If you’re ready to take your business online, you’ll need to know the basics of web hosting. In this beginner’s guide, you’ll learn how to host a website plus get tips for deciding which hosting types and plans are best for your website.
What Is Web Hosting?
Website hosting is where the data for your website is located. In most cases, this refers to the physical server and any network connections needed to access your site. Small businesses usually work with a dedicated hosting company that has all of the resources needed to run a website.
To host your site physically in your home, you must buy expensive hardware and software and pay your internet service provider (ISP) for a dedicated internet protocol (IP) address. Doing all of this quickly becomes cost-prohibitive and requires advanced technical knowledge of how to set everything up and maintain it, which isn’t easy. Paying a web hosting company to handle all the hardware and networking requirements is much more common and affordable.
What Do You Need To Host a Website?
When it comes to hosting your website, you’ll need two main things: a domain and a server.
What are domains?
A domain is the registered website name people type into their browser’s address bar to access your website. Domains can have a variety of structures, such as the ever-popular “.com” names as well as .net, .org, .gov, etc. In this example of a URL, https://domain.com, the domain name is domain.com.
What are servers?
A server is a computer that stores your website’s information. Unlike the home desktops and laptops you use daily, servers are specialized computers with fast internet connections that make your website accessible to others.
There are two main options for choosing a server. You can use a hosting provider with preconfigured servers and a support team to help you troubleshoot or buy and create your own server. Both options have advantages and disadvantages, though opting for a hosting provider is the best choice for most website owners.
Hosting Option 1: Use a Hosting Provider
A web hosting provider offers a preconfigured server to store your website’s information. These servers are specially designed to offer fast response times, excellent reliability, and simple connectivity so other users can easily access your site. In addition, the servers are set up so it’s easy to create your website and publish it to the world.
Pros and Cons of Using Hosting Providers
- High upload speed
- Server grade infrastructure
- Easy setup
- Simple domain connection
- Preconfigured server operating systems
- Housed in an advanced data center
- Very low upfront costs
- Less customizable
- You don’t own the server
Using a hosting provider is the recommended choice for beginners looking to launch their website. Hosting providers take care of the setup and technical aspects normally required to host a website. Follow these steps to get started with a web host:
Choose your hosting type
The first step is to decide what hosting type is right for your site. Most hosting providers will give you various options, which dictate the power, speed, price, and capability of the server you’ll get. The most common hosting types are:
- Shared – You and other websites share server resources. What it’s best for: new websites
- VPS – You still share server resources with other sites, but you get an isolated container. What it’s best for: growing or mid-level sites that demand more resources
- Cloud – Spreads your data cross multiple cloud servers for redundancy and improved performance. What it’s best for: high traffic sites, enhanced security needs
- Dedicated – You get an entire server to yourself. What it’s best for: Websites with IT support, demand for specialized security, hosting multiple large sites
Select a web hosting provider
Once you understand the different types of web hosting, it’s time to choose a web hosting provider. First, you must understand these common factors that distinguish a good hosting provider from a mediocre one:
- Upload speed: This is one of the main ways to determine the speed at which your website will load. You can use a third-party reporting service such as HRank to learn each hosting provider’s upload speed. Industry-standard upload speeds are usually 5 Mbps.
- Response time: This is how long it takes for the server to send your website details to the user once it enters your domain name in its browser. It can directly affect the speed of your website, so it’s a good idea to use HRank to compare these rates. It is best if the speed ranges from 100ms to 200ms as these are the typical industry standards.
- Hosting types available: Make sure the hosting provider you choose allows you to select the proper hosting type based on your need.
- Support: A good support team is crucial. Most hosting providers give you access to 24/7 customer support through phone, email, and live chat. If you need help setting up your website, connecting your domain, or have any questions about hosting your website, a support team will help you.
- Customer feedback: Do your due diligence and look at your potential hosting provider’s past customer reviews and feedback. This will give you a sense of its speed, uptime, and customer support performance.
- Cost: Most hosting providers have a variety of monthly subscription models based on the hosting types offered. In most cases, shared hosting will be the cheapest option, while VPS will be a bit higher, and managed servers will be the most expensive.
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Register your domain
When hosting your website through a provider, the next step is registering your domain. There are a couple of ways you can do this. The first, and recommended option, is to purchase a domain through whichever hosting provider you select. Most hosting providers will bundle a domain with their monthly hosting packages, simplifying the process.
The other option is to register a domain with a domain registrar. These registrars sometimes have a wider range of top-level domains (TLDs) — the endings of your domain outside of the common .com options. Most hosting providers have in-depth documentation on pointing a domain purchased from a registrar to your hosting provider’s server.
When purchasing a domain, you’ll generally be spending around $9.99 per year for a .com domain. If you choose a less common TLD, it can range anywhere from $3 to $120 per year, with some even higher.
Migrate your site to your hosting provider
Once you have both your hosting provider and your domain name, the next step is to move your website onto your hosting provider’s server. There are a couple of different scenarios.
Usually, this happens by moving a website you’ve created on your computer to the hosting provider’s server. The recommended method is using File Transfer Protocol (FTP) which is usually accessible through your hosting provider’s dashboard.
Switching hosting providers
Another common scenario is moving your website from one hosting provider to another. In this case, most hosting providers allow you to contact their support teams to facilitate this exchange. Still, you can manually download your website’s files and move them over using the method described in the first scenario.
The best course of action when deciding how to move your site to your chosen hosting provider is to contact the support team. Usually, a hosting provider can help facilitate the migration of your website onto its server and, in many cases, will take care of any technical issues.
Hosting Option 2: Host Your Website Locally
The second option for hosting your website is to build your server. This option may be best if you’re looking for more control over your website’s hosting infrastructure or planning to build large website applications.
Hosting a website yourself usually involves purchasing or building your server. This typically requires you to purchase space at a co-location center where you can house your built or purchased server and hook it up to a specialized internet connection.
It’s important to note it’s almost always required that you use a specialized hosting center when trying to host your website — most internet providers prohibit hosting websites on your personal computer.
Creating and managing your dedicated server infrastructure can significantly reduce costs and allow a greater level of control when building large-scale web applications. Here are some general pros and cons of managing your dedicated server.
Pros and Cons of Hosting Your Website Locally
- Greater control
- Specification of technical infrastructure
- Place servers at any location
- Good for large-scale web applications
- Larger upfront cost
- Requires extensive technical knowledge
- Needs a specialized hosting center
FAQs About Web Hosting
What is bandwidth and how much is needed?
When someone is looking at a website, bandwidth is how much data is accessed. If you have images, audio, and video files, your website has more bandwidth than a simple website with text or a handful of low-resolution images. Some web hosts limit your bandwidth and others have unlimited bandwidth.
How do I keep my website secure?
It is helpful to find a web hosting provider that offers some security features. WordPress is overall secure, but taking advantage of the many plug-ins available will give you better security.
How do I back up my website?
Look for a web hosting provider with a solid backup policy so that you avoid potentially devastating situations in which your data on the company’s servers is lost.