This guide, Website Hosting in Plain English, is a non-technical guide.
It aims to give an overview of the things you need to consider when choosing a home for your website.
If you don’t have the time – or the desire(!) – to find out more, and are happy to trust us to get the best solution for you, here are the hosting plans we use
Right, let’s just establish what hosting is.
Your website consists of words, pictures, video and so on, all organised into pages. As with all files, these are stored on a computer somewhere. The question for your website is – where should this be?
Wherever it is, we say that is where it is “hosted”. Often people refer to the host as the company that provides the computer upon which your website is hosted.
As you’ll see from this article, it’s not a good idea to host your website on your own computer, so how do you decide which company to choose to supply your website hosting?
There are many considerations when choosing which company, but before we get into those, I’d like to draw an analogy.
I find it useful to relate something new to something I already know, and so for website hosting we’re going to use housing.
When choosing where to live, there are many options.
You could live in a flat/apartment, a detached house or something between the two. Your chosen residence could be in a less desirable area right through to an upmarket/upscale district.
There may be little need for security or you may need multiple locks and perhaps high fences and remote controlled gates.
You’ll likely make your decision based on need and budget. You may desire a residence like the one in the header picture of this article, but lack the budget. You may have to compromise on your ideal and take a balanced decision, taking into account all the criteria that apply to you.
You also know that moving in need not be a once in a lifetime decision, and if circumstances change you can always move again.
So, in comparing a flat and a detached house, in the same neighbourhood, what general assumptions can be draw?
If you are in a flat, you will occupy one part of a larger building, a block of flats. You’ll have your own front door to your flat, but will probably share a communal front door to the block.
From a security point of view, your front door is your responsibility and the main front door is a shared responsibility. There may or may not be a doorman, whom everyone in the block pays towards.
You might have to use shared resources – for example the heating might be centrally controlled for the whole block, or even in some cases the supply of hot water or washing facilities. Maybe there’s a lift/elevator.
In such cases the more flats there are in your block, the less resource per user. You might have to wait longer for the lift, or the communal dryers, and so on.
The behaviour of your neighbours will also affect how convenient it is for you to use these resources.
Talking of your neighbours, you’ll likely have no control over who they invite into the building, so you hope there won’t be anyone doing things that cause you problems.
Also, if one or more of your neighbours has a bad finance record, or a criminal record, it can inadvertently affect you just because you share an address – even though they live in a different flat.
Most people, where able, will aim to mitigate these risks by choosing a flat in a lower risk area, or in a block with increased facilities, both of which will come with increased cost.
People living in a detached house have more personal control over their security and use of resources and are, in general, less impacted by their neighbours. They will still of course make decisions about the neighbourhod they choose and again costs will vary accordingly.
In both cases there will be common considerations such as how big a living space you need, how convenient it is and such like.
OK, that’s a very high level summary of choosing where to live. Let’s bring this back to choosing a website host.
As with housing, there are a wide variety of suppliers and types of hosting. The most commonly offered is shared hosting. We can think of this as living in a flat.
Your website will be put in its own space (flat) on a large hard drive (block of flats). It will share resources such as the processing power of the computer that the hard drive is attached to, and the bandwidth.
Think of bandwidth as the pipe between the computer and the internet. The bigger that pipe is, the more people can use it at the same time. However if one website on the hard drive is very popular and has a lot of traffic, it could potentially affect how quickly your website can connect – your visitors might experience a very slow site or even a hanging one.
Do I have to have porn?
Much like a flat, you don’t get to choose your website neighbours. But you can always ask up front if the host takes any sort of site. Porn sites and gambling sites for example are often far more interactive than other types, and video takes up a lot of bandwidth.
So you can see if your potential host has any policies about hosting such sites, or at least keeps them on a separate computer.
As a rule of thumb (and there are exceptions as with any generalisation) the cheaper hosts will put more websites on a shared hard drive. So there’s a greater potential for your site to be impacted.
Now hard drives come in different speeds, different sizes, different reliablility ratings, in the same way that not all blocks of flats have different dimensions, facilities etc but even so, the more you share the greater your risk.
That risk relates not only to performance, but also security. If a neighbouring site has poor security, or is an interesting target, then that too can potentially affect your site.
Keep E-Mail Separate
In addition, if your website is crucial to your business, you should consider hosting your email with a different company than your website.
If the address of a hard drive gets a bad reputation it will affect things like email deliverability.
Much more of the email sent out will go straight to the spam folder and never get seen.
If your site is sharing hard drive space with an undesirable site, just as in real life, that can inadvertently affect you too.
I recommend you use GSuite for your email.
We talked earlier about a doorman. Usually found in more upmarket blocks, their job is to reduce risk and ease convenience.
Within shared hosting we have an option to use something called managed hosting.
We can think of managed hosting as living in a flat in an upmarket area, with a doorman.
The number of flats in a block is normally smaller, risks are reduced and performance is increased.
The alternative to shared hosting is dedicated hosting. This is like having a detached house.
Detached houses can range from something like a three bed on an estate to a mansion with huge grounds. The same idea applies to hosting.
In addition, where even a relatively modest upmarket block of flats might have a doorman, it’s likely that only the very top range detached residence will have its own doorman.
With hosting, at the cheaper end of dedicated hosting, whilst you have the benefits of not sharing, you may have to do certain tasks that those with shared hosting get done for them.
These will relate to how your hosting space is configured in terms of its size, speed and connectivity. You may need to hire expert help.
Naturally, as the cost of your hosting rises, so should the service level.
How do I know what I need?
There’s an element of “how long is a piece of string” in this question, but as general advice, here goes.
For a brand new website, or an update on an existing one that only has low volume traffic, most people start out with shared hosting.
If this describes your website and it has e-Commerce functionality, or is an online school, then use managed hosting.
Remember, you can always upgrade to dedicated hosting later on (and within the same hosting company if you pick the right one and are happy with their service and prices).
As with housing, these vary enormously.
As a guide, shared hosting can run from around £3 per month to £40 per month. Dedicated hosting from around £15 to £100+
If you are interested in dedicated hosting, please do get in contact, and take a look at kinsta.com (I have no affiliation with them, but read consistently very good reports about them.)
We’ll be putting together a technical analysis of the different types of hosting if you’d like to read in more depth on this subject.
Let us know in the comments if that is something you’d be interested in.
If you found this guide helpful, please do check out our other non technical guides, written in plain English.
We aim to demystify the online world to help you feel more confident when dealing with service providers. This in turn will help you get the services you need to grow your business.
We welcome comments and look forward to any questions you may have.