In theory, anyone today can start a website. It’s easier than it’s ever been, and the basic tools you need to do so are affordable. But in practice, if you’re new to figuring this whole website thing out, it can be pretty confusing at first.
In your early research, you’ll likely come across references to both web hosting and site builders.
Both have a role to play in building a new website, but what do they each mean? What’s the difference between web hosting and a website builder? We’ll give you the rundown on how the two things differ, and the main information you need about both when getting started.
What is Web Hosting?
Web hosting is the service of providing and maintaining the physical servers that all the files that make up a website live on. Still confused?
For your purposes, all you really need to know about web hosting is that every website requires it. It’s a necessary component in storing all your website files and making them accessible to the rest of the world online. But if you’re curious about what web hosting is really all about, we’ll explain in more detail.
Most of us think of websites in terms of where they live on the web. Each website has an online address—two actually: the domain name and the IP address. But something we don’t think about as often is that all the different files that make up each website also take up physical space somewhere. They have to be stored on physical servers.
Because your average internet user doesn’t have to interact with the physical servers that host all the millions of websites that make up the internet, it’s easy to never learn they exist. We think of websites as existing in “the cloud” or “cyberspace” when that’s only part of the truth. In fact, there are huge rooms filled with website servers around the world, all of which have to be taken care of and kept in the right conditions to work effectively.
That’s what web hosting providers do. They invest in the (expensive) physical servers the internet depends on and the real estate required to house those servers. They hire specialists who know how to properly maintain them, and they make sure conditions in the server warehouses are optimal for keeping the servers in good condition.
All of this happens behind the scenes, so even your typical website owner never has to think of it. You just need to select and pay for a web hosting plan and let your web hosting provider do the rest.
What Is a Website Builder?
In the early days of the internet, building a website required learning complicated coding languages. It was an option only accessible to skilled developers who had spent a lot of time learning how web design worked. Luckily, website creation is now much more accessible.
Website builders are generally intuitive for even beginners to figure out. They include pre-designed website templates you can choose from, so you’re not building a website from scratch.
The details of the website editors for different website builder products will vary, but all are designed with the goal of making it easy to change out different elements and move them around to create something unique.
In particular, most modern website builders offer drag-and-drop functionality that lets you move specific parts of the page around by clicking on an item, dragging it to where you want, and letting go of your mouse to drop it in a new spot. And processes like uploading new files and choosing new fonts use menus that look just like those people are used to from using more common computer tools, such as word and photo editors.
All of this adds up to making website creation into a simpler experience that’s within reach for pretty much anyone. If you can use a computer, you can probably figure out how to use a website builder.
The Difference Between Web Hosting vs. Website Builders
Web hosting and website builders are two different types of services new website owners often need, and each provides something unique. Here are some of the main differences between the two to be aware of.
1. Web hosting is required for all websites.
If you want a website that other people can find on the web, web hosting isn’t optional. It’s a necessary component in getting your site online. A website builder, in contrast, is optional.
For many new website owners it will be the most convenient choice for building a new website, but it’s one of several options you have. You could always hire a graphic designer, or learn to code and build a new website from scratch (if you have time to give to doing so). A website builder is the easiest option for creating a new website, but it’s not the only one, which makes it an optional expense for new website owners.
2. Web hosting is where your site is stored.
Web hosting services don’t have anything to do with how your website looks, it’s all about where the files that make up your website live. It does relate to factors like how quickly your website loads and how consistently it works for visitors, but that’s ultimately a different matter than the visual appearance of a website.
A web hosting plan ensures that your website’s files have the space they need on a physical server. The rest is up to you and the other website resources you invest in.
3. A website builder gives you control over how your site looks.
The functionality of a website builder is all about your website’s appearance. It lets you take charge of things like the website’s color, images, and text. Everything that your visitors see visually when they visit your website—that’s what you control when creating your site with a website builder.
Website builders also allow you to determine the number of pages you create, your site structure, and any menus you set up for easier site navigation. Web design isn’t just about how pretty a website looks, thinking about how best to design the user experience is also important. A good online website builder helps you figure that part out as well.
4. A website builder makes web design easy.
The reason to go with a website builder over a graphic designer or trying to create a website from scratch is largely a matter of ease of use. Website builders are designed with beginners in mind. The goal is to make it intuitive for someone to design a website the first time they sit down to use the website builder, without having to spend time going through training resources.
With the right website builder, you may be able to build a website within a matter of minutes or hours—depending on how complex your website needs are. If you want to get a website that looks good up cheaply, affordably, and quickly, an online website builder is usually the best path to achieving that.
Why Do People Confuse Hosting Services and Website Builders?
Now that you know the basic definition of each, you understand that web hosting and website builders are two entirely different things. So why do they sometimes get confused?
Both are terms likely to come up when a person’s in the early stages of researching how to build a new website. For many new website owners, they’re new terms they don’t understand yet, and need more information about. And perhaps muddying the waters even more, they often come packaged together.
For example, here at HostGator many of our web hosting plans come with our website builder included. This kind of packaging of web services is pretty common, since most people who start up a new website will need multiple products and services—web hosting, a website builder, a domain name, an SSL certificate, email addresses, etc.
Now that you understand the basics of what they are and how they’re different, there are a few other things you may want to know before choosing what web hosting plan or website builder to go with.
5 Things to Know About Web Hosting Plans
If you’re new to owning and building a website, understanding the basics about web hosting will help you select the best web hosting company and plan for your particular needs.
1. Web hosting is an ongoing need.
Web hosting isn’t something you purchase once and you’re done. Web hosting plans use a subscription model. Most companies will let you pay for a few years upfront.
If you know for sure your website will be up for the long term and want to save some money, you can make a payment now and not worry about it again for a couple of years. But you also have the option to pay monthly or yearly as you go. It costs more, but gives you the flexibility to cancel if you change your mind.
Either way, make sure you budget for web hosting as an ongoing expense. It’s a service you’ll need to invest in for the full lifetime of your website.
2. Web hosting affects website speed.
The quality of your web hosting—and choosing the right web hosting plan for your website’s needs—has a direct influence on website speed. A fast loading time is something people don’t just prefer, they expect it.
If your website takes too long to load, people will leave. And it hurts your search engine optimization (SEO), which is important for potential visitors to be able to find you.
3. There are different types of web hosting plans.
When you start looking into your web hosting options, you’ll quickly notice a few main types of web hosting plans available:
- Shared hosting – This is a good option for new websites and small businesses that will be on the smaller, simpler side and don’t anticipate high levels of traffic right out the gate. Shared hosting is the most affordable option and where many website owners start.
- Cloud hosting – A bit more expensive than shared hosting, cloud hosting is the best option for any business that needs flexibility. If you want the ability to scale quickly if your website popularity spikes, or anticipate different traffic levels at different times of year, cloud hosting is a smart pick.
- VPS hosting – A virtual private server (VPS) plan is a step up from a shared plan in terms of performance. For a higher cost, you get a specific portion of a server partitioned off so that it’s just yours. That means you get more space and bandwidth than with a shared plan, and your website performance won’t be influenced by any other websites on the server.
- Dedicated hosting – For enterprise businesses or especially popular websites, a dedicated hosting plan means you rent an entire server to host nothing but your website. Most new websites won’t require a dedicated server, but if you anticipate a lot of traffic or will be building a website with complex features, it may be right for you.
There’s a wide variety in what web hosting costs, and which type of plan you choose has a lot to do with what you’ll pay. Simple, new websites can get by with a shared hosting plan that costs a few dollars a month. Bigger, more complex websites that get a lot of visitors may spend hundreds a month for a dedicated server that provides the level of service they need.
Figuring out which is right for you is important to make sure you don’t overspend, but still deliver the level of performance your visitors expect.
4. Your web host determines your website’s uptime.
Uptime is the percentage of time a web host guarantees your website’s availability. All web hosting providers go offline occasionally when doing server maintenance, and some experience downtime when servers need repairs or warehouses encounter extreme weather events.
But ideally, you want a hosting provider that knows how to manage their servers so that the amount of time your website is unavailable is so minimal your visitors never notice.
5. Many web hosting companies offer packages that include other common website needs.
When starting a new website, you definitely need web hosting, but there are a number of other services and products you’ll need as well. For instance, every website needs a domain name. And you’ll likely want additional features like an SSL certificate for security, email addresses at your domain, and a website builder.
It’s common for web hosting companies to package these products together, which can potentially save you money and make handling your payments and managing your website subscriptions more convenient.
5 Things to Know About Website Builders
While a website builder is less of a necessity for new websites, most new website owners will benefit from investing in one. If you’ve decided a website builder is your best option for creating a new website, here are the main things to know when getting started.
1. Creating a new website with a website builder starts with a template.
Website templates are what saves you from starting from scratch when building your new site with a website builder. A template that comes reasonably close to what you want your website to look like will result in less work, since you won’t need to make as many changes to bring it in line with your vision. Your template gets a basic structure into place for you, then all you have to do is make tweaks from there.
Choosing the right website builder should include a consideration of their template options. Do they provide a number of templates to choose from? Do they have any for the type of website you’re creating?
2. A drag-and-drop website editor is easy to figure out.
With a drag-and-drop website editor, you can move things around the page by simply clicking on an item, moving your mouse to where you want it to go, then letting go of the mouse to drop it into place.
It makes design much easier than if you had to make changes using code. Plus, the website editors in most modern website builders let you make changes like adding images and changing out colors via intuitive menus that work similarly to those you’re familiar with from other computer programs.
3. Mobile functionality is a must.
Mobile use has become so widespread that it actually surpassed desktop usage a couple of years back. That means when choosing your website builder, and creating your site with it, you need to be thinking about the mobile experience.
Consider if a website builder provides templates that are responsive—which means they automatically adapt to a device’s screen size so the website looks good no matter what. And check if it gives you a way to preview how your website looks on mobile as you work on it.
4. While free website builders exist, there are downsides.
Technically, you could use a free website builder for your site. But any website builder that isn’t making money from subscription costs is making it in another way. That could mean they run ads on your website, include their own branding on your webpage, or put serious limitations on your website unless you shell out for an upgrade.
If you’re building a simple, personal website that will just be for friends and family, that might be fine. If you want your website to look legitimate and professional, you’re better off opting for one of the many affordable website builders on the market.
5. You’ll still need web hosting and a domain.
Investing in a website builder won’t cover all your bases for starting a new website. Every website needs hosting and a domain name. Unless your website builder comes as part of a package that includes both those things, you’ll need to make a separate investment in them.
For most new websites, a simple shared web hosting plan and domain name won’t cost you too much. And if you go with a provider like HostGator, all three can come as a package deal, saving you time and money.
Web Hosting vs. Website Builder: Which Will You Choose for Your New Website?
You can have your website up and running within hours if you go with a HostGator plan. We offer a wide range of web hosting plans, a drag-and-drop website builder, domain name registration, and much more. We make it easy for you to get everything you need, so you can start building your website today.
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.