So you’ve finally taken the plunge and registered a domain name for your business website. Congrats!
That was the fun part, the easy part … and the cheap part.
You’ve taken the first step toward securing a home base for your new online business. But now you’re faced with another problem: You need somewhere to actually host that home base.
Selecting a reliable hosting provider is no easy thing.
There are hundreds of different options on the market, ranging from small, low-cost shared hosting providers to national data centers––and all of these options can differ wildly with regard to price, features, and quality of service.
Before we dive into each of these options, let’s take a step back and consider just what hosting is in the first place and why you need it.
How the Internet Works (TL;DR: magic)
A website, no matter how complex, is essentially just a bundle of files and folders. And just like the files and folders scattered about on your Desktop, these need to be stored somewhere.
Website files are stored (or hosted) on special computers called servers, which act as storerooms for data––in this case, the data is your website.
So when a user types your domain address into her browser’s address bar, her browser sends a request to your server asking it to send back your website files, which are then hopefully displayed in her browser.
Web hosting, then, is simply the process of purchasing space on a remote server, or servers, to house all of your website files and send them to users' browsers.
Still confused? Think of it this way: If your website were a house, then your domain name would be its address, and the hosting server would be the plot of land beneath it.
To press the analogy even further, hosting plans are like house rentals that users pay for each month in order to keep their servers running and their sites online.
Now that we’ve got all of that out of the way, let’s take a look at some of the different options that are available.
Four Types of Web Hosting
All-in-One Website Builders
Typically, these platforms will allow you to buy a domain name, create a website, and host that site all from a single interface.
Most of them offer paid hosting plans for less than $20 per month.
Wix, for example, offers an “Unlimited” hosting plan for just $18 per month. Geared toward entrepreneurs and freelancers, this plan doesn’t cap bandwidth and comes with 10GB of cloud storage, which should be more than enough for most small projects.
In addition, all Wix hosting plans are equipped with a free SSL certificate (which is essential for all modern websites) and a global content delivery network (or CDN).
A CDN allows your site files to be served from a location close to where your visitors are located–ensuring quick loading times and a pleasant user experience.
This plan also features automated backups and versioning, custom site search, and password protection all for just $15 per month.
Simplicity is the single largest benefit associated with this type of hosting, as these services offer one-stop-shops for everything related to creating a website–domain registration, design, hosting, etc.
But users must sacrifice flexibility with all-in-one platform hosting, as they’re locked into a single environment. And if they should, for whatever reason, ever want to switch hosting providers, in most cases they won’t be able to take their site with them.
And so, this solution is best suited for non-tech-savvy users who want to get their sites up and running as quickly as possible, with as little hassle as possible, and who don’t mind paying a bit more for this convenience.
For many online business owners, shared hosting is the “default” option.
This is the type of hosting service with which you’re probably already the most familiar. It’s by far the most common––because it’s also usually the least expensive.
Under shared hosting plans, your website will be stored on the same server as hundreds (if not thousands) of other websites.
All domains on the server will share the same resources––such as memory, computing power, and disk space. For this reason, hosting fees are typically very low.
For instance, Bluehost offers a “Basic” shared hosting plan for $8.99 per month, while Hostgator’s “Hatchling” plan costs $10.95 per month. (However, both also offer promotional pricing for new users.)
Both companies, along with most other shared hosting providers, also offer one-click WordPress installations, which can be a huge time-saver for those with WordPress websites.
While these plans are undeniably cheap, they also come along with more than a few significant drawbacks. As with most things in life, you get what you pay for.
Shared hosting plans typically come along with limited bandwidth, administration, and performance capabilities, which render them unsuitable for large sites with heavy amounts of traffic. In addition, certain hosting companies have been known to “throttle” bandwidth for some high-performing websites––meaning that, in order to maintain sufficiently fast loading speeds for other websites on the shared server, these companies will limit the resources available to those websites.
As Brian Jackson wrote on Kinsta’s blog:
To make money most [shared] hosts offer what they call their ‘unlimited resources’ plan. You have probably all seen this. Well, there is no such thing in the real world as unlimited resources. What hosts will do is throttle the clients using up a lot of the resources. This, in turn, ends up with those angry clients leaving, making room for more clients that don’t use a lot of resources. In the end, you have a vicious cycle of the hosting company pushing cheap plans, signing up customers who they hope won’t use a lot of resources and will purchase upsells. It’s all about volume.
Also, remember that with shared hosting, you’re sharing space with hundreds of other websites.
If one of these other websites happens to get hacked due to a security vulnerability, the server itself (and your website) can also be at risk.
Shared hosting plans are best-suited for those just getting their feet wet in the world of online business, as they offer the cheapest prices for getting a website online. Larger, more established businesses should consider other options.
Managed WordPress Hosting
Managed WordPress hosts, as you might have guessed, work exclusively with WordPress websites. This allows them to offer superior support as compared to shared hosting providers, who also must offer support for additional platforms like Drupal, Joomla!, and Magento.
In addition, managed WordPress hosts can better optimize their services for WordPress websites, offering a number of technical features like server-level and full-page caching.
And best of all, these hosts will also handle a good deal of the maintenance that is typically associated with WordPress sites, such as automatically updating WordPress and its underlying programming language, PHP.
This also means that websites hosted with managed WordPress hosting providers are more secure, as outdated WordPress core software is one of the most common ways in which WordPress websites are hacked.
Two of the most popular managed WordPress hosting providers are Kinsta and Flywheel. Both are powered by Google’s Cloud Platform and offer auomatic backups so that, in the ulikely event that a managed WordPress website is hacked, users can easily restore their websites with the click of a button.
Nevertheless, in the vast majority of cases, managed hosting plans are the best option for WordPress websites––especially for business websites, large or small. The extra performance, security, and support measures offered by managed hosting providers like Kinsta or Flywheel will be well-worth the extra cost.
Basic website files like these require fewer resources to host, and they can be deployed without the use of a server. This makes it relatively simple and cheap for hosting companies to serve static websites. In fact, static web hosting is often provided for free!
Netlify is probably the most well-known static web host. (Disclaimer: this website is hosted on Netlify.) And for good reason, as it’s perhaps the most full-featured as well as the most established.
If also offers additional functionalities (many of them free) like free SSL certificates, user authentication, form handling, website analytics, serverless functions, split-testing, and large media, as well as build plug-ins to minify static assets and automatically generate sitemmaps.
GitHub Pages, as might be expected, deploys websites directly from a connected GitHub repository. And Digital Ocean’s free App Platform includes a number of features like automatic HTTPS and global CDN for free.
With that said, however, it’s difficult to beat static hosting in terms of features––especially considering that it costs nothing to get started. If you have the technical know-how to set it up, static hosting through a service like Netlify is the way to go.
This is not an exhaustive list of all possible options for hosting a website. However, these are the four types of hosting services you’re likely to encounter.
To sum up: Shared hosting is not an ideal solution for most users––aside from those looking for an extremely cost-effecitve way to test the waters of owning and operating their own website. But even then, users are sacrificing quite a lot in terms of support, security, and performance for the sake of low monthly fees.
Those who would rather manage everything to do with their websites––domain name registration, design, and hosting–within a single interface should consider all-in-one website builders like Wix, Squarespace, or Webflow. They will end up paying more for the convenience, but in general, the hosting provided by these services is very good and packed with features like free SSL, CDN, and automatic backups.
Most WordPress users would be best served by a managed WordPress host like Flywheel or Kinsta––parcitularly if they’re not especially tech-savvy, or would rather not deal with manual backups, caching, and routine maintenance of the WordPress core.
And finally, those with simple static websites should strongly consider hosting their websites with a service like Netlify, which offers a full suite of powerful features for free.
If you’re interested in learning more about how I can help you secure one of the above hosting options for your next website project, click here to schedule a complimentary intro call.