At first glance, if you’re looking to stake out some territory for your business on the internet, the process of setting up a website may seem a little confusing. What is web hosting and how does it work? Do I need to know coding to create a website, or pay a lot of money to have it built for me? How can I be sure my website is safe from hackers? How do I know how much bandwidth or storage capacity I’m going to need?
This rough guide seeks to explain some of the basic facts about web hosting so that you can make the right decision according to your business needs…
Types of hosting
You’ve probably heard of the Cloud by now – it’s one of the most significant developments in IT for business of the last decade, and it offers SMEs a raft of benefits. When you sign up for a service such as UK2 VPS Cloud Hosting, you’re looking at very high levels of bandwidth (often quoted as unlimited) that can cope much more easily with seasonal bouts of high web traffic, or the threat of a DDoS attack which has many businesses worried. IT costs are lower, and you will have the latest software and patches installed pretty much straightaway.
This is where your web host will place your site on its own server. It gives you much more flexibility in how the server is managed, with easier expansion if you require it, and of course you’ll have plenty of storage and bandwidth, but the cost can obviously be quite a lot.
Often the best option for smaller companies and those just starting out, a shared server is where you have several, often dozens, of sites all on the same server. It’s suited to websites that see lower levels of traffic with less storage requirements, and the cost of hosting is lower.
A Virtual Private Server operates in much the same way as a dedicated server, except you have several sites all on a shared server but virtually walled-off from each other. You have much more control at a server level, but not the same amount of bandwidth as you would with your personal server. You can also get VPS Cloud servers – the key advantage of that is if there was a rare occurrence of hardware failure, your site would be up and running again very quickly as it would just be switched straightaway to another server.
Your domain name is the address of your website on the internet. Choose it carefully, because changing it later can affect your SEO and brand. When you’ve settled on a name you like, and checked that it’s available, consider buying related domains, so you not only have the .com or.co.uk, but also the .net and .co, to protect your brand.
It can be difficult to predict how much bandwidth you’re going to need, but you should be able to get a reliable estimate. If you are expecting a lot of traffic – say you’re a fledgling e-commerce store with good prospects – then you’re going to require more bandwidth than a four-page site operated by a handyman service. Be wary though that when a web host offers unlimited bandwidth, that doesn’t always mean totally unlimited. If you go over a certain level of traffic, then you could either be financially penalised or have your site taken down temporarily. You don’t want that happening in busy periods, so check the small print.
It’s a similar issue with space. Some hosting companies offer unlimited storage capacity for clients which may seem advantageous if you plan a website with lot of videos or images.
But if resources become squeezed then you might well find that your images aren’t loading properly, or your site is suspended from time to time. As with bandwidth, make sure there is an agreement in place that you will be notified if you are getting close to the limit.
Choosing the right host
When it comes to bandwidth and storage, or types of hosting packages available, many providers look similar initially. What you should be asking yourself is, does this company have substantial experience dealing with business hosting, so will be able to anticipate and deal with my requirements such as scalability, providing website-builder software and set-up assistance? Does it offer round-the-clock support so if there is a problem in the evening I don’t have to wait until 9am the next day to speak to someone? What level of uptime do they guarantee for my site – anything below 99.9% is not worth considering; do they have a proactive approach to security?
Don’t be tempted to save a few pounds annually by going with a free hosting service – they will likely dump a lot of unattractive advertising banners on your site, making it look unprofessional. Often it’s worth paying a bit extra for a service you can have confidence in.