Choosing hosting, if you haven’t done it before, might leave you wondering where to start. How can you choose something that you can’t see, you can’t touch, you’ve never used before and you’re not really sure how you’ll use it in the future?
This article gives you an idea what hosting is and what type of hosting you’ll need, to make choosing hosting easier for you.
What is hosting?
What is hosting? Hosting is effectively the “place” where your website will “live”. A hosting account provides you with publicly accessible webspace that you can use to deploy your site, to make it become live on the internet. Choosing hosting, is effectively choosing where your website will reside.
In the last article I covered how to choose a domain. Your domain is effectively mapped (or pointed) to hosting.
Hosting providers provide hosting. This seems an obvious statement to make. Some people might think of hosting as what’s effectively disk space in a publicly accessible locations, in which you can put some files (that make up your website) that can be accessed over the internet. They’re not entirely wrong, but there’s more to hosting than this.
Although the website is what these articles focus on, you’re going to need more than just a website to operate within your hosting. You’re going to need mailboxes (email addresses), if you’re using wordpress to make your site (which is what this guide covers) you’re also going to need a database. You’re also going to need some kind of way of administering and accessing all of these things. Choosing hosting that’s going to suit your needs is dictated by what you’re going to want to do.
To recap, so far we’ve mentioned these factors:
- Files and disk space
- Mailbox/Email account
- Administration and access
If you’re been following these articles step by step you’ll already know that I work for a web hosting provider. What customers buy from us is domain registrations and hosting accounts. The hosting accounts we provide cover the ability to deploy and administer the factors mentioned above.
We use the cPanel hosting platform to provide customers with hosting accounts, and this guide is orientated to using cPanel hosting accounts. Customers buy cPanel hosting accounts from us, then use them to set up their site, set up their mailboxes and also to do all kinds of other things related to running a website, operating mail services and administering a domain.
The cPanel interface is used to administer all the things you can set up that are related to your domain. It’s one of the more friendly interfaces that are available, and it’s widely used by hosting providers so there’s a lot of cPanel specific information available on the internet. The facilities that cPanel provides cover the majority of what most people will need to do in their hosting, so it’s a good choice when it comes to choosing hosting.
There are a lot of different options when it comes to choosing hosting.
The cPanel hosting platform is quite feature rich. It provides features and facilities you’ll need to use to get your website online and operate things like email services. It’s also at the easier end of things to use. The features that a cPanel hosting account provides gives you an easy (or at least easier) interface to do pretty much everything you’d need to do when it comes to hosting a website and mail services.
Choosing hosting that’s easy to use is mainly why I suggest cPanel.
There’s more to cPanel that just hosting accounts. You need a lot of underlying services to make the features available in cPanel work. This is called “the stack”. It might help to think of this a bit like a cake. What on earth do cakes have to do with hosting and websites? Well, cakes are often made of layers, and thinking about a whole hosting platform as layers makes it a bit easier to understand.
I won’t go through the whole stack now, but when using wordpress, what you’re actually using in the “stack” or “cake” is almost always:
- Linux (the operating system of the server)
- Apache (the web server that will serve your site’s page code upon request)
- PHP (the programming language that wordpress is written in)
- MySQL (the database server that stores most of your user specific site data)
This is commonly referred to as the LAMP stack. A LOT of people use this. About 80% of the web runs on LAMP.
The cPanel platform sits on top of this stack and integrates other services with it (an FTP server, for example, which can be used to transfer files from your computer to the platform). It also gives you a usable interface so you don’t have to type at the command line to do everything. It also covers almost all the things you’d want to be able to do when using a hosting account.
There are other alternatives when it comes to choosing hosting, cPanel isn’t the be all and end all. Plesk is a good equivalent to cPanel.
Some hosting providers will have their own bespoke hosting control panel that’s been made for them. Although these can be cheaper, they aren’t as easy to use, and it can be harder to find information about how to use these services, just because they aren’t as widepsread.
Most hosting providers offer a cooling off period, so you can have a look and try things out, and if you don’t like it, you can ask for your money back. It’s important to doa test drive when choosing hosting, and see if it’s something you think you’d be able to use.
but what do I need to buy?!?
Different types of hosting accounts provide different amounts of resources such as:
- Disk space
- Mailboxes/Email accounts
Different amounts of the above, result in different costs.
Knowing what you’re going to need before you actually start isn’t always easy to work out. This can make choosing hosting difficult to work out. The good news is, that most hosting providers offer upgrades, so if you find you need more or the above, you can usually pay more to get what you need.
The Bare minimum
As far as getting started goes, the bare minimum you’ll need when operating a WordPress site and an email address is:
- One database (although being able to use a minimum of two is adviseable)
- 500MB (1/2 GB) of disk space (you’ll need more than this if your site is going to be image heavy or if you want to run a shop)
- 2 Mailboxes (one for you, and one for wordpress – we’ll come to that later)
The Bare minimum cost
Where I work we provide a base hosting account that costs £29.99 per year (plus VAT) that provides more than the above, which is:
- 1GB disk space
- 4 Databases
- Up to 20 mailboxes
More than the minimum
If you’d rather pay more to get more so that you don’t need to worry about running out of things, a lot of hosting providers will offer large packages at a greater cost. You’d most likely be looking at £5-6 per month (or £50 to £60 per year) for a hosting account that covers most eventualities, such as:
- 30GB disk space
- No limit on the number of databases
- No limit on the number of mailboxes
Well done for making it this far. There’s been a lot of reading and a lot of thinking so far. If you’ve read this blog post and the one about choosing a domain you’re now ready to buy your domain and hosting.
Remember this top tip, though, especially if this is the first time you’ve done anything like this (it will make your life easier!):
TOP TIP: Buy your domain and hosting from the same company.
A word about hosting providers
Not all providers provide cPanel. Some use their own bespoke interfaces that can be a bit clunky and hard to navigate as they’ve had more features added over time. If you’re going to want to follow this guide as a like for like instruction manual, you will need to buy cPanel hosting.
Support varies between providers. Generally speaking most providers won’t provide direct support for your wordpress based site (such as how to use it, add functionality to your site, or update it). It’s not their job. There will be a time when you need to ask them something related to the features available in their hosting accounts. A lot of hosting provider’s customer facing support can be questionable. Some don’t even provide phone support. If you think you’re going to need this kind of thing, enquire before buying hosting, and finally choosing hosting.
These are some good things to check before choosing hosting and finding a suitable hosting provider:
- Check them out on review sites such as Trustpilot. If there’s a lot of negative reviews, you might not have the best time.
- Ask around. If you know anyone running their own site, ask them who they use and what they think of them.
- Look them up on Companies House to make sure they’re not a one man band that might disappear in the middle of the night.
These are some good things to ask if you phone a hosting provider when considering buying hosting from them, which will help when it comes to choosing hosting:
- Do you provide certificates for free, are they easy to install? You’ll need one, and you’ll need installation to be automated (manual installation isn’t much fun). If the answer to either of these is no, look elsewhere.
- Do you provide object caching? Redis or Memcached provide oject caching, and these are built in to the underlying platform, so aren’t something you can install or make available. WordPress themselves recommend using this to improve performance, so it’s a good idea to choose a hosting provider that offers this.
- Do you offer Litespeed or Nginx? These are types of web servers that can help improve website performance. Apache has bene commonplace for years now, but Nginx and Litespeed are gaining market share, due to their improved performance.
- What security measures do you have in place? The keywords in the reply you’re looking for are “firewall” and “mod security”.
- Do you include backups in your service? Some providers don’t. If they don’t you’ll need to cover this yourself.
- Do you offer a cooling off period? A cooling off period allows you to buy hosting, check it out, and ask for your money back if you don’t like it, or find it unfriendly to use.
- How do regular payments work? What you’re buying with your domain and hosting are effectively time based subscriptions. You wouldn’t want to miss one and lose everything.
- What support is available? There might only be chat or helpdesk based support available, which you’ll need to be able to use if you choose a provider that works like this.
- How much downtime have you had in the last year? Things go wrong, and nothing lasts forever. This can affect the availability of your site. If a hosting provider isn’t on top of this side of things, it can result in your website being unavailable.
Good luck! Don’t worry, you’ll be fine. If the worst comes to the worst you can always move providers if you find you’re having a bad time. It can be a bit of an effort moving, but it’s by no means impossible. I hope this guide to choosing hosting helps you find some hosting that’s right for you, and then you won’t need to move.