What is web hosting? If this is a question you’ve ever asked yourself, you’re not alone. Whether you want to build your own website, or pay a web designer or agency to build one for you, you’ll hear people talk about the need to get web hosting. But what is virtual hosting, why do you need it, and where can you get it?
In this article, we’ll provide answers to all of these questions and more in an easy-to-understand, jargon-free way. Read on to discover everything you need to know about getting web hosting for your website and how to choose the best web hosting service. If you’re just starting out, don’t miss our guide to the best website builders, too.
What is web hosting?
Web hosting is where all your website’s data – text, images, videos, etc. – is stored and delivered to people who want to access it over the web.
In the early days of the web, some people would actually host their websites on their own computers. Technically, you can still do this. But in reality, most home computers aren’t powerful enough to allow multiple people to visit your website at the same time without crashing.
So now, we outsource this task to web hosting companies that have access to large and powerful computer servers all over the world. And because they have so many clients, they can do it at scale and keep web hosting costs low for everyone.
How much should I pay for web hosting?
A new website owner should probably expect to pay around £50-£100 a year for web hosting. However, the more complex your website is and the more important it is to your business, the more you will be willing to pay. So, for example, hosting a very large and complex e-commerce site can cost up to £10,000 for a large company.
Obviously, it’s worth shopping around. But like any price comparison you make on the web, headline numbers can be misleading, so you’ll have to dig into the details. Specifically, some of the largest hosting companies offer hosting for just a few dollars a week or even free. However, both offers should generally be seen as a way for the aforementioned companies to attract you and make you pay more in the long run.
For one, these super cheap or free web hosting plans can be time-limited, so you need to read the fine print to find out if and when prices will suddenly go up. Second, they usually mean that your site is covered with ads and you don’t earn any income from yourself.
Third, the service may lack bandwidth, limiting the number of people who can visit your website at any time. They may also run out of storage space, limiting the size and number of images and videos you can include on your website. In the end, you might get a custom URL; something like mybusiness.daveswebsitehosting.com. If you want a better domain name (i.e. mybusiness.com), you will need to pay separately.
The good news is that you can always upgrade if you find that the plan you’ve chosen doesn’t work for your website. Web hosting companies are never shy about accepting more money from you!
What should I look for in a web hosting company?
One of the most important things to look for in a web hosting company is the level of technical support. They may be as good as pie when trying to get you set up, but what really matters is what happens after that.
Support can be provided in a number of ways, which may include phone calls, live chat, email, and support tickets. Most companies promise support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. However, some restrict it to office hours and weekdays, which can be tricky if the company is in a different global time zone than you.
There are other reasons to consider where a hosting company is located, and just as importantly, where their servers are located. As a broad rule of thumb, the further the data travels between the server and your website visitors, the longer it will take for your website to load. For this reason, it’s usually a good idea to partner with a local hosting company if your site is primarily for people in your area.
Of course, if the software and hardware from local suppliers are of low quality, it will be a false economy. Just because they’re there for you doesn’t mean they’re bound to provide good support. So it’s always worth doing your research and checking out as many customer reviews as possible.
Can I trust a web hosting provider?
Generally speaking, you can trust web hosting companies to at least try to live up to their promises to you. The market is so competitive, and if they don’t, they certainly won’t last long. One thing to be aware of, however, is the tricky word “infinite.”
Many hosting companies promise “unlimited bandwidth,” which means there’s no limit to the number of people who can visit your website at any one time. They may also offer “unlimited storage”, i.e. you can upload an unlimited amount of content to your website without running out of space.
This is nonsense, pure marketing spin. In reality, your disk space and bandwidth will always be physically limited. What companies usually mean by this promise is that you’ll get more space and be able to handle a lot more traffic than the average user needs. However, there is a limit; you won’t know what it is until you exceed it.
This misleading language isn’t really used, and is something the web hosting industry will ultimately have to deal with…unless the government first legislates for it. Meanwhile, if your provider advertises “unlimited” bandwidth or storage, be careful and double-check the terms and conditions.
What are the main types of web hosting?
There are many different types of web hosting, which can seem intimidating to first-time website owners. If that’s you, then rest assured, shared hosting, the first type on our list below is everything you really need to know.
shared hosting is the cheapest form of web hosting and the most common service chosen by the average website owner. It’s called “shared” because your website will be running on the same server as many other websites, possibly hundreds of them. The features available for such services are usually pretty basic, but it’s suitable for sites that only expect low traffic.
and Virtual Private Server (VPS) hosting, Your website also shares server space with other websites, but to a lesser extent. This type of hosting is more stable and secure than shared hosting, so it is less likely to crash when the number of visitors surges, but it is also more expensive. This type of hosting is suitable for any website that expects moderate traffic.
Dedicated hosting, as the name suggests, means your website has its own private server. This is by far the most expensive service mentioned. For the extra money, though, you can serve your site to your visitors faster, and it’s less likely to crash even during high traffic spikes. This type of hosting is suitable for larger businesses with high traffic websites. Dedicated hosting can be self-managed, where you control the server and take care of its security and maintenance, or unmanaged, where the hosting company’s own technical team takes care of those tasks.
Uneasy about the idea of storing your website on a single physical server, making it vulnerable to local power outages, hacking, natural disasters, or national government intervention?These concerns have spawned a new type of custody called Cloud hosting. This means your website is stored on multiple servers around the world, spreading the risk of anything happening to your website and providing additional resources during peak traffic times. The downside is that you have less control over where your data lives.
WordPress hosting is a hosting service optimized for WordPress websites. WordPress.org lets you build a website for free (it’s number two on our list of the best website builders), but it’s tricky to set up. Therefore, most major hosting providers have stepped in to make this easier, for example, letting you install software with one click, and automatically update it for you, as well as host your website. Check out our guide to the best WordPress hosting providers today.
Email hosting For individuals and organizations that don’t want to use third-party email services like Gmail, but prefer to store and control their email on their own servers. This could be the server that also stores its website, or it could be a separate server.
Want to become a hosting company yourself? You don’t actually need to buy physical servers and operate them yourself: you can rent space on someone else’s server and sell it to someone else.This is called Reseller web hosting.
Looking for a website builder? Read our guide: