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Where does your website live? It might be tempting to answer ‘on the internet!’, though that’s not technically true. All websites need to be stored somewhere, and in a way that allows internet users to access them. They need to be ‘hosted’.
Web hosting is big business. It’s something that you can technically do yourself, but the need for particular expertise, the hardware and software costs, and the endless demand for resources and effort required means that almost every website on the internet is hosted by a third-party provider.
Today we’ll be taking a closer look at hosting and answering the most common questions that surround it: what is website hosting? What is a web server? How do I choose a domain name and hosting plan?
Read on to find out all that and more.
What is web hosting?
What is website hosting? In the simplest terms, it is when space on a web server, hosted by a hosting provider, is given to a particular website. That space is used to store all of the website’s files – the code, the text, the imagery and more – that allow it to be viewed and used online.
Every website on the internet, everyone you’ve ever visited, is hosted.
There are a number of different forms of web hosting that are designed for different situations, including dedicated, shared and virtual private server (VPS) hosting, which we’ll investigate in further detail below.
Why your website needs web hosting
Web hosting is an industry that didn’t exist before the internet. But as the World Wide Web grew, so too did the hosting industry, to the point that it will be worth US$216 billion by 2025.
Like every other website on the internet, yours needs to be hosted. But why should you choose to use a third-party provider over hosting it yourself? There are two main reasons:
- Expertise: Hosting a website is a complex job that demands a very particular set of skills.
- Cost: Between hardware, software and the aforementioned expertise, hosting a single website is incredibly expensive.
Third-party providers use economies of scale to make website hosting super affordable. They also offer greater security, reliability, expertise and support than if you tried to DIY it.
What is a web server?
The web server is the software and/or hardware that stores all the content that makes up your website and delivers it to a visitor’s web browser via the hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP).
The server can be thought of as the office space for your website; it acts as a space for a website to call home, to store all its files, and to communicate with web browsers like Chrome, Safari, Firefox and more.
What are hosting service providers?
Web hosting providers could equally be called web server providers, as the web server technology described above is what they primarily use to fulfill their operations.
Most hosting providers offer a wide range of hosting services. Along with website hosting they might offer email hosting, database hosting and domain name system (DNS) hosting, often bundling a number of these services together.
Hosting service providers have a few main responsibilities: they must run servers that rarely (if ever) go down, meaning they need super reliable power sources, as well as dependable and secure internet connections with sufficient upstream bandwidth.
Some of the biggest names in the web hosting game include GoDaddy, Amazon Web Services, Squarespace, Bluehost, 1&1 and HostGator.
Different types of hosting providers
Hosting provider services fall into three main categories:
- Dedicated: Offering the greatest control to the website owner, this sees the server being rented by you and you alone. You are granted complete root and admin access and can control everything from operating systems to security.
- Shared: Shared hosting means your website will be sharing a server with other websites. This brings down the cost significantly, although you don’t enjoy the same levels of control as you do with a dedicated server (though that won’t matter for most website owners.)
- Virtual private server (VPS): A middle ground between dedicated and shared hosting, VPS hosting is for those looking for a little more control than that offered by a shared server, but who don’t have the budget or technical ability necessary for dedicated hosting.
Choosing the right hosting plan
Choosing a hosting service can be an intimidating prospect for a website owner, but if you know the key things to compare across providers and plans, it makes things far easier. The following six factors are a great place to start:
- Reliability (uptime scores)
- Service and support
- Pricing (including registration and maintenance costs)
- eCommerce, domain and email hosting options
- Any applicable account limitations
Using a domain name with a hosting provider
Standing out amongst the internet’s 400 million registered domains might feel impossible, but a well-chosen domain name can do just that. It should be short, sharp, relevant, memorable, Googleable, and most importantly, available.
Most hosting providers offer packages that combine web hosting services with DNS services, and many will help you find a domain name that ticks all the above boxes.
Choosing a domain name
How do you choose a domain name that does all that you want it to do? The following tips can help:
- Find a .com extension wherever possible
- Use a keyword in the domain name to improve searchability
- Ensure it’s easy to spell and pronounce
- Avoid hyphens and double letters
- Keep it short and sharp
- Be unique – avoid piggybacking off another brand
- Buy multiple similar domains to protect your brand
Most often your domain will simply be the name of your business. If you haven’t yet decided what that will be, check out our guide to naming your new venture!
Transferring a domain name to a new hosting provider
Have you already got a domain name, and are simply thinking of switching hosting providers? In order to keep that domain name, you’ll need to follow a transfer process. In the case of transferring your domain to Square, you’ll need to follow the simple steps outlined in this article.
Update web hosting based on website needs
As your online presence grows and your website needs change, your hosting service needs will evolve too. If you’re a new website owner, the best hosting providers will be those that are capable of servicing your needs throughout that growth cycle, offering hosting options and plans that range from entry-level to high-end.
But if you discover a need to change hosting providers, no matter. For the most part, this is a relatively simple process, and shopping around will ensure you always enjoy the best deal.
In Square Online you have a website building and hosting platform rolled into one. Offering one of the simplest entries into the World Wide Web for eCommerce retailers, Square Online gives you all the functionality that you need, and also allows you to get started for FREE!
If you’re ready to make the most of the endless opportunities that the internet offers, Square is ready to help.