You’re trying to figure out all the nuts and bolts of starting a new website and some of your early research mentions a required expense you’re not familiar with: web hosting.

Obviously, you don’t want to spend any more money than necessary to get this website up and running, so before you think about shelling out some change for this “web hosting” people speak of, you want to know what it’s all about. 

Web hosting is on the short list of services every website must have before it can go live. To help you understand why it’s so important, we’ll explain just what it is and why it matters. 

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What is Website Hosting?

Web hosting is the service provided by businesses that run and maintain the physical servers all websites live on. If that sentence doesn’t make a lot of sense to you, let’s back up and explain further. 

For as much as we talk about the internet as though it exists in the ether—using words like ”cyberspace” and “the cloud”—in fact, the internet has a physical existence as well. Every website is made up of a collection of files and software.

As a website visitor, you see a finished product and don’t necessarily think about all the little pieces it’s made up of. But once you’re the one behind the website, it becomes clear how many different parts go into the whole. 

All those files have to live somewhere. Web hosting companies own warehouses full of powerful web servers that store all the components that make up the different websites their customers run. Those servers both provide the space needed for file storage, and the mechanism for making those files accessible to other viewers when someone clicks on a link to your website or types the URL into their browser.

Website hosting is one of those things that happen in the background. For anyone that simply browses the web and goes to sites as a visitor, there’s no reason to ever know or think about it. It’s only the people that run websites or work in an industry that requires understanding how the web works that a knowledge of web hosting comes into play. 

For website owners, if you choose the right web hosting provider and plan, web hosting isn’t something you’ll have to think about much on a day-to-day basis. As long as you keep your account up to date, your web host should work seamlessly in the background and keep your website working for every visitor who wants to see it. 

How Does Web Hosting Work?

A web hosting plan will provide at least four basic things:  

web hosting includes file storage hardware uptime and security

1. File storage

As mentioned, every website is made up of a lot of different files. Even basic websites will consist of at least dozens of image, text, and design files that all work together to make your website look the way it does.

A website hosting plan provides a place to store all those files for you; because web hosting companies own a lot of servers, if your website grows to include more files that need more space over time, a good provider will be able to accommodate any increased storage needs you have. 

2. Hardware

You know what the virtual side of the internet looks like—the wide array of websites you browse and visit on a regular basis. But you probably haven’t ever thought about what the physical side of the internet looks like: data centers full of physical web servers. 

This is another part of the service that web hosting providers offer. They invest in the real estate needed to house all those physical servers. They keep them in the right temperature-controlled conditions. And they hire people skilled in maintaining them to keep them consistently working at the level required to provide a good experience to your visitors. 

3. Uptime

You don’t want guests to drop by and find that your website is unavailable because your web host’s server is down. That creates a bad experience for them, and presents the risk that they won’t ever try to come back. In the web hosting industry, the amount of time your site files are available to visitors is called uptime

Many web hosting providers will encounter some lag in uptime, when a server isn’t working at full capacity for some reason. But reputable providers keep that downtime to a minimum. The industry standard for uptime is 99.9%. A good web hosting provider will promise at least that. 

4. Security

On the internet, pranksters and criminals are always trying to break into servers, files, and sites to cause mayhem or steal data. Your web host’s security measures protect your site from break-ins, just like your home security system keeps people from breaking into your house. 

Security is important for any website, but essential for business and ecommerce websites. If a business becomes associated with a data breach, it will hurt your reputation and lose you the trust of customers. And the problem is only compounded for ecommerce businesses that collect sensitive data from customers through your website.

While there are other steps you’ll want to take to enhance your website’s security, choosing the right web host is an important step in the right direction. 

Bonus Web Hosting Features

Any web hosting plan should provide those four things at a minimum, but many will provide additional services and tools that make setting up your site easier and faster. Some worthwhile bonuses to look out for are:

  • Domain registration, so you can keep your domain and web hosting accounts in one place
  • Round-the-clock live support so you can work on your site anytime and get help if you need it
  • A website builder that includes templates, so you can create a professional looking site in just a few clicks
  • Video and written tutorials to answer your detailed questions
  • Domain and WHOIS privacy registration services
  • Shopping cart tools to help you start selling online
  • Unlimited email hosting so you can create professional email addresses for yourself and your employees 
  • Spam filters, because who wants spam?
  • Automatic site backups to protect your site files as your website evolves and grows

A web hosting plan that provides the right features for your needs will make getting your website up and maintaining it much easier.  

How to Choose the Type of Web Hosting You Need

Understanding the basics of what web hosting is won’t help when you land on a web hosting provider’s website and see lots of different terms thrown around. Every provider offers different types and tiers of web hosting plans for different prices. For someone new to the whole thing, it’s confusing.

types of web hosting explained

In most cases, there are a few main types of web hosting plans available. Here’s what you need to know about each and how to figure out if it’s the right plan for you.

Shared Hosting

Shared web hosting is when a provider hosts the websites of a number of different customers on the same server. Because the server is split between a bunch of different websites, the cost is split as well. That makes this the most affordable web hosting option. And for most personal websites, small businesses, and new websites, this will be the type of plan that makes the most sense.

That said, sharing a server means that the resources available on that server are split between all the websites on it as well. There’s a limited amount of space available for files, and only so much bandwidth to go around for visitors to all the sites. Your performance could drop if your website gets too big or popular, or if another website on the server sees a spike in traffic. 

Cloud Hosting 

If you start to outgrow shared hosting, or if your website is inconsistent in the amount of traffic you receive, cloud hosting is an upgrade worth considering. Cloud hosting allows more flexibility and faster speeds, even for larger websites that receive more traffic. If your website gets a lot of visitors certain times of the year and not others, cloud hosting makes it possible to just pay for what you need as you need it. 

If you want more room to grow and the ability to adapt to changing traffic levels, cloud hosting is the best option. 

VPS Hosting

VPS stands for virtual private server. With a VPS plan, you technically still share a server with other websites. But fewer websites share the server, and each one is partitioned off from the others so you never have to worry about your website performance being affected by what’s happening with another website.

VPS plans cost more than shared hosting plans, but less than dedicated hosting. They’re a good option for mid-level businesses or those that want a little more security and stability.

eCommerce Hosting

If you’re building an eCommerce website—one that you’ll be selling products on and accepting payment through—then you’ll need a web hosting plan that can support eCommerce features.

Usually web hosting plans don’t provide the eCommerce features you need directly, you need separate eCommerce software for that. But an eCommerce website needs a web hosting plan that promises compatibility with the eCommerce software you’ll be using, and a level of security – like an SSL certificate – befitting a website that will be collecting sensitive financial information from visitors. 

Dedicated Hosting

Dedicated hosting plans allow you to lay claim to a whole web server. You don’t share it with any other websites, it’s devoted entirely to yours. That means you have a lot of space and bandwidth to work with, and a lot of power over how to use that space. Dedicated hosting is good for big businesses that get a lot of visitors, or anyone with more complicated needs for your website. 

As such, dedicated plans cost more than your other options. They offer a distinct value that’s worth it when you need it. But for many new websites, they offer more than you need on day one.

How Much Does A Website Cost?

The short answer is: it depends. The cost of web hosting varies based on the provider you choose, the type of plan you go with, and any features and extras you decide to add to your plan. 

If a shared hosting plan meets your needs, you can get started for less than $5 per month. So if the cost of web hosting is something that’s been holding you back, it’s an easy hurdle to overcome.

Even if your needs are too complex for a basic shared hosting, you have a wide range of options—many of them capable of supporting high levels of traffic and storage—for under $80 a month. And if you’ll be using your website to represent a business, it’s a cost that will be helping you make money. 

Do I Have to Pay for Web Hosting?

Can you use a free hosting service instead of paying for web hosting? Technically, you can. But free services always come at some kind of cost. 

For one thing, you’re taking a risk that the free service may shut down your site if…

  • you run afoul of their rules,
  • people complain about your site, or
  • something happens outside your control that takes the service offline

In addition, having the free hosting brand’s logo on your pages and in your URL makes your business look amateur to visitors. If you won’t spend money on your business, why should they? Free web hosts also place limits on bandwidth that can cause you to miss sales if a product or promotion goes viral.

Don’t limit yourself or your site. Choose web hosting that supports your goals as your business grows.

Why Choose HostGator for Your Web Hosting

When you start looking into web hosting options, you’ll find a lot of different companies competing in the space. While there are certain similarities in the plans different companies offer, HostGator has a few features and benefits that make our plans unique:

HostGator’s plans are affordable at all levels. 

Our shared plans start at under $3 a month, making them well within reach for small businesses on a tight budget and anyone starting a personal website. But even for the higher-level plans like VPS and dedicated hosting, HostGator’s prices come in below those of most other providers. You can start with us for a low rate, and affordably grow with us, no matter how your needs change. 

HostGator is easy for beginners to learn.

Even for someone brand new to building and running a website, our cPanel is intuitive to figure out. And our website builder offers lots of templates and a drag-and-drop functionality that makes creating a website simple and fast for anyone, including beginners. You don’t have to be an expert to start a website with HostGator. 

We offer many types of resources to help you learn more.

Even though we’ve designed our features to be intuitive and accessible to every new website owner, we also offer a comprehensive library of resources to help you learn how to get the most out of your website. That includes video tutorials, support articles, and our HostGator blog, which covers a wide array of topics useful to website owners.

Customers get support in multiple forms.

Any time you have a question and need help from a human, our support team is available over the channel of your choice—email, live chat, or phone—24/7. And in addition, we have an active support forum where customers can help out fellow customers. 

HostGator offers the advanced features experienced developers seek.

While we’re easy enough for beginners, we also offer the kind of advanced options web pros appreciate. For those who know how, we offer the features you need to make more complex updates to your website. You have full access to the raw version of our cPanel, we offer scalability, and we even have plans that allow you to be a reseller for your clients.

Web Hosting is Worth It

No one likes learning that they have to take on a whole new expense. But when you’re starting a website, web hosting isn’t something you can skimp on. But you can find a good, reliable plan that won’t add too much cost to your budget.

Sign up with HostGator, and you’ll gain access to everything you need in a web hosting plan. 

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.