Your Simple Guide to Web Hosting

Web hosting refers to where our website is going to be "living". Just like our families have their own homes to live in, a website's set of files must have a little space somewhere to call their own. These spaces are called servers, and there are large warehouses all over the world that are full of them, all waiting to be "rented out" to you, the client. This is done through what we call a hosting company. Its job is to rent you a space on their server, take care of your files, and provide the best service possible to keep your site running smoothly. There are certain factors to take into consideration when choosing your web host, some more important than others. Below is a list of these factors in no particular order to get you going on your new site.

Web hosting refers to where our website is going to be “living”. Just like our families have their own homes to live in, a website’s set of files must have a little space somewhere to call their own.

These spaces are called servers, and there are large warehouses all over the world that are full of them, all waiting to be “rented out” to you, the client. This is done through what we call a hosting company. Its job is to rent you a space on their server, take care of your files, and provide the best service possible to keep your site running smoothly.

Here’s a video showing how a hosting company’s technology works:

Whoever you are, when you’re choosing the ideal host for your site, it must be a personal choice. There is no point in me writing a whole article on one hosting company that offers everything you might ever need; it doesn’t exist.

There are certain factors to take into consideration when choosing your web host, some more important than others. Below is a list of these factors in no particular order to get you going on your new site.

Types of Hosting

The first thing to consider is what type of host would suit you best. These might sound a bit technical for some, but there’s no need to be spooked, I’ve kept the explanations as simple as possible.

Shared Hosting

A shared host is one that stores multiple sites (usually thousands of them) on one server, and takes care of them. Your site would have its own section where it operates from, keeping it apart from the other sites. This is the most common and economical option, especially for new users.

Managed Shared Hosting

This is the same as shared hosting with the additional perk of having extra support that focuses on managing your website for you. It’s basically there for those people that don’t have enough time on their hands to keep their website running smoothly or simply want a helping hand doing so.

Dedicated Server

Using a dedicated server on the other hand means physically having your own server. It is not shared by anyone else and only hosts your site. This has its perks, providing you with all the server’s processing power, storage, etc. However it does mean that you have to manage and maintain the whole thing yourself.

Deciding Between VPS Hosting and Shared Hosting (1)

VPS – Virtual Private Server

A VPS is sort of a virtual version of a dedicated server. It looks and feels like you have your own server but what you’re really given is a portion of the same server everyone else is sharing. Other sites won’t affect your speed, however you don’t have the processing power or storage of a dedicated server so if you experience heavy traffic on your site it will most likely suffer.

Managed Hosting

Simply put, managed hosting is like having a dedicated server or VPS that is managed and maintained by a team of system administrators. This option provides you with additional security, multiple services such as backups and firewalls and more. However, it will come at a higher cost and you might have some limitations as to what you can add to your site.

Cloud Hosting

Cloud Hosting is the latest addition to this list and is gaining in popularity. What it is is the spreading out of your resources over multiple web servers around the world. As soon as a page from your site is requested it will find it from the closest server, and should you experience any heavy traffic it can be spread out onto multiple servers to even out the load and reduce downtime. It’s more complex than any of the other options and as expected, more expensive.

Some important things to remember…

Now, to help you a little further in making your choice I’ve compiled a list of the main factors that should determine your choice of host. It’s not necessarily easy to gauge how good a company might be at every aspect I mention below but with a little research into customer reviews you should get a pretty good idea.

Speed  ~  The speed with which your site will load is important. It not only gives a good first impression to the visitors on your site but also helps with Google’s ranking system, giving you a boost up the search result ladder.

Security  ~  A host’s job includes keeping your site secure on its servers. This means that it keeps out any malicious software, hackers, or whatever else might harm your site. It’s also important that if one site on your server gets infected, it doesn’t infect the rest of the sites on that server. All this should be handled by the host, giving you peace of mind while you take care of everything else.

Tech Support  ~  The performance of a host’s support system is vital. It’s imperative that they offer the best customer service possible since without a doubt you will need their help at one point or another. The speed of their replies and the overall quality of their support will tell you a lot about the host.

A good control panel  ~  Having a good control panel where you can take control of everything you might need is important. cPanel is the most widely used control panel amongst shared hosting services, and some companies even customise it further to try and make it better. Some other companies go all the way and custom-make their own control panels to their needs.

Scalability  ~  It’s important to make sure that the hosting company you choose offers scalable services. If you’re on a shared hosting plan and decide you want to upgrade to a VPS for example, you want to be sure this is an easy and efficient process that the hosting company is prepared to deal with.

The SiteGround Data Centre in Amsterdam
The SiteGround Data Centre in Amsterdam

Up-time  ~  The percentage of time that your site is up and running without any issues from the host’s side. This is rarely ever 100%. Cloud hosting comes the closest since if one server goes down, it can immediately switch to another. There are plenty of reasons a server might go down, ranging from a simple power outage to an overload or even some natural disaster. However, most good hosts offer over 99.9% guaranteed up-time. If you’re looking to have your site available to visitors as often as possible (which you obviously should) I’d make sure the percentage is as close to 100% as possible.

Bandwidth & Storage Space  ~  Having enough storage space or bandwidth should never be a problem with any host that satisfies the above criteria. Just because a host might say they offer unlimited space, that just isn’t true. No host will allow you to use as much space as you like. It just doesn’t make sense as anyone can easily overload the servers. Having said that, there shouldn’t be any issues with this as long as you’ve paid for the space and performance you’ll need.

Cost  ~  The cost should not be your final deciding factor either. Quite the contrary. Going for a cheap alternative means the host is cutting down on cost by compromising service and this will without a doubt cause you problems in the future. Paying a few extra dollars a month will be worth it.

WordPress Compatibility  ~  Although you can run a WordPress developed site on any host, it doesn’t mean they all offer the best services for it. In fact some hosts don’t understand or even implement the required configurations for a WordPress website, and this will result in complications as you move forward.

Area of Focus  ~  Certain companies focus on certain types of hosting, giving more importance to their best products. Be sure to check which ones the company in question is most known for.

Reputation  ~  Last but not least it’s important to check out the company’s reputation. Read reviews and see what other people are saying. Check ratings and testimonials. Be wary of overly-positive or overly-negative reviews but these are a great way to gauge their customer satisfaction.

Conclusions & Recommendations

If you keep to these criteria and do a little bit of research beforehand you should be able to find the ideal host for your needs. No matter what, your final goal should be to have your site up and running in the best way possible for as long as possible.

If you happen to choose the wrong host and realise it too late, just change it. It shouldn’t be a problem to transfer your site from one host to another and certain companies offer the service themselves. Getting a pro-rata refund should also be possible from the current host, ensuring that you don’t lose any money in the process. Another option is using a service such as Backup Buddy from where you’ll have the ability to easily restore your site to the most recent backup. If you prefer working manually you can do that too. Here’s an article from Hristo Pandjarov explaining WordPress migration done manually.

As for which companies we recommend it depends on what type of hosting plan you’re going for. These are the ones we’d suggest. (These are affiliate links, but rest assured that this had no bearing on our choice. They have been chosen for excellent services and products)

hosting-sitegroundSiteGround are known for their incredible support as well as their very, very fair prices. Many would say that they don’t charge enough for what they offer but they insist on offering a great service at a very reasonable price.

hosting-wpengineWP Engine can be said to have practically invented the concept of managed hosting and have been expanding and improving ever since, even obtaining $15 million dollar in an investment round!

hosting-bluehost

Bluehost are a solid choice for anyone looking for a shared host. They are long-standing WordPress partners and many WordPress users would recommend their services.

media temple
Media Temple
might be a bit new to managed WordPress hosting, however they are long time favourites of many web designers and developers. Their excellent reviews bode well for their future.

hosting-inmotionInMotion hosting is one of the best for VPS hosting services. It’s powerful and affordable for those companies who are expecting a rapid growth or experience heavy traffic.

hosting-digitaloceanDigital Ocean is a great option for cloud hosting. Although more ideal for an app rather than a website, Digital Ocean is probably the most user friendly of cloud hosting services.

I hope this overview is of help to many of you out there, and if you have anything you’d like to add or ask us, feel free to do so in the comments below. Happy hosting!

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Mark Zahra
Mark Zahra
CEO at RebelCode, the team behind WP Mayor, Spotlight, WP RSS Aggregator, and the Mastermind.fm podcast. Follow me on Twitter @markzahra.

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4 Responses

    1. Thanks for your input Jamil, we’ll look further into Cloudways for any similar posts in the future.

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