Running a website is a careful balancing act of all the right ingredients and as with anything there are some things that are essential to the mix. Hosting is one of them. It is also one of the most important but in my experience many people get scared talking about it and worry that it is too technical for them.
In this episode I breakdown what hosting actually is and talk about the different options available. There are so many companies out there providing hosting services which can be overwhelming and so I offer some suggestions for helping you make that decision.
Hosting is one of those things in web design that you are simply going to have to build a bridge and get over it if you want to get your business on the internet and in front of your target online audience.
INTRO: Hi and welcome to the Help! My Website Sucks podcast. I’m Amy Gumbrell and as a freelance web designer, I get to help others learn more about websites day in day out so I’m delighted you’re here. Listen to future episodes by hitting the follow button and I would love it if you were to leave a review too. Don’t forget to come and say hi over on social media – search for @twocowsweb and there I’ll be! I’d like to share some of my own experiences as a web designer and some of the common questions and issues that pop up again and again. In this episode I’ll be answering the question – what is website hosting? So let’s jump straight on in and get on with it.
So why do I need hosting in my life I hear you say? I thought we were talking about websites. You can create a beautiful website without the internet but if you want your audience and/or your customers to see it, you are going to need to find out more about the world of hosting at some point. In simple terms is an online service that allows you to publish your website files onto the internet. If you have access to the internet, you have access to those website files. These online services are called hosting providers or hosts and there are many of them. More about that in just a bit. Your website files are held on a server and it is the responsibility of the hosting provider to ensure that the server is always up and running. A server is essentially a computer that manages a network of resources and ‘talks’ to other computers over a network. If something happens to that server such as it developing a fault, you won’t be able to see your website on the internet. I’m sure you’ve heard people say ‘our websites are down at the moment and we’re just waiting for it to go back online’ – well this probably means there is something wrong with the server and whomever is the host of that website will most likely be frantically trying to get the server working again.
So we’ve established what hosting is but did you know there is more one than type? For those just starting out with a website, you will probably never need to worry about top-end hosting but as with everything, it is worth knowing about it. You may come across it when you yourself want to select a hosting provider. There is such a thing as free hosting – this is offered by many of those drag and drop website platforms I talked about in episode 2 – they essentially deal with getting your website on the internet and take away the need for you to worry about hosting. Go and check out that episode to find out more.
The main type of hosting that the majority of website owners will use is ‘shared hosting’ which as the name suggests means that you share something. In this case your website files share space on the hosting provider’s server with other website files. This is the cheapest way of buying hosting and is absolutely fine for the majority of websites. Historically sharing with other websites could lead to problems such as slowing down if one of the other ‘neighbour’ websites suddenly had a rush of people using that particular website. Nowadays hosts are much more canny and these sorts of problems are far less likely to affect you. However it is definitely something to bear in mind.
Let’s go straight into the other end of hosting which is dedicated hosting. I’m sure it’s a bit of a giveaway what that means but just in case you were unsure it is in fact a whole physical server ‘dedicated’ to your website files and your website files alone. This is the most expensive option coming in at thousands of pounds a month – as I said earlier not really for small businesses but if your business did end up becoming much much bigger and you had a super demanding enterprise grade website (these are used in large industries such as supply management systems for example), you may consider using a dedicated host.
So we’ve got shared hosting at one end and dedicated hosting at the other end so let’s tackle the middle options. We’ve got two options and both are similar in many ways- VPS (virtual private servers) and cloud hosting (dedicated cloud server). I’m going to make life a whole lot easier for you and try to break them down as we have got a bit of abstract thinking to get through with these options!
The word private in a VPS could be seen as a little misleading as you are actually still sharing a physical server with other websites. However the server is split up into separate ‘virtual’ servers so each website has their own set of server resources completely isolated from all the other websites on that server. This means increased reliability and performance for your website – win-win situation without having to spend as much as a dedicated host. However the main downside of a VPS is you need to have some technical skills to set up the server yourself and manage it. If something happens to the physical server or another website has a sudden increase in numbers of visitors to their website, yep you guessed it your website will probably be affected.
Cloud hosting works in pretty much the same way except your website files will not be held on a single physical server. Instead it is held on many different cloud servers simultaneously. This uses a ‘virtualisation technology’ which is absolutely mind blowing in my opinion! It splits a physical server into multiple virtual machines called cloud servers. Please do stay with me – I do need to talk about cloud hosting as it is growing in popularity and you’ll probably hear more and more about it as time goes by. It’s considered a very reliable and stable way of hosting as well as being scalable for growing businesses. If there is a problem on one cloud server, no worry, the second cloud server will pick up the slack and keep the website online. For anyone with a WordPress website you may come across hosting providers offering specific WordPress hosting. All this means is that the host has made the ‘space’ on their servers WordPress ready – making it easier for you to set up your WordPress website on your hosting. You can run your WordPress site on any of the different types of hosting – shared, VPS, cloud, dedicated – it is completely up to you and the needs of your business.
Now I could be here all day going through the pros and cons of different web hosts but that’s not what I’m here for. There are search engines that could do that job much better! Instead let me take you through some things to consider when searching for your hosting provider:
- How busy is your website? Do people occasionally pop on there or is it a steady trickle throughout the week or perhaps you run a busy membership site with people regularly logging in and logging out? Some hosts may put a limit on how ‘busy’ your website is and may charge you more when you hit a certain level of visitors.
- Do you want your host to also look after your emails? This might make organisation a little easier for your business but your host may charge you for each email address or limit the size of your mailbox. I’ll be going into more detail about emails in a future episode so watch this space!
- How much support does you and your business need? Some hosts offer fantastic customer service, others not so much.
- What is it going to cost in year 2? Almost all the hosting providers I’ve ever come across have a juicy little introductory offer to hook you in. Read the small print. Is there a sharp increase? Are you going to get a shock next year when you look at your renewal quote? Definitely worth considering.
- And number 5 – what type of hosting you want? I’ve talked about the main types during this episode so do have another listen if you are undecided which to choose.
OUTRO : So that was my breakdown all about hosting – what did you think? Was it helpful? I would love to know your thoughts so come over to social media and say hi and share any questions you might have about hosting. Remember I’m @twocowsweb. Ultimately hosting is one of those things that you are going to need to know about when thinking about websites so it’s best to get to know what you’re dealing with even if you decide to go down the free hosting route. Thank you so much for listening and if you haven’t already, please hit that follow button now to never miss a future episode. Good-bye for now!
For more information visit twocowsweb.co.uk/podcast. Help! My Website Sucks is a Vibrant Sound Media production.