The shared hosting market hasn’t been a hot topic in the hosting business for years. But while other areas have seen more rapid growth, the shared market is still out there, still consistently producing revenue for a large number of hosting providers, and still growing, thanks to the enormous number of small businesses, bloggers, and individual users looking to create a personal website.
But the standard shared hosting offering might not be enough to attract those brand new users anymore, as a newer breed hosting company is grabbing mass market customers away from traditional shared hosting companies by catering to a market of individuals and businesses that may not be particularly knowledgeable about web hosting, de-emphasizing the hosting and placing the focus on simple, easy-to-use website building tools.
Call them “website providers;” these companies – including brands like Yola, SquareSpace and Webs.com – don’t bother to refer to themselves as “hosting” providers, catering instead to the small business owner (or other mass market customer) who just wants an easy and affordable solution to setting up a simple website.
Many of these companies operate on a “freemium” model, offering the basic service for free, but charging a premium for advanced features, functionality or related projects or services.
To the newbie hosting customer – who may not even realize they’re a “hosting customer” these kinds of services are an appealing prospect. To the shared hosting old guard, they could be considered a revealing example of what works these days in marketing hosting services to the brand new user, and a significant threat – a significant portion of the new shared hosting business is going to these providers.
Based in San Francisco, Weebly is one of the most popular of these website providers. For nearly five years, Weebly has been providing free web hosting via its website creation platform. It was ranked as one of TIME magazine’s best websites in 2007, and Weebly says it hosts more than 2 percent of websites on the Internet, a total of more than 11 million.
“The company is profitable, it has been since the beginning of 2009. And essentially it’s through the Pro package and through selling domain names,” says David Rusenko, co-founder and CEO of Weebly. “We kept our costs down by designing our infrastructure in a really modern way. We don’t have to charge a lot of money. Enough people upgrade to cover our costs.”
Rusenko says that 95 percent of the service’s features are free, including web hosting, while the remaining 5 percent of features are offered through its premium, white-labelled Designer Platform packages.
Priced from $7.95 per month, these packages include advanced features like password protection, login file uploads, and white-label video hosting.
“There’s a whole lot of power built into the platform, with a powerful CMS with a really nice UI,” said Rusenko. “We have an extensive IDE so you have full control over HTML and CSS, there’s a live preview paint, a form builder, e-commerce, blogging, and image editor. We started off with simple sites but these days it’s become a full featured CMS.”
All content is hosted at Weebly’s two US-based data center locations which feature redundant, cloud-based hosting infrastructure.
Earlier this week, the company took another step in making its services more accessible to the average user, launching an iPhone app version of its site builder, actually letting users create websites entirely from their smartphones.
Users can quickly add and reorder text, video, and photos in posts via drag-and-drop blogging, moderate and respond to blog comments, manage leads from their site’s contact forms, and view website traffic trends.
What sets Weebly’s service apart from traditional hosting is not a particular back-end technology or an especially good deal on server resources (although “free” isn’t a bad price); it’s a cool tool for web-using consumers that happens to be backed by hosting resources.
“We think it’s incredibly cool that people can sign up from their phones, create a site entirely from their phones and never even use the desktop version of Weebly.com,” said Rusenko. “We think this takes mobile blogging a step further. It’s really easy, and it’s more powerful and in-depth than we’ve seen in the past.”
It may not be possible for every legacy shared hosting provider to rebuild their business as a freemium hosting business behind a super-user-friendly website building platform. But it is possible to take a few cues from the success of these businesses – most significantly, that there is a huge market out there of users who don’t necessarily have specific resource requirements or platform preferences.
Making it easy for them to build and post a website should be a priority if you want their business.