What is Web Hosting and How to Choose the Right One
What is Web Hosting?
A web hosting service provides individuals and businesses server space to make their websites accessible over the internet. The files that make up your website can exist independently. They’re only accessible to the masses if you put them on a server that is properly connected.
To use an analogy, think of the web hosting as a home. Your website and its files are the stuff that goes in the home. They’re safe and accessible by virtue of being someplace that everyone can access
Web hosting makes use of servers, as we mentioned. These servers store the information of a website. Then they make it available to those who want to access it via web browser.
Is it The Same as a Domain?
Web hosting is not exactly the same as a domain. You need a domain to have a website, but a domain is something different.
There are three components to launching a website that work together – domain, content, and hosting. A web domain is the website address. It’s what internet users type on their web browsers to get to your website. Content is the material that you publish on your website. The objective is to publish content that attracts your ideal customers. Web hosting is the service that’s used to publish websites over the internet and make your content visible to browsers. You must have a domain before you can subscribe to a web hosting service provider.
As an analogy, let’s look at the relationship between shopping centers and business owners. A shopping center divides up its commercial spaces and leases them out to business owners who pay rent in order to conduct business inside the shopping center. In the same way, a web host divides its storage space and leases it out to website owners. The site owners pay the web host regularly in order to keep their website available on the internet.
Every domain name corresponds to an IP address that is a string of numbers. When we enter a domain into our web browser, it finds the appropriate IP and lets us access the files that make up a website. We use domain names because they are easier than trying to remember long combinations of numbers.
Is Web Hosting The Same as a Data Center?
Sometimes people get these two confused. Generally speaking, the term “web hosting” usually refers to the server that host your website or the hosting company that rent that server space to you.
Data center usually refers to the facility that is used to house the servers.
A data center could be a room, a house, or a very large building equipped with redundant or backup power supplies, redundant data communications connections, environmental controls – ie. air conditioning, fire suppression, and security devices.
Type of Hosting
There are four main types of web hosting options:
- Shared Hosting (Price: ~$2-$20/month) – Shared web hosting means having more than one web host subscriber in the same server. This practice is cost effective because you share the cost of the server with multiple subscribers like you. With the shared service, a server can host around 1000 subscribers, all of whom share the same server resources.
- Virtual Private Server (VPS) (Price: ~$5-$120/month) – With a virtual private server (VPS), you still share servers with other web hosting accounts, However, it mimics a private server because the activity of one account will not affect the rest that share the server. Additionally, one VPS is limited to a maximum number of accounts, so each account gets more server space.
- Dedicated Server (Price: ~$70- $250/month) – A dedicated server means having a private server just for your web hosting account.
- Cloud-Based Hosting (Price: ~$6-$30/month) – Cloud-based hosting is similar to a VPS server, but uses the resources of multiple servers in a network. This kind of setup enables websites to withstand surges and dips in the number of visitors.
For most small businesses, shared hosting is sufficient. Of course, the downside of shared hosting is that if there’s a technical issue that affects one of the other sites sharing your server, your site could be affected to. If you get more than 100,000 visitors to your site each month or host a lot of multimedia files, we recommend a virtual private server or cloud-based hosting. For more information, our buyer’s guide on web hosting providers has a comparison of shared web hosts (all of which offer VPS, cloud-based, or dedicated servers when you’re ready to graduate).
There’s also a handful of free web hosting services that let you build an entirely free website, but with limited storage and bandwidth, among other limitations. For this reason, we do not recommend it for a professional business website, although it can be suitable for some personal websites.
Factors to Evaluate When Choosing a Web Hosting Service
It’s a familiar dilemma: Which hosting provider should I trust with my sites? For developers, bloggers, small business owners, and others, choosing a host is like searching for Mr. Right.
If done right, you can spend a lifetime of happiness with a reliable and high-performing host who is always available through phone, chat, or email to answer your burning late-night questions. However, rushing into a hosting relationship without doing your research could lead to feeling trapped, misled, or extorted. Choosing the wrong host often ends with headaches and a messy, expensive divorce — and you again alone, holding on to all the files you used to share.
Here are some factors to evaluate when choosing a web host:
- Know What Kind of Web Host You Need: Understanding the needs of your business: it can help narrow your web hosting options. If you plan to build a website that features video blogging, 24-hour live streaming and the ability for visitors to register and upload their own videos, your website would require more features than someone who just uses their website as a virtual resume. Websites that receive a lot of daily traffic will likely not function well on a shared server because these servers are designed to accommodate a lot of small websites that have limited demands.
- Pricing – Website owners normally pay for web hosting services on a monthly basis, but there are also some web hosts that offer their services for free. However, some free web hosting service providers will sometimes force you to have banner ads on your website, which can be off putting for your customers.
- Disk Space– This is the primary feature offered by web hosting service providers. The disk space is where web host subscribers store their web files that make up the website. The space should still be enough for your business’ needs.
- Bandwidth – This determines how much data is allowed to travel to and from your host account server. Greater bandwidth is needed for websites that get a lot of visitors. Look for a web hosting service that will provide enough bandwidth as your business grows.
- Website Design Service – Some web hosting services offer web design services at an additional charge.
- FTP (File Transfer Protocol) – In order to have a properly working email and website, look for a web host that offers 24/7 unrestricted FTP access. This ensures that you can transfer important files to and from your host server at any time.
- Email – A web hosting service should let you set up a business email address and be able to provide a webmail interface to let you manage your emails anywhere there is internet access. Additionally, POP3 and SMTP should also be available so you can access your email using a mobile device.
- Support & Uptime– Uptime is the number of hours that a website is available on the internet for a certain period of time. Businesses are affected negatively for each second that their website is down, so web hosts will usually guarantee a certain percentage of uptime for their clients. Look for a web hosting service that commits to quality technical support that’s available 24/7 in case your site is experiencing issues.
Other advanced factors worthy to check
- Database Support— Many sites have them. Will yours work with the host in question?
- Framework Support— If you’ve used a particular CMS for your site (like WordPress) will it be compatible with this host?
- Mobile Apps— These allow you to manage your site on the go.
- Tech Support— You want someone watching your back in case something goes wrong.
- Shell Access— For you advanced types. You can use a remote command line to access the server.
- .htaccess Files— Another advanced feature. This refers to adding configuration files to enable specific site abilities.
- Cron Jobs— Think of these as commands and scripts that are set to run on timers. You can learn more here.
- Language Support— We’re not talking about spoken languages here. These are programming languages. There are a bunch out there. Which will your host support?
- Free AdWords— Not a major deal, but it might be nice for those looking to monetize their site by selling ads.
- Site Backup— If things go terribly wrong and you need to restore your website, a backup copy is essential.
- Extra Applications— Just as it sounds. These are little additional features that can enhance site functionality.
- Updates— Does this host stay on the cutting edge in terms of software versions and the like? You wouldn’t want to get stuck using outdated programs and such.
- Blogability— The ability to add a blog if you haven’t done so already. This is related to incorporating CMS like WordPress, as they have blogging built right into their platform.
- Scalability— The ability to increase the amount of resources you can use as your site grows.
Tips to Avoid Problems With Your Web Host
Here are some tips that will help business owners choose the right web host; avoiding mistakes that can create big problems later.
1. Don’t Get Stuck on Price – When you’re a new business owner with a limited budget, the web hosting company offering the lowest price might be very tempting. As cliché as it sounds, remember: you get what you pay for. The cheapest price might just result in slow servers, poor customer service, constant downtime, and an association with thousands of unprofessional websites that you would be embarrassed to share with your grandmother.
2. Read Web Hosting Reviews – Refer to reputable websites when doing research on the reliability and reputation of web hosts. Researching a web hosting company through third party reviews is very useful in discovering any consistent issues or persistent complaints from current or past users. Pay attention to how the company responds to complaints, if the company responds at all. This will give you an idea of how the company deals with unhappy customers.
3. Get the Right Amount of Bandwidth – While most new websites don’t use a lot of bandwidths, it is important to leave room for growth. Make sure the web hosting company you choose doesn’t lock you into a certain amount bandwidth and then charge you additional fees if you need to revise your hosting plan later.
4. Read the Terms of Service – No, really. Read the Terms of Service. Don’t just skim through them. Read them. Most people accept the Terms of Service without bothering to read exactly what they’re signing. I’ve done it. We’ve all done it. Stop doing it. The Terms of Service usually includes the refund policy, which might be good to know later.
5. Test Customer Support – When you are researching web hosting companies, always look for a way to contact customer support. Can you find a quick and easy way to contact them via email, online chat, or 24/7 phone support? Yes? Great. Now test them. Be sure to test each feature before you purchase their services to see if they meet the needs of your company.
6. Know the Backup Plan – It doesn’t really matter why your website is down or why you have lost your website’s data. You need to know if the web hosting company you choose has a backup plan to help you recover just in case. Ask them, “What’s the plan, Stan?” If you’re not comfortable with the answer, you know what you need to do.
7. Ask About Security Features – Security breaches happen, even to the mom-and-pop store in that small town in Idaho that has a population of 2,000. Make sure your web hosting company can provide Secure Sockets Layer to safeguard your customer’s private information. This is an essential feature in providing customers with safe transactions and it should be a feature that’s provided by the web hosting company.
8. Avoid the New Guy Who Can’t Handle Growth – Many times new companies offer low prices hoping they’ll make up for it with a large influx of clients. However, most new hosting companies are not equipped to successfully manage that many clients at once. It’s best to stick with a more established company that can deal with growth without compromising their clients’ experience.
When web hosting companies experience growth too quickly and they don’t have the resources to handle it, that creates problems for business owners like downtime, slow page loads, lost revenue, and negative effects on search rankings.