What is web hosting and why do I need it?

If you’re launching your first website – all the various mystical terms that float around that people assume you know all about can seem rather bewildering! Something that a lot of my web newbies don’t know much about is hosting.

What is hosting? Do I need it? How much should I pay for it? What kind of hosting do I need? The list of questions multiply quicker that a field of catholic rabbits… But worry not – I’m here with all the answers in as non-techy a talk as is possible… If you’re already all clued up about web hosting and want to read where I recommend you buy it from read that scintillating blog next week!

What is web hosting and why do I need it?

Imagine the internet is a gorgeous sprawling metropolis. You want to move in – who wouldn’t. You’ve meticulously planned together your dream house (A.K.A your website), picked out the wallpaper and invested in sumptuous soft furnishings but now you need a fat old piece of land to build it on. This land, my dear readers is rented from an internet host. BOOM. Without hiring the land there ain’t anywhere for your pretty new website to sit and MOST importantly you certainly won’t get any visitors. You’ll remain sitting lonely in a little patch of nowhere.

OR escaping from an analogy stretched to its city limits – your website consists of a series of files, hundreds of them, all working together in perfect harmony to create the look and user experience your business needs. The files can stay on your computer – but no one apart from you would be able to see them. You need to rent some space on a ‘server’ – a powerful piece of tech that is always switched on and that communicates with the internet 24-7. Servers are owned by hosting companies – and they let you store your files on their server – for a tasty annual fee.

I’ve registered my domain name – is this the same as hosting?

A lot of my clients think that they’ve already signed up for a hosting package – when in reality all that they’ve done is registered a domain name. The domain name is just that – a name (and address) that your host will use to direct people to your website. Think of it like a gorgeous name plaque that you put on your front door so your visitors can find you! It’s true that most hosts also sell domain registration, and indeed a lot of hosting packages will include a domain name in the deal – but just registering the address does not pay for the space on the server that your website will need – so sorry – you need to shell out a bit more mullah!

How much will hosting cost me?

Hosting costs vary A LOT! You could spend thousands – or just pounds every month. What you’ll need depends on your requirements – is speed of loading a priority? Are you expecting thousands of visitors every day? Will your site be big and stuffed full of features (a shop, a booking facility etc etc)? If you answered yes to any of those questions you’ll probably end up paying more than a one page site for a dog walker in Frome – who might expect 10 or 15 site visits on a good day. If we go back to our Internet city – some sites will be massive sprawling multi roomed mansions – and need lots of room for visitors, they’ll be the good part of town and easily accessible (close to all those great transport links). This fine piece of real estate will be a lot costlier than a one room bedsit on the outskirts of town… you get my point.

What are all the different kinds of hosting?

As soon as you start to shop for hosting you’ll be bombarded by a perplexity of options… Cloud hosting, shared hosting, C-Panel hosting, VPS, dedicated – the list goes on. Fear not my intrepid internet explorer – here are my explanations of the most common…

Shared Hosting

Sharing is caring… Or in this case – it’s dead affordable!
In shared hosting your webste is hosted on a server that is ‘shared’ by other websites. You pay the small bucks (anything from 99p – £15 a month) to share a SUPER server with 100s or 1000s of other websites.

Pros:
  • Cheap!
  • Often perfectly adequate for small to mid range websites and enterprises
Cons:
  • You’re at the mercy of the other sites – if one site that you share with suddenly gets a TONNE of visitors then it slows down the service for everyone else.
  • They’re generally a little slower to load than the more expensive options and are more prone to down time (times of server overload which means you’re site won’t load at all)
Who it’s for

Website newbies with smallish brochure sites who aren’t expecting high volumes of traffic.

Managed WordPress Hosting

This is cropping up more and more due to the popularity of wordpress – it’s basically shared hosting with a bit of a wordpress add on. The hosting provider will keep your wordpress installation up to date as part of the deal which helps keep your site safe from nasty security threats.

Cloud Hosting

This is a fairly new arrival in the hosting stables – but is growing in popularity. In cloud hosting hundreds of individual servers work together so that it looks like one giant server. The idea is that as the need grows, the hosting company can just add more commodity hardware to make an ever larger grid or cloud. This is the next step up from shared hosting…

Pros
  • Not as pricy as the next steps up (but not cheap!)
  • If you get an unusually large amount of website traffic the web hosting plan can accommodate the surge of traffic – rather than shutting your website down.
Cons
  • It’s still slower than the more expensive options
  • Some hosts are still getting to grips with the technology so you may get caught in some of their ‘teething’ problems
Who its for…

If you’re getting more established, with more visitors and starting to notice problems with slow loading etc consider cloud hosting

Virtual Private Server (VPS)

Virtual private servers share one physical server but they act like multiple, separate servers. A VPS is a half way house between shared hosting and getting your own dedicated machine.

Pros
  • Your neighbouring sites do not impact on your performance AT ALL
  • Speedy
Cons
  • We’re starting to talk more money – anything form £30 – £200 a month
Who it’s for

Bigger sites, or online stores where web speed, uptime and security are a priority

Dedicated

This means you rent one physical server TOTALLY for yourself – a gorgeous detached house in the nice part of town!

Pros
  • You don’t have to worry about other sites stealing your resources or slowing you down
  • Really quick loading speeds
  • Minimal down time
  • The highest level of server you would need if your online business grows into a presence that is getting a lot of website traffic.
Cons
  • The cost – it can set you back between £100 and £500 a month – gulp…
  • It gets TECHNICAL – you might need to have access to a system administrator who takes care of the details of running the beast! (a snazzy butler to keep your mansion running smoothly!)
Who it’s for

Big sites belonging to BIG companies who get a lot of traffic – if you need this level of hosting then the cost won’t be an issue to you!

SO there you go – you are now fully initiated in to the world of internet hosts. Tune in next week to see my recommendations (honestly I am SO in love with my internet host right now – sad, but true)

If you’re still confused get in touch and I’ll give you some advice as to what you might need.

K x

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