What Is Web Hosting?
Every website needs a web host in order to allow internet users to access its pages. A web hosting provider, also called a web host, can provide this service.
The computers used to store or host websites are called servers. Facilities called data centers typically house servers along with a significant amount of a web host’s other hardware. These facilities have a network infrastructure to accommodate the data they handle and, most importantly, they have access to a consistent power supply and a cooling system.
Web hosting service providers then rent space on their servers to clients who “park” their website property in that rented space. That property includes all of a client’s website information, assets, and pages.
Ideally, you should understand the different types of web hosting — outlined in the next section — before comparing and selecting a web host.
5 Main Types of Web Hosting
Each of the five main types of web hosting have different characteristics. To make an informed decision about which will best meet your business’ needs, familiarize yourself with the following options.
Free web hosting services, as the name implies, cost nothing. Examples of free web hosting services include Wix.com, Weebly, Blogger, and Shopify.
But, using a free web hosting service comes with many disadvantages. For example, they only give users a tiny amount of space on a server shared with many others. Users also only get a subdomain, which uses the host’s branding and often must endure forced ads or other money-making tactics from the web host.
Other major drawbacks include slow upload and download speeds as well as an inability to support high-volume traffic due to low bandwidth and reduced data transfer capabilities. This results in a less reliable type of web hosting.
On average, free hosting also is less secure than other types of web hosting. Why? Because a server packed with many websites makes those sites more susceptible to a breach by hackers.
Many free web hosting services also lack reliable customer support and don’t offer technical advice. In rare cases, free hosting companies disappeared overnight and left businesses without a website or any backup.
Free web hosting isn’t a viable option for any business seeking a consistent, reliable website host.
While shared hosting services also place multiple client websites on the same server, their users pay a small fee and gain several advantages over users of free web hosts. Examples of shared hosting providers include GoDaddy, WordPress, HostGator, and GreenGeeks.
Depending on the provider, shared hosting fees can start from as little as $4 per month. This gives small businesses an affordable monthly payment. It also allows them to focus on building and managing their site without worrying about the administrative and technical side of running a server.
Another benefit of shared hosting is that the web host typically will address any technical issues quickly to avoid impacting all of its clients sharing a server.
The main disadvantages of this type of web hosting include no choice in the software applications used by the host, more sluggish websites due to shared resources, and the potential for an issue with one website to affect the others sharing the same server.
Virtual Private Server (VPS) Hosting
While VPS hosting also stores multiple websites on the same server, this type of hosting partitions them so each site has its own bandwidth, disc space, and operating system. Examples of VPS web hosts include GoDaddy, Amazon Web Services (AWS), and Bluehost.
VPS hosting costs less than dedicated hosting and comes with several other advantages. You can set up VPS hosting much faster than dedicated hosting, for example, and it offers the same level of support as a shared server. VPS hosting providers also accommodate any amount of growth when a business website wants to add more resources.
A key disadvantage of VPS hosting is that if one site draws too much CPU power then others on the VPS may experience some limitations. A VPS hosting provider must ensure it allocates resources properly to avoid fluctuations in its service.
Online gaming providers, drop-shipping services, and high-traffic enterprises often prefer the level of control and flexibility that comes with having an entire server to themselves. This not only provides a high level of stability, but also the power to carry large volumes of traffic reliably.
Unless such businesses have in-house server installations and technicians, they often choose dedicated hosting services from Google Cloud, AWS, Bluehost, and A2 Hosting, among others.
Dedicated hosting services aren’t for everyone, though, because they come with a high cost, take more time to set up, and require technical knowledge in case of complications.
Cloud hosting relies on multiple servers pooling their resources to support websites. Some of the most well-known names in cloud hosting include Google Cloud, AWS, Microsoft Azure, GoDaddy, and HostGator.
One of the biggest advantages of cloud hosting is that a website can’t suddenly become unavailable if one server goes offline. That’s because, in the event of a fault, the web host relies on the other machines for resources until it can correct the error. A cloud hosting provider’s many machines also can withstand malware attacks better than a single server.
Power and flexibility represent two other major advantages of cloud hosting. In addition, traffic spikes don’t affect websites using cloud hosting because the host ensures it always has enough resources to provide a seamless user experience.
The main disadvantage of this type of web hosting is that users lack full control of their data.
9 Key Considerations When Choosing a Web Host
Now that you understand the various types of web hosting and which will best suit your business, it’s time to select a web host. Whether you have an existing website or just started building one, consider these nine factors as you evaluate potential web hosts.
Domain Name Retention
You don’t want your web host to own your domain name because you’ll lose any search engine optimization (SEO) benefits you accrued with that domain name if you ever want to change hosts.
In addition, make sure to ask if the web host will support more than one domain name and if it offers various email accounts for each one.
Website Builder Availability or Professional Design Compatibility
If you plan to build your business website yourself, look for a web host that offers website templates or a website builder. These tools will make it easier for you to design and build your site.
If you hired a website designer to build your website, you must ensure the web host you choose can accommodate that design without any compatibility issues.
Loading Speed and Downtime
Your website’s loading speed is important for two reasons:
- Visitors likely will abandon your website if it takes longer than two seconds to load.
- Website speed plays a major role in Google search result rankings.
Several factors can affect your website’s speed, but a web host with fast servers as well as ample memory and processing power will ensure fast page-loading speeds.
Downtime can damage a website’s user experience, and an extended downtime will have an impact on SEO rankings. That means you should always verify a web host’s uptime rating, which should fall no lower than 99.5 percent.
Your web hosting service should offer powerful website security. Its servers must have firewalls and it should monitor them for unauthorized intrusions and suspicious activity. It also should have daily secure file backups so you can restore your files if they’re ever lost or corrupted.
Look for a web host with an extra layer of secure sockets layer (SSL) technology — especially if your website accepts online payments.
Look for a web host that offers strong customer support and 24/7 monitoring in case you encounter any problems that need urgent attention.
Make sure to also ask about a web host’s average response time — and what methods you can use to access its support — before you make a decision.
Scalability for Future Growth
If you expect your website’s traffic volume to grow over time or anticipate a major content expansion, then you need a web host capable of accommodating your site’s growth.
Web hosts offer many plans tailored to the requirements of the different businesses purchasing them. These plans often include different bandwidth and storage features so carefully consider what you need when selecting a plan so you won’t struggle later on.
In general, expect to may more as your bandwidth and storage needs increase.
Your website’s bandwidth requirements will depend on its total number of visitors, but you don’t want to constantly run out of bandwidth. Servers used for dedicated hosting and cloud hosting work better for high-volume websites.
Restrictions and Limitations
Before signing up for a web hosting plan, make sure you understand any restrictions or limitations associated with a specific web host. If you want to customize your website, then a shared hosting plan might limit your options. Other common restrictions may impact the number of domains supported, the amount of file transfers permitted, and the total resource usage allowed.
Ease of Migration
An open-source content management system (CMS) you can update and back up regularly will provide access to your website’s data, media, and structure. If you’re ever unhappy with the performance of your web host, you can then easily change your domain name and load your backup website files onto a new host’s server.
Terms and Pricing
Besides free web hosting, which isn’t recommended for most businesses, web hosting costs can range from a few dollars to thousands of dollars per month. Avoid cheap deals that limit flexibility and resource access because this can lead to website performance issues.
In addition, carefully review any contract’s terms and duration. With a pay-as-you-go web hosting plan, you can leave at any time. With a contract, you may get a low rate for an initial period then end up paying significantly more at the time of the renewal. Always read the fine print before signing anything.
Before you choose a web host, identify the features you consider most important for your business website. Then, estimate your website’s expected traffic and size to help you determine the best type of hosting for your site as well as its bandwidth and storage requirements.
Finally, compare web hosts based on their pricing and scalability options. If you have a sudden increase in online traffic or expect strong growth, you’ll need a web host that allows your website to scale up easily.
For more information, check out our review of the Best Web Hosting Providers.