Do I need to pay for hosting? How do I choose a web host?

Questions to ask when you're looking for a web host

web hosting guide

The internet is packed with places where you can publish stuff. You can post pics to Instagram or Flickr, your words to WordPress, your sounds to SoundCloud. And that's great, but it's not necessarily very safe.

Earlier this year MySpace accidentally deleted more than 50 million tracks uploaded by 14 million artists. Also this year, Flickr announced that its unlimited free service was going to become really quite limited, and that it would delete users’ photos to bring them within the new limit.

When you run your own website you don't need to worry about that. You're the one in charge.

OK, so what’s web hosting?

Hosting simply means storing something, in this case a website. Every website lives on a computer somewhere, and that computer is known as a server: when your web browser asks for a particular page, the server finds it and serves it up. So for example when you asked to read this page, our web server located it and sent it to your browser.

You can run your own web server, but that isn’t always ideal. Fasthosts has been in the hosting business for 20 years, and its spokesperson explains: "While it's possible to host a site on your own server if you have the right technical skills, you can easily find yourself in an expensive, time-consuming conundrum pretty quickly. When you consider the cost of the hardware, power and backup systems – among many other elements – the cost/benefit of opting for DIY doesn’t add up."

For most of us, it's much easier to get a hosting company to do all the work for you.

What are the benefits, other than convenience?

"A professional hosting provider offers levels of connectivity, uptime and security that simply can’t be matched by an on-premises solution," Fasthosts says. "Unless you're really passionate about running a server, your time and money is better spent on using a web hosting provider and simply enjoying your website."

If you use a hosting provider, you can concentrate on what you're good at (making a brilliant website full of brilliant things) without having to worry about the things you're not so good at or couldn't care less about (running a web server, backing up your data, keeping everything secure and so on).

How do I choose a web hosting package?

Hosting firms tend to offer three different flavours of hosting: shared, dedicated and VPS. "If you're starting out, shared hosting packages are worth considering," Fasthosts says. "They offer affordable, reliable web space and in our case, they come with a free domain name and email too. For low and moderate traffic, shared hosting may be the best bet: it remains a flexible choice for most until they grow and need increased resources to manage increased visitor numbers."

If you're going to be publishing articles look for dedicated WordPress hosting, which gives you all the benefits of the popular WordPress content publishing system with the security and control of having your own web host.

Dedicated and VPS hosting are for much busier websites. As the name suggests, a dedicated server is when you have hardware dedicated solely to your website. That means much better performance, which can be crucial if you’re running an ecommerce shop: "If your business depends on web sales, the cost/benefits of opting a dedicated server speak for themselves… dedicated hosting guarantees you your own server resources, which delivers a consistent level of performance for your projects. This contrasts with some shared solutions, which can suffer from the 'noisy neighbour’' effect when the performance of your site is affected by other users of the same server."

Then there’'s VPS, which Fasthosts calls "the best of both worlds": you have a dedicated virtual server that lives in the cloud, where adding capacity is as simple as turning on a tap. It's generally cheaper than a dedicated server without skimping on power, so for example Fasthosts virtual servers are available with up to 128GB SSD storage and 8GB RAM and the ability to add even more later. It's particularly good for businesses that are growing quickly, or that have to deal with really big surges in demand.

How do I choose a web hosting package?

There's a bit more to it than looking for the lowest price. You should consider how much space you’ll need and how much data transfer you want, whether you need features such as WordPress hosting or feature-packed control panels, the availability of technical support and the uptime you should expect from your website: a website that isn't available is a website that isn't being read, or that isn't selling any products. 

Last but definitely not least, there's physical security and data security features such as automated backups and security updates. 

Fasthosts currently hosts over 1.4 million domains from high-tech, ISO-certified UK data centres, ranging from "bare metal" no-frills hosting to dedicated servers, VPS and WordPress hosting.

"Our customers trust us to deliver," the company says. "With flexible pay-as-you go options where needed and a user-friendly control panel to keep track of everything, all backed up by a helpful, friendly and UK-based support team – not to mention regular and generous discounts – you won’t want to go elsewhere once you've tried Fasthosts."

Lead image credit: Getty