Hosting is one of the first things you’ll need to take into consideration when launching a new website. This aspect is so important, in fact, that many webmasters look into potential hosting options even before they register a domain name or decide upon the theme of their website. But how do you host a website? Can you do it yourself or do you have to pay a company to do it for you? Those questions may seem basic to a veteran webmaster but if you’re a novice, the answers aren’t necessarily obvious.
Well, don’t worry because in this guide we’re going to teach you everything you need to know about web hosting and give you some tips and tricks on how to get started on the right foot. The first thing worth noting is that you can indeed host your website locally but most people let a company do it for them. Signing up with a reliable hosting company is almost always a better option, especially if you’re a beginner. We’ll teach you how to self-host a website later on in this guide but let’s start with the traditional option first.
There are essentially only four steps you’ll need to follow in order to successfully host a website with one of the many providers available on the market right now. We will recommend some of our favorite options in this guide but the choice is ultimately up to you.
Before you start looking into hosting providers, it helps to have a general idea of what sort of website you want to create. Do you want a simple blog, a content-driven website or maybe an eCommerce platform? This is an important aspect to consider because some companies are better than others at hosting certain types of websites.
A couple of other things you’ll need to take into account are your budget and the amount of time you’re willing to invest in building your website. Some companies offer all-in-one platforms that give you everything you need to launch a new website, including a site builder, various tools and apps, a domain name, and of course, the hosting service itself.
Meanwhile, other companies sell these services separately instead of bundling them together. And then there are companies that focus solely on the hosting and trust that their customers can take care of the website building process by themselves. All these different types of companies have their own pros and cons but we’re going to talk about that a bit later on in this guide.
How to Host a Website With a Provider
Now that you know a little bit about what to expect, let’s take a closer look at the four steps you’ll need to follow if you decide to let a company host your website. These are as follows:
- Research and compare hosting providers.
- Pick the provider that best matches the type of website you want to build.
- Pick an appropriate web hosting plan.
- Register or transfer a domain name.
Step 1: Compare Hosting Providers
While you could simply do a quick Google search and choose a popular hosting provider at random, we recommend looking into multiple options before making a final decision. Comparing hosting providers can be a bit difficult if you’re not sure what to look for, but you’re in luck because an entire section of our website is dedicated specifically to hosting comparisons.
You can check out some of our comparisons if you want to speed up the process or you can compare them yourself by looking at how they stack up against each other in terms of features, prices, performance, customer support, and the types of hosting they offer.
It can also be helpful to remember that most hosting providers fall into one of these three main categories:
- All-purpose Providers
- Specialized Providers
- Website Builders
Instead of randomly comparing the various providers you come across, you can narrow things down and compare popular companies that are part of one of these categories.
These are jack-of-all-trades companies that usually try to offer a little something for everybody. This includes not just multiple types of hosting but also domain registrations, site builders, add-ons, and a variety of other services. All-purpose providers are generally a good pick for most types of websites and they tend to offer pretty solid performance, however, some (but not all) of these companies are not very welcoming to novice webmasters. At least not as welcoming as companies that fall into the third category. Below are a few examples of well-known all-purpose hosting providers, in no particular order.
Just as their name indicates, these companies take a more specialized approach to their hosting services. Specialized providers are less versatile than all-purpose providers because they rarely offer more than one type of hosting. However, they usually offer the best tools and features for those interested in their particular niche. Some of these companies target experienced users but others are suitable for novices as well. Below are a few examples of well-known specialized providers, in no particular order.
- DigitalOcean (cloud hosting)
- Shopify (eCommerce)
- Shockbyte (gaming)
- Vultr (cloud hosting)
- MCProHosting (gaming)
This last category includes companies that offer all-in-one-packages complete with hosting, domain name, apps, and site builder. As you’ve probably already guessed, the website builder is the main selling point here, with everything else being offered simply as a bonus meant to sweeten the deal. These companies are extremely user-friendly and are the easiest to work with but they often don’t offer as many features as other providers and their performance tends to be unimpressive. Below are a few examples of well-known website builders, in no particular order.
Step 2: Choose the Best Hosting Provider for Your Future Website
We only listed some of the top hosting providers earlier but there are many more where those came from. It’s not uncommon to feel a bit overwhelmed by the sheer amount of choice at your disposal. However, you can make things easier for yourself by learning about some of the key factors every webmaster needs to keep in mind before picking their hosting provider. These can vary depending on your experience level and the type of website you want to build but, generally speaking, you’ll want to look into the following:
Needless to say, you don’t want to spend too much money on your web hosting but you may not necessarily want to go with the cheapest option either. Very cheap hosting packages can be a good choice for beginners but they usually come with a lot of drawbacks, such as limited resources or branded ads that can’t be removed. Try to go for one of the mid-tier plans right off the bat if you can afford it because doing so can help your site grow faster.
Most providers list their cheapest prices front and center but often fail to mention that you’ll need to sign up for a multi-year contract in order to take advantage of them. If you’re not ready to make a large upfront investment, you’ll want to look for providers that support monthly billing cycles.
Performance and Reliability
Most providers will guarantee that your website will be online anywhere between 99% and 99.99% of the time. Now, just because a company guarantees that your website will be accessible 99.95% of the time, for example, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll never experience more than 0.5% downtime. What it actually means is that if your uptime dips under the promised value, you will be compensated in some form or another.
There are many factors that dictate the performance of a website, some of which are outside of the hosting provider’s control. That said, you’ll want to make sure that the provider you choose offers plenty of storage and bandwidth and that its servers are at least somewhat fast. Hosting companies are usually pretty vague when they talk about speeds so we recommend checking out some of our hosting reviews if you’re looking for detailed stats about a certain provider.
Backup and Restore
Being able to easily back up your files is crucial because you never know when you may want to revert to a previous version of your website. A lot of the time you can manually back up your files by downloading them on your computer via FTP. However, this method can be a bit complicated for beginners so it’s better to choose a provider that offers an automatic backup & restore tool. Some companies don’t charge for tools like that but in many cases, you’ll need to pay for them separately, especially if you’re on a very cheap hosting plan.
This isn’t necessarily a must for everyone but it helps to be able to create email addresses that reflect the name of your website. Many hosting providers are very generous when it comes to @domain emails, offering an unlimited number of them even with their cheapest plans. Other companies, however, are a lot stingier and either make you pay for mailboxes or only give you access to a limited number of them. Ideally, you’ll want to pick a provider that lets you create unlimited emails for free.
Needless to say, this particular feature is useful only if you’re planning to build an online store. If you do, you can either go with a specialized platform like Shopify or an all-purpose provider that offers eCommerce integration. A lot of website builders can also do a great job at letting you create robust online stores, Weebly arguably being the best of them at this right now. While looking into hosting providers that support eCommerce, make sure to go for a company that offers more than the basic features if you want your store to stand out from the crowd.
About 36% of all websites on the internet run on WordPress nowadays and that percentage is likely to grow even more in the future. WordPress itself offers hosting packages but we recommend going with a different provider like SiteGround or DreamHost and then installing the free version of the CMS on top. Doing so can save you some money and you’ll be able to take full advantage of WordPress’ flexibility right off the bat.
If the platform seems a bit intimidating to you, it’s worth noting that a lot of providers offer managed WordPress packages, which cost most than the regular ones, but are great for beginners because they involve less work on your part. With a managed WordPress plan, you can rest easy knowing that your provider does much of the heavy lifting for you and helps you get the site up and running in no time.
It’s almost impossible to know exactly what to expect from a company’s customer support team before you sign up but you can get a pretty good idea by looking up some reviews on a site like Trustpilot. Good providers generally have multiple channels that you can use to get in touch with support agents, including live chat, ticket system, email, and a phone number. Support is less necessary if you’re an advanced user but having someone who can lend you a helping hand is always great, regardless of your experience level.
This is somewhat related to performance but we wanted to list it separately because it can be very important for some people. Most of the top providers have at least two data centers but a select few of them have a lot more than that. Even more importantly, some companies have data centers located in multiple regions across the world. Choosing a data center that’s as close to you as possible will help your website run faster so don’t overlook the location coverage when picking a hosting provider.
Step 3: Choose a Suitable Hosting Plan for Your Website
Now that you’ve picked the provider that best suits your needs, it’s time to choose a hosting plan. A lot of people start off small with the cheapest package and then work their way up from there. That’s a solid course of action in many cases but, as mentioned earlier, cheap plans come with many downsides so it helps to go with a mid-tier one if you can afford it.
Before you choose a plan you should have at least a rough idea of what sort of website you want to build. You can get away with a cheap or even a free plan if all you want to build is a simple blog. If you’re building a website that you expect to grow very quickly, on the other hand, it’s worth investing a little bit extra into your hosting just so you can secure more resources and useful tools.
Your budget and your expectations for the site will dictate the type of hosting you’re going to need. There are four main types to choose from but keep in mind that not every company will offer all of them. For example, website builders like Wix and Squarespace only offer shared hosting while specialized providers like Kamatera tend to work exclusively with cloud hosting.
Here’s some useful information to keep in mind about each of the main types of hosting:
Just as its name suggests, shared hosting means that multiple websites share the same server and, consequently, the same resources. This is usually the cheapest type of hosting you can find but it doesn’t offer the best performance and the scalability is limited. One of the biggest problems with shared hosting is that you generally don’t know how many other users are on your server and how many resources are allocated to each user. Despite that, however, this is the most popular type of hosting thanks to its affordability.
Shared hosting plans are primarily targeted at novice webmasters and users who don’t necessarily need the improved performance and advanced features included with some of the other hosting types. If this is your first time launching a website, shared hosting is a good place to start in spite of its drawbacks. You likely won’t need a lot of resources in the beginning anyway and you can transition to a different type of hosting later on if necessary. If you’re launching a blog, portfolio, events website or small business website with lots of static content, shared hosting is perfect for you.
Cloud hosting is becoming increasingly more popular thanks to its (generally) low prices and fantastic scalability. Instead of being hosted on a single server in a data center, your website is hosted by multiple servers in this case. It still sort of acts like shared hosting because you don’t have exclusive access to resources but this system ensures better performance. You also don’t have to worry too much about downtime with this type of hosting because if your current server becomes inactive, a different one will jump in to keep your site online.
A lot of the time cloud hosting is aimed at developers because the companies that specialize in this type of hosting often don’t offer a cPanel or any ease-of-use features. But there are exceptions to this and in recent times more and more all-purpose providers have also begun offering cloud hosting plans, complete with certain tools and features that make them suitable for newcomers. Regardless of your experience level, however, this type of hosting is best for those who want to start cheap and be able to scale up their hosting quickly and easily. Cloud hosting is ideal for scalability because many providers have systems that automatically add extra resources to your server only when you need them.
VPS (Virtual Private Server)
This is the first type of hosting that gives you actual exclusive access to resources. However, it doesn’t give you access to an entire server, in spite of what the name might imply. Instead, providers partition physical servers into several so-called virtual servers. Each of these partitions can run separate operating systems and applications, allowing them to perform independently from one another. Even though you don’t get access to an entire server, having a block of resources all to yourself allows your website to run smoother and experience less downtime when compared to sites hosted on a shared plan.
This is a great type of hosting for pretty much anyone who values performance and scalability. While virtual private servers can get quite expensive, there are a number of providers that charge reasonable prices. Still, a VPS will set you back more than a shared hosting package so make sure that you can afford the investment. Also, make sure that you actually need the dedicated resources before you decide to purchase a VPS. Virtual private servers are primarily aimed at advanced users but some companies offer managed VPS packages that are suitable for everyone.
The name says it all. If you decide to purchase a dedicated server you are guaranteed exclusive access to the whole thing. In essence, it’s the same deal you get with a VPS but instead of only owning a portion of the server, you own it in its entirety. For as long as your subscription remains active, of course. Having complete control over a server comes with plenty of perks and a significant boost in performance for all sites hosted on it. However, this privilege comes at a price, with dedicated servers being a lot more expensive than all the other types of hosting.
Given the high price tag, we can only recommend a dedicated server to business owners or users who own multiple websites, at least some of which are already profitable. Going for a dedicated server right off the bat is definitely not recommended. Instead, you should stick to a VPS for as long as possible and upgrade only once you’re sure you can afford to spend $100+ per month on your hosting. Dedicated servers are even less user-friendly than a VPS and require a bit of technical know-how in order to get the most out of them. Certain dedicated servers do come with cPanel but more often than not, they only include root access.
As I’m sure you’ve already figured out by now, we’ve ordered the four types of hosting from cheapest to most expensive and we recommend starting from the bottom and gradually working your way up the ladder for the best results. That said, there are some exceptions.
If you’re transferring an already-established website from a different provider, you may want to skip shared hosting and go straight for one of the other types. Also, if you’re a developer working on high-end applications, you’ll need at least a cloud or virtual private server as shared hosting simply won’t cut it. If you’re a beginner, however, you definitely won’t miss out on anything by starting off with cheap hosting.
Step 4: Purchase a Domain Name
In many cases, this is actually the first thing you’ll want to take into consideration but there are times when you won’t have to worry about this aspect until after you’ve chosen your hosting plan. That’s because a lot of providers these days include a free domain name with their plans, so registering one separately won’t be necessary. Free domains are usually only available for the first year so it’s a good idea to look into the renewal costs, just so you’ll know what to expect when your first term expires.
Is there a point in buying a domain if you don’t have hosting yet? There are actually a number of situations when you may want to register a domain even if you don’t have a host. Good domain names increase in value over time so it’s not uncommon for people to buy them cheap and sell them for a profit later on. If you’re in the business of buying and selling domain names but don’t want to build any websites, you don’t need to worry about hosting.
A lot of hosting providers also offer domain registration services, however, some of them won’t let you register a domain unless you also buy a hosting plan. While you can register a domain with one company and get you hosting from a different one, it’s usually a good idea to have both of them in the same place for the sake of convenience. It’s also worth noting that domains, unlike hosting plans, can be transferred from one company to another. Some companies will allow you to transfer your domain for free but others will charge you for it.
How to Host a Website Locally
Letting a company host your website for you is a much better option than doing it yourself. If you do want to give it a try, however, we can show you two different methods of achieving that goal – one for Windows and one for Linux. Neither option is suitable for beginners and you have to keep in mind that hosting your website locally means that you have to take care of the maintenance yourself and have a computer that’s running 24/7.
The Windows Method
Step 1: Turn Your PC Into a WAMP Server
WAMP is an acronym that stands for Windows, Apache, MySQL, and PHP. Installing a piece of WAMP software on your computer will allow you to turn it into a server that can host your website. One of the most popular programs that can do that is simply known as WampServer but you can find a few other good ones out there. Regardless of which software you choose, install it on your computer and stick to the default settings, unless you know what you’re doing of course.
Step 2: Upload Your Site Files to Your Server
With your computer now able to act as a server, it’s time to upload your core site files. You’ll have to write these files yourself in HTML and you need to make sure that the files have the .php extension. If you don’t know a lot about coding you can look up the scripts online. Once you have the files at hand, open your WAMP software and upload them to the ‘www directory.’
Step 3: Make Your Website Public
If you only want to host a website for testing purpose you can skip this step, but if you want to bring your website online, you’ll need to do it manually. To get started, go to ‘Apache’ and look for a file labeled ‘httpd.config’. Modify it to read as follows:
Allow from all
Your new website is now live and ready to be populated with content.
The Linux Method
Step 1: Install LAMP Software
This first step is pretty much identical to the one described earlier for Windows but instead of WAMP software, you’ll need to install a LAMP stack. The acronym stands for Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP. Linux works a bit differently than Windows so to begin the installation open the command terminal and type in the following:
sudo apt install apache2 mysql-server php libapache2-mod-php7.0
Step 2: Configure Your Site Files and DNS
LAMP software works similar to WAMP, allowing you to add your own files to the root directory of your website. Once again, you’ll need to write the files yourself and make sure to use the .php extension.
Step 3: Configure Apache
If you want to launch your website on the internet instead of keeping it private you’ll need to set up a new directory and configure Apache to accept visitor requests.
Is It Expensive to Host a Website Using a Provider?
That all depends on your hosting plan. Shared hosting packages go for as little as $2-3 per month or you can even opt for a website builder that offers free plans if you don’t mind the drawbacks. On the high end of things, things can indeed get pretty expensive, with solid dedicated servers costing several hundreds of dollars per month.
What’s the Most Popular Hosting Provider?
The list of most popular hosting providers tends to fluctuate from year to year but you’ll almost always find the following on that list: Bluehost, HostGator, SiteGround, GoDaddy, Dreamhost, InMotion Hosting, and Wix.
Is it Worth Hosting a Website Locally?
Generally speaking, no. It can be in very specific scenarios where you have a spare computer that runs around the clock and a website with static content. But even so, the performance will be much worse than if you would let a hosting provider take care of the site. In some cases, you’ll lose more money by hosting locally because you’ll need to spend extra on your electrical bills.
Finding the best hosting provider for your website doesn’t have to be a complicated process. If you follow the steps described in this guide you should be able to find an ideal match in no time. We recommend looking into as many companies as possible before you make a decision. Most users stick with the same company they first sign up with for a long time so this process shouldn’t be rushed.
As far as hosting your website locally is concerned, we don’t recommend it because of the many drawbacks involved but it can be a fun experiment that can teach you a little about servers and hosting. Just make sure not to try it on your main computer because you won’t be able to run any other applications if you want your website to remain stable.