What is web hosting? Complete guide for beginners

LaunchCategory
12 min read
Cate Barker

You don’t have to dig very far into the details of building a website before you stumble across something called web hosting. This technical service is essential for any working website.

When I first joined GoDaddy in 2006, I didn’t know what a domain name was — never mind web hosting.

I’ve spent the intervening years peppering GoDaddy’s good-natured technical staff with questions like “What is web hosting?” and “What kinds of businesses really need dedicated hosting?” and  “Does the location of a host’s servers make a difference to how quickly a website loads?”

Here’s everything I’ve learned so far.

What is web hosting?

Web hosting is a digital service that enables others to see and use your website online. This service stores your website’s text, photos, videos, files and other data on a physical server somewhere so that it can be accessed by others via the internet at any time.

If you plan to launch a website, online store or blog, you’ll need web hosting.

Yes, you could buy your own server, but they’re expensive. So most people rent space on a server owned by a web hosting company like GoDaddy.

How web hosting works

When a person wants to visit your website, they simply type your web address into the browser on their phone, desktop or tablet and click Return.

What is web hosting infographic
This graphic shows how web hosting works.

Alternately, they might see an ad you’ve placed on social media or a link in an article and click on it to get to your website.

That request is then relayed over the internet to the web server that contains your website. The server responds to the request by presenting your website.

As I mentioned, you certainly can host a website yourself. But in addition to being pricey, this option requires advanced technical skills. You’ll have to:

  • Set up and configure your web server from scratch
  • Buy the equipment, infrastructure, hardware and software
  • Handle all the ongoing maintenance

When you contract with a web hosting company, they take all the tech tasks off your shoulders — from software installation to troubleshooting.

Web hosts do all the heavy technical tasks for you.

Most data centres are staffed round the clock to make sure that all the sites they host are secure and available to global visitors 24/7 (or as close as possible to 24/7).

Why do I need web hosting?

We’ve established that in order for your website to be always online and available, you need web hosting. Since most people don’t have the money or skills to buy and maintain their own servers, they rent space on the servers of a professional web host. This is far easier and less expensive.

Hosting companies own and manage powerful servers located in data centres with:

  • Expensive infrastructureWordPress Hosting Server Room
  • Advanced security systems
  • Powerful air conditioning (servers generate a lot of heat!)
  • Highly trained staff

This ensures secure internet connections and reduces the likelihood of  hardware or service failures.

Types of web hosting services

Web hosting plans run the gamut from cheap hosting to high-end dedicated hosting.

Different kinds of websites need different types of hosting.

The hosting plan that’s right for a freelance graphic designer is very different from what a large multi-national corporation might need.

Check out the descriptions below to identify what type of hosting is most likely to work for you.

Shared hosting

Shared hosting is the least expensive of all your options. With this type of hosting, your website  “shares” the same server as a number of other websites.

All the websites stored on your server will share a finite amount of resources such as disk space, CPU and memory. Total costs are split between all the users, which keeps your costs low.

Pros

  • Low cost
  • Requires no tech skills
  • Easy set-up
  • Resources can be easily added or decreased

Cons

  • Your site could be slow to load if traffic to other websites on your server have sudden surges in traffic
  • Less control over your website’s performance

Popular for personal websites or blogs, small businesses or anyone with a limited budget.

WordPress hosting

If you or your web designer decide to use WordPress to build your website or blog, you’ll need WordPress hosting.

WordPress is loved the world over because it’s endlessly customisable.

Although WordPress itself is free, you’ll have to pay for hosting in order to make your website visible on the web.

GoDaddy’s Managed WordPress hosting offers one-click WordPress installation, malware scanning and removal, a free SSL certificate, free domain name and daily backups with one-click site restore.

Planning to sell physical products, digital downloads, services or subscriptions from your website? Check out GoDaddy’s Managed WooCommerce Hosting.

Pros of Managed WordPress hosting

  • Lower cost
  • Designed to boost the performance of WordPress sites
  • Often comes pre-installed with WordPress itself, as well as plugins and themes
  • Regular updates, backups and security patches are done for you

Cons

  • Your site could be slow to load if traffic to other sites on your server have sudden traffic spikes
  • Less control over your website’s performance

Popular for anyone who wishes to create and launch a WordPress website, either for themselves or for clients.

Related: How to choose the right WordPress hosting

VPS hosting

Much like shared hosting, Virtual Private Servers (VPS) store multiple websites on a single server.

In this case, you get your own environment with dedicated resources of RAM and disk space.

VPS hosting is more powerful than shared hosting because it has its own operating system and CPU cores.

Although more expensive, the risk of your website being affected by what’s happening on other sites is also reduced.

Wedding videographer at work
Photographers and videographers might want to consider VPS hosting.

Pros

  • More powerful than shared hosting
  • RAM and disk space can be increased or decreased as needed
  • Gives you greater control over what happens on your site
  • Can run custom configurations on your server, as you have root access
  • Better uptime (the amount of time your website is up and running)

Cons

  • More expensive than shared hosting
  • Requires technical skills for set up

Popular for businesses that can’t afford to have their websites go down, but don’t want to pay for a dedicated server of their own. Also great for websites that store many large media files like videos and images.

Dedicated hosting

The most expensive hosting option, Dedicated hosting gives you a server all your own. You are literally the only website stored on your server.

This means your website will perform better, with increased uptime and better security.

Dedicated hosting is a great choice for resource-heavy websites like:

  • Media streamingGroup of journalists at an outdoor event
  • Online gaming
  • Communications

Businesses that handle confidential financial or medical information — and are therefore prime targets of hackers — should consider dedicated hosting as well.

You will need to have some technical know-how, as well a bigger budget, since you’ll be configuring the server and paying for all the costs yourself.

Pros

  • Complete control over your server
  • Highest security
  • Fastest load times and highest uptimes

Cons

  • Most expensive
  • Requires high-level technical skills to manage

Popular for large e-commerce businesses or media streaming websites that expect more than 100,000 monthly visits. Also recommended for any business that handles confidential financial or medical information.

How to choose the right web hosting service

Now that we know what kind of website each type of hosting is best suited for, it’s time to shop around. Here’s what to look for in a web hosting provider:

An easy control panel

Look for an easy-to-use control panel, as you will likely spend a lot of time in it.

Here you can:

It’s a nice perk if your hosting plan comes with one-click domain name setup, as GoDaddy’s do.

99.9% uptime

This refers to the amount of time you can expect your website to be up and available on the internet. The industry standard is a 99.9% uptime — which means your site may be down for a total of eight hours, 45 minutes and 57 seconds over the course of a year.

Look for this guarantee from any web host you’re considering.

Good customer reviews

Before settling on a web host, it’s a good idea to read their customer reviews. This will give you an idea of how well they deliver on their promises.

GoDaddy Trustpilot review

Always-on customer support

No matter how technically skilled you are — and especially if you’re not — there will come a day when you need help.

Be sure to check if the web host you’re considering offers help via telephone, live chat and/or tickets.

Remember that hosting emergencies can take place day or night, so look for round-the-clock help. After all, every minute your website is down is a loss for you.

Security

With hackers seeming to come up with new attacks every week, cybersecurity is more important than ever. After all, the last thing you want is for a virus or data breach to undermine all your hard work.

Check whether your provider performs regular security scans to ensure the integrity of their platforms. GoDaddy offers offer 24/7 network security to keep all its hosted sites humming along.

A variety of web hosting plans

While you may start out with shared hosting, if your business is successful, it will likely need to graduate (more than once) to more powerful hosting. Make sure the web host you go with has a variety of plans to accommodate your needs as your business grows and your web hosting needs change.

Additional benefits

Many web hosting providers offer added benefits with their hosting plans. For example, you can see the free add-ons offered by GoDaddy below.

GoDaddy hosting features included with every web hosting plan

The difference between web hosting and a domain name

To recap, web hosting is the behind-the-scenes service that makes it possible for people anywhere in the world to find and use your website.

Graphic with 5 well-known domain names

domain name is the series of letters — like TimHortons.com, for example — that people type in to find that website. Without a domain name, people would have to memorize a different series of numbers for each website they wanted to visit.

Instead, we have domain names to give people an easy way to remember the sites they want to visit again and how to find them.

As an example, GoDaddy’s IP address is 208.109.192.70. Imagine how hard it would be to remember this series every time you wanted to open the GoDaddy website!

GoDaddy.com is much easier to remember.

Completing a domain name registration takes just a few minutes.

Web hosting: what every website needs

By now, you know that every website needs hosting in order to be found and used by people around the world.

Hopefully you also know that there are different kinds of hosting, from low-cost shared hosting all the way up to pricey dedicated hosting.

Once you’ve identified the type of hosting you need, you’ll want to research the various hosting providers using the tips above. Then let the adventure begin!

Sean Loiselle and Will Stevens contributed to this article.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is meant by the term web hosting?

Web hosting is a technical service required by anyone wishing to have a working website or blog, whether for personal, business or any other use. In fact, every website you’ve ever opened is powered by web hosting.

What does a web host do?

Although you could host your website yourself, this is expensive and requires technical skills beyond what most people have. So instead, they rent space on a server owned by a web hosting company like GoDaddy.

It’s the web host’s job to make sure the websites stored on their servers load quickly, no matter how much web traffic they get. After all, a website is no good if customers can’t open it.

The web host is also responsible for safeguarding all website data, as stealing customer names and banking details is big business among hackers.

Finally, data centres require huge amounts of electricity and air conditioning, as servers generate a lot of heat. They also require backup power sources should the primary source of power be interrupted for any reason. And, of course, highly trained staff.

Is web hosting necessary for a website?

Yes — if you’d like other people to be able to find and use your website, you will need web hosting. Without it, you (and your web developer if you have one) are the only people who would ever see your website.

Does the location of a host’s servers make a difference to how quickly your website loads?

With how instantaneous the internet now is, it may seem funny to think that the distance between the server that stores your website and your customers might affect how quickly your website loads for them.

But the truth is, if your customers are primarily located in Canada and your web host only has data centres in Asia, it could slow the loading speed of your website.

The closer your customers are to one of your host’s data centres, the faster your site will likely load for them. And we all know that a delay of only three seconds will be enough to make you lose half your site visitors.

You can get around this by knowing where the majority of your audience is and then picking a web host provider with servers in that part of the world.

GoDaddy has data centres in the U.S., France, India and Singapore.

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