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Web Hosting Explained

What is Web Hosting?

A “Web Host” is a computer where people store their websites. “Web Hosting” refers to the service that rents out their computers to store your website files, including HTML files, databases, images, and videos; and provides Internet connectivity so that your users can access your website.

Importance of Web Hosting in Today's World

Web hosting plays a crucial role in the digital era as the backbone of internet presence. By providing storage and accessibility for websites, it fosters global information exchange and e-commerce activities. A good hosting service improves webpage load speed, and website uptime; and directly influences user experience and search engine rankings.

How Does Web Hosting Service Work?

Web hosting services function by offering storage for the files that make up your website and the software, physical hardware, as well as network infrastructure that makes your website accessible to users online.

Most web hosting companies in today's market also provide other value-added services and features. This includes domain registration, email hosting, website design, social media marketing, search engine optimization, as well as website technical support

Domain Name vs Web Hosting

Web hosting and domain name are two different things. A domain name is the address of your website. Before you can set up a website, you will need a domain. Web Hosting, as mentioned earlier, is the computer where website owners store their files and database.

Web Hosting and Domain Name Explained
A domain name is like the address of your home. Web hosting, on the other hand, is the physical house where you store all your stuff; but instead of storing your clothes and furniture, you store computer files in a web hosting.

Web Hosting vs Data Center

The term “data center” refers to the facility that is used to house web servers.

A data center could be a room, a house, or a very large building equipped with redundant or backup power supplies, redundant data communications connections, and environmental controls such as air conditioning, fire suppression, and security devices.

Example of a server
This is a server, the name of this model: DELL 463-6080 Server. It looks and works like the desktop at your home – just slightly bigger and more powerful. Web hosting companies use servers like this to host their customers' websites.
Example of a data center
This is what a data center looks like from the inside, basically. Basically, it's just a cold room filled with lots of big computers. I took this photo during my visit to the Interserver data center.

Types of Web Hosting Services

Web hosting today is bundled and sold in many ways. Despite its relatively straightforward origins, consumer needs have evolved. Because of that, web hosting providers have also adjusted plans to meet customer demand.

Typically, there are four different types of hosting servers: Shared, Virtual Private Server (VPS), Dedicated, and Cloud Hosting.

Shared Hosting

Shared hosting is a type of web hosting plan where multiple websites share the same physical server. These websites make collective use of the server's resources – such as storage, core processing unit (CPU), and memory to operate.

VPS Hosting

VPS hosting refers to hosting services that use virtualization technology to divide a powerful server into multiple virtual servers. A VPS-hosted website is like being hosted on its own dedicated server, but it is actually sharing the server with a few different other users.

Dedicated Hosting

As the name implies, dedicated hosting allows clients exclusive use of an entire server. The server allocates all its resources entirely to an organization, individual, or application, giving the user complete customization and management control.

Cloud Hosting

Cloud hosting refers to hosting services that link up multiple servers to work together to handle high traffic levels or spikes for its users' websites. Instead of using a single server, a cloud-hosted website can tap into a network of servers that work together, often spread out across multiple locations. When one server goes down, the others take over, ensuring that your website stays up and running.

Learn more: Compare the pros and cons of different types of web hosting in this guide.

Key Features to Look for in a Great Web Host

Server Uptime

Nothing is more important than having a 24 x 7 operating web host, after all, your visitors may come to your site from time zones all over the world. You need a web host which is stable, both in terms of its servers as well as network connections. 99.95% is considered a norm these days, even for shared hosting accounts; anything below 99% is unacceptable. Premium accounts often boast of 99.99% or better uptimes.

There are a number of different ways to obtain web host uptime information. The simplest way to do so is by reading our hosting reviews – where we publish uptime records from time to time.

Alternatively, you can simply track your web host with server monitoring tools – many of these tools are available either for free or at the very least offer a trial period. They are efficient and very easy to use.

Web Hosting Speed

Web hosting speed is a crucial factor when choosing a web host due to its significant impact on user experience, search engine rankings, and conversion rates.

Fast server response times help ensure your website loads quickly – enhancing user engagement, improving your visibility on search engine results, and ultimately boosting your conversion rates. A slow-loading website, on the other hand, can lead to increased bounce rates, lower SEO rankings, and decreased sales as potential customers may abandon your site due to frustration.

The speed of your web hosting can be influenced by various factors

Server Hardware

The quality of your server's hardware can significantly impact your web hosting speed. Servers with modern, high-performance components, such as NVMe solid-state drives (NVMe SSDs) and ample RAM, can handle more data requests simultaneously and deliver data faster.

Server Software

The configuration of the server's software and the efficiency of its operating systems and databases can also influence hosting speed. Servers using lightweight software and optimized configurations can often deliver faster response times.


Bandwidth refers to the amount of data that can be transferred between your website and its users in a given amount of time. Higher bandwidth allows more data to be transferred simultaneously, which can lead to faster load times.

Server Location

The physical location of the server can affect how quickly data can be transferred to users. Choosing a web host with servers located near your target audience can help improve your website's loading times.

Test site hosted in the United States East Coast - Notice how physical distance affects web server response time. The closer your web host is to your targeted traffic, the faster your website loads.
The image shows the speed test result for one of our test sites. The test site is hosted at the United States East Coast. Notice how physical distance affects web server response time. The closer your web host is to your targeted traffic, the faster your website loads.

Essential Hosting Features

Although no two websites are alike and they all have different needs; there are a number of essential must-have features in a great web hosting offer. Comparing the specifications of these features can help you narrow your options and find a suitable web host.

Email Hosting

If you wish to host email accounts together with your website, then you should look at the email features before signup. Most hosting companies will come with the ability to host your own email (something like email@yourdomain.com) but hey, it's always better to check and be sure of it, yeah?

Free Site Migration Support

For existing website owners, you may want to consider a web host that offers free site migration. This service allows you to transfer your website to the new host for free.

Multiple Addon Domains

Domain names are cheap and most people tend to have more than one domain in their account. To accommodate these extra domains, we need extra hosting space. This is why it is important to have a web hosting account that allows adding multiple domains. Generally speaking, most mid-priced shared hosting plans allow at least 100 addon domains in one account nowadays but you can never be sure. Some years ago I was careless and signed up on a web host that allows only one domain. Unfortunately, I was holding more than 10 parked domains at that time. Do not repeat my mistake, check the domain capacity before you make a purchase.

Built-in One-click Installer

Whether you are totally new or experienced, a built-in One-click Installer like Softalucous makes your life a heck of a lot easier. Such an installation wizard helps you install things like WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, or a host of other web applications. All you'll need to do is fill in some names and perhaps specify a directory or so along the way.

FTP / sFTP Access

FTP / SFTP access is invaluable for moving large amounts of files safely. Some hosts try to get away with just the basic File Manager, but that is usually quite limited.

.htaccess File Access

The .htaccess file is also extremely powerful and can help you make site-wide administrative changes. It controls almost everything from redirects up to password authentication and management and will be vital at some point in your future endeavors.

Unless you are signing up on a specialty web host like WP Engine and Pressidium (these focus on WordPress hosting mainly), these basic features are a must-have. You should not settle with hosting providers that do not supply them.

Built-in Server Security

A good hosting company often comes with basic security measures to keep your website data secure. Providers that use malware and hack protection can offer more reliable security than those that do not implement these safety measures.

SSL Support

If you want visitors to feel confident that your website is safe to enter, you need to have an SSL certificate. We recommend looking for a web host that offers free SSL certificates, such as DreamHost or SiteGround.

Automatic Server Backup

Computers crash, equipment fails, these are the facts of life even as death and taxes are. Your site will also be vulnerable to these factors, or perhaps a hacker got into your WordPress blog and replaced your index.php file. Maybe your entire database got nuked.

If your web host does site backups regularly then there is nothing to worry about when these incidents happen. Your hosting provider should be able to restore your full site in no time at all (or at least, a big chunk of it).

On backups, here are a few key questions to ask your web host:

  • Does your web host provide full backups regularly?
  • Can site backup be done manually via the control panel?
  • Can you create auto backups of your site easily via cron jobs or other programs?
  • Can you restore your backup files by yourself easily so you don't have to wait for support staff to do it for you during a period of disaster recovery?

Tip: All features mentioned above are usually included in a good mid-ranged shared hosting plan, for example A2 Hosting (Drive Plan – $5.99/mo), Hostinger (Business Shared Hosting Plan – $4.99/mo), InMotion Hosting (Launch Plan – $4.99/mo). For those who are opting for the cheapest basic plan (which sometimes charge extra for some of these features) – do consider this and re-check on your actual monthly hosting cost.

Long Term Pricing

Web hosting plans are usually the cheapest during signup. Be aware though that these often come with a much higher renewal price, so be careful before clicking ‘buy' on that plan that is offering you a signup price at an 80% discount!

For your reference, here's the pricing for some popular shared hosting plans.

Web HostCheapest PlanRenewal PriceFree Domain?Free Site Migration?Site HostedMoney Back TrialLearn MoreOrder Now
Hostinger$1.99/mo$3.99/moNoYes130 DaysHostinger ReviewGet Hostinger
InterServer$2.50/mo$7.00/moNoYesUnlimited30 DaysInterserver ReviewGet InterServer
A2 Hosting$2.99/mo$10.99/moNoYes1AnytimeA2Hosting ReviewGet A2 Hosting
GreenGeeks$2.95/mo$10.95/moYesYes130 DaysGreenGeeks ReviewGet GreenGeeks
TMD Hosting$2.95/mo$4.95/moYesYes160 DaysTMD Hosting ReviewGet TMD Hosting
InMotion Hosting$2.29/mo$8.99/moYesYes290 DaysInMotion Hosting ReviewGet InMotion Hosting
ScalaHosting$3.95/mo$6.95/moYesYes130 DaysScalaHosting ReviewGet ScalaHosting
BlueHost$2.95/mo$9.99/moYesYes130 DaysBlueHost ReviewGet BlueHost
HostPapa$2.95/mo$9.99/moYesYes130 DaysHostPapa ReviewGet HostPapa

To avoid any unpleasant surprises, check the ToS and make sure you are okay with the renewal rates before signup.

Subscription Period

Do not be surprised if you discover some web hosts force their customers to take up unreasonably long contracts. Lunarpages, for example, changed their pricing structure in June 2009 and lured customers to take up a 5-year hosting contract in order to enjoy the $4.95/mo deal. Lunarpages no longer offers such a deal now the case can still serve as an example.

Should you commit to long term hosting contracts? Our answer is no – Never signup with a web host for any period of more than two years running unless they offer clear anytime money-back guarantees.

Environmental Friendly

Having an eco-friendly website host is a primary concern for some webmasters. According to science studies, a web server on average produces more than 630 kg of CO2 (which is a lot!) and consumes 1,000 KWh of energy annually. An eco-friendly web host on the other hand, theoretically produces zero CO2. There is indeed a huge difference between a green web host and a non-eco-friendly web host.

If you care about the environment and wish to reduce the carbon footprint attributed to your company or yourself, pick a web host that runs on renewable energy (or at least, a web host that offsets its energy consumption via green certificates).

Tip: Many hosting companies employ the “green marketing strategy” a  few years before but that seems to fade off nowadays. Based on my observation, Greengeeks is one of the few that's actively going green (check GreenGeeks' EPA Green Power Partner list here).

Web Hosting Control Panel

A user-friendly control panel with extensive functionality is very important, since it's the brain of your hosting account.

It doesn't matter if it's cPanel or Plesk or even a third-party control panel (like what Hostinger or ScalaHosting offers), as long as it is user-friendly and comes with all the necessary functions. Without an adequate control panel, you will be left at the mercy of the hosting tech support staff – even if all you need is some basic service.

I once had an account with IX Web Hosting. Although it was an excellent web host with great after-sales support – I had to cancel my account because its custom control panel was very user-unfriendly.

Control Panel Example
Example: ScalaHosting uses SPanel Web Hosting Control Panel – The user interface is as effective and easy to use.
Control Panel Example
Example: Hostinger separates Billing and Web Hosting Control into two user panels. This is useful for teams who wish to control access for different members (ie. Finance to log in for billing and Web Developer to login to Hosting).

How to Choose the Right Web Hosting Service?

To choose a web host suitable for your website, you need to first understand what you actually need. To begin, think about the following questions.

  • What kind of website are you building?
  • Do you want something common (a WordPress blog, perhaps)?
  • Do you need Windows applications?
  • Do you need support for a specific script (e.g. PHP)?
  • Does your website need special software?
  • How big (or small) can your web traffic volume go?

Picture in your mind what you want your website to be now, then build on that idea until you're roughly 12 months ahead of that. Don't just consider what you want to offer, but also what may want or need.

This ultimately boils down to one very simple fact: How many server resources will your website need?

Tips for Newbies

For newbies, the simple rule is to start small with an affordable shared hosting account. A shared hosting account is cheap, easy to maintain, and sufficient for most new sites. It also lets you focus on building your site without having to worry about other server-side tasks such as database maintenance and server security.

  • Pick a web hosting plan that you can afford for at least 2 years. Your website may not make any money at all, particularly at first, so you want to be sure you don’t have to shut the blog down because of a lack of funds.
  • You don't need expensive premium web hosting for now. An affordable shared hosting company should be good enough for now. Just remember to check about space limitations and server uptime.
  • Ask questions about customer support and if they will help you understand running a website because you are new to blogging.

Tips for Experienced Site Owners or Businesses

If you are running a large business server or carrying out a lot of eCommerce activities, then a VPS or dedicated server may be needed to manage a larger volume of traffic as well as for extra reliability.

  • As part of your job now is to make sure your readers can navigate smoothly within your site/blog. You need a very reliable and fast web host.
  • You should track your site uptime and response speed with tools like Pingdom and Uptime Robot.
  • Monitor your blog memory usage and know your limit – once your blog hits 80% of the allocated memory (this is the usual bottleneck you’ll first bump into with shared hosting), then it’s time to consider upgrading to VPS or cloud hosting.

At the end of the day, each choice has its own cost level and features. Attention needs to be paid to detail and matched with the requirements of your website. For easier selection and specific recommendations, check out our best web hosting list.

Web Hosting & Domain Name FAQ

What is a web host?

A “Web Host” is a computer where people store their websites. “Web Hosting” refers to the service that rents out their computers to store your website files, including HTML files, databases, images, and videos; and provides Internet connectivity so that your users can access your website.

What is a domain name?

A domain name refers to the address of your website. A domain name is not something physical that you can touch or see. It is a string of characters that give your website an identity like humans and businesses.

How do I find the most suitable hosting plan?

Server uptime, hosting upgrade options, pricing, backup features, control panels, and environmental friendliness are some key features to consider when choosing a web host. Also, before choosing, you will first understand your website needs. Refer to the sections above for the questions you need to ask yourself before beginning.

Is GoDaddy a web host?

GoDaddy is a web services provider. It offers more than web hosting and also includes domain name services, web security, email hosting, web applications, and more.

Is WordPress a web host?

WordPress is a Content Management System. You can get WordPress-based web hosting at almost any web hosting service provider.

Can I host a website my own computer?

In short – yes, it is possible. However, hosting your own website reliably requires significant investment in equipment and infrastructure. The better and more reliable you want your own hosting to be, the higher the cost.

How much does it cost to host a website?

Some of the costs involved in hosting a website include the web host itself, domain name, content creation, graphic design, web development, and marketing. However, for web hosting itself expect to pay between $3 to $10 per month for standard shared hosting. VPS hosting will cost significantly more.

Photo of author

Article by Jerry Low

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