Searching for web hosting in Google gives you thousands upon thousands results in the search engine. How are you to know which web hosting firm is the best to choose and what do you actually need? Let’s find out in today’s guide to web hosting.
What Do We Need?
Before we can even start looking online, we need to figure out what we actually need ourselves. To know what we actually need, we need to figure out what we are going to be building (or perhaps have built but want a hosting for).
The bare basics is to know what terms are used in web hosting. Every niche comes with their own language of terms and terminology and web hosting is no different at that.
Before anything, we come across a lot of terminology:
- domain name
- web host firm
- web host
- name server
- email host
- email address
- control panel
- programming language
- PHP, CFM, ASP
- operating system (Windows, Linux)
I will walk you through these terms real quickly, so that you can separate them from each other so you are prepared for when you are looking online for a web hosting firm.
Domain name – the unique identifier for your website – such as ownonlineboss.com or google.com
URL – the address to the website and content on a page, usually combined with the protocol (https://) and the page file.
Web host firm – the company that offers web hosting services
web host – the service that makes your website (and files) available to others to visit (and download).
browser – the internet browser that can visit websites, such as Chrome, Internet Explorer, FireFox etc.
bandwidth – the amount of traffic that can be downloaded and uploaded per month, also the speed at which you can download and upload
name server – this is something rather technical, but it controls all the domain names and definitions of a domain name
email host – the hosting service for your email
email address – the actual email address that you want to have access to
control panel – many hosts come with a control panel, letting you control the many features of web hosting
programming languages – some web host firms offer the option to use a programming language on your site. WordPress is programmed in PHP and so it needs a web host that offers PHP hosting
database – many Content Management Systems and web programming languages require the use of a database. WordPress uses databases for its content.
PHP, CFM, ASP(.NET), JAVA, node.js – these are all programming languages that can be available on the web hosting firm.
Operating system (Windows, Linux) – in some cases it can be required to have a certain operating system, but in 99% of the cases it doesn’t matter. Windows hosting is often more expensive than Linux as operative system on hosting.
Determine Your Need
What are you actually going to need, depends on what you are actually going to do online. Are you building a website for your mortar and brick company? Are you starting a blog? Are you going to start with affiliate marketing? Are you planning to start out with a web shop?
In all these cases you will need a place where you can host WordPress. There are many other ways to build a website, but WordPress is going to fill the need for 99% of the people out there wanting to start out online.
Everything you learn on WordPress will also be able to be used as a skill in your next job, would you choose so.
Of course, if you already chose your platform and have an idea what to do, then that is not of your concern anymore and you can concentrate on what you need.
Here are the most popular choices:
WordPress, requires PHP, Database
Magento, requires PHP, Database
MuraCMS, requires ColdFusion (CFM), Database
Umbraco, requires ASP.net (Windows Hosting), Database
Your own HTML site, requires web hosting
Minimal Requirements For Hosting
Without going too technical on things, here is what you should minimally get from a web hosting firm:
- 2GB storage
- 25GB traffic per month / 100K visitors per month
- Database (in case of WordPress at least)
- PHP (in case of WordPress at least)
- Email hosting for more than 1 email address (preferably unlimited)
That’s all you would need really. 2GB (preferably more of course), should be plenty for your website. Video files you store on YouTube, images should always be compressed and resized to the format that you use on your site, so the actual content will never get close to 2GB anytime soon. Most of the hosting companies I have checked out offer a minimum of 10 GB and offer often way more than that, so you will never reach those limits.
The only exception on storage needs is perhaps if you would start a photo stock site or a new video site like YouTube. Photo and video material, especially when stored in full quality format, does take a lot of physical hard disk space.
Based upon what you need now immediately for starting your site, you will need to make an idea in your head in what direction you will possibly grow in the near future. What if in the next 1-2 years you will need more traffic, a faster site, bigger amounts of storage space or more email addresses.
Does the web hosting that you are going for offer the options to expand your web hosting in the near future. How easy is it to upgrade? Can it be done by the click of a button or will it take more effort from your side. These things are great to take into consideration before making the choice on a hosting firm.
Understand Hosting Models
There are different models that are used in hosting. You will find there is:
- Shared Hosting
- Virtual Private Server VPS
- Cloud Computing
- Dedicated Server Hosting
In most cases the hosting offered is called Shared Hosting. This means that you are sharing the hard disk space, traffic and speed of your site with many others on the same physical server.
Especially the firms that are offering unlimited this and unlimited that, are often putting more shared hosts per server than strictly responsible. It is on these servers that people often experience that their website goes often down, has performance issues or are closed down because of overused capacity.
There are however hosting firms that do it right, as in do not overload their servers with huge amounts of websites, that will deliver high quality shared hosting for your needs.
Virtual Private Server (VPS)
A virtual private server is a virtual or shared server entity within a huge server. The advantage with a VPS over a shared web hosting package, is that each virtual server or virtual space has a dedicated amount of processing speed, performance and power that will always be available for your website.
VPS servers are however also often offered in a shared overloading form by a great number of providers, so be sure to choose a host that offers quality for your money.
Usually you can run more than one of your own sites on one single VPS, but it depends entirely on the type of site you are running. You can run several blogs on one VPS, while you wouldn’t run more than one flight ticket order site on one VPS. If you require even more stability than a VPS, you should go for a dedicated server.
Cloud Computing or Cloud Hosting should not be confused with Virtual Private Server systems, as the methods used are so different. While in VPS hosting, resources are allocated per user, in cloud hosting this allocation is way more dynamical and the client pays per use of said resources.
It is very easy to increase or decrease the resources by need. In cloud hosting the same website is available on several cloud servers at the same time. When one of the servers becomes over-occupied, the traffic is directed to the next server in the cloud which has the same copy of websites and content available.
A dedicated server means that a physical hardware server is dedicated entirely for your site or sites. These servers come with a lot of capacity, so it is good possible to run more than one site on it. It entirely depends on what type of size you got. You can most likely in a shared hosting type of way host a great deal of your WordPress based sites, while if you got an airline or hotel order type of business, you might want to run only one website per dedicated or VPS server.
One of the most important features you should look for in hosting is the level of customer service. Customer service is something you will have to deal with sooner than later. Say for example you are having an issue with your website getting setup or you want to move a domain name. Your site on a shared host is extremely slow or is down.
In all these situations and more you will want to contact site support and get someone to help you out. Preferably you want to get your site up and running as soon as possible, and not whenever support is online the next day in the afternoon.
Some hosting firms offer a live chat functionality that is online 24/7, while others offer it only in “office opening times during weekdays”. Others have an email ticket system that is open 24/7, but unfortunately the support team only works in the US/EU timezone and so your answer could wait an entire day for you.
There are those hosting firms that offer you many ways of contacting them, some even by telephone, so that you can have the best service experience any time of the day.
Depending on what level of service you need, you can make these part of your choices whether you go for hosting party A or B.
For your own domain name you definitely want one or more own email addresses. It looks professional to the outside world to communicate from your own company domain address, instead of using a free GMail account or other provider email account.
Providers should offer at least one free email address with your hosting, but most offer unlimited. Note that the space you use for hosting your email is often shared with your website storage. This means that if you are getting a lot of big emails with attachments, that it will subtract from your grand total storage space you got for your website.
Although you got unlimited email addresses, most companies do not have need for more email addresses than the total number of employees in the firm.
There are also great differences in which way you can access that email address afterwards, most offer at a bare minimal a web mail version, but some also offer the option to retrieve your email by POP3 and IMAP, which is handy to either retrieve your email through another email address or by using your smart phone or email client.
Bandwidth was usually measured in Gigabytes per month traffic, but nowadays I see more and more that they use the amount of visits to a site.
I have to make two notes on the visitors per month measure:
- 1 visitor can visit 5 pages on your site and this will count as 5 visits
- It is often fair usage, especially when it says unlimited
One visitor can indeed be visiting multiple pages on your site which results in multiple visits for that day or month. I am actually surprised that so many providers are using the traffic per month measure instead of the Gigabytes, because data traffic, the actual gigabytes or megabytes still happen anyway.
When your web page is about 1MB in download with images and text, scripts and more included, each visit to that page is 1MB in upload (the visitor downloads, your server uploads).
When you write a new blog and upload images to your site, you are uploading and your server is downloading, this data transfer is also part of your traffic.
The email that you receive on your domain is also counted as part of this transfer. The latter is a good realization, because it means the more email you get (mostly the size per email though, not the quantity), the more of the data traffic is used.
Providers have also often a fair usage policy on this traffic, the storage space etc, especially when they call it unlimited. Some websites will use a bit more than average and some a bit less than average, but when you are using extreme amounts of data, you can be sure that they will be contacting you and possibly ask you to pay more.
There is much to talk about when it comes down to security. Naturally you do not want your website to be hacked or be vulnerable to hacking and spam or be targeted for DDoS attacks and other problems.
Making regular backups is part of the security of your site in that you can restore your website when technical difficulties have destroyed your site or hacking and spamming efforts have been done to it. Backups are a must-have for everyone active online or on PC’s and is often undervalued. When you run a business it is even more important to do so.
Most web hosting firms offer some form of backups, often daily. Some offer you direct access to them, while others let you go through a support system. Sometimes you need to pay extra for these services, mostly because they are redundant or separately saved on different servers in different server centers for extra safety.
Check Community Reviews
When you finally figured out the top 3 hosting firms you possibly want to go for, you probably want to check out community reviews for them. There are great websites that offer you customer reviews such as TrustPilot and there are registers like BBB (Better Business Bureau) that can tell you if the business running is legit and handling their issues well enough.
The only major disadvantage of checking out community reviews, is that the people posting are usually the people having issues. Those who have the best experience won’t say so, because they have nothing to complain about anywhere and they are busy running their websites.
I’ve compiled a list of the best hosting firms for WordPress hosting that offer you quality services and high standard customer service.
Cost Versus Value
How expensive or cheap your hosting package is going to be might depend on the level of service you want to have and which features you need. The basic needs for your website should at least be answered, such as discussed above. There are a lot of extra features often offered at an extra price or at premium hosting packages. You need to figure out whether you really have a need for the extra offered services and features.
There is also a lot of free web hosting and WordPress hosting offered on the internet. Do however realize what the limitations of each of these free hosting solutions are.
Free hosting often comes with added commercials on your site that you are unable to remove. Other limitations are based upon the functionality or dis functionality you have on your site. You for example do not have the option to install plugins, change themes or are bound to certain theme options, they might limit you on bandwidth, storage and most will only offer you a sub domain.
Removing said limitations usually requires you to upgrade to a premium hosting package anyway.
First of all, figure out which features are most important for you, for then you can compare the different features over the different hosting firms. You naturally would want the similar or same features, but compare which firm offers the best deal and ticks all of your boxes.
Note that a lot of hosting companies offer a lot of extra features in more expensive packages. The real question is whether you have any use for the extra functionality.
When you have your choice made up, it is time to register it with the provider of choice and get started. You will get the most experience from experiencing the services your self. You can always decide later to change web hosting firms again.
Be sure to check out my recommendations for web hosting.