What is web hosting?

We’re asked questions about web hosting all the time. It’s one of those subjects that non-technical people find tricky to grasp, and it is indeed complicated. Here’s our plain language guide to hosting, what it is, does and means for you. This should answer your questions.

What does web hosting mean?

A smartphone analogy works well. Say your website domain name is the phone number, and the web hosting is the handset. They’re distinct and separate, but you can’t make calls without a handset and phone number. In the same way, you can’t run a website without a host.

That’s all you really need to know from a non-technical perspective. The fine detail is, as you can imagine, tricky stuff, and if you want to delve into it’s complexities there’s all manner of guidance and information online. In the meantime, here are answers to the most common questions we’re asked about hosting.

In essence, web hosting is a large computer that is connected to the internet as a server. It houses all the files that make up your website. This space is rented and is usually renewed annually or charged for on a monthly basis. It is not possible to buy a permanent space on these computers, without buying a gigantic computer yourself and hosting the site personally. However, these aren’t small desktop computers. These are big super-cooled, warehouse-sized computers which are geared up to deliver websites at great speed all around the world. Only the very biggest companies or very savvy IT firms tend to host their website themselves and it is an increasingly bad decision. They just can’t compete with the infrastructure that you can buy into so cheaply through specialist hosting companies. This is a paid serving that every website you ever visit is actively investing in.

Why not just go for GoDaddy or another cheap host?

Because hosting is one of those sectors where you pay peanuts and get monkeys. Cheap really does mean nasty, almost all of the time. If you know all about hosting and can do stuff like set up your own host servers from scratch, cheap is fine. Otherwise, don’t go there if you want regular, reliable service and the chance to talk to a human straight away if something goes wrong.

Here’s another analogy. Do you want to build your web presence on sand or rock foundations? No contest. Cheap hosting often comes with severe limitations on the amount of resource you’re allowed to use, very little flexibility, no guarantees for uptime and lamentable customer support… which is one of the most important things of all.

Good hosting costs more than GoDaddy, but less than you think. Because it sits at the foundation of every website, it’s really important to get it right and be prepared to pay a fair price for something worth having, which’ll support your business now and in future rather than hold it back.

What happens when hosting goes wrong?

Your site can disappear completely, which is dreadful. Your visitors might find it crashes at busy times because there’s not enough space or resource at the host end, a good way to drive people away in droves. It might run like a dog… an exceptionally old and slow dog. And the actual machinery – whether virtual or hardware – might simply fall over. It isn’t unheard of, but if you pay a pound a year for cheap hosting in Russia, what can you expect?

Can’t you do it all yourself?

Of course, given the expertise and time to manage and maintain your own web hosting it’s entirely possible.  But as a rule only big companies with teams of IT people working on their web servers go it alone. It’s a lot of work.

What’s the connection between email and hosting?

Where do emails fit in? We recommend hosting email separately from your website, for belt and braces security and safety. WpEngine specialise in WordPress, not emails, and the simplest and commonest email software is usually the best. We recommend our clients use Office 365 or Google apps, like billions of other people around the world. They work.

Can you move hosts?

Of course, but it isn’t always the simplest job and things can easily go horribly wrong. It makes more sense to get it right first time and stick with a host which does the job rather than host-hopping, with all the technical and commercial risks involved.

Which host do we trust with our lives?

First, we know how difficult it is to find a host you can trust, that’s reliable, secure, flexible and supports business excellence. After a few false starts and a whole load of research, we found WpEngine and we’ve never looked back. Their services help us explain web hosting and what makes a keeper, a host you want to stay with for the duration. Take a look at this.

Things the best website hosts provide

  • Super-fast hosting means you get top website performance, with your site served up locally and fast, wherever you are in the world.
  • Unparalleled scalability means the host’s capability grows along with your business. The tech copes perfectly at all times, even through big spikes in extra traffic which can easily make a site hosted with a lesser provider fall over.
  • Great hosts like WpEngine provide simple Google apps for email and communications and they take backups seriously, with daily site backups enabling 20 second site reinstatement at the click of a button. They specialise in WordPress hosting, which means they serve WP sites beautifully, as steady as a rock.
  • Last but not least, because development takes place on duplicate files your website stays in draft until you’re 100% happy to press ‘go’. Not every host allows this.

Shouldn’t my web agency provide hosting for life?

It’d be lovely if pigs flew. But because it costs real money to keep websites online via a good host, it isn’t realistic. During the course of your web project your web agency will usually host the website on their own servers. However in order for the site to go live they will need to move the site from their systems onto your own web hosting package. We work exclusively with WpEngine and recommend them to all our clients.

We’ve rolled their hosting into the various monthly support packages that our clients can buy to ensure top class web hosting and ongoing maintenance.  Which means their hosting is safe, sound and placed with our best-ever hosts, WpEngine. Not a bad deal, if we say so ourselves!