Here’s how a normal host works:
- After you sign up, you get a login.
- The login takes you to cPanel. The cPanel is an app on your server that lets you manage it through a UI without needing to know how to code anything.
- You configure your server however you want.
- There’s a FTP option to upload files manually to your server.
- There are also quick options for installing WordPress and other site software if you want.
- You get full access and can do anything you want. It’s a “choose your own adventure.” Install WordPress, Drupal, Magento, or code your entire site by hand.
Most web hosts work like this.
There are also managed web hosts. These hosts customize the hosting environment and manage a lot more of it for you.
WP Engine is the best example, they’re a managed host for WordPress. Instead of getting a cPanel login that lets me do anything I want, WP Engine gives me a login to their custom interface that’s built to manage WordPress sites specifically.
When a web host is optimized exclusively for WordPress, three key things happen. First: It gets faster than pretty much any shared hosting provider can dream of. Everything can be tailored to making WordPress work its best, whether that’s optimizing website caching or tinkering with the command line tools. The host only needs to know how to support WordPress, as opposed to, say, Joomla and a Node server and some sort of custom-made site and on and on.
Second: Sites get more secure and stable. A managed WordPress host can build a system that predicts, accommodates, and patches all of WordPress’s vulnerabilities. That means fewer malicious attacks and less downtime.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly for small businesses: Admin and site maintenance get a lot easier. And that service is vital because managed WordPress hosting is significantly more expensive than shared web hosting services.
While I give up some flexibility from not having a basic web server like other hosts, a managed host takes care of a lot of ongoing tasks that I’d normally have to handle myself.
If you have a small business site, a normal host is fine. If you’re building a larger site, a managed host will save you a ton of time in the long run and is worth the extra cost.
Shared, Virtual Private Servers, Cloud, and Dedicated Hosting
Let’s start with definitions on the types of hosting your can buy.
Shared hosting means that you share space with a bunch of other sites on the same server. The advantage is that it’s a lot cheaper. The downside is that other sites can impact the performance of your site. If someone else gets a huge traffic spike, it could impact everybody on that server before the web host throttles their traffic.
Virtual private servers (VPS) also has multiple sites on the same server But these sites have dedicated space that’s managed by software. You get many of the benefits of having a dedicated server (you own IP address, less volatility in uptime, etc) without needing an entire server for just yourself. But the performance isn’t quite as good as having your own server to yourself.
Cloud hosting is similar to VPS but instead of having space on once server, you get space across multiple servers. Like VPS, it’s resilient to traffic spikes from other sites. If a site on your same server takes that server down, your host simply moves your site to another server. That’s why they call it “cloud” hosting.
It’s also extremely scalable for your own site. Adding more resources to your site is a breeze since your host only needs to increase the total server resources that you can consume at any given time. Because of these advantages, it does tend to be more expensive.
Dedicated hosting gives you a server just for you. No one else gets space on that server. You’ll also be in complete control and can configure that server however you want.
Which of these should you get? Here are some simple rules of thumb:
- Small sites should be on shared hosting. Any impact from other sites on the same site will be minor. This is the best option for any site that does 50,000 visitors per month or less.
- When you get over 50,00 visitors/month, move towards cloud hosting and then a dedicated host if you really need it. Don’t worry about a dedicated host until spending thousands of dollars per month on hosting sounds like a rounding error in your annual budget.
Ignore Free Web Hosting
For just about everyone, free hosting is not worth it.
Web hosting is not where you should save money. If you’re worried about the price of hosting, I’d say you need to worry about generating revenue and traffic before trying to save a few extra dollars cutting hosting costs.
A free host is only good for something like an event one-pager or an extremely small, extremely low-traffic site. If you are doing either of those things, you should still skip the free host route and jump straight to a free website builder that’ll let you link your site to a custom domain for free, like UCraft or Google Sites. They’re both very basic limited builders, but they are easier to get up and running than a free web host.
That being said, there are some great free and discount web hosting plans for nonprofits and educators. If that’s you and you want to know more, head over to my best free web hosts review. I go into lots of detail there.
Out of hundreds of web hosting companies I have narrowed it down to my top 9 picks for the best web hosts.
Whether you are searching for the cheapest price or the most robust services, or something in between, you can find the best web hosting for your needs from these top rated companies.
Compare the Best Web Hosting Companies