Web Hosting Services

What Is Web Hosting? Your Ultimate Guide To Web Hosting Services

Web hosting. You’ve probably heard of it, and everyone agrees it’s important – but what actually is it?

Without hosting, your website can’t go live on the internet. Hosting providers give you the tools and server space you need to get your site hosted, live, and ready for visitors!

We’ve done the research, and we can tell you right now the best hosting providers are:

If hosting is like your website’s house, hosting providers like these are your construction team. But how do you choose a web host? Are there different types of hosting? You’re in the right place to find out…

What Is Web Hosting? A Beginner’s Definition

Web hosting is a service that lets you publish your website live on the internet. Just as you need somewhere to live, your website does too!

A hosting provider is an organization that supplies the tech you need to get your site hosted. They’re a bit like housebuilders in the real world.

These web hosts provide the servers that deliver your site to your users. To simplify things, servers are computers that deliver web pages. They act as a storehouse for data that connects your website with browsers.

Website builders like Wix sort out hosting for you, so you can publish your website without worrying about hosting at all. But in all other cases, you will need a website host to get your website live.

Luckily, the hardest part is choosing your hosting provider – then they take care of the rest! So don’t worry if you’re not technical. Web hosting companies manage the technical side of keeping your site running for you. What’s important at this stage is understanding why you need a hosting provider.

Without the server supplied by a hosting provider, nobody could connect to your website. Basically, your website is delivered to visitors from your hosting provider’s server. So your website gets sent to the user’s computer when they search your website’s address.

For those of you wondering just how people find your website, here’s a quick summary. Servers come with IP Addresses: a series of numbers that identify a particular computer.

Here’s an example of a made-up IP Address: 88.348.88.1.

Not the easiest thing to remember! Which is why domains exist. A domain is your website’s personalized address, such as www.websitebuilderexpert.com or www.google.com. A custom domain helps to identify your website and inspires trust in your visitors! So it’s worth getting a custom domain that reflects your website and is easy to remember.

Domains convert IP Addresses into easy-to-remember words. They work like the street name and number of your website’s ‘house’.

domain name example
Your domain name identifies your site. Here’s our domain name highlighted in the URL bar.

You need a domain name and hosting if you want to run a website.

You can buy your domain name and your hosting from the same provider, making it easier to manage, connect and renew. Or, you can buy your domain from somewhere like Namecheap, then simply connect it to your chosen hosting provider.

For example, if you’ve built a website on WordPress, you will need a hosting provider and a domain name. Without a server, nobody will be able to find or connect to your website.

Top Web Hosting Companies

So which are the best web hosting companies? We conducted research into the best hosting providers based on six factors: the types of hosting offered, help and support features, number of hosting features, value for money, disk space, and uptime.

All of these are extremely important for the success of your website. For example, uptime measures the amount of time your website is actually up and running online. If a provider has low uptime, your website won’t have much chance of getting seen by visitors!

From this analysis, we were able to rank the best hosting providers on the market. The top five are:

HostGator grabbed the top spot because of its broad range of hosting services, premium customer support, and the value for money it offers. It earned its five star rating!

So how did we come to this conclusion? We scored each provider on the six research factors, from customer support to disk space. We compared them and ran tests to determine data such as uptime and calculate value for money.

HostGator
Top Choice

4.9 out of 5

Hosting

5 out of 5 stars

Features

5 out of 5 stars

Help & Support

5 out of 5 stars

Up Time

4.5 out of 5 stars

Value

4.5 out of 5 stars

Bluehost

4.6 out of 5

Hosting

5 out of 5 stars

Features

5 out of 5 stars

Help & Support

3.5 out of 5 stars

Up Time

4 out of 5 stars

Value

4.5 out of 5 stars

GoDaddy

4.2 out of 5

Hosting

3.5 out of 5 stars

Features

5 out of 5 stars

Help & Support

3 out of 5 stars

Up Time

3.5 out of 5 stars

Value

3 out of 5 stars

SiteGround

4 out of 5

Hosting

4 out of 5 stars

Features

3 out of 5 stars

Help & Support

5 out of 5 stars

Up Time

4 out of 5 stars

Value

2 out of 5 stars

iPage

3.9 out of 5

Hosting

1 out of 5 stars

Features

5 out of 5 stars

Help & Support

5 out of 5 stars

Up Time

2.5 out of 5 stars

Value

2 out of 5 stars

A2 Hosting

3.7 out of 5

Hosting

2 out of 5 stars

Features

5 out of 5 stars

Help & Support

5 out of 5 stars

Up Time

2.5 out of 5 stars

Value

2 out of 5 stars

InMotion

3.6 out of 5

Hosting

4 out of 5 stars

Features

5 out of 5 stars

Help & Support

2 out of 5 stars

Up Time

3.5 out of 5 stars

Value

2 out of 5 stars

WPEngine

3.4 out of 5

Hosting

2.5 out of 5 stars

Features

3 out of 5 stars

Help & Support

5 out of 5 stars

Up Time

2.5 out of 5 stars

Value

1 out of 5 stars

HostPapa

3 out of 5

Hosting

2.5 out of 5 stars

Features

3 out of 5 stars

Help & Support

2.5 out of 5 stars

Up Time

3.5 out of 5 stars

Value

1.5 out of 5 stars

Domain Names And Changing Your Hosting Provider

Once you’ve secured your domain name, you don’t want to lose it, right? After all, a domain name is like a brand name. It’s how your users know you.

If you’re asking, ‘what is web hosting?’, you’re probably also worried about losing your domain name if you switch hosting provider.

Moving hosting provider does not mean you will lose your website’s name.

With a registered domain name, you have the right to transfer the name wherever you want. You just need to transfer your site’s files and data (your hosting provider will help you here, it’s easier than it sounds!), then edit your domain settings and direct them to your new hosting provider.

Think of your domain name as like your phone number: you can move network provider but still keep your number. In the same way, you can move hosting provider but keep your domain name.

How Much Does Web Hosting Cost?

A big part of ‘what is hosting?’ is: how much does hosting cost?

This is a difficult one to answer – it’s not like asking how much a can of cola costs.Your hosting bill will depend on your provider and the plan you choose: the better the plan, the more dollars you’ll need to spend.

Decent shared hosting packages typically start from as little as $2-10/month. HostGator’s Hatchling plan, for example, costs just $2.75/month – less than a Starbucks latte.

If your website needs more hosting firepower, you can expect to pay $100+ a month for a dedicated plan. HostGator’s Pro dedicated hosting plan, for example, comes in at $129/month. Some dedicated server pricing plans are over $2,000 monthly. Only large sites or established brands will need an advanced, dedicated hosting plan, though.

Somewhere between shared and dedicated hosting, VPS (Virtual Private Server) packages will set you back between $20 and $50 a month.

Confused about dedicated and shared hosting? Wondering which web hosting service is right for you?
Stick around, we’re covering that next.

Comparing Hosting Plans

The key features of any hosting plan are:

  • Disk space – how much space you have to store your website’s files. Before comparing hosting packages, work out how much space you need. Things like emails, web files and databases take up space. Work out your usage requirements so you can get an appropriate plan.
  • Email accounts – this includes:
    • POP3 – normal inboxes. The server will provide some space for you to store your emails. A login and a password usually equals one account.
    • Forwarding accounts – handy if you employ another company to filter emails for you. Instead of storing your emails on your own server, emails are forwarded on to another address.
    • Alias accounts – similar to forwarding accounts. Some hosts may let you setup a catch-all alias. These are often used to collect emails sent to addresses not identified by your mail server.
  • Bandwidth – put simply, bandwidth is the capacity of your site to deal with data. The more bandwidth you have, the more traffic you can handle. Some web hosting services offer “unmetered bandwidth”. This means you’re not charged for what you use. If you exceed your allowance, your hosting provider will notify you.

Anti-hacking software and automatic backups are just two examples of extra ‘bolt-on’ products that are worth considering The big one, though, is SSL Certificates.

SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer. It protects the data – often users’ information – moving through your site. If you sell online, an SSL certificate is a must. Suppliers often charge over $100 for SSL certificates; a hosting package that includes one in its plan represents good value.

ssl certificate
SSL certificates give your site a green padlock. They can be expensive, so check if your hosting service includes one.

Different Web Hosting Options

In this section, we’ll take a closer look at different hosting options and how to pick the right one for you.

The main types of hosting plans are:

  • Website builder
  • Shared hosting
  • Dedicated hosting
  • VPS hosting
  • Cloud hosting

Which hosting option is right for you will depend on budget, ambitions for your site, and the service offered by the web hoster.

Website Builders and Hosting

One of the simplest ways to sort out hosting is through a website builder. As part of your plan, all the technical maintenance of your website is taken care of, including hosting.

It’s why website builders are among the quickest and easiest ways to build your online presence.

They’re also one of the most cost-effective. Many website builders have free plans, with premium options available for under $20/month. For instance, Wix’s Unlimited plan only costs $14 a month, has no cap on bandwidth, and offers a solid 10GB of storage. This matches up respectably with the market’s best web hosting services.

Plus, with website builders, you get a host of features to help grow your site. Popular website builders include Wix, Squarespace, and Weebly.

Having the hosting included leaves you free to focus on designing and running your website. All you need to do is create your site, hit publish, and your pages are live on the internet. Simple as that!

Best for: people without much tech experience or looking to get a website up fast.

Shared Web Hosting

So what is hosting when it’s shared? The clue’s in the name: you use the same server as a bunch of other websites (they’re a bit like flatmates). Because you split the server, it’s the cheapest hosting option around.

The main downside is that your website’s performance can be affected by the sites you share a server with. If they use up too much technical resource, your site can slow down.

But don’t worry! Your hosting provider will monitor this to make sure each site is getting the best out of this plan. This is one of the reasons it’s important to choose a good provider, so you can trust them to manage your website’s plan well.

Most hosting brands offer this type of hosting. In fact, the only provider that doesn’t provide shared hosting is InMotion. HostGator, Bluehost, SiteGround, and GoDaddy Hosting are all popular providers who can give you a shared hosting plan.

Best for: your first steps. If you are just launching your small business or web page online, or run a small website with modest traffic,
shared web hosting is a great option to keep costs down.

Recommended host for shared web hosting: HostGator

Dedicated Web Hosting

A dedicated web hosting service is where you are the sole tenant of a server. Your site’s performance won’t be affected negatively by other websites. You also get more tailored features and better security.

This is a step up in hosting plan, and it shows: for one thing, dedicated hosting packages cost more than shared ones.

Dedicated hosting is used for a higher level of control, because that server is yours alone rather than shared. Better security and uptime are other perks of this hosting type!

Dedicated hosting is perfect if you need lots of disk space (if you’ve got a big email database, for example).

While iPage and HostPapa don’t offer dedicated hosting, all the other brands in our top list do! GoDaddy Hosting offers competitive prices starting from $55.99.

Best for: fast growing websites! The key for this is having a good level of traffic to your website. If you’re a business or online store, dedicated hosting is the right call if you’re generating solid virtual footfall and sales.

Recommended host for dedicated hosting: GoDaddy

VPS Web Hosting

VPS stands for Virtual Private Server. This hosting option is where you share a server, but get your own distinct area. While hardware is split with other websites, you get your own computing resources.
It’s a good halfway point between cheaper shared and more expensive dedicated hosting.

You can upgrade your site’s bandwidth and storage without sending your bills soaring, and get more flexibility and control.

Bluehost and HostGator both offer VPS Hosting at reasonable prices, with GoDaddy Hosting not far behind in terms of cost.

Best for: growing websites. If you need something more advanced than a shared hosting package, but aren’t ready to commit to a dedicated plan, this is a great choice.

Recommended host for VPS hosting: Bluehost

Cloud Hosting

Cloud hosting is where the resources your site needs to operate are spread across multiple servers. This collection of servers is what’s called ‘the cloud’.

It means there’s less chance of downtime because of server malfunction. If one fails, another can step in. Plus, because of the extra support, you can handle large volumes of traffic without suffering bandwidth issues.

Cloud hosting is arguably more reliable than a dedicated hosting package.
Not all providers offer cloud hosting, but top choices like HostGator, SiteGround, and Bluehost all have you covered.

Best for: fast growing sites! If you’re expecting a high volume of traffic – for example, if you’re running a sale or marketing campaign then this is a sensible option.

Recommended host for cloud hosting: SiteGround

Personal hosting

You can host your website on your own computer, but this is not advisable for a number of reasons:

  1. It requires advanced technical skill to set up a web server – which is what you need for internet users to access the web files on your computer.
  2. You’ll need a high bandwidth quota.
  3. Your computer must be on at all times – if you reboot, restart or turn off your computer, your site will also go down.
  4. Domestic internet connections aren’t designed to serve web pages.

Only best for: highly specialized systems and those with advanced knowledge of technical processes.

The Biggest Hosting Providers

So now you know the basics about web hosting. You’ve seen our list of the best of the best providers, and probably have an idea of the kind of hosting you’re after. If one of these hosting companies has caught your eye, here’s a quick recap of each provider, its summary, and link to each in-depth review!

We’ve also compiled a list of:

And…

The Future of Web Hosting

In the beginning, you needed your own server or computer to host a website. If you read about personal hosting earlier in this article, you’ll know how tricky this must have been! If you computer turned off, your website went down.

The early days of hosting (we’re talking the 1990s here) saw small amounts of storage on offer – less than you’d get on an ordinary USB today! As the internet grew, it became more accessible to more people. Hosting companies grew with it, becoming more advanced.

At the moment, hosting providers are in fierce competition with each other. With self-hosted platforms like WordPress as popular as ever and more people getting online every day, the market is a competitive place.

google trends hostgator vs bluehost
This graph shows the interest in top competitors HostGator and Bluehost over the past 14 years.

Website builders are also growing in popularity, offering their own competition in hosting websites. Despite this, it’s likely hosting providers such as HostGator and Bluehost will continue to grow in size and profit.

What Is Web Hosting: Conclusion

The thing about web hosting is: every website needs it.

Whether you’re a multinational online giant or a one-man-band photographer, if you have a website, you need to sort out hosting.

There’s no shortage of options, but it can be difficult to know where to start –especially if you’re not a techie. This guide is your hosting starting point.

We’ve covered the big questions: what is hosting? How does web hosting work?

Armed with these essential hosting need-to-knows, you can now compare the best web hosting services and make an informed decision for your site.

Web Hosting Services - FAQs

Can I get web hosting for free?

Yes! Website builders like Wix and Weebly host your website for you, so you could create, upload, and publish your site without ever knowing or thinking about hosting! It’s all managed for you. And because these website builders have free plans, you can have a hosted website online without ever paying a dime.

However, as the saying goes, ‘there’s no such thing as a free lunch’. Free hosting isn’t always the best option – for one thing, free plans will often put adverts on your site so they can get something in return.

How should I choose the best web hosting provider?

This really depends on you! Think about what kind of site you’re putting online. Is it small, or will it get a lot of traffic? What’s your budget like? How technically confident are you, and how hands-on do you want to be? If you want an at-a-glance overview, see our web hosting comparison chart.

If you’re looking to host your WordPress website, check out our review of the best hosting provider for WordPress.

 

Why does it matter which provider I choose?

You need to choose a provider that offers great value for money, but also one which will give you the very best service for your website! For example, it’s important to look at the provider’s uptime, to see how much your site will actually be up and running online. If you’re on WordPress, you need a provider which has the features to support your site. For a summary of each provider, see our web hosting reviews.

 

Which is the best hosting provider?

This will really depend on your needs, but our research showed Hostgator to be the best hosting provider. It has all-round great performance in its hosting features, customer support, value for money, uptime and disk space. You can read our HostGator review for a full look at this leading provider.

Who Are We?

Here at Website Builder Expert, we’re passionate about helping you get online. Whether that’s helping you choose the right website builder, ecommerce platform, or hosting provider, we’re here to give you the best information possible.

We’ve done the research to give you reviews, comparisons, and guides that are accurate, honest, and data-driven. We’ve been through the process of choosing a hosting provider, and want to make your journey easier.