There is story of David and Goliath where Goliath would come andchallenge everybody - "is there anyone amongst you who would dare to fight against me?" Who would dare to fight against him? He was a giant, there was nothing one could do to humble him.
David saw the situation in a different manner. Whatever he threw atGoliath it was sure to hit him. In the end we all know that Daviddid win. The internet is also huge.
Here's another story from the Indian Epic Mahabharat where onceDronacharya takes the Pandavas to the forest to test their skills inarchery. He hung a model of a bird on a branch and asked each of them,one by one, to take aim at the bird and tell him what they saw. Hefirst called Yudhishtar, the eldest of the 5 brothers. Yudhishtarsaw the entire cosmos of which the earth was a part, then a tree whichwas a part of the earth, and finally a bird hung on the branch of thetree. Dronacharya asked him to sit down. One of the brothers, Arjun,could see only the eye of the bird, and nothing but the eye. He shotthe bird right in the eye cause he could see nothing but his target.
While the internet is huge and global, when it comes to marketing thesameold rule apply - The customer is theking. He is an individual and has his needs well defined. Theinternet maybe the Goliath, but each customer is the bird's eye.The challenge for the webhost is thus in finding the bird's eye.Webhostneed to create plans which suit the customer's needs rather than justfocusing on things like price, uptime, reliability, support and so onwhich are all important. At the same time all decent webhosts today canoffer similar plans , prices, guarantees and support.
A few years back we did some research in the selling aspect of thehostingindustry. Our first reaction was that the cheapest host would do well.Or it would be even better if the cheapest host offered the bestfeatures and the maximum bandwidth and diskspace. Finally, we concludedthat the largest host would be the cheapest host with the maximumbandwidth and diskspace, with the greatest support and this host wouldhave ads all over the place. This may actually work out for many, butthe Return of Investment (ROI) may take more than a life-time.
The webhosting industry comprises mostly of SMEs. For them hugeinvestments in marketing may not be the best solution. Yet, there aremany webhost who have grown from a reseller hosting system to a fewthousand servers within no time. And interestingly none of the hosts westudied were actually selling cheap. They all focused on the righttarget markets. They create a niche market for themselves.
One webhost focussed only on resellers and called it private label reseller programs.They gave out more diskspace and bandwidth and charged a higher value.Their benefits - lesser customers, higher cash turnover and lessersupport requests as the resellers looked after their own customers.Another webhost focussed onwebmasters only. Webmasters generally have more than one site.Hosting is not their prime business and they want an affordablesolution. Also, as most webmasters are tech savvy what they needed morethan regular support is a community where they can interact withvarious other webmasters. Needless to say that these hosting companiesdid grow fast.
It did not take long for the clones to come and soon such plans becamea standard in the industry. Webhosts are again facing the samechallenge on howto effectively market. One approach webhosts can takeis to focus on certain services ofhosting only. Such as emailonly hosting. This would beuseful for people for whom email is very critical. They may prefer tohave the emails on another server which is exclusively for emails only.So even their main site goes down, they'll still receive their mails.Another good example could be backuphosting only. Here the webhost would backup the entire data of awebsite on regular intervals.
Webhost can also focus on certainlanguages and software which are verypopular. Not many hosts offer Java Servlets, Postgresql, Zope,etc.. Zope only hosting for examplewould surely lead all the Zope developers to use as well as recommendthe Zope community a webhost who specializes in Zope hosting.
With broadband getting cheaper by the day, webhosts can now trulyexpect the market of applicationhosting to get popular. There is a whole new market of large andsmall corporate who would not mind keeping their data is securenetworks. All they need to do is log into their servers and accesstheir data from anywhere in the world. They would be looking forapplications such as Compiereor a groupware where they can access, share and store the data on thenet. Corporate would not mind paying a premium for such services. Thewebhosts have to assure security and reliability in such cases.
Adding value to what is beingoffered to the customer would always interest the customer is takingservices from the webhost. A webhost can offer hosting with certain software pre configured for use.
Take a look at Postnuke for example. The latest version of postnuke hashad over 39,000 downloads in just about 40 days. All the customer needsto do is change the logo of the site to his logo and start writing.hostnuke has taken theinitiative and offering postnuke hosting. Their plans are not cheap.But because they specialize in postnuke hosting, most customers ofpostnuke would prefer to be with go with hostnuke.
One can offerhosting with a postnuke, gallery and phpBB forum all bundled into one.This gives the customer more time to focus on what he wants to do withhis site rather than spend time on how to implement a CMS system orpicture gallery.
Sites like hotscripts.com have asection which lists the popular software.Some good ones to offer with hosting are ikonboard, eZpublish, phpShop,Zope, A-Cart etc. After identifying the right software one cancreate scripts to automate the installation procedure and thus reducethe time to execute new orders.
And finally, one need not go and put in a lot of money for advertisingwith search engines or webhosting directories. All the webhost needs todo is advertise on the selected software's home page and be present ontheir forums/mailing lists.
Amarjyoti Krishnan heads bobcares.com, a tech support company for webhosts and ISPs. He is the co-founder of Poornam Info Vision Ltd., a software and IT services company which specializes in Linux based solutions for Webhosts and ISPs. Poornam Info Vision is an ISO 9001:2000 certified company with a team of over 100 engineers.
Amarjyoti is a Computer Engineer based in India and has over 7 years of experience in the hosting industry. He has spoken and written extensively on the subject. His articles have been published both online as well as in print in magazines.