There’s no such thing as a website without web hosting, and all the best web hosting costs money. From personal vanity sites to multimillion-dollar online stores and everything in between, there is a wide range of hosting needs depending on what you want to achieve with your website. All web hosting plans have different features and different price points—some offer plug-and-play hosting and website design, while others offer technical innovations to deal with high traffic surges. Knowing which one will work best for you and your business can save money and technology-induced headaches.
What is web hosting?
Web hosting is the hardware and software that provides web services to end users. Essentially, it’s the underlying infrastructure for making a website appear and operate online. The data that makes up a live site or web page—the text, the images, the gifs—has to live on a computer somewhere in the world that’s connected to the internet. In some cases, it may be a computer that you or your company own. In many other cases, you may be paying for access to a server system that another company maintains.
Owning, operating, and maintaining the computers to host a website is a technically specialized field and can be an expensive proposition to undertake. Most people would rather focus on running their business as opposed to worrying about things like DNS updates and website downtime.
Third-party web hosting companies specialize in the technical side of web hosting and use their economies of scale to take on a task that’s too financially cumbersome for most organizations to handle on their own. A hosting account with a web hosting provider lets you use easy tools to control your website (and the associated data) on someone else’s server.
What are the different types of web hosting?
Not all hosting solutions are built the same, and each has its own advantages that depend on what you’re trying to achieve with your website. Nearly all web hosting options out there fall into one of four primary categories. If you can identify which category makes the most sense for your own needs, then you’re that much closer to finding the right hosting provider.
1. Shared hosting plan
A shared hosting plan lets multiple websites use a single server. You’ll likely never know which sites you’re sharing resources with, but the entire nature of this arrangement is that multiple sites share the infrastructure in order to be accessible to the internet-using public. Companies that offer shared web hosting have often invested in large server farms that store and transmit their client’s website data.
Shared hosting is a popular form of hosting because it is consistently affordable and user-friendly. Not only will shared hosting providers offer you bespoke tools to achieve whatever you need (a basic website builder is frequently available), the best providers will offer you the backup of human support staff.
Shared hosting is not without its drawbacks, however. Once a website achieves a certain level of traffic or server load, its performance and loading times will inevitably suffer. The resources for offering up data at blazing-fast speeds are shared across every website using that particular hosting provider. As a site successfully scales its operation on a shared hosting provider, it might need to look elsewhere to find a better solution that won’t sacrifice performance.
What it costs: Shared hosting starts from around $5 per month, and may run as high as $20 per month depending on the level of service you require.
2. WordPress hosting plan
The free and open-source software platform called WordPress accounts for an outsized portion of the internet—some 43% of the internet runs on this technology. While much of that statistic refers to those people who download WordPress’s free software and install it on their own shared hosting provider, a number of these same providers also offer an easy one-click WordPress installation process.
WordPress has been a heavy hitter in internet content publishing for more than 10 years, forming the backbone for sites from casual personal blogs to for-profit media businesses, and even ecommerce shops. That said, it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. Some business processes may not be compatible with this infrastructure, so do your research to make sure WordPress is a good solution for you.
If you go this route, you’ll incur whatever costs are associated with ordinary shared hosting. After that, some may charge a one-time or recurring fee for using their system for rapidly installing WordPress, it simply depends on the provider.
What it costs: You can expect to pay around $10 per month for a WordPress hosting plan.
3. Virtual Private Server (VPS) hosting
VPS hosting is about using virtualization technology to provide you with your own set of private resources on a server that has multiple users. The technicals go like this: Your hosting provider installs a virtual layer on top of the server’s operating system, partitioning the server in such a way that every individual user gets to install their own operating system and software. This solution is markedly more secure and stable than shared hosting and it is a good choice of hosting service for websites that are beginning to outgrow their shared hosting resources but don’t need the resources of a dedicated server. VPS hosting plans offer accessibility similar to if you had a dedicated server, but at a much lower cost. The websites hosted on this category of shared server can never interfere with the others, and it easily scales to accommodate higher-traffic websites. At the same time, it’s a more expensive route to take for hosting and is more technically involved.
What it costs: A tiered plan in this arena will cost $20–$40 per month.
4. Cloud web hosting
Cloud web hosting effectively decentralizes your hosting solution using a collection of virtual and physical servers that act as the host, which makes your site highly robust when it comes to surges in traffic and spikes in demand for your data. Cloud hosting gets its name because it uses cloud resources, like a privately owned network of high-performance computers, to deliver websites and internet applications to whoever seeks them.
Where most other hosting solutions store data centrally on a single server, cloud hosting sees multiple instances of that data deployed across multiple servers. Given this structure, cloud hosting may sometimes also be referred to as “cluster server hosting.”
The major advantages of cloud hosting are its high availability, traffic load balancing, scalability, and enhanced security.
- High availability refers to how easily the provider can recover from a server failing—your website remains up and functional even if one or more servers fail.
- Traffic load balancing is about maintaining harmony between the amount of traffic heading to a site and the amount of infrastructure that supports it. You might imagine a highway that magically adds lanes to itself during rush hour and shrinks down during less busy times—that’s what traffic load balancing refers to in a cloud hosting paradigm. Since cloud resources can be dynamically allocated, cloud hosting can easily support a big site scaling to become even larger.
- The security of cloud hosting is its many redundancies—if something goes wrong, whether by accident or as the result of a malicious cyberattack, there are multiple copies of the data stored on different computers that may not be affected.
What it costs: For all those advantages, cloud hosting comes with one major downside: It’s the most expensive option, with a tiered plan starting around $50 per month and going up from there.