Web Hosting Services Explained

The Beginner’s Guide to Small Business Website Hosting

Why did I write this guide?

When I was first introduced to web hosting services in 2004, my experience was easy and painless. With the help of a good friend, who already knew hosting well, I was able to get started and begin playing with what it had to offer in no time. However, when you are a total newbie the processes and technology behind web hosting could be a bit confusing. And you will end up spending hours reading information about the technology, what services to pick, searching for the reliable company and learning what else is behind the closed door.

After 10 years of experience in web hosting and the world of online in general, I`ve decided to create this free guide with goal to help people with their journey online and encountering web hosting world. This guide was written to explain web hosting in detail using simple language. Regardless of whom your host is and what your desires are, this guide will show you how to get the most of the hosting account.

Who is this guide for?

If you are reading this guide we are going to assume a few things about you:

  • Your are planning to make (or already have) a website or start a blog
  • You have access to a computer and have a connection to the internet
  • You are not a super techy person, but you want to understand the technology
  • You know the basics of the Internet, Google, websites, and what a web address is

How much of this guide should you read?

Read what you want, but to get the most value I recommend reading the whole thing! While you may not need to apply every section while getting familiar with your hosting provider today, you will get an understanding of how different technologies work.

Part 1: General web hosting terms and what each function does
Part 2 :Talking about available technologies and hosting choices
Part 3 :Helps you pick web hosting provider that is best for your need
Part 4 :Explains some basic functionality and how to use it
Part 5 :Glossary of web hosting terms

Part 1: Getting started

Summary: In this section I`ll look at the whole system of web hosting and explain it using real world examples. You`ll learn essential terms and we`ll clear some of the beginner`s misconceptions.

What is web hosting?

Definition: Web hosting is the activity or service of providing storage space to individuals or organizations, for the websites that are accessible via World Wide Web.

Web hosting is a huge industry, with close than a billion websites currently online and millions of people all over the world getting into this new world. The website hosting process can be intimidating and confusing at first, but once you get your head around it, you will understand how it works.

To start with, let`s cover some new terminology. You might have heard different terms used to describe the process, such as: web hosting, website hosting, site hosting, blog hosting, self hosting etc. They all mean the same thing. You have some server space where you store your website`s files and you have a complete control over it.

Note: Hosted website or blog. You could hear these terms and might think that this is the same thing as the website hosting. However, these terms are different from what we call “web hosting”. In this case the hosting and most of its related functionalities are done by the third party company. You usually get the tool/software to create your website but restricted to the functionality offered by that company. Another downside of the hosted solutions is that you can`t move your website anywhere else and it could be difficult to expand. More about that later.

What else you need to know?

For any website to be available online, it has to be stored on some server/computer that is connected to the Internet. That server where you store your website is your host. The host could be anywhere in the world but it has to have these simple things: Power, Internet connection, and Dedicated IP address.

If you are missing just one of those things, your website will not be available online:

  • Power source is a necessary element for the website to be available online all the time. Just like with many things we use in day-to-day life, if you don`t have the power supply it simply won`t work.
  • Internet connection is infrastructure that you need to connect with others. If you have your website on a computer without internet connection, it is the same as having your business on a deserted island without any connection with a land. You are existing on an island, but nobody can reach you.
  • IP address is literally an address of your website. IP is short for “Internet Protocol” and it is a numerical set of instructions that provide communication, identification and location system for any computer that is connected to the internet. A “Dedicated IP” simply means that the address does not change with each connection.

Note: You might think, I could get my own dedicated IP address at home and host a website on my own computer. But what about if your power or internet goes down and you need to reboot your computer? All of the sudden your website won`t be available to anyone. To solve this problem web hosting companies own and operate dedicated machines that exists solely to serve website. Servers are located in specialized building called data centers. Data centers have all necessary features to make your site available 24/7/365.

Think of your website as a real business

Web hosting sounds like something virtual and you are probably never going to visit one of the data centers to see what is going on behind the closed doors. To make things easier we`ll look at each function of the web host in the analogy of opening and running a real business. Just like when opening your new business, you will need: name, location, staff, and product. The same is true for starting a new website, you will need the following: name (domain name), location (web server), staff (you or webmaster), and product (website content).

Naming your business

Just like when opening a business you have to name it. When signing up for your hosting account you will have to decide on a name of your website, until then you won`t be able to start creating your site. More on how to choose the right domain name in the Part 2 of this guide.

Note: Most hosting companies also offer domain registration services. Some people keep their domain name with the registrar company, separate from the hosting account. We recommend keeping it all under your hosting account for the trouble-free management and maintenance.

Finding the location for your business

If your website is your business, your hosting is a building where your business is located. You can think of your host providers as your landlords. They rent you a space, take care of the essentials, you pay them rent, but everything else is in your hands. Finding the right hosting company is essential for your website success and can be tricky, but more about that in Part 3 of the guide.

Note: You will find different web hosting offers online, starting from free hosting and as big as buying your own dedicated server. We suggest that you don`t try to go too big right away (unless you know some secret of getting thousands of visitors) and stay away from free hosting offers (free cheese is only in a mousetrap). Start with basic shared/personal hosting plan and move up as needed, your web hosting plan can grow with your website.

Understand who is going to do all the work

This part does not need much of analogy. In both cases, websites and businesses need personnel that will take care of the business, get the new products or information on the right place and keep it up-to-date. Even if you are not selling physical products on your website, you will still need to keep the content of your site updated.

Note: Although not all websites need to be updated daily, it is good practice to have new information on a regular basis. If you need an update once a month, maybe you alone can take care of it, but if you need to update it once a week, or even once a day, you might want to hire additional staff.

Get your business and products ready

Getting new content on your website is the same as getting new supplies in the physical store. You need to stay current, fresh, and always stocked, or even the most faithful customers will eventually stop coming. Although you paid for hosting, filling out your website with the content is your responsibility, not your host's.

Note: If we go back to the landlord and building analogy, your host needs to take care of your server. That means that the host is responsible for the computer, power and internet connection, just like the landlord is responsible for the building he rents. The building and business exist separately one from another, so do the server and website. Sure, they work together, but you can freely move your business elsewhere and the building will still stand. In the same manner the server will exist even if you move your website.

Additional things you need for your site to operate

With four basic elements described above you should be able to get your website up and running. However there are a few more things that we need to mention and that might be needed to run your website successfully. These are the items: decor, office, key to get in, insurance, keep it updated, security, advertising. These same things are available for your website (more about it in Part 4 of this guide):

Decor = the design of your site
Office = hosting account control panel
Keys = username and password
Insurance = backup system
Updating = tools to update content
Security = keeping your login info updated

Avoid beginner's misconceptions

Making a website and buying hosting ARE things that are still new to the most people. Knowing what comes first and who is responsible for it, does not come naturally. In this section we will explain your responsibility and your host's responsibility. We will cover common misconceptions and beginner's mistakes.

What to expect from a web host

As we already discussed, your host is your landlord. Hosting companies are responsible for the power, server space, internet connection, and making sure the server is available all the time. If one of those is malfunctioning, it is their obligation to repair it. If you are having problems with your website, it is your responsibility to take care of it. Usually, web host support will work with you to determine if the problem is on their side or yours.

Your web host's responsibility is to offer you support. Support can come in various shapes such as phone, online chat, email, community networking, FAQ base or something else. Some hosts offer more than one option, but there is a limited amount of things that they can do for you. As always, you can get the most out of your support if you know where the problem exists.

If the problem is with your website, most hosts will tell you to find someone to fix it. Some of them may refer you to someone. A few of them might have staff that will help you fix the problem, of course for some extra fee. It would be silly to think that every landlord can fix problems with every type of office, gallery or store, and it is the same with web hosts. There are a number of tools and languages that you can use to make your website and you can't expect that everyone knows how to fix everything.

Your website is your responsibility

I've mentioned this a number of times, but it is worth repeating: your website is your responsibility. However, there can be thousands of ways to lose your data completely or partially and thus your website. Fire, flood, explosions or just bored hackers that decided to fiddle on the server, that your website is on, are just a few reasons things might go wrong. This is the part where we reinforce the idea and necessity of a good backup plan. Patching up a few missed details is much easier, than building your website from a scratch.

When it comes to taking care of your site, a few rules should be applied. Backup your website is always a good idea in case things go wrong. Keep your username and password in safe place and not easy to guess, so hackers can't get in. Keep the software that you will build your site on up to date.

Conclusion: Web hosting isn't very difficult to understand, but you have to know basic terms to be able to navigate in web hosting services field. Know what you need to host a website, know what your obligations are and learn what your web hosting provider's responsibility is.

All parts

1Introduction to hosting 2Available technologies 3Choosing the company 4Using primary services 5Glossary