November 9, 2015
A True Beginner’s Guide to WordPress Web Hosting
Congratulations! You’ve decided to take the next step with your wordpress website– or you’re creating a new one altogether.
Choosing a hosting service is the first step in building a website that works for you, but unfortunately it isn’t an easy feat. There are thousands of hosting options to choose from, and no one host works for every site. Luckily for you, we’ve put together this cheat sheet to make the process go a little more smoothly.
So… What is Web Hosting Exactly?
Let’s begin at square one.
In the simplest terms, web hosting is a service that provides storage for all the files that will make up your soon-to-be-born website. A powerful server connected to the internet can keep your files handy, allowing hundreds of thousands of viewers access to your content.
When deciding on website hosting, it’s helpful to understand how a website works. A website is a collection of files — pages, image files, scripts — that are rendered by a web browser into pages that are readable by site visitors.
When you seek a hosting service you are essentially renting out a space for your website. This space is on a server, which is computer that is connected to the internet and configured specifically to host websites. The web host will usually give you a temporary URL made up of an IP address (looks something like 220.127.116.11) and a directory folder of where your files live on the server. The server “serves” up the pages to site visitors when they type in your web address. If you access this IP address or temporary URL via a web browser, it will read the HTML files in that directory and render the page.
Think of your website as a person for a moment… That person lives in house (a directory/folder) on street (the web server) in a city (the web host). If the website wants visitors, you need to give those visitors the address to get there! The temporary address will work, but it’s not ideal. That’s why you also need to register a domain for your website. Registering a domain and setting it to point to your address at the web host simplifies the address to something that is more memorable to humans.
So now that you understand what a web host is and how it relates to your site, let’s dig in to the various types of hosting and how to choose the right one for your site.
Types of Hosting
- Managed Hosting
Managed WordPress hosting is the kind of service you should choose if you don’t want to lift a finger. This works well for anyone who expects to get lots of traffic and doesn’t have the time or the staff to take care of potential issues.
With Managed hosting you literally get a team of WordPress wizards to keep your website running. This won’t replace the need for website maintenance, but it provides automatic updates to your WP version along with stellar security just for WordPress. Sure, it’s probably the priciest option, but it’s also the most convenient. If you plan to make your site massive (and we hope you do), it’s a great way to go.
- Shared Hosting
When you choose shared hosting, as most newcomers do, you’re essentially sharing processing speed and storage space on a single server with a bunch of other websites. So many shared hosting servers have so much space they even claim to have plans with ‘unlimited bandwidth and storage’. Don’t fall for it, there are always limits when you share.
If you don’t have a lot to invest right off the bat, or if you expect your site will not start off with a lot of space or bandwidth needs, shared hosting is the way to go. It’s an affordable way for newer sites that have yet to attract a lot of visitors to dip their toes into the digital waters of the web. Plans run as low as $3.00 a month (we’ve even seen some offers at suspiciously lower costs). Just remember that you get what you pay for when it comes to hosting. Sure there are ways to choose a great cheap hosting service, but you should understand that the quality of your hosting can affect your SEO and sales in a huge way.
- Virtual Private Hosting
Virtual Private Server (VPS) hosting aren’t recommended for beginners, but work well for anyone looking for a more balanced, scalable service. It’s also great for anyone who doesn’t like the idea of sharing with other websites.
With a VPS you’re allotted a certain amount of space on a server, and granted the full capacity of space and speed you pay for. Performance just depends on how much room you buy from your service, and it can be easily adjusted to suit your needs, provided you know what you’re doing.
- Dedicated Hosting
If you’re already a wiz chances are you aren’t reading this article. But if you are, a dedicated hosting service may be just the thing you need to take your website to the next level. This type of hosting lets you dominate an entire server, giving you tons of room for content storage and visitors.
Unless you have a very, very high-traffic website it really doesn’t make sense to invest in an entire server. As you can imagine, it comes with a hefty price tag.
Evaluating Your Basic Needs
A lot of new WordPress users make the mistake of over or underestimating the amount of support, security, bandwidth, and monthly visitors they need. You always want to consider what works for your budget and the type of content you plan to post.
Before we get into the nitty gritty of your ideal hosting options, you should know a little bit about each of these.
- Support – If you’re just starting out you probably want a service that offers great tech support. Depending on the type of site you have you’ll probably want to have a team by your side 24-7, so you never miss a beat when it comes to driving traffic to your pages.
- Security– If you plan to collect personal information you should make sure the hosting you choose offers great security. Here are some preliminary security considerations:
- SFTP (secure file transfer protocol) keeps transferred files secure, preventing them from being accessed and modified by potential hackers when you upload them to your site.
- SSL (secure sockets layer) is active on your site if a url starts with https:// rather than http://, this blocks the path between a user’s browser and the site’s server, keeping sensitive information inaccessible to users.
- Backups are a key element to the security of your content in that they prevent your files from getting lost in the ether when things go south. Make sure whatever service you choose performs regular backups of their servers, especially if you plan to update your site frequently.
- Bandwidth– This is the amount of information that’s allowed to pass from your website to your visitors. High quality video and image files, as well as a large number of visitors, necessitate higher bandwidth levels.
- Storage Space– Where bandwidth is about data transfer, Storage space is about how much room you need in the host’s server for your files. Again, large and beautiful HD images and videos will need more room. If you’re transferring your WordPress site over to a new host, it’s easy to find out how large your files already are with this plugin. If you’re just starting out, it’s essentially a shot in the dark.
What Kind of Site are you Building? Here are Some of Our Recommendations.
Every website is different, and the main thing you want to consider when choosing a host is what you’ll be doing with your site. There are thousands of reasons to start a website, but chances are your ideas will fall into one or more of these 3 categories:
- I Want to Rack in the Dough:
If you’re embarking on a business venture and using the internet as your tool to land more sales, you may want to invest in stellar hosting. If you’re building your site on WordPress, we highly recommend WP Engine for their Managed WordPress hosting. While not the cheapest, it is a great option for security and scalability. One of our favorite features of WPEngine is the ability to create a development version of your site with one click.
In addition to WP Engine, we really Cloudways. While the hosting control panel is a little more technical, the speed and reliability is great and it’s very easy to setup a WordPress install. Their tech support is great and they do a stellar job using their knowledgeable and documentation to help you find answers without needing to talk to a support tech. Cloudways gives you a lot of bang for your buck when it comes to space/bandwidth per dollar spent, but since they’re control panel is a bit technical, we recommend going with them only if you have a knowledgeable web developer work with you to help you navigate the setup.
If you’re looking for cheaper options, they are certainly out there. Just remember that you get what you pay for! One of our favorites in the shared hosting category is Bluehost. While they also offer Managed WordPress hosting, their shared hosting is one of the more affordable options yet it is also reliable. Many shared hosting options have limited support, but Bluehost has pretty good support that can be reached by phone or live chat. We recommend opting for their Prime shared hosting package which includes site backups.
- I Want to Wow People With Multimedia Wonders
A hefty array of videos and images, along with a trendy theme could cost you. Since compromising the quality and speed of your video content is probably out of the question here, you definitely want to give yourself as much room as possible to let your creative juices flow. Depending on how popular you expect to become, we strongly recommend a high quality managed hosting service, or a top-tier shared hosting option with plenty of room for your multimedia content (think 40GB+).
A good option for this would be LiquidWeb. We recommend Liquidweb for their lightning speeds, fair prices, and unparalleled support.
- This is All too Much, i.e. Let’s Keep It Simple
Some people feel more comfortable starting out small, especially if there isn’t much money available to begin with. If this sounds like your situation you can still have a great site!
If you don’t expect a lot of traffic, or if your website is going to primarily text-based, big-name shared hosts like Hostgator, GoDaddy, and Bluehost are a decent place to start. These hosting services offer wildly inexpensive packages, but don’t be swindled into bad performance and even worse customer service.
No matter what service you choose, be sure you are carefully reviewing your options for security features, customer service, and speed limitations. A certain spike in traffic or growth may give hosting companies free reign to fine you or alter your plan. Consider yourself warned.