In the same way that you save documents on your computer so that you can access them again at any time, the files which make up your website need to be stored (hosted) on a server so that they can be accessed. This is the core service that a web host provides.
A server is a type of computer and, just like with any other computer, it can come with different specifications. Different users will require different amounts of disk space, RAM, software, etc. So, how do you figure out what specifications you’ll need? Assuming your website runs on WordPress, you’ll need to consider the following things.
The smallest WordPress website I’ve built takes up 50MB server space; the largest to date requires 65KB. The amount of space required will mostly depend on the number of media files you upload (images, PDFs, sound clips, videos, etc).
However large your site is at launch, you’ll definitely want some room to grow. I’d recommend looking for a web host who offers at least 1GB of server space so you won’t have to worry about exceeding it for a long time.
PHP and MySQL
For WordPress to be able to work, the server your website is hosted on must support PHP and MySQL. PHP is a scripting language; MySQL is a database management system.
The WordPress requirements page is the place to check to see what the latest recommendations are. At the time of writing, PHP version 5.6 or greater and MySQL version 5.6 or greater are recommended.
Shared, virtual private or dedicated?
Shared servers can be a good place to start if you’re only just getting your business and website up and running. Their main advantage is the price; with so many competing web hosts, you can find deals of as little as a few pounds per month and can often save even more by paying for a year in advance.
There are disadvantages, though, which tend to become more noticeable as your site becomes more established. Your website will be affected by others on the same server – if another site is spammy, you might find that your site takes far longer than usual to load because you share server resources.
I have had good and bad experiences with shared web hosting – it’s largely down to who you end up sharing the server with, but there’s no knowing exactly how that will affect your website until it’s too late.
Virtual private servers (VPS)
A VPS is a middle-ground between a shared and a dedicated server, in terms of both performance and cost. Technically you are still sharing a server with others (which helps to keep the cost lower), however that server has been partitioned and each part has dedicated server resources.
This means that any performance issues with another website hosted on the same physical server won’t affect your website, so a VPS is a great option for a website which is growing in popularity.
If you outgrow a VPS, the next step up is a dedicated server. As the name suggests, this is a server just for you.
Benefits include being able to specify which components you want your server to be built with so that you can tune the performance of your website. The price is understandably higher for this far more customised service, but if your website requires this, it’s a wise investment!
A vital thing to consider when you’re choosing hosting is the support you’ll receive. Most companies tend to offer support via telephone, email and live chat on their website, but some companies don’t offer telephone support in order to keep their costs down.
Before I use or recommend any web host, I always test out their support. Usually this involves asking them a question (or a few) via email and waiting to see how long it takes to get a reply and what the quality of that reply is like. I’d highly recommend that you do that as well; there’s nothing worse than finding out that a web host doesn’t respond very quickly when you’ve already started paying them and your website has gone down!
Problems do happen occasionally with web hosting – this should be expected. But the quality of the support you receive when these problems occur makes a tremendous difference to the experience you have with your host.
Ideally, you want to find a great web host you can grow with. So take a look at the different packages they offer – can you start with a smaller package which is suitable for your needs now, then upgrade to a larger package later when you require more resources?
Although you absolutely can change your web host, it’s not always simple – depending on which hosts you are moving from and to. Ask around for recommendations and search the web for reviews of the web hosts you’re considering to get a better idea of their pros and cons before you get started. Hopefully then you can avoid the hassle of moving from one to another too much!
What questions do you have about hosting?
Leave a comment below with your questions and I’ll do my best to answer them for you!