Whether you are setting up your first website for your business or just a personal site for yourself, there are a few basic things you will need to know about web hosting — preferably before you start shopping around for a provider. These are the basics of what makes up web hosting, and understanding them will help you get a sense of what you will need to run your website. In this article I will take you through some of the most important considerations and give you the knowledge needed to make decisions.
Storage or Server Space
When you upload your website, you are actually uploading all of your files to a server that is always connected to the Internet. This requires enough memory to store all of your files. When someone goes to your website, their computer reads the files from the server, and that’s how your website appears on their computer screen.
There are two basic kinds of hosting. Most small hosting plans, including personal websites and small business websites, are shared hosting. This means that they are sharing space on the same server, which makes it cheaper, because the cost of buying and maintaining the hardware is shared among all users. That’s why, if you have a small hosting plan, you have a limit on the amount of memory or storage space your website can take up.
The other kind of hosting is dedicated hosting, which is where your website has its very own server. This kind of hosting is more expensive, but it gives you more space and often more speed too, as there isn’t anyone else’s stuff on the server to bog it down. Dedicated hosting is the best choice for large businesses or anyone who has a large website or needs to run a company database on the server.
Regardless of which kind of hosting you have, it is important to ensure that you have plenty of space for your needs. Be generous in your estimates of how much memory your website will require, and be sure to leave plenty of room to grow.
Traffic or Bandwidth
The other major piece of the puzzle is the amount of traffic or bandwidth your website is allotted. Every time someone visits your website, the files on the server must be downloaded to their computer. That’s how they see your page on their screen. In order to do that, the server must send a copy of the files across the Internet.
Most small and medium-sized hosting plans set a limit on how much traffic or bandwidth you get per month, that is, how much information can be transferred to your visitors. For this reason, it is important to have an estimate of how much traffic you think your website will be getting. Personal websites and very small company websites probably will get minimal traffic, but ecommerce websites, company websites with blogs, and other types of sites that will grow with time should plan ahead for spikes in traffic to be sure that service is not interrupted.
Speed is also an issue, as not all web hosts are created equal. Especially if you are starting a large ecommerce website or building a networked system for a chain of brick and mortar stores, the speed of the server can make a huge difference. Shared hosting tends to be a little slower, because the server gets bogged down with all the other activity on it that happens simultaneously. Dedicated hosting or a dedicated server can therefore be a little faster. In addition, there are subtle differences between web hosts that depend on the quality of the service provider’s equipment, among other things.
Speed is not always discussed on a web host’s website however, so how do you decide which is the best service provider? The answer is to research the web host online. Look for user reviews, especially for praise or complaints regarding speed, outages, etc. Remember that angry users are more likely to post a review than happy customers. However, you should look for patterns in the reviews rather than the number of positive versus negative reviews to get a better sense of the speed. Seeing what others have to say about a service can help you make a decision about which web host to choose for your own website.
There is obviously a lot to consider when choosing a web host for your first website, and you may find after a year or two that the provider you chose is not quite right for your needs anymore. Researching your options and understanding what to look for, however, will protect you from making big mistakes that will endanger your business or take all the fun out of having a personal website.
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