web hosting terms and jargon

You have an amazing website idea. Seriously, it’s gonna be big. But you’re new to this whole building a website thing, so you have to figure out the basics from the ground up.

You’ve worked out that you’ll need web hosting. OK, you’ve got that much down. And you’ve started to look into what that means and what your options are and—woah, it’s like the world of web hosting has its own language.

You don’t have time to learn a whole new language! (At least, you don’t have any more time than the five minutes a day you dutifully spend on Duolingo. You will not be the cause of a kindly cartoon owl’s tears).

But don’t worry. There aren’t actually that many new terms to learn when it comes to web hosting. It’s nothing a good, basic glossary can’t cover. And, hey—look at that! We’ve got one of those right here on this page😉.


The dreaded error page. 404 is the code for a page that a website can’t find, meaning the visitor either typed in a URL that doesn’t point to an existing page, or clicked on a broken link. Website owners want to do their best to keep visitors from seeing 404 errors as much as possible, but you can also use your 404 page to provide some personality, humor, or useful information. 


Accessibility is the practice of making sure your website works well for everybody, including those with disabilities. Meeting basic accessibility guidelines is required for some business websites, and a best practice for all websites. You don’t want any of your visitors to feel left out and bounce.


A backup is a copy you make of something to make sure you always have a version to fall back on in case of tech problems. Nobody wants to see their website wiped out in one agonizing moment because of a simple error. When you’ve invested in website backups (something many web hosts offer as an add-on), you never have to worry about that happening.


Bandwidth is the term used for how much data is transferred when people visit your website, consume content, or make downloads. One of the big differences between different types of web hosting plans is how much bandwidth you’re allotted—higher-cost plans will tend to support more visitors accessing more data.


Caching is the process of storing your website’s data in a temporary storage location so it loads faster for repeat visitors. The first time a visitor comes to your website, their browser has to take time to load every part of the site—all the images, text, coding, etc. When you use caching, that information can all be saved after the first visit so their browser remembers it the next time. That can speed up loading time by a few seconds, which may not sound like much, but makes a big difference in how people experience your site.


CMS stands for content management system. It’s a type of software designed to make managing all the files that make up a website easier. Put another way—a CMS allows people that don’t know how to code to create and update websites without paying a developer. A popular example of a CMS is WordPress.


We don’t mean the religious kind—in website terms, a conversion is anytime a visitor takes an action on your site you want them to. That could mean clicking a link, signing up for an email list, or making a purchase—to name a few common examples. An effective website will be designed with conversion rate optimization (CRO) top of mind. 


Almost all web hosts provide a cPanel (short for control panel) as the main dashboard you use when managing your web hosting account. It’s where you can do things like organize your website files, manage security tools, and install website software. 


CSS stands for Cascading Style Sheets, a common computer language that helps define the style and layout of HTML documents. CSS is useful for developers to know, but now with the advent of website builders and content management systems, most website owners no longer need to deal with it directly. 


CTA is the acronym for call to action, the part of a webpage where you tell the visitor what you want them to do next. When you see a button that says “Purchase now” or “Sign up here” or a link that says “Learn more”—those are all CTAs. 

Dedicated server

A dedicated server is when you have an entire web server all to yourself. Some companies may invest in their own dedicated servers that they manage onsite. But in most cases, website owners that want that level of space, security, and performance rent a dedicated server with a web hosting service. 


DNS stands for domain name system, the system that translates domain names into IP addresses so that people can more easily access websites. DNS is the reason you don’t have to remember a long string of numbers for every website you want to visit (yikes 😬), and can instead type in something like www.easy-to-remember.com.

Domain name

The domain name is the easy-to-remember internet address people type into a browser to reach your site. Every website can register an available domain name, which becomes your main address on the web (for humans anyways, machines will still use the IP address). To give you an idea of what a domain name looks like, the domain of this website you’re on is hostgator.com

Domain privacy

Domain privacy is an add-on service many domain registrars offer to keep your name and contact information private when registering your domain with the WHOIS directory—an official listing of all registered domain names and their owners. 


The acronym for File Transfer Protocol, FTP is the technology you use to transfer files from one computer or server to another. For website owners, it’s what you’ll use to transfer the files that make up your website to the web server that will host them. 


HTML stands for HyperText Markup Language, and it’s a common programming language used to build websites. While most website owners can get by without knowing HTML now, even if you use a website builder or CMS, you can still probably benefit from learning some basic HTML tips and tricks


HTTPS stands for Hypertext Transport Protocol Secure (wow, that’s a mouthful). It’s a way to recognize when a website has an SSL certification and can promise a secure connection between your web browser and the server. When you’re browsing the web, anytime you see a URL that starts with HTTPS, you know you’re on a secure site. It’s a good way for consumers to recognize if a website is safe to do business with. 

IP address

An internet protocol (IP) address is a website or device’s address on the web as far as machines are concerned. So while humans will use your domain name to access your website, their router will find the website via its IP address. You can learn what your IP address is right now with HostGator’s IP lookup tool


PHP (an acronym for Hypertext Preprocessor) is a type of scripting language used in web development that can be embedded within HTML.


A plugin is an application that adds functionality to software. For website owners that use WordPress, plugins are the best way to add functionality to your website that integrates into the CMS. They can add features ranging from spam blocking to website organization to eCommerce functions. 


A website redirect is how you point a URL to a new page. It’s a useful tool for any website that moves to a new domain, or for a content audit that results in removing or combining pages. Website redirects can often be set up within your cPanel, and are a good way to avoid 404 pages. (Why yes, we did just fit three vocabulary words into one sentence 😉).


Responsive web design is an approach to design that ensures a web page looks good on all device types and screen sizes. Now that smartphones are a constant part of life for most people, responsive websites have become the norm. it’s the best way to ensure all visitors see the same information and page elements no matter what device they’re on. The way the content and images are sized and organized is what changes based on screen size. 


SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer. It’s a type of security technology that encrypts data as it’s transferred between a browser and a web server. It adds a crucial layer of protection that’s good for all websites to have, and crucial for eCommerce sites. Many consumers will look for evidence you have an SSL certificate (the little lock icon in front of the URL) before making a purchase or filling out a form on your website.


A subdomain is a separate section of a website that still falls under the main domain, but is set apart by adding a word in front of the domain name. A common example of how brands use subdomains is with support forums, like HostGator’s subdomain at https://forums.hostgator.com/. The URL confirms it’s still a part of the HostGator brand, but the word forum in front of it makes clear that it’s a separate part of the website dedicated to support interactions. 


In web hosting speak, uptime means the percentage of time a web server is running effectively without issues. All web servers occasionally need maintenance, and as with any technology, there’s always the risk of technical glitches and issues you can’t plan for like weather emergencies. But the most reputable web hosting companies will still guarantee up to 99.9% uptime for their customers. Some (including HostGator) even offer a money-back guarantee to back that promise. 


A URL is a webpage’s main address on the web. It’s similar to a domain name, except that the domain is the address at a website level (e.g. www.hostgator.com) and a URL is the address at a page level (e.g. www.hostgator.com/web-hosting). Every page on your website will have a unique URL, and it’s a website best practice to customize each URL to be something clear and simple.  


VPS is the acronym for virtual private server. A VPS is a web server that’s been partitioned in order to allow different users to have full claim to each part. For website owners that want more independence, security, and space on the server than with a shared hosting plan, a VPS essentially acts like its own server, while still costing less than investing in a dedicated server. 

Web host

A web host is the company that provides web hosting services to website owners. Web hosts own and manage a number of web servers, often housed in multiple data centers spread out geographically. Renting space on one of the web servers they manage is more affordable and effective for website owners than trying to purchase and manage your own, since web hosts already have the space, technology, and expertise to do it for you. 

Website builder

A website builder is a type of software designed to make creating a website easy, even for people who don’t know any coding languages. With a website builder, you’re usually trading complexity and flexibility for affordability and ease of use, but for many website owners the tradeoff is more than worth it. A website builder makes it possible for a beginner to put a simple website together in a matter of hours, or even minutes in some cases.


WHM stands for Web Host Manager, which is a dashboard that lets you manage multiple websites in one place. For someone that owns or manages several websites, having to repeatedly log in and out of various cPanels is a pain. A web host manager can save you a lot of time and trouble and make the work more efficient. 

Now you can “speak” web hosting (so to speak) with the best of them. For HostGator customers, if you ever get confused about what something means while working on your website, our support staff can help you work through it.  And our blog and support center are full of articles and tutorials that can answer a lot of the possible questions you may have. Building and running a website definitely involves a learning curve. But it gets easier as you go, and you have a lot of resources to help with the learning process. 

Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based freelance content writer and lifelong learner with an ongoing curiosity to learn new things. She uses that curiosity, combined with her experience as a freelance business owner, to write about subjects valuable to small business owners on the HostGator blog. You can find her on Twitter at @atxcopywriter.