So, you want to own a website. What do you do from ground zero? As a new site owner, you need to know where to start, and one starting point is web hosting. Web hosting is the process of leasing a server that runs your website. There are several options with different pricing and pros and cons. It’s much better to get the right hosting the first time around instead of buying into the wrong hosting plan and moving your site.
Should You Get Free Hosting?
There are some free hosts out there, but there’s a catch. Everything that’s free comes with a catch, right? Free hosts pay for their service with ads. These ads aren’t always bad, but some free hosts are more intrusive with them. Intrusive ads scare away visitors, so if you plan to make some money with your website, a free web hosting plan might not be the best direction for your site.
Next, free hosts give you a subdomain on the web host’s main domain. This might seem trivial to you at first, but it also comes at a cost. Subdomains don’t look as professional to customers. You might get away with a subdomain for a blog or content site, but some users will be hesitant if you don’t have a professional presence, which includes your own domain.
Next, you get no extras with a free web host. This means there is no email or support. You’re also forced to use the host’s templates, which might not look aesthetically pleasing to most people.
This doesn’t mean you can’t ever use a free host. There are some great platforms such as Blogger and WordPress. These blogger platforms make it easy to upload content, and readers aren’t as turned off when it’s just a blog. Still, if you ever plan to have your own domain, you might want to avoid the free hosting services and just work with your own domain.
What Type of Hosting Should You Choose?
There are three main types of hosting plans: shared, virtual private servers and dedicated. Shared is the next level up from free hosting. Shared hosting means you share your web hosting space with hundreds (sometimes thousands) of other users. If you run a small site, shared hosting is a great choice. The host takes care of all server related maintenance and service. If anything goes wrong with the server, the host is responsible. Of course, this depends on the reputation of the host. If you choose a poor host, you might be out of luck if the company’s servers crash and there is no backup.
Shared hosting is also extremely cheap. It’s not free, but it’s close to free. You can buy shared hosting plans for a few dollars a month, and some of these hosts offer database servers along with a hosting plan. If you want a dynamic site, you’ll need a database, so you probably want to stick to a host with this type of extra service. Shared hosts have an interface where you can upload files, so you can design and lay out your site any way that makes you satisfied. The one issue is that you cannot change any settings on the host server. Since you share a server with several other users, your site can’t use specialized settings. That’s where VPS (virtual private server) service will help you.
VPS is a step up from shared hosting mostly because you have more control over the server. Of course, with more advantages, you also have to pay a higher price. VPS service varies depending on the operating system you choose and any database servers you need to add. VPS also shares the physical server with other users, but you are sandboxed away from other users. A VPS acts like a dedicated server from a customer’s point of view. You can remotely access the server, configure it however you want and install any type of software you need. It’s just that the server runs on a virtual machine, so it’s a sandboxed environment on the same physical machine as other customers. You share CPU, memory and hard drive space. When you need more space, your host needs to upgrade your virtual machine. Usually, this can be management dynamically through a control panel offered by the host.
The third and most expensive web hosting option is a dedicated server. Dedicated servers are leased whole machines. You control the machine but you pay a monthly leasing fee. You can opt for a managed dedicated host. A managed dedicated host plan means that the host supports most server functionality. Any hardware, backups or network configurations are managed by the host but you still have dedicated access to the physical machine without sharing these resources with any other users.
Bandwidth, Hard Drive Space and Resources
Each hosting plan includes resources you’re allowed to use. One main issue is bandwidth. Search engine bots can destroy your bandwidth, so you need plenty of traffic to allow not only regular users but also bots from accessing your site regularly. If you get too much traffic to your site, your host might ask you to upgrade. For instance, if you have shared hosting and you have massive traffic, most hosts will ask you to upgrade to a VPS account so that you don’t affect other user websites on the server.
Your host also sets limits on hard drive space and resources. Check these caps, because you won’t be able to use the server’s resources when you reach the maximum amount of hard drive space. Most hosts give you several gigabytes, but this space starts to fill up when you have a database with several products, orders and content. Several gigabytes are not a lot of storage space for large databases.
Be Careful with Web Hosts That Also Run a Registrar
When you decide on your domain name, you need to register it. There are a number of registrars you use to reserve your name. The type of domain you choose determines the price, but you should expect to pay from $15 to $30 for a domain name. This is the yearly cost. If you want anonymity on your registration, you pay an extra $8.99 for privacy.
Most web hosts offer a registrar service. This seems like a convenient option. You can take care of everything with one company. The problem is that if your service is cancelled or you have problems with the host, you also put your domain name at risk. The best way to work with hosting and registration is to keep them separated. Register your name with an official registrar and then buy hosting at a separate host service. You can point your domain’s DNS servers to the host, so you can still use a separate host. The host might tell you it’s easier to use them as a registrar, but you don’t want to lose your domain along with your hosting account in case there are any disputes or even if the host stops service.
Who Does the Backups?
If you’re new to online business, you probably don’t know how important backups are until you need one. Backups are essential in case of emergencies. Disaster recovery plans include backups. You probably don’t need to worry about disaster recovery, because your host will typically take care of major server outages, but you should always create your own backups.
You should backup all content, databases and even settings if you have a VPS or dedicated server. If you have a VPS or dedicated server, you can take a complete image of your hard drive and store it on a separate drive. That’s the other caveat: you should always store your backups in a separate location. What happens if your hard drive crashes and you store your backup on the hosted machine’s hard drive? This means that you not only lose the server but you also lose your data.
You can opt to store your data in the cloud. Cloud hosts only charge you for what you pay, so it’s cheaper than buying a hard drive specifically for backups.
When you host your site in a specific country, your website must follow that country’s laws. You could also have issues with support due to time zone differences. It’s best to understand your host’s location.
The host location also determines speed and performance of your site when a user finds your website. If your web server targets Americans but your host is in Australia, your site will probably be too slow for your customers. This is also the advantage of the cloud and big hosts with data centers in several places. Data centers use the geolocation of the visitor to determine from where to render the content.
When you host your website with a cloud hoster, your site renders from the closest geolocation to the user. This means that your users get the fastest service when accessing your website. It also means that your website is hosted across the globe. Cloud hosts are more scalable than other types of hosting services. This is because data centers have infinite amount of resources, and you usually have control of these resources. You can scale up or down, depending on the amount of hard drive space you need or computing power.
The other advantage is that you only pay for the services you use. If you no longer need resources because it’s your slow months, you scale down and save money on your technology costs. When you reach your busy season and need more resources, you dynamically add more resources for your website. The cost scalability helps new website owners and businesses when every dollar counts each month.
Do Your Research
You shouldn’t jump into a hosting contract without doing your research. There are plenty of affiliate sites that tell you to use a specific host, but these affiliate sites make money when you purchase a hosting plan. Instead, read real reviews and ask other online friends. Most people have some kind of hosting set up, so you can find out if they would refer their current host and have any issues with them.
Your host should have an uptime percentage on their site. This means they guarantee that they will keep your website up a specific amount of time each year. Good hosts have 99% uptime. Some cloud hosts such as Rackspace have 100% uptime guarantee. If you lose too much money after the host crashes, then you should pay a little extra and get a reliable host. Nothing is more frustrating than finding out your site has been down for hours and you’ve not only lost potential customers, but you’ve also lost search engine rank due to the unavailable pages.
Finally, support is important especially when you need help at odd hours of the night. Most good hosts have plenty of support for users. You should be able to get at least basic support at any time of the day, even if it’s in the middle of the night.
This doesn’t mean you’ll have complete support. Most hosts will have some kind of support but then you’ll have to wait for billing issues to be fixed during normal working hours. This kind of wait is normal. But the around-the-clock staff member should be able to help fix any technical issues that are happening on your server, email issues or permission issues with you logging into your website.
Starting an online business is a big step when you first start out. Make sure you get the right web host, but also make sure you get the right domain name. A domain name is an important part of your branding. It goes on your ads, your business cards and your marketing campaigns. With the right host, you never need to worry about downtime or losing business.