Getting your first website on the internet is an exciting process! It’s one of the first steps of launching an online business or expanding your existing operations to a broader audience. Sure, at first it can feel daunting if you have no previous experience or technical knowledge, but it can be rather easy to grasp with the right information.
When I started designing and putting websites online, besides taking courses, I had to read through hundreds of articles and watch countless videos as I moved from easier hosting solutions to more complex ones.
To alleviate that burden for anyone starting out, here’s my guide for absolute beginners to set you on the right path!
After you’ve read this guide, you’ll know what website hosting is, why it is necessary, the different types of hosting solutions available, and how to choose the right one according to your needs.
Finally, I will set you on the right path to complement the information from this guide. Let’s go!
First things first: What is a Website, and How does it relate to Hosting?
To really understand web hosting, we must first comprehend what is a website and how they are made.
A Website in itself is just a collection of images, text, and code. And to be honest, code is just a special type of text that instructs a website how to act when people interact with the rest of the content. So one could say that websites are just a collection of images and text.
That’s just but one piece of the puzzle! All that content needs to be stored somewhere. You know that from your personal experience with any device (be that your phone, tablet, laptop, or PC), all those cute cat and puppy pictures take up some storage space: the same principle applies to websites!
Now, that’s where a Hosting Provider comes into play: a web host is a service provider that rents special computers, which are connected to the internet and run 24/7, to store (Host) all the information/content (images, text, and code) that conforms a website. This is a Server, and it’s the Core of Web Hosting.
Domain Names are what we call Web Addresses, aka the URL of a website, and it has a very special role for users!
You see, servers by themselves don’t have an easy-to-remember Domain Name attached. What they do have is an IP address, which is very much like an ID number. But, who goes around saying “Greetings, I’m ID 982…”?
Domain Names (Web Addresses) exist to facilitate the users with access to the Our Websites Content with an easy-to-remember name instead of long boring IP numbers.
The advantage of Domain Names being separated from Servers IDs is that if we ever migrate our website to a more powerful server or a different hosting provider, our visitors will still have easy access to our site instead of trying to memorize our new server ID.
To wrap up this first part, we just learned that an online website consists of three systems working together:
- The Website Content — images, text, and code.
- The Web Server — a special PC connected to the internet that stores all the content and provides users access to said content.
- The Domain Name — which allows easy access to the server and its content by writing the website’s address (URL) on a browser like Firefox or Chrome.
So far, so good! Now that you know what is a website and the systems needed to have them working online, it’s time to tackle the big questions.
In this next section, we’ll learn all about choosing a hosting provider based on your needs. Remember, it is far better that you understand the principles than me taking you by the hand.
How to choose the Best Web Hosting for Beginners?
- The technologies you’ve used to build your website
- The peak amount of visitors you expect to receive at any given moment
Let’s go through the first one, it will make it easier to explain the second one later on.
Choosing a Hosting Provider Depends on How you’ve built your site.
The 3 Main Ways How Websites Are Built
From my experience as a web designer and webmaster, I’d say these are 3 ways to develop and build a website:
- Website Builders: Shopify, Wix, Squarespace, and Webflow are some great examples.
- Custom Code Site: everything is built from scratch by a web developer that works both on the front end and back end.
- Using a CMS (Content Management System): WordPress, Ghost, Magento, and PrestaShop are some names you may have heard before.
Choosing a Hosting Provider Based on How your Website was Built
In the case of Website Builders (such as Wix, Squarespace, or Shopify) they already integrate hosting into their monthly plans, so you really don’t have to worry about hosting if you’re using their services.
On the other hand, if your website has been built from scratch or developed with a CMS like WordPress, you’ll need to acquire the services of a hosting provider.
Website Builders focus on providing users with everything they need from the get-go, they’re primarily created for inexperienced users and ease of use, so hosting is included in their plans to facilitate users.
On the other hand, Custom Code and CMS sites can be developed online (on a live server) or offline (on your local computer), if you choose the latter, once they’re ready you can upload them to a server!
The 4 types of Website Hosting — Which is the best for beginners?
Grab a cup of coffee and take a deep breath, we’re almost done here! This is the last mile!
From the previous section, you know that if you’re planning to use a Website Builder Service, choosing a hosting provider is something you shouldn’t be worried about.
In case you’re looking for Custom Code or CMS site (such as WordPress), stick around because you’ll learn how to choose the best web host based on your needs!
So, these are the main types of hosting solutions in my experience, ranked by their ease of use (easier to harder) and the amount of traffic they can handle:
- Shared Hosting
- Virtual Private Servers Hosting (VPS)
- Dedicated Servers Hosting
- Cloud Hosting
Remember we talked about servers being special computers that we rent to store all the components of our website? You know, the images, text, and code? Awesome!
Shared Hosting is a type of web hosting in which One Server is shared by many websites. It’s basically the same concept as coworking spaces: we all rent monthly the same office building (hence we can have a cheaper price) but we have to share the same space and building resources.
In the case of Shared hosting, the Server would be the office building, and each Website a Worker. So all Websites share the Server Resources including storage space, CPU, and memory. Despite the intuitive thought of “there’s no way that can be a good idea”, it is in a fact a good one, and that’s why many Small Businesses and Personal Websites get started on shared hosting! In fact, Website Builders Companies, use shared hosting.
Sure it has its limitations, but it also holds many advantages: it’s cheap and easy to set up everything (even your own custom emails!), and since usually these plans are aimed at beginners, these website hosting companies provide great customer support.
One of the bests companies for Shared Hosting is SiteGround, I can’t recommend them enough, great support, and great service.
Finally, Shared Hosting has no access to control the features of the server, which is something most users won’t be concerned with since that is only needed when building a web app.
One note about Shared Hosting, it’s especially popular among WordPress Websites solutions due to their reliability and affordability.
And what about a VPS? Should you use it to host your first site?
In terms of Hosting Solutions, VPSes are the next level in the game, in fact, I’d say it’s like going from driving a bike with training wheels to a motorcycle. Sure, you are moving forward, but it’s a whole different experience and skill set.
VPS stands for Virtual Private Server, and going back to the office analogy, instead of renting a coworking space, here you’re renting multiple floors, but it comes with certain conditions. You’ll be in charge of setting up everything, taking care of maintenance, and everything else.
So it’s just as if you have leased the whole floor(s) / building for yourself. It may sound like hard work, but the advantage is that a whole part of the Server Resources is solely dedicated to your website projects and your visitors.
It may sound like it’s extremely complicated, but most VPS companies have already set up automatic installations that get you started without the need of doing anything at all! (Except if you’re trying to host your own email!)
VPS hold more power than shared hosting since you’ll get dedicated resources for your websites (your working team), they’ll own their spaces, and have the ability to handle heavier loads from the users.
BUT! Is it necessary? That’s the real question! If your users don’t do some heavy interaction with your website (such as uploading multiple pictures, doing multiple requests, and things that you would expect from an app) it isn’t really necessary.
Dedicated Server Hosting vs VPS in a nutshell
Well, well, going back to the whole building analogy, if a VPS is leasing one or multiple floors; a Dedicated Server is like renting the whole building.
And in the Website hosting world as I said before, it doesn’t matter if you get just one floor or the whole building, you’re responsible for everything from maintenance to security to ensure the operability of your workspace.
A Dedicated Server, as its name implies, is when you rent a Whole Server for your exclusive use. It does have a premium price, and small companies wouldn’t see any benefit from this, so it’s a no-go for them. Also if you just want to have a simple blog it’s definitely not worth it unless you have hundreds of websites.
And What About Cloud Hosting? Do I need it as a Beginner?
Cloud Hosting is kind of interesting, going back to the coworking example, this is as if you were leasing multiple floors and buildings all at once with one key difference, which is that, unlike VPSes, Cloud Hosting resources are distributed among multiple computers in multiple locations.
So its more similar to having multiple coworking locations worldwide; it’s almost like having a global franchise, but you are the Only One in Charge of it.
From the previous example, it’s definitely a no-go for most people. If you were to create the next big social media app for thousands of users to use at the same time, sure, go for it.
But if you’re just hosting an online store, a VPS would be more than enough, even Shared Hosting can handle eCommerce demands which is what most Website Builder companies do anyway!
So Which is the best web hosting solution for beginners?
- Are you using a Website Builder? Then hosting is something you shouldn’t be worried about since your Website Builder Service will provide it with your monthly plan.
- Looking forward to building a site with a CMS such as WordPress? Being one of the most popular solutions on the market, there are many web hosting providers that offer reliable shared hosting plans at insanely cheap prices.
- Building a Custom Code Website? In that case, a VPS is the best solution to get started.
In the case of CMS sites and Custom Code websites, you can get around from cheap shared hosting to cloud hosting or dedicated servers. It will ultimately depend on the amount of traffic that you get. For most people starting out, shared hosting will be more than enough to get the ball rolling, next level would be to get a VPS, which can handle hundreds of users at the same time.
To conclude, by understanding the principles of what are websites and how they’re built, as well as their relationship to hosting, you can now choose the right web host based on your particular needs and goals. This may seem daunting at first, but with a little extra research, you’ll find the perfect host for your needs. Keep this guide in mind and you’ll be sure to find a great provider in no time!