Last updated on April 17th, 2019. Posted in Web Design For Business.
Getting yourself set up with web hosting is a critical step in bringing your projects and businesses to life online. But, if you're brand new to web design—or even if you've been around a while—web hosting can sometimes be a confusing, even daunting, subject. On top of the litany of terms, hosting plans, options, and add-ons, there are a huge number of companies and packages to sift through and choose from. Where should you get started? Should you just pick a hosting company and hope for the best?
Well, I've put together this tutorial to clarify the different types of web hosting. This will help you find the right kind of hosting for your small business. First, we'll take a look at the basics of web hosting and how it all works. This is to ensure we're all on the same page. Then, in the main section of this tutorial, I'll break web hosting down to the six fundamental types, and provide a clear description of each. As we go, I'll make some specific recommendations for web hosting companies that you can investigate further. For more detailed information on hosting recommendations, be sure to check out my Finding The Best Web Host For Your Site tutorial.
By the end of this tutorial, you'll have a clear idea of the different kinds of web hosting, and you'll have a strong sense of which type is going to work for your business. You'll also have some recommendations for web hosting providers that you can look into further.
Alright, let's get started!
Okay, so let's get started by covering a few key web hosting concepts.
First off is this: Back in the domain name fundamentals tutorial, I used the analogy of your domain name being like your street address. A street address is a much better method for your houseguests to find your house—much better than, say, using GPS coordinates or wandering from house to house knocking on doors. We can carry on using this analogy when we begin discussing your business's web hosting, too.
If your domain name is your street address, then your web hosting is your house—the physical space where you store all your stuff. But rather than storing furniture and books and clothes (and all those commemorative Elvis dishes you should probably get rid of!), you're storing the images, HTML pages, CSS files, and other files that make up your business's website.
If you don't like this apartment building analogy, just think of a traditional brick-and-mortar store (maybe you even have one of those!). A storefront is simply the space that your business and all the merchandise you sell occupies. In order to visit your store, customers will of course need to know where your space is located. This is exactly the same online: Your company's domain name is the address to the space where your online store is stored. This space is provided by web hosting companies.
Web hosting companies own data centres filled with computer servers. Very simply, a computer server or web server is just a computer that the web-surfing public can access. Small business owners, solo business owners, and anyone else just like you and I can rent space on a web hosting company's web server, and it's in this rented space where we store our publicly available online business website. So, when you head over to
tentononline.com, you're simply navigating to a specific location on a publicly-accessible web server—the location that the domain
tentononline.com points to. Cool, huh?
When you purchase a hosting plan from a web hosting company, you'll pay a recurring monthly or annual bill to rent server space. It's in this space where you'll build and store the files that make up your website.
It's the web hosting company's job to keep their servers, and the websites that are stored on them, live on the web and secure. They often provide additional services too, like regular data backups, additional security options, website monitoring, and so on. In another tutorial, I go through all the different web hosting features, and tell you which ones are critical, and which ones can be safely ignored.
So that's how it all works. Does all that make sense? Okay good. Now with the fundamentals of web hosting out of the way, let's now take a look at the various kinds of web hosting that we can sign up for.
With so many different technical requirements needed to run various kinds of websites, web hosting companies offer a wide variety of options to help fit your needs. While fundamentally web hosting is all about providing storage space for your website, what about additional technical needs like dedicated web servers, the ability to handle huge amounts of traffic, and so on?
To address all of this, we can actually simplify web hosting into six different types. The six different types of web hosting are: Free hosting, shared hosting, dedicated hosting, VPS, cloud hosting, and managed WordPress hosting. Perhaps you've heard of some of these.
Let's take a look at each of these web hosting types and get a sense of the differences between each. This'll help you determine which kind of hosting is best for you and your business.
Believe it or not, but there are some free hosting options available. However, like many things in life, you get what you pay for! While free hosting may be low cost (as in, no-cost) it's often extremely limited and in some cases very unreliable.
One free hosting option is to set up a site on WordPress.com. The biggest downside to WordPress.com is the limitations they impose on what you can do with your site, and the advertising that's placed on your site alongside your content, which you'll have to pay to remove.
I'm sure there are other free hosting options available if you dug around a bit, but with the low cost of much more professional, reliable shared hosting (often costing less than $5/month), I wouldn't even bother looking at free options. At a minimum, what we're after is secure, reliable hosting for our web projects. Other free hosting options usually come with a generous helping of advertising, malware, and unreliability.
Suddenly, free isn't looking so...free.
If you're serious about your business, then spend a few dollars and go with much more professional web hosting. You'll have complete control over your site and it's content, and know that it's safe and secure. And you'll have peace of mind knowing that there's a reliable company taking care of the web servers that your website resides on.
Shared hosting is the most common kind of hosting available. Shared hosting's low cost and ease of use makes it a perfect choice for web design newcomers, and for small and medium sized businesses too. I've used, and continue to use, shared hosting for a lot of my web projects.
With a shared hosting plan, your website will be stored alongside hundreds or even thousands of other websites, all on the same web server. All the websites stored on the same web server will share the server's resources, like processing speed, RAM, and so on. Sharing resources with other websites might not sound like a good idea, but realistically, most websites don't require much in terms of server power to run them. The only time your website might strain under a shared hosting plan is if you get high spikes in traffic. This can happen if your site gets linked to from a popular site like TechCrunch or Mashable. Or, sometimes lower-quality web hosting companies will oversell their shared plans and crowd as many websites onto a server as they can. But, none of the hosting companies I recommend here on Ten Ton oversell their shared plans.
Shared hosting is a great option for many business website owners. Shared hosting is cost-effective, readily available, reliable, and doesn't require a whole lot of technical skill to use. So, it's a great choice if you're just starting out.
If your site's large enough, and gets a lot of traffic, you might find that a shared hosting plan doesn't offer enough power. One option is to rent an entire web server for your business, rather than a small amount of space on a shared server. Dedicated hosting is exactly that—a server that's completely dedicated to your website alone.
If shared hosting is like having roommates, dedicated hosting is like buying your own house!
In a dedicated server scenario, all of the server's resources—all of it's RAM, processing power, storage space, and so on—are completely dedicated to your website.
While this might sound great, it's much more expensive than tolerating rowdy roommates. And, dedicated hosting requires much more technical skill to run and maintain, because it's essentially entirely left up to you. Realistically, dedicated hosting is best suited to larger, even corporate-level websites.
For these types of organizations, they'll want complete control over the entire web server, with access to all of it's resources, determining what software should run on it, what settings it should use, and so on. And, they'll have a team with the technical know-how to do all of this.
All of this is overkill for most business owners.
However, if you're thinking dedicated hosting might work for you, then check out SiteGround. They offer top notch dedicated web hosting.
But for the rest of us, if our website begins outgrowing its shared hosting plan, then a better choice would be one of the alternative hosting options below...
If dedicated hosting is overkill, but shared hosting doesn't offer enough oomph, then Virtual Private Server hosting might be the solution. Think of this kind of web hosting as a combination of shared and dedicated hosting. A virtual private server splits or isolates a web server into many virtual servers. Here, it's like individual websites are hosted on their own dedicated server, but they're actually still sharing server resources with other websites.
It's like asking your rowdy roommates to leave for while whenever your parents visit.
VPS hosting is a great fit for websites whose traffic is growing, who need more resources and more control on the server level, but who don't want to get into the heavy investment of dedicated hosting. Medium to large-sized businesses and online stores, and technically skilled web designers and developers often make use of VPS to handle their hosting needs.
I used VPS hosting for Ten Ton for about five years, before switching to a managed hosting option, which I'll discuss below.
Now, what if your business needs have grown past shared hosting, but you don't have the technical skill to manage VPS on your own? Then going with managed WordPress hosting, as I did with Ten Ton, is likely your best bet. We'll talk about managed hosting in a moment. But first let's cover cloud hosting.
Alright, cloud hosting. All the cloud is, is a group of networked computers. How this plays out with cloud web hosting is, a group of web servers are all connected together to share their resources as they're needed. That's all there is to it. In a cloud hosting environment, your business's website actually resides on multiple web servers. If there's a high spike in traffic, the interconnected web servers can allocate resources on-the-fly to keep things moving smoothly. This is great, but there is of course an additional cost for going with this more high-end web hosting option.
To continue with our roommate analogy, I suppose cloud hosting would be like communal living, where everyone shares everything. Far out, man!
Cloud hosting is a great solution for business owners who don't want to get into the cost or technicalities of dedicated hosting or VPS hosting, but whose businesses are growing even more in terms of traffic and web server needs.
If you think cloud hosting might be a good fit for your business, check out the plans offered by SiteGround.
Alright, I've saved my favourite for last, managed WordPress hosting. As the name implies, this kind of hosting supports WordPress sites only. Managed WordPress hosting is great for business owners who's sites are growing, who need more server resources than shared hosting can provide, but who don't have the time or technical skills (or interest) in maintaining a dedicated server or VPS. This is what managed WordPress hosting is all about. As the business owner, you don't have to worry about any of the technical issues behind your site.
In a managed hosting situation, the hosting company provides you with a team of skilled experts who maintain your website for you. They'll watch for traffic spikes, handle updates and data backups, and monitor your website's overall performance. While there is an added cost for these management services, this option is great for those who want to take a "hands-off" approach with the technical aspects of their website, and instead focus on their business—handling customers, developing new products, managing growth, and the bazillion other things us business owners have to take care of.
This is exactly what I did with Ten Ton. As the site grew, I leapt from shared, to VPS, to managed WordPress hosting—which is where Ten Ton is now. Sure, I have the technical skill to handle a lot of stuff, but truth be told, I don't want to! I'd rather focus on creating more content, creating new courses, and talking with customers just like you. And in a managed hosting situation, I know that my site's being looked after by other WordPress experts, who I can get on the phone with and talk shop with should any problems arise. Managed WordPress hosting has been a big game-changer for me and how I run my business.
If this sounds interesting, then let me recommend WP Engine, one of the top managed WordPress hosting providers available.
Whew! So there's a run-down of all six different kinds of web hosting—again, free, shared, dedicated, VPS, cloud, and managed WordPress hosting. Now that we have an understanding of each type of web hosting available, I'm sure you have a pretty darn good idea of what kind would best fit you and your business needs.
I'll bet you're thinking that shared hosting, or at least starting off with shared hosting, is going to be your best option—and I agree. Especially as you're still learning web design and how to maintain your business's website.
Going with shared hosting is a great starting point. It's where I started. Shared hosting ticks all the important boxes too: Cost, reliability, ease of use, and good customer service. And, you can always scale up to larger, more powerful hosting, like VPS or managed WordPress hosting down the road, as your needs change and your website grows.
I hope you've enjoyed all the information I've provided here. You now have a clear idea of what web hosting companies are offering.
To recap, we covered the basics of web hosting and how it all works, including domains and web servers. Then, we delved right into the six different kinds of web hosting, and talked about how each worked. Along the way, I provided some recommendations for hosts that you can take a closer look at. And out of all this, you should have been able to narrow down the kind of hosting that'll work for you.
So, knowing what kind of hosting is best for your web project, and having a handful of web hosting companies to look further into, what next? Well, I'd love to share with you what features to look for in a web host, so be sure to check out my tutorial, The 3 Critical Web Hosting Features Every Small Business Needs. It's loaded with important information about choosing the right host with the right features for your online business ventures.
I'll see you there!