What is a web host and which is the best one?

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how to choose the right web host

When you are planning a website, one of your first steps may be to shop for a web host. This is a very important choice, because a web host is where your website will “live” and it will affect your website’s speed, security, and reliability.

Essentially, a web host is someone you pay to store the files that make up your website and allows them to be accessible on the internet when someone types in your web address. Usually, they charge for this service monthly, but sometimes you can get discounts for paying a year or multiple years at a time.

When it comes to picking a web host, your two main choices boil down to shared hosting vs. VPS hosting. Let’s discuss!

What is shared hosting?

Shared hosting means that your website lives on the same server as a number of other websites (hundreds of others, if not thousands), and they share resources like bandwidth and processing power with your website. It’s very much like your website lives in one unit of an apartment building.

Advantages of shared hosting

  1. Cheap
  2. Beginner friendly

Shared hosting is typically designed for site owners to get up and running with little technical expertise, and it is very affordable. Entry level shared hosting is typically advertised at $10-15 per month (some offer introductory prices for half that). Hosting companies like to throw around terms like “unlimited everything” and “99% uptime,” and as a result, these inexpensive plans are by far the most popular option for those just starting out with a website for their business.

Drawbacks of shared hosting

  1. Slow
  2. Not reliable
  3. Potential security risks

With shared hosting being like apartment living, sometimes you can be adversely affected by noisy neighbors. If another site that shares resources with yours– your “neighbor” in the server that your site is hosted on– sees a spike in their resource usage, this may affect your website’s reliability. A visitor to your site may see an error message instead of your site, or it may take a very long time for your web page(s) to load.

Tip: If you already have a website on a shared hosting plan… are you curious what other websites are hosted on your same server? Check with this free tool.

Another drawback involves security. If your web host is not on their game security-wise, it’s possible for one insecure site on a shared host to infect other sites living on the same server, and it’s not always easy to detect that your site is infected by malware.

Even when your site is optimized and secure, shared hosting can be pretty slow. If your visitors are mostly directly visiting your website in order to specifically learn about your business, they may be more patient.

However, if you’re in a competitive market, visitors may be quick to hit the back button if the site takes longer than 1-3 seconds to fully load.

Tip: Check how long your site takes to load with this free tool.

If your business is at scale, and absolutely depends on your customers being able to access your website (for example, ecommerce) you’ll want to stay away from shared hosting.

You might think the only other option is paying to have a server all to yourself. For high volume ecommerce or other big scale requirements, this could be the way to go. For others, running your own server(s) can be prohibitively expensive, and unnecessary, because there’s a happy medium in cloud VPS hosting.

VPS Hosting

If you’ve outgrown your shared hosting plan, hosting your website on a Virtual Private Server (VPS) could be the way to go. This is a virtual hosting environment that gives you the control and security of your own dedicated server, at a much more manageable monthly cost.

A VPS is a simulated private server that, while it shares the same physical hardware as other VPSs, is designed to separate your account from others. So even though you are sharing space on the same physical machines, you are able to get much better performance than shared hosting. You have full access to the resources that you pay for. Security issues on other accounts will not affect you. And it’s much less expensive than leasing your own physical server.

For my clients, I provide managed WordPress hosting using DigitalOcean’s cloud computing. Your hosting plan can be totally customized to your needs, and can grow with your business. I provide a high-speed, secure, hands-on managed environment for your website. All my website packages include a free trial so you can see the difference firsthand. If you’re in need of hosting for your website, you can read more about my support plans here, which have hosting bundled in.

Bottom line

Shared hosting is an inexpensive and popular way to get online, but can be slow, unreliable and insecure. If your website is critical to your business, and you need to scale to large amounts of traffic (popular blogs, high volume eCommerce) you will do better investing a little more per month in a VPS hosting plan. This could be with me, or if you are looking to DIY, many hosting companies that offer shared hosting have VPS plans as well.

Kelsey Barmettler headshot

Kelsey Barmettler

I'm a web designer near Tucson, AZ and I write these articles to help business owners (including my clients) be more informed and empowered about their websites.