advanced hosting solutions. The Fasthosts research revealed that serious users have the highest percentage of Windows server operating systems, with more than 10% using a MS SQL database. Sports-type companies also require more IP addresses, when compared to the other two types of online business, to allow secure remote internet services. These businesses also have higher website traffic, and therefore require higher data transfer limits.

For this category of business, unlimited data transfer is the best option since it eliminates the problems associated with monthly fixed limits. Many of these companies also have multiple dedicated servers to ensure that their online business always has high availability, access speeds and security.

"We're not advocating that all businesses should be a ’Sports’, but even if a website is designed just to provide contact details or a shop-front brochure – it shouldn't become a neglected part of the business. In 2006 more purchases than ever were made online. Christmas spending online alone was estimated at around £5bn, so updating your online presence could help you get your share of a lucrative online market. You wouldn't be enticed to purchase from a shop that hasn't changed its window display for the past two years, so why should the web be any different?" said Stephen Holford, Director of Product Marketing, Fasthosts.