If you’re setting up a website, you’ve probably put a lot of thought into its name, design and copy, but little to no thought into your web host.
It’s not just you! Web hosting isn’t exactly the ‘sexiest’ part of website set up, but it is essential. If you choose a bad web host, you could end up with an unreliable site that’s slow and painful to use, which will affect user experience and damage your reputation.
So what can you do to avoid a disaster? Know your options and choose wisely!
To help you do just that, we’ve put together this article. It covers the ‘what’, ‘why’ and ‘how much’ of web hosting plans, so you can tell your VPS from your Cloud and pick the right option for your business.
What is a web host?
A web host is a company that owns servers (the storage space all internet content exists on) and rents a bit of space to you for the data that makes up your website.
The web host’s job is to deliver the content stored on their servers to your website user’s screens when they send a request for that information. By ‘request’ we mean when a user enters your URL into their browser or searches for your site online and clicks a link.
How much data storage, bandwidth, CPU and other features are available for your website depends on the type of web host you choose.
What are the main server types?
The first thing you need to understand about web hosts is that not all servers are created equal. Some are virtual (storage is in the cloud) and some are physical and the way a host manages the storage your site takes up differs between web hosting plans.
The plan you choose will restrict the type of website you can build, so it’s best to understand what each server does before you jump in. Below is an outline of each server, along with its benefits and limitations…
What is shared hosting?
A shared server pretty much does what it says on the tin. The server is ‘shared’ because the storage space provided to your website is moved around between yours and other client’s websites, depending on the demand placed on each website at any given time.
Think of it as a storage unit used by more than one person. The more people you have using the unit, the less space there will be for your things. Except, unlike a storage unit full of your old furniture and records, the amount of space each person needs is never static. It depends entirely on how much content is on their website and how many users are trying to access it at any time.
And, on top of sharing storage, website owners also share a server’s other resources like CPU speed and RAM. Most free and cheap web hosting plans are based on shared servers.
Pros of shared hosting:
- Very cheap – You can expect plans to range from completely free to $3-$10 per month
- Novice friendly – Most assume a low level of expertise and so have many functions to help you build your site
- Low maintenance – Most technical aspects of your site are handled by the service provider
Cons of shared hosting:
- Unstable ‘Up Time’ – If another site has an influx of traffic, your site could be ‘throttled’, making it slow and, sometimes, inaccessible
- Little room for growth – You’ll find it difficult to grow your traffic or add more functions to your site over time
- Security risks – The close proximity of multiple sites could compromise your security
- Inflexible – Generally, access to the main server is restricted, so altering the environment of your site is difficult
What websites is shared hosting best for?
- Portfolio Websites
- Landing Pages
- Low traffic and temporary websites
- First time website builders
- Small budgets
What is VPS hosting?
A VPS (Virtual Private Server) also hosts multiple websites. But, unlike a shared server where all the data is stored in one physical space, each site is hosted on its own virtual server.
With a VPS, you won’t have to share the server’s resources, instead you are allotted your own quota of bandwidth, memory and storage. Which means there’s much more room for your site to grow.
Pros of VPS web hosting:
- Scalability – If you intend to grow your site, VPS offers more flexibility than shared hosting because it’s easy to add more storage and bandwidth to your monthly plan
- Decent security – Because your site is isolated, any security issues experienced by other sites won’t affect yours
- Flexibility in management and design – You can install custom software, have full root access and have remote access to the server
- Value for money – With average monthly pricing ranging from $30 – $100, you get many of the benefits of a dedicated server without burning your budget
Cons of VPS web hosting:
- Uptime interruptions – The server still has a limited amount of resources and is still shared between clients. This can cause service interruptions if any site experiences a sudden influx of traffic
- Requires technical skills – You’ll need a more intermediate knowledge of web hosting to take full advantage of the benefits of VPS plans
- Limited control – Unlike dedicated servers, you won’t have full control over your hosting environment
What websites is VPS hosting best for?
- Ecommerce sites
- Content heavy blogs
- Medium to high traffic expectations
- Rapidly growing business sites
What is cloud-based hosting?
Cloud based servers are created out of a cluster of multiple servers, rather than being stored and powered on one physical server. Each entity hosts a small part of the overall system, creating a large network that your site operates within.
Unlike other hosting types, there are no limitations on storage or bandwidth which means that billing is charged based on your fluctuating usage, rather than as a set monthly amount.
Pros of cloud-based hosting:
- Uptime reliability – The usual technical issues don’t apply here. If one server encounters an issue, there are enough of them powering the system to pick up the slack
- Scalability – The sky’s the limit when it comes to bandwidth, so any planned uptick in traffic can be easily accommodated
- Full control – You can fully customise the network architecture, firewalls, IP addresses and choose between Windows or Linux OS
Cons of cloud-based hosting:
- Insecure uptime – As access to your data is entirely dependent on an internet connection, any interruption to this could result in lost uptime and, therefore, lost revenue
- Costly – If your site experiences an unexpected surge in traffic, you could be left with a hefty bill
- Vulnerable – Though more secure than shared hosting, your site is still sharing space with others so is vulnerable to security risks
What websites is cloud-based hosting best for?
- Large businesses with very high traffic
- Forums and Wiki pages
- Streaming services
What is dedicated hosting?
A dedicated server is a single or set of servers that hosts the data files of a single client. If you choose a dedicated hosting plan, all of the server’s bandwidth, data storage and general output capacity are at your disposal… all of the time.
If you require consistent and reliable uptime, fast data retrieval and top notch security then this option is worth shelling out for.
Pros of dedicated hosting:
- Fully customisable- You can alter hardware specifications, install custom OS and do whatever else you want
- High security – Without other sites threatening to undermine your security efforts, you can be confident that your site is not at risk
- Site management options – Those offering dedicated servers often have trained technical teams that can manage most aspects of your site. So, if you’re running a large, complex website-based business, then this option could save you time and money overall
Cons of dedicated hosting:
- Costly – Dedication does not come cheap. Monthly costs range from $100 – $300 at the low end and can reach $1500 at the higher end
- Not scalable – While you have access to the full server and all the capabilities that come with it, if you outgrow the space, you’ll need to add extra units, which is understandably expensive
What websites is dedicated hosting best for?
- Large ecommerce sites
- Email servers
- Multisite networks
- Websites that require complex operating systems
Features to look for when choosing a web host
As well as storing your website, web hosts offer other services that can enhance site experience for both you and your potential users. Knowing what those services are and which ones you need could save you a lot of stress and cash in the long run.
If you’re running a site that requires you to store people’s personal or financial details, you’ll need to pay close attention to the security options provided by your web host.
VPS and Dedicated servers tend to have the best security because sites are isolated, which shuts out a lot of outside risks.
Check for the following security services when choosing a web host:
- Website backups
- Antivirus and malware scanning
- SSL Certificate
- ECC (Error Correcting Code) memory
Whatever your personal technical capabilities, you want to know that your web host provider can quickly and efficiently address any issues. But, the less technically knowledgeable you are, the more attention you’ll need to pay to the support options a web host offers.
So, when you’re shopping around, look for the following services:
- 24 Hour phone support
- Uptime guarantees
- Live web chat
- Transfer support
- Instant activation
To sum things up
Now that you understand what a web host is, how they work and what services they offer, you’re ready to choose the right service and provider for your business.
Just remember that not all web hosts are created equal. So look for one with a good reputation, plenty of positive reviews and honest statistics about their uptime and speed capabilities.