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What is web hosting?

Web hosting is the act of putting a website online so that other people on the internet can see it. This is separate from actually building the website, which involves writing code, making images and setting up its structure.

More specifically, web hosting refers to services that offer to host your sites for you in exchange for a fee. They do this by setting aside space on their servers for your site and handling the traffic it receives.

Every website online is hosted in one way or another, and if you want your website to be accessible, you’ll need to get it hosted. Using one of these hosting services is almost always the easiest way to do so.

Check out our review of the best web hosting services

web hosting

Can’t you host a website by yourself?

It is indeed possible to host a website by yourself. You can actually do it on any computer you want, as long as it’s connected to the internet.

However, there’s several very good reasons why you should delegate this to a professional web hosting service instead.

For one thing, your technology setup likely isn’t made to host websites. If your computer ever turns off or crashes, your website won’t be accessible.

Similarly, you won’t have fast enough internet speeds to serve all the people trying to access your site at once. This will lead to delays, outages and frustration.

Beyond that, there’s also numerous security risks that come with hosting your own site.

Besides the fact that it’s a lot easier to accidentally break things when they’re on your own machine, it means that if hackers manage to compromise your website, they’ll also have direct access to the rest of your computer.

This would make it easy for sensitive information, such as user data and passwords, to be stolen.

Why use web hosting services?

To put it simply, web hosters are experts at what they do and have the resources to do it effectively.

Even the smallest web hosting service will have massive servers, many times bigger and quicker than your personal computer, and they’ll have the bandwidth to serve tens of thousands of people at once.

Beyond that, when you use a web hosting service, you’re offloading the responsibility to keep the site available and secure to them.

They can use advanced security techniques to make sure your site’s data never gets lost or stolen, and that it only goes down very rarely, if ever.

What are the different kinds of web hosting?

Though it isn’t usually something you notice while just browsing the web, there’s actually several different ways to get your site online. Web hosting services often specialise in one kind or another, and it’s important to know if what they offer is right for you.

Shared web hosting

This is the most basic kind of web hosting, and as a result, it’s also the cheapest. It’s called ‘shared’ web hosting because you share one of the service’s servers with other clients, meaning that your website will be fighting for resources with other people’s pages.

Virtual private servers (VPS)

This option is similar to shared hosting, because your site is still living on the same server as other webpages. The big difference, however, is that each site gets a clearly-outlined chunk of the server to live in, meaning that they won’t step on each others’ toes or steal their resources.

Check out this guide to the best VPS hosting

Cloud hosting

Cloud hosting services leverage the power of the cloud – which is really just distributed computing – to offer higher reliability for your website.

Rather than getting just one server, your site instead lives on a host of small servers which can step in to support each other if traffic gets particularly busy, or if one of them goes down.

Cloudways offers one of the best cloud hosting services, check out their latest hosting deals.

Dedicated hosting

As the name suggests, some services will let you rent out a dedicated server, which is yours to do with as you like.

This is in many ways the most powerful of all the options, because you have nearly complete control in how the website is set up, configured and served to users.

Liquid Web offer great dedicated hosting services, check out their latest hosting deals.

What kind of web hosting is right for me?

Now that you know what the main kinds of web hosting are, you should consider which is best for your business. Each has its own pros and cons for each kind of business, so let’s break them down.

Shared hosting

The big advantage of shared hosting is that it’s cheap – you can often get a site online for pennies at a time. The downside to this, however, is that it’s fighting for resources with other pages and won’t scale well to large amounts of traffic.

That means shared hosting is best for small or temporary sites that you don’t expect to get lots of attention. Some examples include sites for local businesses, or personal blogs.

VPS

VPS hosting is usually slightly more expensive than shared options, but it makes up for this by being much more capable at handling larger levels of network traffic. This makes it a good choice if you’re trying to upscale your company, or simply found yourself going viral and need a quick upgrade.

The biggest downside, however, is that you’ll usually require a bit more technical skill to get everything set up correctly. At this level and onwards, it’s usually worth looking into hiring a server administrator to take care of upkeep for you.

Cloud hosting

Cloud hosting has the greatest reliability of any option, due to its inherent redundancy. If you’re running a site that offers crucial information or services, you should likely go with a cloud-hosted option, as it vastly reduces the chances that it’ll ever be unavailable.

Dedicated hosting

Finally, dedicated hosting is great for sites that don’t fit the mold and need heavy customisation. Since you have complete control over the hosting server, you can squeeze out every bit of performance possible to ensure your users have a seamless experience.

The natural downside, of course, is that you have to know how to manage a server. As mentioned before, this can quickly get very technical, and it’s a good idea to have an expert on hand to handle this for you. Your web hosting service may offer support staff that take over this role for you.

What sets web hosting services apart from each other?

No two web hosting platforms are the same – they all compete on a core set of points that directly affect the performance of your website. Let’s break down what these points are so you can best decide which of them matters most to your own projects.

Processing power and space

The bigger your site is, the more space it’s going to take up on the hosting service’s server. While there are endless tricks to compress your code and reduce its overall footprint, some sites are just inherently large – WordPress alone takes up thirty megabytes, for instance.

Similarly, if your site does lots of complicated work – maybe it hosts a game users can play in their browser, for example – it’s going to eat into how much the hosting server can do at once.

These are all things you can measure before buying a web hosting service by simply running the site on your local machine. Use testing to determine how much memory it takes up on average, and how large the install will be on the web server.

This will let you choose a plan that covers your needs, while still hopefully giving you a little wriggle room for later growth.

Bandwidth

Bandwidth is the rate of data transfer. It is the measure of the maximum amount of data a server is able to transfer in a given time. If you have a small website, you won’t use as much bandwidth.

However, if you have a large website, with large photos and media, then your bandwidth requirement will be a lot higher.

This is the big one – how much traffic can your website get? Strictly speaking, this only refers to how much data a server can send back and forth in a given amount of time, but in reality you should also consider if the hosting service has any caps on the total amount of data you can transfer, or a numerical limit on how many people can visit your site per month.

It’s harder to judge how much bandwidth you’ll need before your site launches, but you can make an educated guess based on the size of your company. If you’re a start-up, go small; if you’re already an established business, scale to the size of your last site.

Reliability

One of the biggest advantages to putting content online is that it’s available 24/7, without interruptions or delays. This means that when webpages do go down, it’s usually the result of a serious error.

A web hosting service’s general reliability is usually measured by what’s called ‘uptime’, which is just how long your site’s been live without any technical issues.

Hosting services will usually reserve a certain amount of time for essential tasks, like server maintenance, where your site will have to go down for a short period. You should naturally try to find a provider with the highest ratio of uptime to downtime possible.

Cloud-hosting services deserve a special mention here, as their inherent redundancy means that many providers offer ‘no downtime’ policies, where you’ll get reimbursed if your site ever goes down at all.

Security

There are numerous optional or paid steps that hosting services can take to increase the security of your site.

Most important is an SSL (secure sockets layer) certificate, which is essentially what allows users to know that nobody is listening in on their connection from the outside. It’s essential for any kind of business that has to deal with sensitive information, like passwords or credit card details.

Support

While it’s likely still a good idea to have someone in your organisation familiar with basic server administration, your web hosting service might actually provide much of this for you.

While the precise level of support usually depends on how much you’re paying for your hosting plan, almost all companies offer some way for you to contact them with questions, help or issues in case of things breaking down.

It’s a good idea to check your hosting service’s support plan in advance – you don’t want to find out you’re not eligible for the support you need in the middle of a crisis.

Web hosting features

Here’s some of features web hosting services include, so you can choose the best plan and provider for your website.

RAM

RAM means random access memory. 

RAM is memory for temporary data when your website is running multiple processes at the same time.
The more processes your website runs, the more RAM it will need to use. Websites with lots of features or ‘scripts’ will need more RAM avoid problems with the website loading.

Storage

Hosting storage space is the total amount of space on a hosting server where you store files used to create your website. These files can be images, HTML files, website scripts and emails.

If your website has a lot of files, you’ll need a larger amount of storage space. If you website is for a small blog or local business, you won’t need as much.

CPU

CPU is a central process unit. More CPUs can store more information and process it faster. CPUs can get overloaded by multiple requests at once, if your site has a lot of traffic.

This can cause the website’s performance to suffer, slowing it down and damaging the user experience. Therefore if you have a larger website with lots of users, you will need a higher amount of CPUs.

Uptime

Uptime is the amount of time your website is live without any technical problems.

This is usually measured as a percentage of the time, with a small amount of downtime where your website will not be live due to the server being down for maintenance or technical issues.

You want as close to 100% uptime as possible, so that your website is always visible.

Free Domain Name

Some web hosting services will offer a free domain name (web address). Check the offer, as this may only be for the first year, and may only include certain domain names.

SSL Certificate 

Some web hosts include an SSL certificate with your hosting plan. If an SSL is not included, you will need to purchase this separately.

Support

Web hosting providers offer different levels of customer support. This may be by phone, email or live chat and may or may not be available on a 24/7 basis.

If you are a beginner, you may need extensive support in order to help you with any questions you may have. Whereas if you’re a developer or are experienced with setting up websites and hosting, you may only need live chat support for any queries you have.

Check out our review of the best web hosting services, or use our comparison tool above to compare web hosting deals and find the best for you!

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siteground vps hosting

SiteGround GoGeek

£29.99

siteground vps hosting

SiteGround GoGeek

siteground vps hosting

SiteGround GoGeek

Siteground is power by Google’s servers, so you’re guaranteed speed and reliability. 100% the energy consumed by their operations is powered by renewable energy. They offer security focused, full managed hosting plans and website services.

£29.99

siteground vps hosting

SiteGround GrowBig

£19.99

siteground vps hosting

SiteGround GrowBig

siteground vps hosting

SiteGround GrowBig

Siteground is power by Google’s servers, so you’re guaranteed speed and reliability. 100% the energy consumed by their operations is powered by renewable energy. They offer security focused, full managed hosting plans and website services.

£19.99

siteground vps hosting

SiteGround StartUp

£11.99

siteground vps hosting

SiteGround StartUp

siteground vps hosting

SiteGround StartUp

Siteground is power by Google’s servers, so you’re guaranteed speed and reliability. 100% the energy consumed by their operations is powered by renewable energy. They offer security focused, full managed hosting plans and website services.

£11.99

Fasthosts Ultimate

£20.00

Fasthosts Ultimate

Fasthosts Ultimate

Fasthosts is a UK based website services provider with data centres based in the UK, powered by 100% renewable energy. Fasthosts has a 4/5 Trustpilot rating and offers web hosting plans from just £1.

£20.00

Fasthosts Momentum

£10.00

Fasthosts Momentum

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Fasthosts is a UK based website services provider with data centres based in the UK, powered by 100% renewable energy. Fasthosts has a 4/5 Trustpilot rating and offers web hosting plans from just £1.

£10.00

Fasthosts Ignite

£5.00

Fasthosts Ignite

Fasthosts Ignite

Fasthosts is a UK based website services provider with data centres based in the UK, powered by 100% renewable energy. Fasthosts has a 4/5 Trustpilot rating and offers web hosting plans from just £1.

£5.00