A Total Beginner’s Guide to Web Hosting
The internet is flooded with different hosting providers’ advertisements and there’s plenty of them in our website too, since every business needs to have a website. For you to be able to have a website on the internet, you have to have somewhere to store it first.
Web hosting is just that, its space that you rent on the internet, to store your website. It comes in all shapes and sizes, from which you can choose from. But what choices do you have and how do you choose from them? That’s what we’re here to help you with!
Here, we are going to outline what defines your hosting needs and exactly how you can know which hosting provider works best for you. You shouldn’t leave anything to chance, rather understand the core concepts and make a reasonable decision. It’s not rocket science, rather it’s quite simple.
If you understand 3 very simple things, you’ll be able to choose a much better hosting provider. But if you take note of everything we share in this article, you’ll be near a web hosting expert. So, without further ado, let’s get down to our guide!
Understanding Your Hosting Needs
The first and most important thing for you to know is exactly what kind of website you’re going to build. That will decide which hosting provider you’re going to work with.
Every website requires a certain amount of resources for it to function at its fullest. You might also require a few additional features for some types of websites. If you’re a bit picky, you might want to have a better user interface or some useful applications. How much resources, what features and apps you need, at its core, depends on what kind of website you’re looking to have. We can differentiate a number of main types of websites. You’ll probably find the type you want among them.
Here they are:
- Portfolio Website: A simple website that’s purpose is to highlight some information about you or your company. You can show it to a potential employer or a client and let them see your skills and previous accomplishments. It can be built in WordPress and doesn’t require too much horsepower to run smoothly. Most decent hosting types can handle it.
- A Company Profile Website: Its needs are similar to a portfolio website. You can use it to share information about your company and any content that might be useful. If you have events or products you want to show off, it will work well.
- Blog: A blog is built in WordPress most of the time, or another content management system. It requires your hosting provider to have a server that supports your chosen CMS. It doesn’t consume much resources, although you want to make it run (load content) as fast as possible. Most decent hosting solutions can handle it.
- Online Shop or eCommerce Website: These two are very dynamic websites that have a lot of server work involved. Users make many requests from the server as they browse your items and go through the payment process, which is why these require more server resources to run fast enough. If you’re looking to start an online business, it’s best to start it with a “business” hosting plan.
- Forum or Social Media Site: If you’re looking to build a website to have your own online community, then you’ll also have to use a more beefy hosting plan. Like in the case of an online shop, there are a lot of server requests involved, meaning there is a lot for the server to process. This will require a larger hosting plan or maybe even a dedicated hosting plan. We’ll go in deeper to what these concepts cover.
Storage and Bandwidth Capacity
The amount of available storage space decides how much data you can store on your server and the bandwidth of your service decides how much traffic your website can handle.
Now, you want your hosting plan to support as many visitors as possible and to provide as much storage space as possible. The more, the better!
Large ecommerce sites, online stores and social media sites require plenty of storage space, because of the huge heaps of content they work with on a day-to-day basis. You’ll also work hard to get as much traffic to these sites as possible. So, knowing approximately how large your website will be and how much traffic you expect initially decides what kind of hosting plan you should choose.
Take a look at the following example, to get a clearer idea of what bandwidth means:
Bandwidth = Website data X Traffic
So, if you have a 1 MB image that your users have to load when they enter your site, and your bandwidth allocation is 1000 MB, you’re going to have 999 MB left, once someone has visited your website. This is how bandwidth is consumed.
At some hosting providers, you have a fixed bandwidth allocation that your website can consume on a monthly basis. Once it’s gone, either you have to pay an extra fee for every bit of traffic you get, or your website shuts down. Most hosts provide a few Terabytes of bandwidth, so this shouldn’t be a problem. But you can also find plenty of them offering ’unmetered’ storage space and bandwidth.
Usually, unmetered storage and bandwidth comes with shared hosting plans. But this doesn’t mean that it’s actually unlimited. This is because there are plenty of other websites on a shared server that use the same resources. If your site uses more, it will take away from their, if another website uses more, it will take away from yours. This still works well until the server reaches its capacity.
In order to know what exactly ‘unmetered’ means in every hosting provider, read through their Terms of Service and don’t trust it to luck. There might be something saying that they will throttle your performance down or shut down your website if you pass a certain level.
In short, you’ll get high speed loading times and pure bandwidth when a hosting plan states exactly how much monthly bandwidth you’re going to have.
Number of Allowed Databases
If you won’t stop at one website and want to set up multiple websites, than you’ll have to have multiple databases. Some hosting providers have a fixed number of databases allowed and some have an unlimited number (which usually covers a few thousand databases, but you won’t use them all).
Also, know what kind of database you’ll need and make sure that your hosting provider supports it. These can be MySQL databases, PostgreSQL or SQlite databases.
Number of Domains You Want To Have
If you’re looking to host only one website, then any hosting plan will provide you with a single domain. No thinking required.
But if you want to have multiple websites on different domains you definitely have to factor that in. With most hosting providers, the second plan provides support for an unlimited number of domains, so if you’re willing to spend a few extra bucks, you’ll have this part settled and you can run multiple websites without a problem.
Some hosting companies are nice enough to give you a free domain name too, which would normally cost you $10 – $50 at registration.
Level of Security
Every website requires some level of security and most of them will already have some built in, so that it isn’t easy for anyone to steal your data. But if you’re working with more sensitive data, such as email accounts, personal information and credit card information, you’ll need features that add to the security of your website. You’ll have to beef up your security from the server side as well.
- Backups – You should definitely make manual backups of your website and all of its content. If any damage is done to your site, the easiest way to recover is to load everything from your backups. They are your last and most reassuring line of defense if all else fails.
- Some hosting providers are good enough to offer automated backups for free, while others have it as a paid service. The safest thing to do is to make backups of your website every 24 hours. Whether you do it manually or have it as an automated feature, is completely up to you.
- SSL Certificate – To help you with the security upgrade, the first feature you’ll need is an SSL (secure server) certificate. Websites that have their URLs starting with HTTPS instead of HTTP, all use this certificate. HTTP stands for (Hypertext Transfer Protocol), while HTTPS stands for (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure).
- By having a SSL certificate, you’ll have a secure, encrypted communication channel between you and your website’s visitor through HTTPS. It is the first security measure to take when you’re building a website that has to collect payments.
- Although you can do without this facility if you use a payment gateway provided by a third party company such as PayPal.
- Usually, more expensive hosting plans offer an SSL certificate for free. You can also buy it separately.
- IP Deny – There’s also a feature called IP Deny, that’s available at some hosts. With it, you can deny specific IP addresses from accessing your website, which is good for blocking off hackers and spammers once you have identified their IP addresses.
How Much Help Do You Need?
You can have just about any kind of website without having to touch a bit of code with the tools and technologies at our disposal today. If you have some help, this stands true even more so. A customer support that you can reach out to 24/7/365, is of paramount importance, but you can have more help than that.
You can also buy a fully managed hosting plan, which means that you won’t just get technical help, but your provider will also manage your website for you. They take full responsibility for everything regarding your online store or any other type of website you have and ensure its security too.
Depending on what technical knowledge you have and how you prefer to look after your website, you’ll have to decide how much help you want your hosting provider to give you.
Naturally, the more help you get, the more you’ll have to pay at the end of the month.
We’ll cover what makes a good customer support in the upcoming sections.
Email and Autoresponders
Once you have your website set up, you’ll require to have email addresses at your own domain. Most hosting providers allow you to have email addresses at your domain, the question is how many do they allow.
Also, will you be able to set up a robot to automatically reply to the emails you receive on your email address.
I’ve saved the best for last. The statement, „ what you pay is what you get „ stands true when it comes to web hosting. But you can make some really awesome deals that strike a sweet spot between low price and great value.
You can subscribe to some very good shared hosting plans within a $2 – $5 price range. These are great for hosting portfolio websites, blogs and company profile sites. In fact, you can get a great cloud hosting plan for this money. You can also get a really cheap shared hosting plan for $2 per month at iPage.
If you move into the $5 – $10 price range, you can expect to get a number of extras with your hosting plan, such as SSL certificates and a free domain. Also, you can either chose to have an entry level VPS plan for this price, which will give you much more control over how you use your resources.
For the price range above $10, you can expect to buy a VPS hosting plan. VPS plans are better for running online stores and websites that demand more resources.
Finally, between a $20 and $200 price range, you can expect to have a dedicated server, which is best for large enterprise level websites.
I’ll describe in detail, what each of these hosting types cover.
Understanding Each Hosting Type
There are four main hosting types that hosting companies provide. We’ll go through each of them in an ascending fashion. This means, that we’ll move from the less superior hosting types, towards the more superior and also more expensive ones.
Shared Hosting is The Cheapest and The Best For Beginners.
Shared hosting is best hosting type for those who are about to start their first website. BlueHost is the king in this field. They offer some really low-cost, but rock solid hosting solutions for those who are starting their first website. It is especially favored by WordPress users. You can also call it a budget hosting option, because it’s incredibly cheap and gets the job done. But it also comes with a set of disadvantages.
In a shared hosting environment, multiple users have their websites and content stored on a single server, hence they share it. They share all of the computer’s resources, such as the CPU speed, RAM, hard disk space.
In this environment, there are usually a couple of hundred or more than a thousand users sharing the same resources. This can add up to thousands of websites being stored in the same place, which is the disadvantage of this hosting type.
Since these websites all share the server’s resources, it might happen that one website pulls resources away from the other. If a single website uses 50% of the server’s resources for some reason, the remaining couple of thousand websites on the server are left with the remaining 50% of resources. This might end up with some websites going down, without its owner having to do anything with it.
This is an extreme situation, but it can happen. It is called the “bad neighbor” effect, because it’s like living in the same house with someone truly annoying.
Although this hosting type has some obvious technical disadvantages, it can also work really well. But you’ll have to keep a close eye on your website’s loading speed at all times. If you notice that your website is running slower than it supposed to, ask your providers customer support to move it to a different server.
Also, a lot of hosting providers are aware of these disadvantages, so they do their best to detect any websites that might cause problems. It isn’t always the host’s fault if your website isn’t running fast enough.
So is it a good idea to use shared hosting? If uptime isn’t your largest concern, or you find a hosting provider with good uptime (above 99%), then you should definitely go for it. It’s great to use it for personal blogs, portfolio websites, test the websites you develop or if you build a website as a family photo album. Not to mention that it is extremely cheap, so just about anyone on the web can use it! It lets people have their own personal space on the web.
The two companies that offer the best shared hosting plans for beginners are iPage and BlueHost. Both are very cheap and BlueHost is also the number one recommended hosting provider on WordPress’ official website.
More Costly But Much More Powerful Than Shared Hosting
VPS stands for Virtual Private Server, which means that a physical server stores multiple virtual private servers. On the user interface level, everything seems like you have your own server with its own resources.
A VPS plan comes with a fix amount of resources. For example, you can buy into a VPS plan that provides 2 CPU cores, 4GB of RAM, 1TB of storage space and 4TB of bandwidth, guaranteed. If you require more resources than what you have been provided with, you can always get them with a few clicks, by upgrading your plan.
With VPS you can completely eliminate the bad neighbor effect. It is also much more flexible than shared hosting, letting you modify its environment the way you prefer it.
VPS is for larger websites that demand more resources than what a shared hosting plan can provide them with. If you have a growing online store, VPS hosting is a good option.
The cost of VPS hosting plans move between $10 and $200, depending on which company’s service you buy and how much server resources are you going to use.
You Get An Entire Physical Server All To Yourself
The most demanding websites and applications use a dedicated server. If you have a website with more than 100,000 visitors / month, than you should too.
Dedicated hosting is one of the most powerful hosting types, because you are in charge of your server and all of its resources. But it isn’t without disadvantages.
Since you have a server computer for yourself, you have to take care of it yourself. Installing an operating system and configuring the machine will be your responsibility most of the time. You can extensively customize it, which gives it plenty of flexibility. To accomplish all these, you’ll have to have some knowledge in server administration of course and even more to maintain this server.
In short, dedicated servers are for those users who “know what they’re doing”.
So if you want to spare all of that work but your website’s traffic still goes above 100,000, then you have a few much better options in front of you. With better and better VPS servers and Cloud technologies on the rise, there are plenty to choose from.
The Way To The Future of Hosting
Cloud hosting is arguably the most powerful type of hosting, because it’s the fastest and most reliable. The reason behind this is because your website and data isn’t stored on a single server, but spread across a whole network of interconnected servers.
This means that there is no single point of failure, no downtimes and your website won’t slow down either. If any of the resources you use or any server in the network is compromised, another will jump into its place and get the job done.
Also, if you suddenly get a massive traffic spike you won’t be charged extra in most places. With cloud hosting, no matter how many visitors your website has at once, the loading speed remains the same.
It is one of the most awesome hosting plans to have. They usually start out at $10 and can go up to $200, but HostGator for example offers a cloud hosting service for $2.99 per month. That’s really cheap and it incorporates all the benefits of cloud hosting, meaning you’ll have superior speed and uptime. I find this to be one of the best hosting services for beginners who still want to have a speedy website.
What To Look For In a Hosting Provider
Once you have established what kind of website you’re going to build and know the hosting types you can choose from, it’s time to look into what hosting companies can offer for your money.
A hosting company has to do well in three main areas, speed, uptime and customer support. If they offer free services, free apps, free domains or free anything on the side, it will only make them better.
Also, be vary of pricing tricks. A lot of times, a company only gives you the advertised price, if you sign a two-year or a three-year contract with them. I’m not against that by any means, because it can be a really good deal. Just make sure that they perform well in all of the areas we’re going to mention below!
In today’s internet environment, speed is one of the most important qualities of a website. It can make the difference between you making a sale or not. Plenty of studies have shown a strong correlation between conversion rates and website loading speeds. If a website takes more than 2 seconds to load, it shows a 30% drop in sales. The eCommerce industry loses about $500 billion to this simple reason.
This is because if a website takes more than 1 or 2 seconds, the user won’t hesitate to click away and never turn back. You simply can’t afford to have your website running slowly. The more responsive it is, the better user experience it will provide and the more satisfied visitors you will have.
Good hosting reviews (the ones you should actually read) have measured the loading speed of the website they stored on a hosting provider’s server. We like to show off the loading speeds as well.
To ensure that you have the highest possible speed for your website, look for a host that has it’s loading speeds between 500 milliseconds and 1000 milliseconds.
Once again, I can wholeheartedly recommend HostGator’s Cloud Hosting plan, because it only costs $2.99 per month and has loading speeds of around 707 milliseconds. It also has an outstanding 100% uptime.
People can only reach your website when it’s „up“ and running. When you upload a website, you want it to be constantly online, without any interruption. Our reviews cover a hosting provider’s uptime most of the time. This is done by having a website uploaded to one of their servers and having it monitored throughout an entire year.
Uptime is measured in percentages, so if a server has a 99.97% average uptime, it means that it was online 99.97% of the year.
If you’re looking for a truly reliable hosting provider, don’t settle for an average uptime below 99.70%. HostGator’s Cloud Hosting plan is the winner in this aspect as well.
Good Customer Support
Whether you have technical knowledge or not, you still need a good support team behind your back, who will help you in case your website goes down or you encounter any kind of technical problems. Remember, that you probably won’t even know where the server you’re storing your website on is located physically.
Which is why you want your chosen hosting provider’s support team to be available to you throughout every second of the year. A 24/7/365 customer support will be available on holidays too and you can reach out to them whenever you experience an issue.
But you can’t know this up front, can you? So, before you sign up for a web host, always research their customer support. Read what other people have to say; those who have at least a year of experience working with your host. You can also read reviews, where the reviewers have tested them and have provided the results with their readers. But I have found that reading user submitted comments and opinions to be the most reassuring.
Usually a decent customer support team will give you a response within 20 minutes to an hour. By keeping this benchmark, you can be sure that you’re working with a web host that prioritizes their customers.
Extra Tips For Selecting The Right Web Host
Every hosting provider is different and the more you know about the benefits of some of their features, the better.
Check Your Account’s Limitations
Most hosting companies will just terminate your account if you overstep a few boundaries. These boundaries can be based on the amount of resources or bandwidth you consume, or a set of rules that are unique to a particular host. You can get to know these boundaries if you read through the terms of service.
By doing so, you can also find out a lot more about the company and how they operate. You’ll understand how generous or stingy they are and how will they treat you in various scenarios. When would they loosen their restrictions and why?
If you’re not sure about a particular company, this will also let you know how transparent or shady they are. A company that’s up front and honest, will give you a very straight forward and simple guideline on how you can use their services to the fullest, without violating any rules.
Check The Actual Signup and Renewal Costs
Hosting providers make very compelling advertisements with very compelling prices. They lure you in and you’ll often realize that their deal isn’t as sweet as it seemed. Most of the times, you can only get that low price if you sign at least a two year contract. If not, your cheap hosting might jump from $5/ mo, to $10/ mo.
But once you made the deal, signed up and used a particular hosting service for more than a year or two, a time will come when your subscription period or contract will end. After that, you want to know how the deal will change.
For starters, you’ll definitely have to pay the renewal cost, but you might also have to pay more for your hosting services every month as well.
The Company’s Refund Policy
Every host lets you try their services for 30 days, some even go as far to let you try them for 90 days. If you’re not satisfied, they claim to give you your money back and you can be on your way. But things aren’t always that simple. So, it’s best if you can answer a few of these questions before you subscribe.
- Will they charge extra for an early cancellation? (pretty much defeats the purpose of having a „money back guarantee“)
- Will they provide you with a full money return?
- In what cases will they give you a refund once the trial period is over?
Hosting companies are tricky and in some cases you might end up paying plenty of money for something that was advertised as „FREE“.
Do They Have Useful eCommerce Features?
These are only useful to you if you want to build an online store or some other kind of eCommerce website. But you might end up saving a lot of cash by choosing the right hosting company.
Some companies offer free WordPress plugins, free analytics tools, one click shopping carts, technical support and other goodies that help propel your business forward. It’s much better to host your online business in an environment that actually supports it.
Be Sure To Own Your Domain Name
Like I mentioned, some hosting providers offer you a free domain name upon registration, which spares you a bit of cash. But in some cases, the company will own said domain after it’s registered, not you.
It’s best to look into that on the company’s FAQ page, terms of service or by asking their support team.
But if you want to make sure that your domain is yours no matter what, simply register it through an external registrar, such as GoDaddy or NameCheap.
If you’re looking to build a site that will grow someday, you should choose a hosting company that supports that growth. These companies will help you seamlessly transfer from one hosting plan to another, without your website experiencing a second of downtime.
HostGator is one of the best hosting companies at this. Their VPS provisioning and shared plans are truly flexible, so you can easily change your mind and scale them when you need to.
Easy To Use Control Panel
You want to have as much control over your server as possible, with as less effort as possible. Which is why it’s more convenient to choose a host with a user interface that was built for ease of use. For example, companies like iPage, HostGator and BlueHost have a really user friendly approach. They seek to provide beginners with all the tools and help they require to get their website up and running and maintain it throughout the year.
All this information might be a little confusing at first, but once you get used to looking through all the perspective hosting providers, you’ll see the patterns and their similarities. Getting yourself a good deal that provides a reliable service throughout the year isn’t rocket science. So, use the information you’ve found here and get down to it!
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading through this article and that we’ll see you in the upcoming one as well!