What is hosting?
Hosting is the storage space and access to servers (which are special high powered computers) on the World Wide Web. This allows you to store all your website files so that people can access it online.
With your hosting you get an IP address which looks a bit like this 126.96.36.199. You can access your website using this address but because it is not very user friendly you will also purchase a domain name which is a much more memorable way for users to get to your website.
How do I find a good hosting provider?
There is a huge amount of details related to hosting and providers will vary greatly in what information they provide upfront. If you are familiar with the common specifications you should be able to pick a good host. Here are some of the most common specifications and what they mean.
Common hosting specifications to understand
Storage – The online space you have to store your website files. Often you will see “SSD storage” which refers to the drives being solid state disks rather than moving disk drives. As with laptops and other devices SSD storage costs more but it is more reliable.
Bandwidth –Refers to the amount of data transmitted in a timeframe. Bandwidth = site data x traffic.
Number of domains – The number of websites you can have on the one package. If it is more than one, you still must pay for additional domain names to set up additional websites.
SSL certificate and SSH – SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer and SSH stands for Secure Shell. Both refer to methods of ensuring data transferred over the internet is secure. There was a time when this was only necessary for websites dealing with sensitive personal data however it is becoming a standard now as people prefer secure sites and search engines like Google rank you higher when your site is secure. It is worth investing in hosting that provides either SSL certificates or SSH. You can identify a site using SSL or SSH by the s in the https:// part of the address.
Database – MySQL and MariaDB are two very common databases used in web hosting. Both work well and provide data storage much like a filing cabinet.
Web server – Litespeed and Apache are common web server software which manages the websites being hosted by responding to requests for pages and serving them to clients.
cPanel – cPanel is a control panel which is used to manage a website using a web interface. cPanel is where you can create subdomains and manage email accounts, databases and perform other tasks. It is important that you get cPanel access with your hosting to give you control over your website.
Backups – A secure copy of your site that you revert to when things go wrong. Problems often occur when site changes are made or software updates. If problems are not easily fixed you could be losing valuable customers whilst your website is offline. Having a backup means that you can restore your website and business can go on.
Technical support – technical support is a must. There will inevitably be a time when things go wrong and you should be able to log a support request via email, a ticketing system or over the phone.
Along with these terms it is also important to be aware of the following common selling tactics.
Hosting sales tactics to look out for
Unlimited or large storage – Hosting providers often offer large or unlimited storage to customers and this may seem like you’re getting a bonus but realistically it’s just a sales tactic. The average web page is less than 2Mb and the average website is less than 1GB. So you can see that unlimited or huge storage provisions are unnecessary.
Unlimited bandwidth – Generally avoid hosting plans that say unlimited bandwidth and go for unmetered bandwidth. It is impossible to have unlimited bandwidth because there is a finite number of resources so unlimited claims are misleading. Unmetered bandwidth on the other hand means there is a maximum speed (which of course there must be as there is a finite number of resources) but the amount of data transferred unlimited.
Free – sometimes these free items are only free for part of your hosting life and are just a way to get you hooked on them so be aware of the added cost when the free period runs out.
Sale – hosting sales are rarely ever sales. It is merely to draw your attention and make you feel like the huge saving will go away soon. If you take a look around at various hosts you will start to realise they all seem to have a sale and it goes yearlong!
Low entry fee – most hosts will have these so called “sales” and the quoted monthly fee is quite low but do be aware that this fee must be paid upfront 2 years in advance and after the initial 2 years you are back up to the normal price.
What is not included – many hosts will advertise packages that look very appealing with lots of free, unlimited and unmetered items all for a bargain price. But be warned that often many items are not included in this price such as SSL certificates (which are a must these days), backups, email etc.
How much should I pay for hosting?
Hosting costs vary greatly so unfortunately there is no straight answer to what you should pay. The important point is to not get swept away by the sales tactics and upsells, know what you need and be aware of how much you’ll be paying after the initial payment.
Once I have hosting, then what?
In summary, hosting is renting space on a server for your website. Once you have hosting and a domain name you are ready to design and build your website. But there are still so many options and what is best for a modern small business? Visit our article on WordPress to learn about the number one website builder and how you can manage a beautiful website that complements your business.