Hosting 101: The Types of Hosting Plans
There are several different types of hosting plans available, since web hosting, like most everything else, is not a one-size-fits-all proposition.
The most common types of hosting include:
- Shared hosting
- VPS hosting
- Cloud-based hosting
- Dedicated server hosting
- Managed hosting
- Self-managed hosting
- Reseller hosting
- WordPress hosting
- Colocation hosting
In the following sections, we will briefly cover the most common types of web hosting plans you will come across.
Shared hosting is the most inexpensive type of web hosting available. Generally, shared hosting is appropriate for small sites that do not serve a very high level of traffic.
Web hosts can offer shared hosting at such low prices by hosting a lot of websites on a single server. As such, you will find yourself competing with many other websites for a finite level of (server) resources.
Many web hosts consider shared hosting plans to be entry-level options used by beginners, so these plans tend to be easier to use than others. You will also get GUI (graphical user interface)-based tools, such as control panels, to help you manage your websites.
Shared hosting plans typically come with everything you need to get a website up and running, but some web hosts bundle more with their packages. By shopping around, you may be able to find an option that offers a bit more without drastic increases in cost.
Virtual Private Server (VPS) Hosting
Virtual private server (VPS) hosting is the next step up from shared hosting. While web hosts still place multiple websites onto a single server, there are restrictions on how resources are allocated — you get a set amount, and you cannot tap into your neighbors’ (and vice versa).
Less expensive VPS options tend to be self-managed. This means that you are responsible for getting everything installed, set up, and configured. Then, you are responsible for management and maintenance over the lifetime of your service.
The operating system (OS) might come pre-installed, but everything else is on you. You should also note that many hosts do not include a GUI-based control panel with self-managed VPS plans, so unless you want to work with your server through the command line or terminal only, you will want to add on a control panel.
If you need the speed and resource allocation of a VPS plan, but you do not want to handle the server system administration, consider looking for a host that offers managed VPS services.
If you have a large website (perhaps one that serves up a lot of high-resolution images or audio and video clips) or you see a lot of traffic to your site, dedicated servers are probably the best option for you.
Dedicated servers are the most expensive options around, but they offered the best and the most when it comes to performance, resource allocation, and freedom. Because you get the entire server for use with your website, there are minimal restrictions as to what you can or cannot do software-wise, and there is no other website competing with yours for physical resources.
Like VPS plans, dedicated servers (especially on the low end/less expensive side) tend to be self-managed. However, there are companies out there that offer managed dedicated servers.
Reseller hosting is typically an option for those looking to start their own web hosting business or for those looking to launch multiple sites (e.g. corporations that own numerous businesses, each needing their own website).
With reseller hosting, you will get a set allocation of resources that can be distributed among the individual websites you set up. Generally, you will also get the specialized software that makes it easy for you to manage multiple websites as well.
Cloud hosting is not really a type of hosting, but a method in which a web host will service its clients using a network of computers instead of from a single (or a few) physical location.
As such, you will find things like cloud-based shared hosting, cloud-based VPS hosting, or cloud-based dedicated hosting. Cloud-based hosting tends to be more reliable than other options because your information is stored in multiple locations.
Colocation hosting is not one of the more common types of hosting, but you may run across it. Colocation hosting allows you to place your server at a hosting company’s location. So you own the server, but they manage the site, provide bandwidth, and so forth. It can be a good option for small businesses that want more control but don’t have the resources to self-host.
Choosing the Best Option for Your Business
If you are just getting started with a website for your small business, you cannot go wrong with shared hosting. Not only are they budget-friendly, but they are also easy to use and come with everything you need to get up and running.
Do not be discouraged by the prospect of choosing an option that is not as powerful as VPS or dedicated hosting — you can always upgrade as necessary, but for the time being, it might be helpful for you to avoid the complexity that opting for an advanced option might introduce.
However, that is not to say that no one who is just getting started should ever opt for a VPS plan or a dedicated server. If you know already that your website will be resource heavy (perhaps you have a robust product catalog that features many high-resolution images) or you are planning on aggressive growth, it might make sense to leap right into a more expensive, more feature-rich option from the get-go.
Before you choose your host, ask yourself these questions:
- How much storage space to I need?
- Does this host offer the site speed I need?
- What uptime does the host guarantee?
- Are there enough security features in place?
- Does the host offer SSL? (Particularly if you have ecommerce offerings.)
- What happens if my site grows? Is it easy to upgrade plans?
- Does the host’s customer service meet my needs? (time and method of contact)
- Does the host do backups? Does it cost more to have the back up installed?
- Does the host offer a money-back guarantee?
WordPress is currently the most popular content management system (CMS) in use. As such, you will see many hosts offering hosting plans explicitly aimed at WordPress users in addition to their more general web hosting options.
There is no set of guidelines that web hosts must meet before they can claim that something is a WordPress hosting plan, so when shopping, you will need to compare your options carefully.
Generally, you will find your site hosted on a server that has been configured to be WordPress friendly (e.g., it comes with the appropriate versions of PHP and MySQL installed). Your host may also offer things like one-click WordPress installation, saving you some time, as well as automatic core updates as patches, security fixes, and other updates are released.
Other bonuses offered to WordPress users may include plugins and themes.
Managed WordPress Services
WordPress is easy to use, but depending on how you have implemented your site, you may be facing a lot of work in keeping your web hosting and your CMS core up-to-date. As such, some hosts offer managed WordPress services, where the companies’ tech support staff will keep your back-end up and running on your behalf.
If you can afford it and tackling the back end of your website is not a priority of yours, opting for managed WordPress hosting services can be a good idea.
Endorsed by WordPress
WordPress lists some of its partners on its website, but these are not necessarily the only options you should look into. The WordPress partners are guaranteed to meet the minimum requirements, but that does not mean that companies not on the list do not. WordPress admits there is some arbitrariness to the list — as such, the list is an excellent place to start, but it is not the end-all-be-all.
Features We Compare
Digital.com compares key host features head-to-head to give you the fastest and clearest comparison of hosting available on the web.
All hosting companies are reviewed by our experienced writers who have many years’ experience writing about hosting and e-commerce platforms. They understand the features of each package, and they know how to spot an appealing host versus one that doesn’t offer good value.
The exact method of comparison will vary depending on the type of hosting that you want to compare, and the companies you’re looking at. But we aim to compare all of the basics for all hosts, including the following basic features.
The uptime guarantee shows you how much downtime you’ll be expected to tolerate each month.
For example, an uptime guarantee of 99% sounds great, but it allows approximately seven hours and 18 minutes of downtime in a month, with no compensation for you, the customer.
Compare this with an uptime guarantee of 99.9%. It’s actually much better, because it only allows for approximately 43 minutes of downtime per month before the host will compensate you. That’s a huge difference.
Most small business owners want to avoid downtime of any length, so a risk of 43 minutes’ downtime will be far more acceptable than 7 hours.
We also look at the uptime guarantee fine print. If your site is down, you should ideally be compensated as soon as the problem occurs. But not all hosts will do this.
Control panels are tools sometimes offered by web hosts to make managing your website easier. Shared plans typically come with a GUI-based control panel, while more advanced options do not.
There are industry standard options, such as cPanel or Plesk. However, some web hosts might modify the default offerings so that it is easier to use. Some hosts might roll their own option. If you are already familiar with a specific type of control panel, you will want to make sure that the web hosts’ offering is not too jarring for you to use.
If you are completely new to web hosting, you will find that most options are sufficiently easy enough for you to use.
It’s rare to find a host that provides comprehensive backups for free. Many advertise backups, but they are only for the host’s internal usage.
When we compare hosting to find out what kind of backups are offered, we dig into the fine print to find out exactly what you’ll get.
Even if your web host offers free backups for customers, they may charge an exorbitant hourly rate to actually restore them. Our reviewers break down the backup fees from each host, so you can see the deal they offer.
Over time, your small business website will grow. You might need to move to a better hosting plan.
Our comparisons tell you how each host handles the upgrade process, and how much technical know-how you need to have.
Picking a small business host is a big decision. It’s sensible to test-drive a service before your set up your full site. Many hosts offer free trials, money-back guarantees, or some combination of both.
If you do not already have a website built or a design drawn up, it can be difficult to sit down in front of a blank slate and create a website. To make things easier for their customers, many companies offer a website builder with their entry-level hosting plans.
Site builders can vary in their ease of use and feature set, but generally speaking, you can expect things like:
- Prebuilt templates that you can start with
- An editor of some type so you can fine-tune your website
- Stock library access, if you do not have sufficient visual content for your website
Some site builders come with more; some come with less. You will need to review the tool offered by your web host carefully before you sign on the dotted line and purchase a package.
Some hosts offer zero guarantees or trials, but this is relatively rare. We look at the terms of service for each host to find out what their guarantee or trial period is. If you have 90 days to test a service, that’s ideal. But if you only have 48 hours, you could find yourself locked in.
Our hosting comparison pages will flag an unfavorable trial or guarantee terms.
Picture the scene. It’s 8:45 am on a Saturday morning, and you receive an email from your biggest customer. Your site is offline. They can’t complete their order.
You call your host, but their office is closed. There’s an automated message saying they’ll re-open on Monday.
If your small business website is critical to profitability, you need to resolve faults quickly. We look at each host’s support contact methods, as well as their opening times, so you can directly compare what they offer.
Types of Customer Support
There are many ways to get in touch with a company’s technical support team:
- Support ticket
- Live Chat
We look into the options available, as well as to whom the individual options are offered. After all, it does not matter that all options are available if only customers with a specific type of plan (and no one else) can use them.
Availability of Support
Many web hosts offer support 24/7. We point out to you if a web host deviates from this.
The industry standard seems to be 30 days to request a money-back guarantee. Few hosts offer shorter periods (though we have seen a couple of companies offer only 15 days), while a few offer up to 90 days.
Generally, such guarantees only cover things like web hosting services. Domain names are non-refundable, and if you received a free domain with your purchase, the host would deduct the cost of registering your domain from your refund.