Choosing the Right Type of Web Hosting
You’ve heard that starting a website these days is easy, and anyone can do it—and we agree! But you still need to understand a few main things before you’ll even know where to start.
Any website that goes live on the web needs, at minimum, three things:
- Web hosting: file storage, security and bandwidth on a server, usually maintained by a web hosting service like HostGator.
- A domain name: the address where visitors find your site—the thing they type into a browser that often starts with www and ends in .com or .org or .net.
- Content for your site: the reason people visit—your shop, blog, videos, photos, portfolio, etc. In other words, anything and everything people find once they’re on the site.
Along with a domain name and content, web hosting is a requirement for every website you encounter. It’s an important part of how your website goes from a collection of files that lives on your desktop to something that people around the world can access.
But when you’re new to the process of building and running a website and you start looking into your web hosting options, you’ll see a lot of terms that are confusing.
How can you figure out the difference between the various types of web hosting plans and determine which is right for you?
We’ve got a simple and maybe even relaxing guide to help you decide.
You can choose from 5 main types of web hosting
- Shared hosting
- Cloud hosting
- Managed hosting for WordPress
- Virtual Private Servers (VPS)
- Dedicated servers
If reading those terms makes you want to head to the pool for a procrastination break, don’t worry. We brought the pool to you — as a metaphor for your web hosting options. Let’s dive in.
What Is Shared Hosting?
Shared hosting is the most basic and affordable type of web hosting plan available. Web hosting companies invest in servers where all the files that make up their customers’ websites are stored. For the customers that opt for a shared web hosting plan, their website will live on the same server as a number of other websites.
Shared hosting works because for simple sites, the amount of storage and bandwidth required is a fraction of what a full server can provide. Having one server that’s shared by a number of different websites means they each split the cost, paying a small share of the whole. For many new website owners, especially small businesses and individuals, a shared web hosting plan is the most practical and affordable way to get a website up.
In pool terms…
You can think of shared hosting as a neighborhood pool pass for your website.
Pros of Shared Hosting
For a few bucks, you get to use the Olympic-size pool without having to do pool maintenance and upgrades. If you like to go for the occasional swim, don’t mind crowds from time to time, and host small parties that comply with the pool manager’s rules, shared hosting may be the option for you.
Cons of Shared Hosting
Because shared hosting means your site shares a server with many other sites, their traffic volume and security practices can affect you.
If you’re hosting a water meditation class and five busloads of kids arrive for a field trip, your tranquil vibe may be disrupted. If another swimmer brings a glass bottle and it breaks in the pool, everyone has to get out while the lifeguards clean up the mess. (That pool user will likely be asked to leave, just as shared server users can get booted for breaking the rules.)
In website terms, that can mean your website slows down because someone else gets more traffic than usual, or you end up on an email blacklist because another business uses spammy email practices. With a responsible web host, these issues will be rare. But they do happen.
Shared hosting is best for…
Dipping your toes in the waters of the internet. Shared hosting is inexpensive, so it’s an easy way to set up and run your site without spending much money. If you decide you need your own server/pool later on, upgrading is easy.
What Is Cloud Hosting?
Cloud hosting doesn’t take place on one physical server. Instead, it happens over connected servers that link together to make up “the cloud.” That means a website that uses cloud hosting is never dependent on just one server.
By linking up a number of servers, cloud hosting taps into more power and storage space. And if something happens that would cause problems for one server—needed repairs, or a website’s sudden popularity throttling the bandwidth—the rest of the network will pick up the slack, so your website remains unaffected.
By now, most of us use services that use cloud technology, like Dropbox or Google Drive. So even if you don’t understand all the details of how it works, the concept behind cloud hosting is probably familiar.
For website owners, the main things to know about cloud hosting in practice are that:
- Cloud hosting usually costs more than shared hosting (but not by a whole lot).
- Cloud hosting makes it easier for your website to scale as needed.
- Cloud hosting tends to support faster load times, even when your website gets a lot of visitors.
In pool terms…
Cloud hosting is like having your own VIP waterpark pass. You get to enjoy a lot of upgrades, conveniences and cool features without the bother and expense of maintenance.
Pros of Cloud Hosting
Cloud hosting lets you access the features you need when you need them by using resources from multiple servers — again, without the high cost of a dedicated server. It’s like being able to skip the waterslide lines and bring as many guests as you like on the log flume, because cloud resources make it easy for your site to scale, handle traffic spikes and load super-fast.
Cons of Cloud Hosting
If you’re the sort of technical-minded person who’d rather build your own waterpark, cloud hosting may not be your best fit because it doesn’t give you root access for customization. It’s also more expensive than shared hosting, so may not be the best choice for a new website on a tight budget.
Cloud hosting is best for…
New site owners and small business owners who want to wow visitors with fast load times and handle traffic peaks during sales seasons without a lot of technical work on their part.
What Is Managed WordPress Hosting?
Managed WordPress hosting is a type of web hosting plan that supports websites built on WordPress specifically, and provides a number of features to make running your website easier. That often includes updating to new versions of WordPress automatically, managing automated backups, and scanning your website to recognize security threats.
Depending on the web hosting provider you go with and the plan you choose, managed WordPress hosting could mean any one of the types of web hosting we describe here—shared, VPS, cloud or dedicated.
As a category, it’s less about the type of server or portion of it you’re renting as the additional services that come packaged with your web hosting plan. For that reason, you’ll see a wide range of costs associated with managed WordPress hosting.
Managed WordPress hosting is a good choice for anyone with a WordPress website who wants an easy way to keep the CMS up to date and secure, without having to learn all the technical ins and outs of doing so.
In pool terms…
Managed WordPress hosting is like having your own personal trainer at the neighborhood pool. They set up the workouts and track your progress, as long as you show up and do the work.
Pros of Managed WordPress Hosting
Managed WordPress hosting makes your WordPress site load faster, look better, and easily handle big jumps in site traffic, all while keeping a trained lifeguard on hand to keep you safe. It’s like having an expert trainer guide you through improving your swimming form, lap times and endurance in the pool. If you run into trouble, you’ve got support right there ready to help.
Cons of Managed WordPress Hosting
This option is only available if your website is built on WordPress. And some WordPress plugins are disallowed if they create security issues, hamper site performance or are redundant, so you’ll have to stick with the allowed WordPress plugins (of which there are many).
Managed WordPress hosting is best for…
New site owners and small business owners who want the choice and flexibility of WordPress templates, themes, and plugins for their site plus extra site security and expert technical support from their web host.
- Pro tip: For first-time site owners and brand-new small businesses, both managed WordPress hosting or cloud hosting are affordable options that offer support, flexibility, and a solid foundation for growth and success.
What Is VPS Hosting?
VPS hosting, which stands for virtual private server, is a step up from shared hosting. While you still technically share a server with other websites, the portion of it you rent is partitioned off from the other parts.
That means it works like having a private server in practice—you don’t have to worry about how much traffic the other websites get or any scuzzy activities they may take part in. Even though you’re on the same physical server with other websites, you won’t have any overlap in resource use. But you don’t have to pay for the full amount of space the server has without needing all of it.
VPS web hosting is a common choice for websites that have outgrown shared hosting but aren’t at the point of requiring a dedicated server (or the price tag that comes with it). For midsized businesses, website owners that want more customization options, or website owners who want to test new site ideas without disrupting their existing site functions, it’s usually the best option.
In pool terms…
VPS hosting is like having part of the neighborhood pool reserved just for you. You can invite people in and have more room for them, or you can try out new moves before you debut them in the big pool.
Pros of VPS Hosting
VPS partitions off part of a shared server for your use, like having your own reserved space within the larger shared pool. That keeps your costs down and gives you freedom to do what you like in your own pool area, even if the rules for swimmers in the rest of the pool are different.
Cons of VPS Hosting
Other activity on the server can affect you, and you don’t have access to the whole server’s resources. If there’s a Super Soaker battle in the general pool area, you may get splashed, and you don’t have access to the whole pool, only to your part.
VPS hosting is best for…
Site owners who want the low-maintenance, low-cost advantages of a shared server plus the flexibility, reliability and guaranteed resources of a dedicated server.
What Is Dedicated Server Hosting?
Dedicated server hosting is when you rent a full server from a web hosting provider, all for yourself. For big businesses, websites that get a lot of traffic, and anyone who requires the absolute highest level of security, a dedicated server is how you get there.
While a business that needs a dedicated server could technically buy and maintain their own, in most cases, it makes sense to continue using a web hosting provider to avoid maintenance, hiring and training issues.
Web hosting providers have temperature-controlled warehouses and staff with the technical know-how to keep their servers in top working conditions. So businesses who need the full power, security, and freedom of a dedicated server can access it, without having to do all the work of maintenance and storage.
Dedicated server hosting costs more than the other options on this list, because you’re paying for the whole server yourself rather than spreading the costs around with other website owners. As such, this option usually only comes into play for bigger businesses or websites that have a lot of traffic (and the revenue to go with it).
In pool terms…
A dedicated server is like having your own Olympic-size pool.
Pros of Dedicated Hosting
You don’t have to share with any other swimmers, although you can certainly invite a lot of people to drop by. With a dedicated server, you can set up the place however you like. Want tiki bars and cabanas all around the pool deck? Want to let people do backflips off the high dive? Your pool, your rules.
Cons of Dedicated Hosting
Dedicated servers, like huge decked-out swimming pools, are expensive and require some technical know-how to keep them in shape. Unless you’re hosting the online equivalent of daily pool parties or swim meets, a dedicated server may be more hosting power than you need.
Dedicated hosting is best for…
Established businesses that want to host many sites on one server, implement their own security protocols, handle high traffic volumes, or store huge amounts of data.
What is the best web hosting for highly customized websites?
Maybe you’re still not sure exactly which kind of hosting is right for you, but you do know that your website has a lot of custom code and features—because you either created them yourself or hired a web developer to build them for you. In this case, your central question is, what kind of hosting will help you maintain your customized website and scale it up as you grow without breaking it?
For example, what if your website uses an older version of PHP or operates with specific PHP settings (like a max post size of larger than 64M)? Or what if you need WebAdmin for MySQL or MS SQL to manage your site’s databases?
Not sure if your customized site fits into this category? Spend some time checking out our big list of available features for all our hosting plans to give you a clearer idea of what your site may need. You’ll find MySQL web hosting options in the Databases section of the chart.
You can also visit our list of shared-hosting PHP settings. There, you can see which PHP web hosting settings are static with shared hosting and how you can change them in Web Host Manager if you have a VPS or dedicated server hosting plan.
Even if your customized site can operate on a shared hosting plan now, it’s worth thinking about whether you’ll want to do more customization in the future that requires you to move to a dedicated server or VPS. If that seems likely, you may want to start with one of those hosting plans to save time on website migration later.
In pool terms…
Even if you don’t swim enough or host enough parties (yet!) to go beyond buying a pool pass, you may need your own pool or a reserved area to make sure you can swim and party the way you want to—and to be able to do more in the future.
Get Started with the Right Web Hosting Plan
Now that you know the basics of what each type of web hosting is, you can go forth and make an educated choice in selecting your plan. If you’re still not sure and could use some expert help in deciding on the best web hosting option for your needs, HostGator has representatives available 24/7 who can help you walk through your different options.
Purchasing your web hosting plan is the first step to getting your website out into the world. Choose the plan that matches your needs, and you’re that much closer to launching your new website.