Web Hosting Service providers have computers permanently connected to the Internet which stores the files and information. This allows them to make your website available to visitors on the Internet 24 hours a day 365 days per year, even when your own computer is off. Without web-hosting services, your website could not exist unless you had your own computer directly connected to the Internet all the time.
What's Included in Web Hosting Services
In addition to hosting your website, these providers host your domain name (YourCompany.com), usually an easy to remember name for your website. This enables people on the Internet to access your website using a name like www.YourCompany.com instead of some cryptic looking numeric address like 188.8.131.52. Some hosting companies also allow you to create sub-domains (for example blog.YourCompany.com or sales.YourCompany.com). In some cases, you can almost have as many websites as you want without paying any additional cost unless as long as they are subdomains. You can have a completely different domain name but at an additional cost.
Like website hosting, the price for the exact same domain can vary considerably from one reseller ($5) to another ($50) per year. Most of the time it has to do with the number of resellers between your vendor and the governing body for that Top Level Domain (TLD). A TLD is the .com, .net, .org, .tv, .me, .ca part of your domain. It can also have to do with the amount of profit the vendor wants to make but rarely does it have anything to do with the quality of service. Also, make sure that when all is said and done, you are the owner of your domain and your name appears on it. If in doubt, ASK! There are some providers out there who will register your domain in their name or lock it so that, when the day comes that you want to take your business elsewhere, they hold your domain hostage for ransom. Some may not let you have your domain at all while others will require that you pay some large administration fee for them to unlock it.
If you are not technically inclined, get your domain together with your hosting service. It's just simpler. Otherwise consider namecheap.com or godaddy.com (godaddy.ca in Canada) to register your domain. It will cost you less but expect to have to do some configuration work.
Another service, which your hosting service provider is likely to include, is the ability for you to have professional looking email addresses at your domain (like andrea@YourCompany.com). In fact, you could actually create as many of email addresses as you want. For example, sales@YourCompany.com, support@YourCompany.com, webmaster@YourCompany.com, jim@YourCompany.com</a>, etc. These addresses could be setup as either a forwarder, which simply means that all email sent to a "@YourCompany.com" address would be forwarded to another address so that they all end up in the same mailbox or go to someone completely different -- sort of like an alias -- or it can be setup as a full fledged email account that could either be access it through Microsoft Outlook or Mozilla Thunderbird, or through a webmail interface similar to Gmail.
Their email system also features SPAM filters, virus scanning and auto-responders. Auto-responders are great if you want to just let people know you are away but they can also be used for making free offers available. For example you could tell people to email special@YourCompany.com and the system would automatically email them back either a coupon or a link to something they can download. As a result, you end up getting their email address in exchange which you could add to your mailing list.
There are many other things you could do with your hosting services. For example, if you have already setup a blog, you could also have a website or an eCommerce site with or without a Shopping Cart to sell products or services and take payments online. You could also setup mailing lists so that you could easily sent out things like newsletters or other promotional information to your clients on a regular basis.
As part of your account registration with your provider, they may also offer you certain Search Engine Marketing credits. However I recommend you look around before using these. You can sometimes find better offers elsewhere. For example, one hosting service provider included a $25 credit for Google Ad-words yet a quick Google search can often reveal Google themselves offering $75 or even $100 in credits for Google ad-words. These offers tend to come and go.
How Much Does Web Hosting Services Cost?
Short answer: $5 to $50 per month. However…
The rates vary considerably from one company to another and unfortunately you can rarely tell the quality of service you'll get just from the price. Just as more expensive doesn't mean better, less expensive doesn't mean you get poor service. It's more a matter of volume. Service providers who have more automated systems to manage and maintain their servers can simply offer their services for less. It can also be a matter of how many customers they put on each servers and how fast their connection is to the Internet. More customers CAN mean slower websites.
If you are a small business owner, chances are your website will be running on Shared Hosting Services, a system by which one web server can run multiple websites for different customers.
Most web hosting providers offer their services by the month but may also have packages where you pay every 3, 6 or 12 months. One of my providers once offered a service agreement for 10 years at a ridiculously low price which worked out to just $20 per year.
The best way to choose a service provider is by reputation while ensuring that they provider the hosting services your website will require as not all web hosting services are created equally. To find out what your website will require, consult the documentation for your CMS or your web developer (a.k.a. your "Web Guy")
What To Watch Out For (and avoid)
Avoid dealing with companies that don't offer:
- Unlimited bandwidth and traffic -- You do not want your business to end up unavailable because there was a limit as to how much traffic could go through your website.
- Multiple databases -- While one website uses one database, you'll be surprised how soon you may discover you need more. For example, if you decide to add an eCommerce site.
- At least 10 sub-domains
- At least 10 email addresses and virtually unlimited forwarders
- Regular daily backups. You may need to pay to have the restored, but at least it will be possible. A lot of time and effort goes into a website and it would be a shame to loose it all because of a hacker or even a self-inflicted mistake.
- Short term contracts or no-money back guaranties.
- Poor performing web servers, regardless of the reason (slow servers, insufficient bandwidth, too many sites per server, etc).
- Web Hosting Services that meet or exceed your requirements.
Web Hosting Tools
Most of the time you won't need the web hosting tools. If you are using WordPress, it's pretty much all you will ever need. However the tools are included whether you use them or not. Some of the tools are only required for troubleshooting and managing things like databases and copying files to and from your website. Like I said, most of the time you won't need to use them however they can be indispensable should something goes wrong.
That being said, you do need a web hosting service for your website and tools to set it up. It doesn't have to be in your city. In fact, it doesn't even need to be in your country though it is probably a good idea to ensure that they are at least close to your time zone and speak the same language you do.
Look for a hosting company that includes a web hosting control panel like cPanel or Panelbox and a simple application installer like 1-Click, Fantastico, SimpleScripts or something similar. This is a website that contains a full set of tools to manage your domain(s), easily install your website, manage your database, your email addresses, your autoresponders, access your web logs, password protect some sections of your website, setup your FTP account (to copy files to and from your website), and more.
They also need to be compatible with the type of website you are planning on using. For example, the self-hosted WordPress.org requires that, for security, your hosting server include support for PHP5, MySQL 5.0. For flexibility, it should also include Apache 2.0 and it's mod-rewrite module. If you already have a hosting provider but they don't offer MySQL, you can still go a long way by using GetSimple instead of WordPress. However, for $5 to $10 per month you could have almost everything you want now and in the future from your website. Something to consider.
Clarity Is the Key
The question that needs to be answered is, what is it that you want? Technology is there to serve you and the possibilities are almost infinite. The clearer you are about what you want and what your objectives are, the easier it will be to give you a clearer answers. Once you are clear about what you want, the next step is to develop a plan on how to achieve it, identify potential roadblocks and come up with potential solutions on how to overcome these challenges. These are the initial steps I do with all my clients when we start working together. In fact, it works in just about any area of life.
That being said, this is the Web. Nothing is ever carved in stone and you can usually fix anything that goes wrong.
Our Recommended Web Hosting Providers
Here is a short list of companies to help you get started in your research:
- NOT GoDaddy! -- While GoDaddy offers great domain name service, their web hosting service is not recommended.
Are Website Builders worth it?
In short, NO. I can't begin to tell you how many customers I have meet who actually pay extra for this feature and then struggle for weeks or even months to make their website work and look the way they want. In the end, they often switch. While they may look easy at first if you are lucky, you will soon discover that it isn't afterall. Unfortunately you'll think that this is just the way it is and trudge through the experience not realizing just how much easier it could actually be.
If you are an entrepreneur, a small or medium size business, non-profit organization, youth group or sports club, do not pass go, do not collect $200 -- go straight to WordPress and never look back. You'll be glad you did. There are good reasons that it is the most popular website and blogging platform in the world. Start with ease of use, a huge library of themes (the look of your site) and plugins (what you can do with it). Add to that a large community of active developers and the world wide support available to you both on the Internet and from consultants and you'll begin to understand why I call it the iPhone of websites. There's an app (plugin) available for just about anything you might want to do.
You'll be glad from the moment you first log into WordPress as the administrator of your website. You'll be glad as you create your website and add content to it. You'll be glad for years to come as you manage your content and your site grows with you and your business.
I am not saying that WordPress is without its challenges however these will tend to only come up when you are trying to achieve something that you would have never even considered writing your website code in HTML or using a web builder.