What is website hosting?

As a web developer, it’s all too easy for me to assume others understand terms that are essentially industry specific technical jargon. Website hosting is one of these terms that can easily be overlooked when working on a flashy new website, but it’s an important consideration not just for the launch but the ongoing health of the site.

What are website hosting services?

To answer this, we first need to look at how a webpage makes its way to you when browsing the web. This process starts with your device wanting to locate a page, this can be from typing in the website address (also known as the URL) or from you clicking on a link – for example from a Google search results page.

When you make this request, your device sends a request out onto the internet looking for your website. It does this via your internet provider and the Domain Name System (DNS), this will essentially convert your requested website address from the human-readable format “google.co.uk” into an IP address “8.8.8.8”. Once your device has this IP address, it can send a request directly to the server set up on the other end to handle requests. This server will then send the files that make up the webpage to your device for it to display, these files will include HTML, CSS, images.

Website hosting is the service that maintains the server set up to handle these requests for your website, its most likely a server in a large data center that’s created specifically to host websites. The different types of hosting vary in their setup, but they all come down to a computer constantly connected to the internet ready to send out the files that make up your website.

Your website host will charge you for the ‘rent’ of the server space with this money going towards building the servers, maintaining them and their software but also to cover other things like power use and other features like email services and DNS management.


Why website hosting is important

Website hosting is really important to the success and health of your website, it’s hard sometimes to justify something intangible, but hosting is like many things – “you get what you pay for”. The best website hosting will give your website a strong, reliable home. This will enable it to serve your visitors quickly and effectively, something that has a direct impact on your website’s ranking in search engines and with your visitors themselves.

Google: “Speed is now used as a ranking factor” https://developers.google.com/web/updates/2018/07/search-ads-speed

53% of mobile website visitors will leave if a webpage doesn’t load within three seconds https://www.marketingdive.com/news/google-53-of-mobile-users-abandon-sites-that-take-over-3-seconds-to-load/426070/

Website conversion rates drop by an average of 4.42% with each additional second of load time https://www.portent.com/blog/analytics/research-site-speed-hurting-everyones-revenue.htm

These show why hosting is important in terms of speed, but reliability is also key. If your website hosting is not up to scratch, it will affect your uptime and could leave users unable to access your website. If this happens often enough, Google will notice and penalise you in the search results.

How much does hosting cost?

The cost of website hosting varies depending on the features and the performance, its important to get the right fit for your website so you are getting the performance you need without paying for something thats overpowered. Hosting with a bit of breathing room for a growing website is always a good idea, as is a service that allows upgrading to more powerful hosting if required.

Free hosting providers

There are some services that offer free hosting, these tend to be very limited or tied into other services, some require the use of specific domains or TLD’s (the bit on the end such as .co.uk). These are not really suitable for anything more than simple single page hobby ‘holding sites’. I would strongly suggest any type of serious website or business site look for something more suitable.

Shared hosting services

This is the most basic level of hosting I would suggest. They come in many shapes and forms, but the thing they all have in common is that the resources the company has are shared between all the websites they host. Putting it simply a single server may be shared by thousands of other websites.

The portative affects of this approach is the cost, the upkeep and other costs are distributed out over the large number of sites. The negatives are the performance is also shared, meaning you will only get a small portion of the power on offer, this may be sufficient but worth keeping in mind for larger/more popular sites.

They also restricted this type of hosting in what you can instal, the service provider will set up a standard environment and it’s the same for all users. There may be limits to what software/services you can install.

Virtual private servers (VPS)

The next step up is a VPS, these give you a virtual server to set up as you require. They typically give you full control over it, meaning you can install any services/software you want but at the cost of you needing to take responsibility of the management (updates, backups etc).

They are ‘virtual’ because the hosting provider will create them using specialist software, this allows them to host multiple virtual servers on a single physical server again helping to keep the costs under control. Each server in this situation will host fewer websites than the shared hosting option and typically will have a portion of the server sectioned off. For example, if the server has 12 processing cores, they may set it up to host 12 VPS servers, each with a single core reserved.

Dedicated server

Like VPS hosting this gives you full control over the services and software installed on the server, this time however you are not sharing any of the resources on the server with anyone else. This gives you a massive amount of performance but comes at a cost as you are not sharing the cost with other people & you being responsible for updates and maintenance to the software/services.

Cloud hosting

While this is more a way for providers to arrange their hosting platform, it can be a very useful service as it combines the benefits of the other types while limiting the additional costs. Cloud hosting is when a group of servers are combined into a hosting platform, websites are then hosted on packages set up on this platform.

This set up lets websites benefit from the resources of the whole cluster of servers, so, for example, if one server has a hardware failure the others can take up the slack and keep all the websites live while the server is fixed.

Some set ups will include servers from around the world in their platform, this means it will serve users from around the world from their closest server helping with the speed and performance. This is similar to how content delivery networks (CDN’s) work and can give your website a real boost.

The last key point to this type of hosting is the ability for it to scale up and down as required, it means you can start off with a base package and as you need it you can scale up the resources without needing to move servers.


Which website hosting service is best

This really depends on your website and what features it needs, you need to look at the number of visitors you are expecting and what they will be doing. The more visitors you have, or the more complex activities your visitors are doing, the more performance you will need. If you already have hosting in place, it will give you a good starting point when looking, think about how your current website is doing and if it’s slow in places or at peak times look at the next step up.

For new websites this is harder to judge, my suggestion would be to look for a platform that will let you grow, starting off with shared hosting or better yet cloud hosting will give you a cost effective starting point to give your website a good start. You can then evaluate and increase hosting as your site grows.

If you’re in any doubt, talk to your developer, or look at the recommended specifications for the software your website running on to help guide you.

First posted: 6/11/19
Updated: 14/4/21

Blog post by Alex Wells

Blog post by: Alex Wells

Based in Saffron Walden, Essex, I have over 10 years experience in crafting bespoke websites for a wide range of clients, I love helping businesses and individuals achieve their digital goals through smart deployment of modern web technologies.

Follow Alex Wells on LinkedIn