Think of your website as a house. Now, every house needs a piece of land to sit on, right? That’s what web hosting is for your website—a digital plot of land where your website lives. But just like real estate, not all hosting is created equal. Let’s explore the different types of web hosting to help you make an informed decision.
Types of Web Hosting
Just as there are various types of housing—apartments, condos, townhouses, and mansions—there are different types of web hosting. Each comes with its own set of features, pros, and cons. Let’s break it down.
Imagine living in an apartment building where you share amenities like a water heater. If everyone takes a shower at the same time, some of the residents will end up with a cold shower. Shared hosting is similar; it’s generally the most budget-friendly option but comes with limitations. If one website on the server decides to throw a massive party (i.e., gets a traffic spike), the other websites on that server might suffer. It’s great for small blogs and personal websites but can be risky for larger, more resource-intensive sites.
Virtual Private Server (VPS)
Now, picture having your own water heater in your apartment. That’s VPS. You have a dedicated portion of resources on a server, offering more reliability than shared hosting. That way, if everyone decides to shower at one time, they’ll only run out of hot water if they use up what’s in their personal heaters. It’s a bit pricier and may require some technical know-how, but it offers more control and scalability.
Dedicated hosting is like owning a house. All the resources are yours to manage as you please, and if you need more hot water, you can upgrade to a larger water heater. You’re still limited to what can fit inside of your house, but you can also move to a larger house if you need more space. Dedicated hosting gives you an entire server for your website, making it perfect for high-traffic or resource-heavy websites. However, it’s often the most expensive option.
Think of a network of interconnected buildings with a super-advanced utility system. Resources are dynamically allocated based on demand, making it nearly impossible to run out. If one building starts to run low on hot water, the network can send it more. Cloud hosting is kind of like that. It’s scalable, flexible, and you pay for what you use. Cloud hosting is ideal for websites of any size, and the cost will depend on what resources you use.
Shared, VPS, dedicated, and cloud hosting can all be “managed.” Managed hosting is like having a property manager who takes care of all the maintenance. The hosting providers handle all the backend tasks, like installing and updating the server software, freeing you up to focus on your website content. Managed hosting is perfect for website owners who don’t have the time or desire to learn their way around a command line.
WordPress Web Hosting
Now that you know more about the types of web hosting, let’s talk about specific web hosting providers. For this discussion, I will focus on WordPress web hosting. Why WordPress? Because it powers more than 40% of all websites on the internet! I use WordPress for my own websites, and it’s also my tool of choice when building websites for my clients. A lot of companies offer web hosting explicitly tuned for WordPress. If you decide to use WordPress, make sure you get WordPress-specific hosting because you’ll probably get better performance than with general web hosting.
WordPress Hosting Providers
Using our housing analogy again, choosing a hosting provider is kind of like picking a neighborhood. You want safety, security, and great amenities. Some of the WordPress hosting providers I use with my clients include WP Engine, Flywheel, Kinsta, and Cloudways. All of them offer managed cloud hosting.
What to Look For in a Host
So, what are some specific things to look for when choosing a web hosting provider? Here’s my personal list for absolute beginners:
- How much space do you get? First things first, you need to know how much digital “square footage” you’re getting. Most small businesses I work with use less than 5GB. The good news? You can start small and upgrade as your website grows. Just make sure your hosting plan allows for that flexibility.
- How much traffic can you get? In other words, how many guests can you invite to your home without the neighbors calling the police? When you’re new to the web, it might not be a lot. Some shared hosting plans have unlimited traffic, but you’ll often have other resources limited.
- How much bandwidth can you use? Think of bandwidth as the lanes on a highway leading to your website. It’s the amount of data your visitors can download in a month. Since you’re just starting, you might not know how much you’ll need. Make sure your plan allows you to upgrade because going over your limit can be costly. Pro tip: Host large files like videos on platforms like Vimeo or YouTube to save on bandwidth.
- What kind of resources will your website get? Some hosts are transparent about the resources they allocate to your website, like memory and PHP workers. Others, not so much. Be cautious if a host is secretive about these details. I’ve had hosts flag my account for “excessive resource usage” without telling me my limits. Instead of upgrading blindly, I worked with their tech support to optimize my site.
- How is the customer support? You won’t really know how good a host’s customer support is until something goes awry. Do your homework—read reviews and be skeptical of sponsored content or affiliate links. Full disclosure: I have affiliate relationships with some hosts, so take my recommendations with a grain of salt.
- How much does it cost? Last but definitely not least, let’s talk money. Those $5/month “unlimited” plans might look tempting, but they often come with subpar support. If your site runs into issues, you’ll be stuck in a never-ending loop of unhelpful customer service. Trust me, I’ve been down that road with clients, and we usually end up switching hosts.
There are some other more technical things that I usually consider when choosing a hosting provider. Those include things like SSL, automatic backups, on-demand backups, caching, CDN, a staging site, and PHP versions. If you want a full run-down on my criteria for hosting, check out my Choosing WordPress Hosting mini-course at Website Success Academy.
Moving to a Different Host
If you end up not liking the hosting provider you pick, you can always move your website somewhere else. That’s part of the beauty of WordPress! It’s also why I don’t recommend going with a hosting provider simply because they offer “free” email hosting or a domain name. In fact, I recommend you keep your email hosting and domain name registration somewhere else, so if you do end up moving your web hosting in the future, you don’t also have to worry about moving your domain name or email.
So, which hosting provider should you pick? That’s a decision you will have to make based on your own needs, but I do hope that this introduction to your web hosting options makes that choice a little easier. Remember to check out my Choosing WordPress Hosting mini-course to get a walkthrough of a few hosting providers. You’ll also get a spreadsheet you can use to help you make your choice.