Purchasing a domain name, as I covered in the previous post, gets you exactly that: your domain name, and nothing more.
You still need a location – a server connected to the internet – for your website and email.
That location is referred to as web “hosting”; you’re now in the market for a place to “host” your web site.
There are many, many, many options, so it’s impossible for me to cover all of the companies that might be offering services, appropriate or otherwise. I’ll cover a few of the most common, and my recommendation(s).
There actually are several companies that will host your website for free.
But as we all know, there’s really no such thing as “free” on the internet. While you might not end up paying money, you’ll likely end up paying in other ways that may or may not be appropriate for your purposes.
The two most common approaches that allow free web hosting to be free are:
- Advertising. Ads are placed on, or around, all of your web pages. The ads may or may not have anything to do with your content. In the worst case scenario, they could even compete with your offerings.
- No domain support. Rather than having “somerandomservice.com”, you end up with “somerandomservice.<host>.com”, where “<host>” is the name of the free hosting service. Rather than showing a professional commitment to your business – Some Random Service, Inc – the very address of your website says “we didn’t pay for this”. 🙂
In addition, free hosts often have limits that can get in the way of what you want to do:
- Limited email. As I’ll discuss in an upcoming post, email support on your own domain is pretty important.
- Limited storage. If you upload too many photos, for example, you may run out of room.
- Limited bandwidth. If you get too many visitors, access to your site may be restricted.
- Limited performance. As a side effect of sharing a server with hundreds, if not thousands, of other web sites, you may find your site is slow.
Most free services also offer upgrades to more traditional hosting to alleviate some of the free “costs” and limitations … but then they’re no longer free.
Bottom line: free web hosts are rarely appropriate for a serious, professional-looking web presence.
Spoiler: I’ll be recommending WordPress as the way to manage your content in an upcoming post.
You can, of course, get a free WordPress blog at wordpress.com – for example, http://leonot.wordpress.com 🙂 – but it suffers from many of the same limitations as free hosting, above, as well as having many of the same opportunities to upgrade, for a cost.
Another alternative is WPEngine. WPEngine is a hosting company dedicated to hosting and managing WordPress-based sites. In fact, if you look at their marketing materials, you’re likely to recognize some sites they host.
In both cases – WordPress.com itself, and WPEngine (and quite possibly other WordPress-centric hosting) – there is good news and bad.
Good: WordPress is supported well and is kept up-to-date to run safely and quickly. There’s lot of room for growth as your website grows in popularity.
Bad: typically, WordPress-centric hosting does not include support for email. There may be recommended alternatives, but regardless, they are alternatives. If you host your website here, it’s WordPress only, and you’ll need to host your email somewhere else. Email and websites don’t have to be at the same host, but it is often more convenient if they are, especially when you’re starting out.
Shared hosting refers to the fact that your website may be one of many which share a single server. Depending on the underlying server’s characteristics (which is rarely disclosed), yours may be one of 10, 100, or even thousands of websites sharing that single resource.
In practice, it’s not as bad as it sounds. 🙂
In fact, shared hosting has been the backbone of the internet for years. Millions of small-to-medium sized websites are running on shared hosting services, and you’d never know it.
The primary benefit of shared hosting is that you typically get access to all the functionality you might want out of your internet domain. Not only is website hosting itself naturally part of the package, but email, basic mailing lists, basic anti-spam, file management, storage akin to having your own “cloud”, database management, statistics … you get the idea. It’s a veritable laundry-list of included features and functionality. And it’s usually not terribly expensive.
One thing almost all shared hosting providers now include is WordPress, often promoted as a “one-click WordPress install”.
The down-side to shared hosting is that, well, it’s shared. That means that while you are always protected from malicious behavior on other sites that might be on the same server, you may not be as protected if, say, they end up using all the resources and slowing the entire server down. Most hosts do a good job of managing this, but it can happen.
As I said, there are many shared hosting services, but I’ll point out two:
- GoDaddy. As I mentioned in the previous post: if you’re looking for a one-stop solution, after purchasing your domain at GoDaddy, you can also purchase web hosting. They have become one of the largest web hosts on the internet.
- Bluehost. I’ve been using Bluehost for a client’s website and email for several years now, and they’ve provided both the power and features the site needs, as well as doing so reliably.
Ironically, while we can consider GoDaddy a registrar that also happens to offer hosting (to the point that they’re simply a solid web host today), Bluehost – and many of its competitors – can also be considered hosting companies that now also happen to offer domain registration. The world has become very complex.
I’ll mention this and the next category only briefly, because it’s not where you want to start out, but it is important to understand what additional options are out there for “someday”.
Dedicated hosting means you’re assigned your own physical server. Somewhere in a datacenter is a computer that is 100% yours and yours alone. You get full administrative access to the server to do pretty much anything you want with it. Support options vary from “you’re on your own” to “we’ll help you with anything”, with costs appropriate to each.
The good news here is that the box is entirely yours. All performance, configuration, and storage issues are yours to do with what you will, without being impacted by sites other than your own.
The bad news here is that if the box fails, you’re down until it’s repaired. (Fortunately, varying degrees of backup are typically included.) This is a pretty expensive option.
Imagine a cross between shared hosting and dedicated hosting, and you get virtual hosting.
Using virtual machine technology, you’re given access to an entire server, almost exactly like dedicated hosting. Once again, you can do with it what you will. Except that your server is “virtual”, existing only as a software simulation of a dedicated machine that in reality shares an actual, physical server with other virtual servers. This is extremely similar to the scenario I run here at home, where I have Windows 7, Windows 8.1, and Windows 10 all running simultaneously on a single machine, each in its own window … on my Mac Pro.
While it shares some of the downsides of any shared solution – some vulnerability to the behavior of “other” virtual servers sharing the same machine – in reality, it’s nearly indistinguishable from dedicated hosting. There is one exception: to change the number of processors, the amount of RAM, or the amount of disk space available to the virtual server, one need only make a simple configuration change or two, and reboot.
In my opinion, shared hosting is the best place to start. You’ll not be limited as to features and functionality. At some point, you may make a decision to change, but that would only be necessary if your traffic outgrows the server capacity. Having too many visitors will be a nice problem to have. 🙂
With that in mind, my next post will be a walk-through of purchasing hosting at Bluehost for the domain we previously purchased.