A Beginner’s Guide to Web Hosting – 2021 Edition

Our beginner's guide to Web Hosting will walk you though everything you need to know, from understanding the basics to choosing a web host & cutting through the jargon!
A Beginner’s Guide to Web Hosting – 2021 Edition

More goes into a website than just writing content, posting, and thinking it’s available for the world to see.

You have choices to make like, who you will use as your web host, what even IS a web host? Choosing a domain name, software options, and so much more!

Thinking about it makes you want to tear your hair out, but with this beginner’s guide to Web Hosting, you will have everything you need to get you on the right path to creating a website.   

Chapter #1

Introduction to Hosting

Web Hosting:
A Basic Overview

user manual

What is Web Hosting?

Websites on the internet are made up of an assortment of files and software.

You may think the internet is some invisible service that’s just there when you need it, but there’s actually a physical computer, otherwise known as a server, where every website on the internet lives.

Once you begin building a website, you soon realise all the components that go into making finished products visible online.  

Web hosting providers run and maintain the physical server, and in turn, have their own servers which are where all the files and software for each website are kept.

The hosting provider will keep your data and files and release them to users when requested. They provide you with resources like file storage, hardware, security, and uptime, most of which you don’t have to think about as long as your account is kept up to date.   

Web hosting is something that happens in the background of any website you click on. For anyone who wants to visit your website, the hosting providers work 24/7 to ensure it’s available to view.  

How does Web Hosting work?  

Hosting service providers’ rent’ you space on the server to store your website files. The server stores all the data from a website, e.g. the code, the images, the video clips, the files. The server gets the data that is linked to the hosting service and delivers the right content when needed.  

For example, internet users will type your website address into their browser, their computer will connect to the server and will deliver your website pages to them through the browser. The hosting service makes all your website files, codes, images, videos, available to be viewed online. 

Why do I need Hosting?   

Web users won’t be able to access your website online without a hosting provider. As there is an expense involved, you need to find the best hosting service for your needs.

Hosting providers make sure your website can be accessed by everyone and keep it running 24/7. Also, if you have any difficulties on your website, e.g. web page not loading, then they have the technical support to help you fix the problem.

So you have time to focus on your business, web hosting providers want your experience to be hassle-free.  

Chapter #2

Hosting Options

Types of Web Hosting Explained

choosing

The only decision won’t be who you’re going to host with, but also you have choices of what package you’d like with them.

It’s an important decision for you to make, and you need to know what each type means, so you choose the right hosting plan for your website that will suit your needs the most.  

Shared Hosting

When multiple users share the same web server, it is known as shared hosting. It is the most cost-effective package with most hosting providers, as the price is split between the users. Shared hosting is good for beginners building their first website.

Still, it does come with some limitations like file storage and bandwidth, as there are multiple users within the server.

Your website’s performance could be affected depending on if the traffic on your website increases and other users’ websites could spike, slowing down your page loading time.   

Advantages

  • the cheapest option  
  • the ability to upgrade your package with time  
  • Easy to manage  

Disadvantages

  • Not able to handle high amounts of traffic – your site might perform worse, and load time can be slower  
  • Depending on the other sites sharing the server, it may get overburdened 

Read – The 10 Best Cheap UK Web Hosting Providers in 2021


VPS Hosting

Also known as ‘Virtual Private Server’,  VPS hosting is multiple computers acting as a single server. Unlike shared hosting, where you don’t get your own dedicated space on the server, you have your own private space with VPS.

Fewer users share a VPS server, so your site won’t be affected by traffic surges from other websites. Being a more stable and secure option, VPS hosting is also cheaper than renting an entire server.  

Advantages

  • Your site won’t be affected by other users’ issues or traffic surges.  
  • Faster, reliable, and more privacy than shared hosting – your files are separated from other users.  
  • Scalable- You’re able to buy more space (storage, bandwidth, etc.) if you need it. Perfect for if your website grows and you need more file storage  

Disadvantages  

  • Not as cheap as shared hosting  
  • More technical skills are required to manage  
  • If it’s not properly configured, it may be open to security breaches  

Read – Top 10 Best VPS Hosting UK Providers for 2021


Dedicated Hosting 

Dedicated hosting is when the user rents the entire server and can customise it to suit their needs, e.g., file space, performance, and security.

Being the most expensive of the packages, dedicated hosting offers value when you require it but can be more than you need when just starting. Large businesses tend to use dedicated hosting. It provides good speed and fewer interruptions for websites with higher amounts of traffic.  

Advantages  

  • Flexibility to change any software, server configurations, or adjust resources (file storage, bandwidth, etc.)  
  • Faster and more reliable  
  • Secure and private  

Disadvantages  

  • The most expensive of the packages  

Read – Best Dedicated Hosting UK – Our Top 8 Picks for 2021


Cloud Hosting 

A newer style of hosting cloud hosting is growing in popularity and works by your server hardware being virtual, so you don’t have to rent space on a server. It works by using a network of virtual and physical cloud servers connected together to host the website.

If the server your website is on is underperforming or malfunctioning, your website will be moved to another server to provide better performance. Cloud hosting comes with incredible speeds and flexibility with their pricing as you only pay for what you need, when you need it.

The overall expense of running a server, 24/7 power, IT maintenance, management, and data centers are eliminated, making a more affordable cloud hosting package. If your website has higher traffic at certain times of the year, you can increase the resources you use to help your website grow.    

Advantages  

  • More cost-effective as there is no physical server to run   
  • Scalability – only paying for what you use  
  • Faster speed and reliability  
  • Flexibility to adapt to changing traffic levels  

Disadvantages  

  • Lagging can sometimes be an issue, e.g., there may be a delay over the network, depending on your internet connection. 

Our recommended Cloud Web Hosts – Cloudways & Kamatera

Chapter #3

Choosing a Host & Domain

Essential Factors to Consider

domains image

Now you have more information about web hosting, the different types of hosting packages, and domain names, it will be easier to define your website goals.

What are your Website’s Goals?  

Determining your website goals will put you on track to find the best web hosting package for your needs. It is good to think of now before any money has been spent.

It will help to keep you accountable for how your website or business is progressing. Do you want to have an eCommerce shop? Or a personal blog? Maybe even starting that small business you have been thinking about?  

When deciding your website goals, a good method to use is the S.M.A.R.T model: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely. Depending on the website you will be running, here are some examples of some goals to aim for:  

Marketing Goals – generating more leads, improving your lead conversion rate, increasing awareness on your website.  

Sales Goals – generating more sales, improving sales conversion rates, improving your sales support.  

Customer Service Goals – improving customer satisfaction, reducing the time to complete a task.  

IT / Production Goals – reducing your website management costs, optimising workflow automation. 

Choosing a hosting provider can be hard. There are so many online, so here are a few things to think about when researching hosting provider packages.  

What type of Hosting do I need?  

A good starting point is shared hosting if you have a smaller website, like a personal blog. Most hosting providers will allow you to upgrade if you find your website is getting too much traffic with shared hosting. VPS hosting is good for medium-sized websites, such as a small eCommerce shop, with the ability to buy more space on the server if required.

Cloud hosting is for medium to large businesses that grow rapidly. It gives you more flexibility with only paying for what you need, even if your website traffic fluctuates throughout the year. Dedicated hosting is more for bigger enterprise style businesses with larger amounts of traffic.   

Also, make sure you find out what each hosting service provides in their packages. Some things to look out for are:  

Uptime

Uptime refers to having access to a website or service. The standard website availability is 99.99% and is the percent you should be looking for, as 100% isn’t always possible. 99.99%, when calculated, is 52 minutes and 36 seconds of downtime per year.

Load or Page speed

Load time refers to how fast a web page will load. The average user expects web pages to load within 2 seconds, so most web hosting providers are very competitive in offering that load time in their packages. It is an important part of web hosting. Low uptime and slow load speed can affect your website’s ranking on Google and potentially lose your website viewers.  

Price

Some hosting providers will offer you a special price if it’s your first time using a hosting service. While a discount can be good initially, notice the regular yearly fee for when you will have to renew your plan. Choose the most affordable plan that will benefit your needs the most.  

Features

Different hosting providers will offer different features, but some common features to look for are:  

  • Domain name

Most hosting providers will offer a domain name included in their package. It’s a good thing to look for to have your hosting and domain name with the same company. Domain names are usually quite cheap to register, averaging about £8 a year. Some hosting providers like Bluehost and Godaddy even offer free domain names if you buy one of their hosting plans.  

  • Disk Storage

Everything on your website, HTML (text), images, video, and other media files, will have files and code. Files need to be stored somewhere, so hosting providers will include disk storage space in their packages. The amount you need will vary depending on the type of website you will have, but a good reference point is: 

50KB average page size = 20 pages on 1MB disk space  

100MB disk space = 200 pages on your website  

Most hosting providers will allow you to buy more space when you need it or upgrade to another hosting plan if it’s required.  

  • Bandwidth

Each time someone visits your page, your web server will send the data required to your visitor to view your page, a process which is called bandwidth. Bandwidth refers to the amount of data transferrable to and from your web server.

Depending on the amount of traffic running through your website, your web server may not keep up with sending the data to visitors when they need it. This will result in slow loading times for the user.

To ensure this doesn’t happen, you need to have enough bandwidth allocated for your website. You won’t need a massive amount of bandwidth when you’re starting, but here’s a summary to help you understand the amount you may need better –

20,000 visitors per month + 5 pages per visitor = 5000MB/5GB bandwidth  

Note* 20,000 ÷ 30 days = 667 website visitors a day.

Most hosting providers will also offer ‘unmetered’ bandwidth, which means you’re not charged on the disk space or bandwidth you use. Still, if you go over a certain amount on hosting plans where you’re sharing with other users, you will get a warning email from the hosting provider recommending you change plans.

  • SSL Certificate

A SSL certificate is like security for your website. It will make sure no hacker can steal any data from your website or customer information, like emails, credit card numbers, or their home address, by encrypting your website.

Having an SSL Certificate will show your website is secure and trustworthy to visitors and potential customers to your website or business. Having an SSL Certificate will help Google rank you higher in search results. Most hosting providers will include a free SSL Certificate in their plans.  

  • Customer support

Lots of hosting providers offer 24/7 customer support through phone, email, or live chat. It’s important finding a hosting provider that will respond quickly to any inquiries or problems you may have as you want them to be resolved as soon as possible.

Excellent customer support will help you a lot as a beginner to web hosting. Customer support should be happy to help with any questions you may have, no matter how big or small.

Choosing a Domain Name

What is a Domain Name?

A domain name is your website address, similar to a street address. It is everything that comes after the www. It is what people type in the URL bar to find you on the internet.

The domain name is separate from web hosting and your website creation, meaning you can’t have one without the other as web hosting is like the house to your domain address.  

A domain name is a vital part of your brand and online presence. A good domain name needs to be one people can remember easily and is relevant to the brand you’re creating.  

You may have noticed some domain names have different extensions to them, e.g., .com, .edu, .uk, .org. These were to originally group domain names into categories. 

Top Level Domains (TLDs)

These are the most known domain extensions– .com, .edu, .org, to name a few. They represent high-quality websites, such as organisations (.org) and educational (.edu) platforms. They are the most recognised, especially .com, and are the highest ranking on the domain name system.
 

Country Code Top Level Domains (ccTLDs)

These are the domain names with geographical extensions– .uk for the United Kingdom, .de for Germany, .au for Australia. Sometimes proof of residency may be needed to register ccTLDs as they help websites target specific geographical audiences. 

Once you decide on a domain name, seeing if it is available to use will be your next step. There are 359 million domain names currently registered and continue to rise every year.

Luckily you can find tools that will help you check what domain name you can use. A simple Google search of best domain registrars will help you see if anyone uses the name you want. 

Read our specific article on find out more detail on how to choose a domain name.


Chapter #4

DNS & Name Server

What is the Domain Name System?

options

Domain Name Systems (DNS) is like the internet’s version of a phone number. We see websites as words that we can remember easily, but the internet sees numbers known as an Internet Protocol (IP) address. Every website has an IP address, and this is how the web browsers interact and process the data.  

DNS servers are important for both the internet and people. It saves us, humans, from memorising numbers for websites by converting the IP addresses into a familiar string of words that are easy for us to remember.  

What is a Name Server? 

A name server works alongside the DNS to process the information from when you type in a website to when the DNS receives the IP address. Just like the DNS is the phone number for the internet, name servers act as the phonebook.

Two name servers must be listed when registering your domain name, a primary server and a secondary server, which is used as a backup if the primary server isn’t responding. 

Changing Name Servers 

Changing name servers is something you’ll only have to worry about if you’re changing hosting providers, when creating a new site or if the hosting provider makes any changes to name servers.

It’s not a hard process to do, with most hosting companies allowing you to change details through the name server section. Most hosting providers have easy to follow instructions if you are planning to change hosting companies.

Chapter #5

Software Types

Web Hosting Software Options

software

Hosting software helps you to manage your website, files, databases, emails, etc. Easy to use software will allow you to upload your files, manage your website, and read your analytics. 

Depending on the hosting provider, the software options might be different. Hosting software has different features; some can be more beneficial than others. Two software choices most hosting providers offer are Linux or Windows.

Linux is good for start-up companies, whereas Windows is more expensive to run. Larger existing companies tend to choose Windows. Hosting providers that offer Windows tend to charge a higher monthly fee than Linux hosting. 

Although, just because you have a Windows operating system on your computer does not mean you have to choose Windows software for your web hosting. Many people choose Linux for their software.

People often get confused on this subject as both offer operating systems also.

Read – Linux or Windows. Which Operating Software Should You Choose?

Known for their excellent customer service Linux also have a versatile and easy-to-use interface, even as a beginner. Most hosting providers include Linux in their packages, so you have a wider range of hosting companies to choose from. 

Linux

If you plan to use file types like PHP, Perl, WordPress, MySQL, etc., they will run more efficiently on a Linux based server. Linux is an open-sourced operating system, which means the source codes can be used, modified, and redistributed in a commercial and non-commercial capacity.

Linux servers offer more customisation capabilities and user options by providing ready-to-use tools and single-click installs of other platforms, such as WordPress. Linux also offers eCommerce tools and management systems, making it easy to manage your site and content on your website. 

Windows 

If you will use file types like ASP, .NET, Microsoft Access, or Microsoft SQL Server files, a Windows platform is the software your hosting provider will use. Linux files will still work on Windows software, but since Windows have additional fees for software that is free on Linux, it can be a costly way to begin your website journey.  

Control Panels 

Control panels are a crucial part of a hosting provider. If you’re using a control panel, you can manage basic server configurations, email addresses, account passwords, etc. It is an easy process using the graphical interface and through the automation of tools which help you design and maintain your website 

CPanel & WHM – suited more for Linux servers, cPanel & WHM (Web Host Manager) provides you with the tools to manage your sites, emails, and calendars and manage your domain. 

Plesk – a more suitable control panel for Windows servers, Plesk also helps you set up new websites, manage email accounts, account passwords, etc., through its interface.  

vDeck – a control panel that allows website owners to control their web presence, providing many of the same benefits as cPanel & WHM and Plesk, although it appears not to be as popular as cPanel and Plesk. 

The control panel choices will come down to the user’s preference, as they all mostly offer the same benefits. All three are pretty straightforward and easy to use, so managing your website will be no problem with access to a control panel.

Finding a hosting provider that has everything you will need for your website is the most important part. Remember, most hosting providers will allow you to upgrade your plan. Generally, there is no need to start with the most expensive hosting packages.  

By following the steps in this beginner’s guide to web hosting of picking a domain name, registering it, picking a web host, and building your website, you will be well on your way to a successful website in no time.

While this may seem like an exhausting amount of work to create a website, web hosting companies do a lot of the work for you and will help you if you need it.

Chapter #6

Hosting Glossary

Common Hosting Terms

glossary

Web hosting terminology can be a bit confusing, particularly when looking for a new web host. So we put together this handy web hosting glossary of the most common used terms. 

Bandwidth: The amount of data that can be transferred to or from your website each second.

Cloud hosting: Cloud hosting mirrors your data across multiple storage devices instead of having it on just one machine. This redundancy ensures reliability for your site.

CDN: A content delivery network (CDN) is a system of servers distributed across multiple data centers around the world that delivers web content, specifically static files like your website’s images and page styles, to end users.

Control panel: The control panel is the nerve center of your hosting account. This is where you can add new domains, create email addresses and install applications.

Data center: A data center is a specialised facility that houses thousands of servers that are connected via a network to the Internet.

Dedicated hosting: Dedicated hosting allows you to lease an entire server for your use rather than sharing it with other users or organisations

DNS: The Domain Name System (DNS) translates easy-to-remember domain names to numerical IP addresses.

Domain name: A domain name, like Bluehost.com, is used to identify the location of a particular web page.

Domain registrar: A domain registrar is a company accredited by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to register and manage domain names.

HTML: HyperText Markup Language (HTML) is a computer language that tells your browser how to display a web page.

HTTP: HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP) is an application protocol for transferring files on the web. Think of it as the foundation of the internet.

HTTPS: HyperText Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS) is the use of HTTP over a secure connection, most commonly in conjunction with Transport Layer Security (TLS).

IP address: Each internet-connected computer has at least one IP address, a unique sequence of numbers and/or letters, that serves two purposes: host or network interface identification (who it is) and location addressing (where it is).

Server: A server is a powerful computer designed for a specific task. For example, hosting servers are programmed to serve up web content.

Shared hosting: Shared hosting is when your website resides on a server alongside other people’s sites. The server’s available resources are shared by all the sites.

SSL certificate: An SSL certificate is used to provide third-party validation of your encryption key, so someone else can’t pretend to be your website.

TLDs: Top-level domains (TLDs) are the suffixes, such as .com, .space, and .website, at the end of every web address.

Uptime: The amount of time the server is uninterrupted and your website is accessible. This can be measured linearly or as a percentage (100 percent uptime over the last 3 months).

VPS: A virtual private server (VPS) is a web hosting server that is partitioned into sections that act as virtual dedicated servers, with each being assigned to only one user at a time.

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