What Is Actually “Hosting” a Website?
In a nutshell, hosting a website simply means uploading and storing the files related to your website on a server.
A server, on the other hand, is a dedicated computer (or can be just a program within a computer, or another device) that is tasked with storing and managing resources. The server is a centralized resource—in this case— for the website.
This process allows other people—from all around the globe— to “pull’ the necessary resources from this server and view your website. The server’s main task here is to receive and interpret incoming requests from users and then send the requested files (associated with specific page(s) to the user’s internet browser.
In the past, we will need to invest on our own server and hire a server engineer (or, learn the necessary skills ourselves). Yet, today we have thousands of companies providing the service to host and manage your website, at very low costs starting from below just $5/month.
In fact, today only a handful of giant enterprises with the size of Google and Amazon, to name a few, that host all of their websites and services on their own servers. Even companies like Netflix relies on a third-party hosting service (in this case, Amazon’s) for their hosting solution.
Using a third-party hosting company, simply allows us to “bypass” the necessary technical and financial requirements to host our own site.
Where To Start?
In the process of hosting a website, there are two different things we need:
- The web hosting service
- Purchasing a domain name
A web hosting service, as we’ve briefly discussed above, is a company that owns their web servers, and sell their services to host and manage your website. They simply take care of all the programming and technical needs, and usually us—as the website owner— will be given an easy-to-use interface to manage this hosting.
A domain name, is essentially the name of the website in the eyes of the human users. For example, _________.com will bring you to this site, and _________ is our domain name.
Some web hosting services, like NameCheap and GoDaddy, among others, act as both a web hosting provider and domain name registrar, so they might be a good choice for you if you’re a beginner and are currently confused about the whole process.
Step-by-Step Guide To Host Your Website
Step 1: Figuring out The Type of Your Website
In general, there are two different types of websites, which will dictate different hosting needs. They are:
A static website is a website that doesn’t change in response to the actions taken by the user. So, the main goal here is informational, for example, in our About Us page, we only want to inform the visitors about the details of our business, and the page—and the source code— won’t change according to the user actions.
A static website is typically created with ‘just’ HTML and CSS in a simple text editor. However, static here doesn’t necessarily mean all the pages will look the same. Each of the pages can use different HTML codes0 and look very different.
Another common misconception is that static websites is solely about textual content. Truth is, we can include videos, audio files, and beautiful images in a plain HTML message.
Again, static here simply means the website’s source code won’t change no matter what actions a user performed on the site.
As opposed to a static website, a dynamic website allows users to interact with the website’s elements, and the website will provide feedback according to the user actions.
A website with eCommerce functionalities (i.e., online store, is a good example of a dynamic website, as well as any websites that allow users to have individual accounts (i.e. forums, social network sites, etc.)
Step 2: Choosing Between Different Types of Web Hosting
Different kinds of websites might have different hosting needs depending on various factors from size to pricing to reliability.
On the other hand, there is not one single web hosting service —even if you opt for your own private server— that can cover all your bases. Some web hosts might be better in certain areas like server response time (speed) or might offer the latest technologies. Other platforms, however, might offer a more reliable server or a more affordable rate.
In general, however, we can differentiate the different hosting services into several types, and here are some of the common ones:
1. Dedicated Hosting
When you subscribe to a dedicated hosting service, it means you are renting one physical server, and you can use this entire server for your website.
This will translate to a faster, more reliable, and more secure hosting, but you also get additional flexibilities like the ability to use your preferred operating system and install your own software.
However, a dedicated hosting service is usually the most expensive out of the bunch. Also, since you’ll be managing your own server, it might require some technical skills and programming knowledge (or you might need to hire a system admin).
You generally only need a dedicated hosting service when your business is already so big you are comfortable to afford the necessary costs of hiring a system admin (or even a team of admins) and the monthly costs of dedicated server.
Pricing: starts from around $70/month.
Recommendation: GoDaddy and NameCheap offers some of the best, most reliable dedicated hosting services out there.
2. Shared Hosting
As opposed to dedicated hosting, here you share one physical server with other websites. You do have your separate (secured) account, so you still own your website privately.
The main advantage of this type is the shared cost, so your overall hosting cost can be much cheaper than a dedicated hosting, as low as $5/month.
However, since you share the server with other sites, if there’s a site with a lot of traffic sharing the same server with yours, it can compromise your site’s speed and performance. On the other hand, if you are the site using the most traffic on the server, you get the most of this server’s speed and performance while spending very little. The speed of the site is an important ranking factor in any SEO strategy.
A good choice for businesses that are just starting out or if you don’t expect a lot of traffic (at least initially).
Pricing: Starts from around $5/month to around $30/month
Recommendation: Bluehost is a popular and affordable shared hosting provider, NameCheap and GoDaddy are also good options.
3. VPS Hosting
VPS stands for Virtual Private Server, and is essentially a shared hosting server with extra features. VPS hosting especially offers tools and resources to handle traffic spikes—the most common issue with shared hosting.
With a VPS hosting, we get a partition of the shared hosting, creating a “private server”, hence the name. With this, a VPS service offers the affordability of the shared hosting while also providing the stability and versatility of having a dedicated resource.
A great choice for medium-sized businesses and eCommerce businesses, or those looking for an upgrade from shared hosting.
Pricing: Starting from around $25/month
Recommendation: NameCheap and HostGator offer good VPS plans.
4. Managed WordPress Hosting
This type refers to hosting services made specifically for WordPress. In essence, this is a shared web hosting service where the service provider will also help maintaining your WordPress environment from making sure everything is updated correctly (and won’t clash with other updates), protect your site from hackers and other security risks, and so on.
Relatively affordable—-while not as affordable as a standard shared hosting service—, and is a good option if your site is WordPress-based or some alternative CMSs to WordPress.
Pricing: Starts from $35/month
Recommendation: WPEngine for affordability, GoDaddy for reliability.
Cloud hosting allows more than one physical servers to collaborate together via the cloud, before they host a website or several websites—like a shared hosting system.
In theory, hundreds of servers can work together. So,with this type of hosting we have a virtually unlimited potential to scale our website’s hosting according to our needs.
Cloud hosting is usually very good at handling traffic spikes (i.e. during a DDoS and application layer attack).
A very versatile hosting service type where you can also adjust your budget based on your needs.
Pricing: Typically uses a pay-per-use model, so will vary depending on your needs.
Step 3: Deciding Between Linux and Windows Hosting
Most of the popular website hosting services will let you choose between Linux or Windows hosting.
Linux is the most popular operating system for web servers (as of 2019), and the common misconception is that Linux environment is more secure than WIndows. Both OSs are equally secure, and factors like the server’s setup and the team behind the servers will matter more to security.
The key factor to consider here, then, is the fact that Linux-based hosting is significantly more popular, so there are more applications that are compatible with the OS, and more web designers/developers/admins that are familiar with it. Linux and Windows servers use different control panels, so familiarity will be important.
With that being said, unless you have websites which need specific Windows-only applications, Linux is the better choice.
Applications Specific for Windows Hosting:
- Microsoft SQL Server
- Microsoft Access
- Visual Basic
- ASP Classic
- Microsoft SharePoint (requires separate installation and license)
- Microsoft Exchange (requires separate installation and license)
Applications Specific for Linux Hosting:
- Many different Apache modules, scripts, and applications
- Scripts written in PHP, Python and Unix Languages (very common nowadays)
- MySQL and PostgreSQL, also very common in today’s websites
Step 4: Setting Up DNS Address
After you’ve decided on a web hosting service, you will get a Domain Name Servers, or DNS (also known as Name Servers).
We can think of DNS as the Yellow Pages of the internet, where all IP addresses are listed and indexed. So, before you can get your website up and running, you will need to first change the DNS of your domain.
Fortunately, this will only require several simple steps:
- Go to your Domain Control Panel, will differ depending on your hosting service, but should be available on your customer account on the hosting service’s website.
- Login to your customer account
- Choose the Domain Name for this specific site (if you only have one site, there should be only this one).
- Go to the Domain Registration section, then DNS or Name Servers
- Replace the existing DNS with the ones provided by your current hosting service, and then click apply or update
Step 5: Uploading Your Website
After you’ve setup everything, it’s time to upload your website to the hosting server. You can use the hosting service’s File Manager (commonly with cPanel) or use an FTP client such as WinSCP, CyberDuck, or Filezilla.
The process will vary depending on the FTP client you use, but it’s usually a pretty straightforward process, but here are a few things to pay attention to:
- FTP always runs on Port 21, so make sure it’s set properly
- Make sure to use your website’s correct IP address in the FTP Address field
- Make sure the FTP is connected properly before you drag and drop the files and folders to upload your website
- Re-check the uploaded folders (and files), and repeat uploading if necessary
FAQs About Hosting a Website
Here are some of the most commonly asked questions regarding website hosting, and our answers for them:
1. Why do I need a hosting service to host my website?
You can certainly purchase your own physical server and host your website on it. However, you will face several issues:
- Time and Resources: you will need to scale up your physical servers as your website grows, this can be extremely time-consuming and expensive
- Human Resources: unless you possess all the required skills to maintain, secure, and troubleshoot the site, you will need to hire engineers and administrators
- Security: the risk of potential data breach and other security risks are serious, and you will need to pay constant attention to these possibilities
Subscribing on a hosting service provider will allow you to “bypass” these problems and turn your attention to things that will help your business—and website— grow. These hosting service providers specialize server maintenance, with their own system engineers and administrators that will consistently monitor their servers 24/7.
2. Can I just buy a domain name first and host the website later?
Yes, it’s possible. In fact, it’s a pretty common practice.
Remember, however, that the domain name will be “empty” and won’t point to your website before you host the site properly and set up the right DNS.
You can use services like Name.com or Domain.com to register your domain name. They offer relatively easy to use domain management platform, so you can have an easier time in connecting the domain name with your chosen hosting service later.
3. Should I buy a domain name and hosting service from a single company?
Generally speaking, yes, unless there’s a specific reason not to. For example, the reason stated in question #2 above, or when your preferred domain name is only available in specific provider but you don’t like what their hosting service offers.
Using the service from the same company for both will mean that you can manage them under the same platform and dashboard. Also, some companies might offer a better deal if you decide to purchase both (for example, Bluehost offers a free domain name if you subscribe to their hosting service.).
4. Can I host the site on my computer first?
Yes, you can, and it’s a pretty common practice to test things before commiting on purchasing a hosting. However, the faster you get an actual hosting, the faster you can grow your website.
5. Can I change provider later on?
Yes, and in general there won’t be any risks involved. You can use an FTP client to migrate your website to a new host.
6. Which hosting service should I choose?
There are so many hosting companies out there, and nowadays, each of them offers so many different packages encompassing all the different hosting types.
So, understandably, choosing the right one for your website can be overwhelming.
With that being said, here are our recommendations:
- GoDaddy and NameCheap are the most reliable hosting services with years of experience between them. They offer various different types of plans so you can choose one depending on your budget and needs
- For starter websites, Bluehost is an affordable alternative
7. How much would it cost to host a website?
The cost of hosting your website can vary greatly depending on several different factors from the type of hosting service (as we have discussed above in step 2), the hosting plan, the reputation of the hosting company, and so on. It can be as low as below $5/month (typically for shared hosting) and as high as thousands of dollars each month for high-end dedicated servers.
Our recommendation is to weigh your current needs and choose the cheapest possible option that provides the features you want. As your business and website grow, you can gradually upgrade.
We certainly hope this guide has helped you learn how to host your website properly. Remember that there isn’t any single best approach to host your website, but rather you have to choose the right approach and the right hosting service according to your current needs and the available budget. If you don’t have the experience you can always reach out to a B2B marketing consultant to get it right.
Nowadays, it’s relatively easy—and safe— to migrate between different hostings, so remember that choosing a hosting service isn’t a commitment you can’t break. Choose the one according to your current needs, and as your website and business grow, upgrade to a better service.