What is website hosting? This is a question we are often asked and one that is not necessarily simple to explain due to how abstract it is. The aim of this article is to look at the basic services involved in web hosting and how they fit together. By the end you will have an understanding of each component and how it relates to web hosting as a service.
Website hosting component services
Web hosting might be described as the process of publishing your website on a web hosting server so your customers can see it. In order for you to have a website you need several services to be setup:
- Domain name
- Web hosting server
- Email server
Within this article we will look at the basics of each of these services. Additional articles will be referenced throughout so if you want to understand more you can. The primary aim of this article is to give a basic overview, so you are in a position to decide on the best web hosting solution for your business.
What is a domain name?
A domain name is what people type into their browsers to go directly to your website. Domains often end with .co.uk or .com but there are now hundreds of specialist domain endings such as .info or .building. As an example, this page belongs to the domain absolutelypc.co.uk. Everything after the domain tells the web hosting server which page to go to.
For UK based businesses I would recommend sticking with something familiar to your customers such as .co.uk and potentially .com. You can always add additional domains and have them pointing to specific pages within your website.
Is buying a domain the same as web hosting?
Companies that sell domains often sell web hosting as part of a package but essentially domains and web hosting are not the same. Buying a domain grants you exclusive use of that name but by itself it would not work. It needs to be pointed at a web hosting server using DNS.
What is DNS?
DNS is an acronym for domain name server. Essentially it is an addressing system which allows the domain name to be interpreted into a number based address that computers use. This is the way the Internet works. As an example absolutelypc.co.uk exists at the address 188.8.131.52. As a humans we find it easier to remember the name rather than the computer address. Essentially you are using the DNS to set up a pointer so that whenever someone types in your domain name they get sent to the web hosting server that has your website on it.
The DNS also controls many other aspects of the way your domain works such as emails. In a similar way to the above when someone sends an email to YourName@YourDomain.co.uk it redirects it to your email server location.
Do I need an email server as well?
Simply put yes. Although some web hosting companies have the web hosting server and the email server on the same physical machine it is not good security practice to do this. In addition, many of the older email platforms open up security concerns for business. I would recommend you host your email on a dedicated business platform such as Office 365.
Are all web hosting servers the same?
Many web hosting servers will be built using similar technology but that does not mean they are the same. The following points should be considered when choosing a web hosting server for your business website. They are great questions to ask your potential web hosting supplier.
- Is it based in the UK? If most of your potential customers are based in the UK then having the physical server based in the UK will ensure access speeds are quicker. Customers and Google prefer fast loading web pages.
- Are you able to move your website to another hosting company? Many hosting companies use custom tools and templates which means you are not able to move your website and are either locked in or have to start from scratch. This does mean using a web designer as part of the setup, but the end result will look better. Furthermore, as your business grows and expands you will be able to customise your website to fit your business without a major rebuild.
- Is the server fast? Much like point 1, speed is important to customers and Google so the server needs to be fast. If you are reading this article you are unlikely to have a dedicated server and so the server you use will be shared with 1000s of other websites. This needs to be managed by the hosting company to ensure the speed of your site remains fast throughout peak times.
- Is the server secure? If another website on the server is hacked will your website also be affected? If cross scripting controls have not been put in place this is one of the issues and it will have reputational damage to your business as well as causing downtime.
- Will your website be affected by the reputation of other websites on the server? Some hosting companies don’t have a strict policy regarding the content on their servers. As a result, other websites on the server might contain less acceptable content. This could potentially cause the shared addresses of the server to get a bad reputation. This can be challenging for your business if your website is blocked due to the content of these other sites. It is also very difficult to move your site if you have used custom tools (see point 2).
How do I secure my website?
If you are using content management systems such as WordPress then this and the plugins need updating on a regular basis. At least once a month although we would recommend more regularly. Although this sounds complex it is often just a click of a button to carry out the updates. The server itself will also need regular updates and this is the responsibility of the hosting company. A great question to ask a potential web hosting company is how often do they update their servers? I am always surprised that some companies leave their servers unpatched for months. If you were to ask us the answer is weekly.
It is worth considering additional firewalls as part of this security as it will catch most of the malicious attempts to hack your website. Once again, a good web hosting company can recommend the best options for your particular needs.
An SSL certificate is an absolute necessity for business websites. It causes the padlock to appear next to your website name and gives your visitors confidence that they can fill in forms and generally interact with your website.
Do I need backups of my website?
If you have paid for a web developer to create you a site and have added lots of content, it would be devastating to lose it all. Taking daily, weekly, monthly backups and ensuring they are stored at a different location to the server ensures you are able to roll back your website to a previous point in time. A good website hosting company will do this for you.
How much does web hosting cost?
As you can see above, there are a range of services which might be included as part of “web hosting”. Prices range from £10 per month for very basic offerings through to £300+ per month for higher end dedicated hosting. Our prices are dependent on the additional add-on services required, but most businesses opt for a web hosting package around £30 to £40 per month (paid annually).
The aim of this article was to give a brief introduction to the complex world of website hosting and to allow you to make informed decisions on what web hosting company would work best for you.
I would recommend asking a few questions, as indicated above, with the aim of finding a great web hosting partner from the outset. Most business owners are busy and can’t afford time to continually revisit issues. We find that businesses that engage and ask questions get the right service for them which means everyone wins.
Do you still have questions, is there something you are still not sure about? Feel free to make contact and ask one of our business advisors. I guarantee they will give you loads of information and this is 100% free whether you use our services or not.
Good luck finding that perfect website host for your business – let us know how you get on.
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