(Ping! Zine Issue 37) – In my work with web hosting companies and also those designers and developers looking for a website host, I often encounter a specific set of needs that falls clearly under a web hosting niche. Why would a hosting company focus on a niche? Which niches are out there for those desiring a great hosting provider? Here are a few specifics.
Niching by Price
Probably the most obvious and pervasive niche in website hosting is that of price. One typically sees three tranches of pricing emerge: discounters, mid-tier providers, and premium hosting services. Examples of discounters would be: 1 and 1, and GoDaddy. Mid-tier companies are represented by firms like Hostway. Premium hosting is the scope of web hosting companies like Orcsweb and Rackspace.
While web hosting is easily accessed via an Internet connection anywhere on the globe, there are still strong boundaries of culture, language and currency that draw customers to a local firm. For example in Japan one will prefer to read website content in the Japanese language, access sales and support in Japanese, and pay bills in Yen. There are as many examples of geographic website hosting niches as there are countries. Here are just a couple of website hosting companies in this niche: UK website hosting firm 34SP.com and Australia’s Digital Pacific.
Niching by Operating System
A powerful niche can emerge based on supplying a particular operating system. Since most web hosting companies prefer a LAMP (Linux, apache, mySQL, php) environment, the prevalent OS in this niche is Linux. Typical of this type of host is linuxwebhost.com. Another operating system that has tremendous market power is the Microsoft developed and supported OS – Windows (now Windows Server 2008 or ASP.NET). Microsoft has built this niche among Windows developers. Hosts specializing in the Microsoft platform would be DiscountASP.NET and Maximum ASP. Another operating system that was once much larger, but is now being replaced by Windows and Linux is ColdFusion. Although ColdFusion is typically installed over a Windows operating system, it has properties that make it unique and desirable for ColdFusion developers. HostMySite.com is a web hosting firm that offers strong expertise in ColdFusion.
It is possible to buy multiple accounts from just about any web host. However, those companies that have developed the reseller niche have honed their expertise in making accounts that hold a bundle of separate websites under one owner. These reseller accounts also often come with substantial discounts for each sub-account. This enables the account holder to resell the hosting and gain a profit. Examples of reseller hosts include the venerable HostGator and Resellers Panel.
Niche by Account Type
Another very common segregation of web hosting firms occurs by account type. These are usually a separation between shared accounts, VPS and dedicated servers. Shared hosts offer multiple customer accounts sharing a common server. For example, DiscountASP.NET. VPS companies have fewer virtual accounts per server – often with isolated environments and guaranteed resources. An example would be SliceHost. Dedicated server firms will give a single server to each customer. An example would be managed dedicated hosting firm NaviSite.
As you can see, there are many ways that website hosting companies have created niches for themselves and their customers. While the above list is certainly not exhaustive, it does give you a sense of how the marketplace has established niches for both buyers and sellers of website hosting products and services.