Updated 4th November 2018
Web design is the fun side of building a website. You can indulge your creative side, play around with graphics, fonts and layouts, and really get your personality across on the page. When you’re new to the process of building a website, the design side is exciting. The web hosting side, however, seems like a confusing array of jargon that you’re probably wondering whether it would make more sense in Klingon.
Fear not! We’ve put together this handy guide that covers pretty much everything that you’re going to need to know about web hosting for 2019. We’ll cover all the important questions, such as what web hosting is, what it involves, and how to choose the best hosting options for your business.
What is Web Hosting?
If you want the public to be able to visit the amazing website that you’ve designed, it needs to be stored on what’s known as a web server. There are different types of servers and different types of hosting. Essentially, a server is a powerful computer that guarantees a high level of performance and reliability. These servers allow your website to be accessed when someone types in your URL or clicks a link in a search engine. Web hosts are the people who own the servers, and they essentially rent out space on the server.
The way that your website ‘arrives’ on the user’s screen is a complicated process and we’re not going to confuse you further by going into all the technical details. All you really need to know about what web hosting is, is that it’s the only way to get your website online!
What Else Do Web Host Companies Do?
Most web hosting companies don’t limit their services to simply renting out space on their servers. They usually offer a whole range of other services, such as the option to purchase domain names, email accounts and website security certificates (SSL).
Domain Name Registration
There are companies online (such as wix.com) that offer the chance to build a website without paying for hosting or a domain name, but these are only really suitable for personal pages. For your business to have an impact, you need to purchase a memorable, unique domain name. A domain name will also mean that your customers view you as more trustworthy and genuine.
When you have a domain name, you also have the option to purchase email hosting that will give you an @domain.co.uk address instead of a generic @gmail.com (or Hotmail/yahoo/whatever) address. This has the advantage of appearing more professional and reliable, giving people confidence in your brand.
Website Security Certificates (SSL)
It’s more important than ever to be able to provide a secure connection when transmitting customers’ personal and credit card details. SSL is an industry-standard security certificate that most hosting companies offer as an additional service. Your customers will appreciate the security that SSL offers – again increasing your trustworthiness in their eyes.
What’s Included in a Web Hosting Plan?
There are a number of different components included in a web hosting plan. These components are what dictate the performance of your website.
Bandwidth is a term that refers to the amount of data that your website can transfer in a given period of time. It is bandwidth that controls the speed of your site, since more available bandwidth equals a faster site.
You want your customers to be able to access your website 24/7, of course, and uptime is the term used to refer to the percentage of time the server is consistently ‘up’. There are always going to be occasions when problems hit, but the best hosting providers promise at least a 99% uptime.
3) Disk Space
Like the disk space on your computer, web hosting providers offer a certain amount of storage space for your website. It’s measured in megabytes, and whilst you probably won’t know in advance exactly how much space you’re going to need, a rule of thumb is that if you’re planning on hosting video and media on your website, you’ll need more space. Similarly, e-commerce sites with a vast number of products will need more space.
4) Programming Services
There are various different programming languages that can be utilised in website building. Most web hosting packages offer the possibility to use a range of these, such as ASP, HTML and PHP.
5) Customer Services
Not all web hosting services are equal and one area in which they can vary vastly is with regard to customer services. You want to look for a web hosting company that has a good reputation when it comes to customer services. You don’t want to find out your host has poor customer service at the precise moment when you need their technical help. Your website is your online shop window, so you need to know that if there’s a problem, your host will be on hand to fix it.
What Types of Hosting Are There?
There are three principle types of web hosting that you need to be aware of. More advanced options are available, but it’s unlikely you’ll need to explore these for a regular website. Let’s take a look at the available options.
1) Shared Server Hosting
This is the type of hosting that you’ll find is the cheapest option, and the option which most website owners start out with. Shared hosting is exactly what it sounds like. A hosting provider hosts multiple websites on one server. Each site has their own domain name and a portion of the available storage space and bandwidth.
It’s cost-effective because it’s shared, but there are disadvantages to this type of hosting. If your site receives a lot of traffic, you’ll use up your bandwidth allocation quickly. In many cases you may experience a slower site speed if other sites on the shared server are receiving a lot of traffic all at the same time.
2) Cloud Server Hosting
Like other types of cloud services (such as iCloud or OneDrive, where your data is stored ‘in the cloud’), cloud hosting is a form of on-demand hosting available via the internet. Unlike shared or dedicated servers, cloud server hosting services are provided by multiple connected servers that comprise a cloud.
3) Dedicated Server Hosting
Dedicated servers are the best option for businesses who need guaranteed space and bandwidth that’s not shared with other websites. As their name suggests, dedicated servers are used by only one customer. This option offers flexibility and control, particularly with regard to security and reliability. Naturally, it’s a more expensive option than shared or cloud server hosting, and smaller businesses and websites don’t generally need this kind of server.
Navigating the Jargon
Web hosting jargon can make you feel like you’re reading a foreign language. The hosting providers seem to assume that everyone understands the jargon they use, but this is far from being the truth. Most people have only a basic grasp of the technical jargon used by hosting companies. For that reason, here are some definitions that will help you understand the technical language.
- CDN – this is an acronym for content delivery network, which is a collection of servers located in data centres around the world. These servers are instrumental in delivering web content – particularly images and page styles – to visitors to a website.
- CMS – this acronym stands for content management system. These are popular options with many businesses, because they are user-friendly applications installed on a server that allow you to build a website without any coding knowledge. Examples include WordPress and Drupal.
- DNS – another acronym, this refers to Domain Name System, which is the way in which domain names are translated into numerical IP addresses. DNS is also known as nameservers.
- FTP and SFTP – these acronyms stand for file transfer protocol and secure file transfer protocol respectively. These are means of uploading content onto the web server and are particularly useful for bulk transfers.
- IP Address – these are means of identifying different computers that are connected to the internet. Every computer with an internet connection has at least one IP address. The IP address has two purposes: host or network interface identification (who it is) and location addressing (where it is).
- Malware – this is harmful software that can cause a whole load of damage and disruption to websites, computers and networks. Websites that aren’t adequately secured are particularly vulnerable to malware attacks.
- PHP – this is a scripting language used in web development. It’s an essential part of modern websites, allowing dynamic and static content to be combined into HTML, allowing your browser to display websites.
- SSL and TLS – standing for secure sockets layer and transport layer security respectively, these are types of encryption that ensures that connections between computer systems are secure.
- Plugin – these are components that are commonly used to add additional features to CMS such as WordPress. There are hundreds of different plugins available, offering seemingly unlimited possibilities for your website.
- Payment Gateway – these are usually found on e-commerce websites and are the means by which your customers can make purchases using credit cards. There are a variety of payment gateways available, depending on your business size and needs.
Choosing the Right Host for Your Website
With so many web hosts all seeming to promise to give you everything you need to get your website online, it can be difficult to choose the right hosting provider. That’s especially true if you’re new to web hosting and are still unsure about the various options available. To help you make a decision, here’s the essential things you need to consider about your potential web host:
- Cost – how much is the package you’re looking at, and are there hidden extras that you’re going to get hit with at the checkout? A lot of web hosting companies promise great things at a low price, but when you get to the point of entering your credit card details, you realise that their pricing isn’t quite as transparent as it seems.
- Bandwidth and Storage – compare different providers in terms of what they offer in bandwidth and storage. Check things like customer reviews to uncover any issues where websites suffer in their loading time due to bandwidth restrictions at peak times.
- Security – does the hosting provider you’re looking at offer a free SSL certificate (many do) or is this going to be an additional cost. Recent changes to the way Google view websites means that it’s increasingly important for your site to have (at the very least) a basic SSL certificate.
- Uptime – check out reviews online to see how hosting providers’ actual uptime compares with their claims. Most hosting providers will claim 99% or more uptime, but their claims are not always accurate. It’s important to choose a hosting provider that’s dependable.
- Prices after initial term – this is something that people often get stung with. Web hosting companies are notorious for offering unbelievably low prices for the first six or twelve months, but then raising prices dramatically after this initial period. Because changing hosting provider at the end of a cheap term can be technically problematic in some cases, it’s a good idea to investigate how much you’re going to be charged in the future. It may be that a provider that is initially more expensive may work out cheaper in the long run.
It can be a daunting prospect when you first start looking at the various web hosting options available. Rather than jumping into a contract with a company right away, it’s a good idea to spend some time considering what you need from your hosting company, as well as looking at reviews of the various companies. Although on the surface the companies may seem similar, it pays to shop around to find the best deal for your business, with a company that’s received good reviews and customer feedback.
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