Imagine you're opening a clothing store in your town. You've hired employees, obtained all of the items you’ll sell, planned your store’s layout, finalized your branding, and purchased your POS system. But wait…you haven’t signed a lease on a storefront. You don’t actually have a physical space for your store yet.
This is what it’s like to have a website without a web hosting service. Your domain and web page files exist, but visitors won’t be able to find your website on the internet. Similarly, your retail store’s customers won't have anywhere to visit and shop if you don't have the physical space. Let's fix that — in this guide, you’ll learn the importance of finding a web hosting service that not only supports your site, but also meets your needs.
What is web hosting?
Web hosting is how you share your website on the internet for people to visit. A web hosting service or provider (a.k.a. a web host) allows you to do this.
How does all of this happen? Good question.
How does web hosting work?
Websites are hosted on web servers. Servers are powerful computers that store and process data, and web servers are those which store the files that make up websites and process requests to view these files.
When a visitor clicks a link to your website or plugs your site's URL into their browser, they're making a request to connect to your web server. Once this request is approved, the web server sends back the specific web page file that was requested and any associated files. This is what makes your website appear in the visitor's browser.
Note: Some web hosting services require you to obtain a domain name before choosing your hosting your plan. Determine if you’ll purchase your domain via a domain registrar prior to picking your hosting service, or if you’ll purchase one from the hosting service you choose to work with (assuming they offer that option). You might also want to consider your URL structure, like whether you want a subdomain or subfolder.
In addition to housing your website on the internet, web hosting services typically offer various levels of support, security, and the benefits of high performance and uptime. Uptime is how often your website is operational — 99.9% uptime means your website can be accessed 99.9% of the time.
There are literally thousands of web hosts out there, and the key is finding the right service for your website and small business. So, before we review some popular services available today, let’s talk about how you should go about choosing one.
How to Choose a Web Hosting Provider
- Choose the type of hosting you want for your website.
- Identify which type of website you’re creating.
- Determine which features you want in a web hosting service.
- Think about the web hosting support you need.
- Take your website’s growth into consideration.
- Set a budget for your web hosting service.
- Consider free vs. paid web hosting.
- Pick a web hosting provider.
1. Choose the type of hosting you want for your website.
As the owner of a retail store, you’ll have to choose the right space to support your store's infrastructure. Similarly, you’d need to choose the right web hosting service to effectively run your website for your visitors and customers.
There are several different hosting options for small, medium, and large businesses to consider — let’s take a look at some of the most common.
Types of Web Hosting
- Shared hosting stores your website on the same server as multiple other websites. As a result, it's the least expensive hosting option. Although shared hosting is cost-effective, it’s only ideal if your site has consistently low levels of traffic, since you’re sharing that server's resources with dozens or possibly hundreds of other businesses and individuals.
- Virtual private server (VPS) hosting is a bit more expensive than shared hosting and is ideal if you have a bit more traffic coming to your site regularly. VPS hosting mimics having a dedicated server just for your website, even though it’s technically still a type of shared hosting. VPS offers more customization and better performance than shared hosting while still being cost-effective, making it a common first hosting choice for small businesses.
- Dedicated server hosting is a more expensive hosting option — it’s meant for websites that see large amounts of traffic over extended periods. With dedicated hosting, your website has its own server. This means your business has full control over your systems, security, and everything else related to your server. However, this option requires a high level of expertise — you need personnel who can manage your server appropriately.
- Managed hosting means the web host will manage your server (including operation, security, maintenance, and more) so you don’t have to. This is ideal for small businesses that don’t have or want to hire a team member who understands the technical side of a web server. Managed WordPress hosting is popular within this category since these servers are specifically optimized to run WordPress websites.
- Cloud hosting is a newer option in the world of web hosting. It allows many separate servers to work together to behave like one large server. This type of web hosting works well for growing businesses — as websites increase traffic and volume, the cloud space can also expand. Because of this setup, cloud hosting is typically pay-by-use: You pay for the amount of cloud space you need at any given time.
2. Identify which type of website you’re creating.
Decide on the type of website you want to create. By doing so, you’ll be able to better follow the steps in this process as well as narrow down your hosting service choices.
For example, the type of website you create will be a lot different if you’re publishing a blog versus selling products. The most common types of websites people create are:
- Blog websites
- Online stores
- Online portfolios
- Individual websites (startup or small business)
- Business websites (small-to-mid-sized or large business)
When determining the type of website you want to create, also ask yourself:
- Why am I creating this website?
- What type of business do I have?
- How large is my business and how much traffic can I expect?
- Who is this website for?
3. Determine which features you want in a web hosting service.
Once you identify your website type, determine which features you need from your web hosting service.
For instance, if you’re the owner of an online-only store, you’ll have to make sure your host supports ecommerce. And if you’re a small or mid-sized business that’s growing quickly, you’ll need to ensure your hosting service can scale with you — this will save you the trouble of switching providers in the future.
4. Think about the web hosting support you need.
Like our personal computers, servers need to be maintained and updated to keep performance optimal and contents safe. Consider how much work you want to invest in this upkeep.
As you learned above, different hosting services offer various levels of technical support such as security, maintenance, installation, and optimization. To make the right hosting decision for your small business, determine whether or not you have a member of your team (or plan to hire one) to manage your server. If not, consider managed hosting.
Also, think about the size of your business and your expected typical amount of site traffic. Then ask yourself, “If there was an issue with our website that couldn’t be resolved immediately, are we at risk of losing customers and ruining any level of trust we’ve built between them and our brand?”
These conclusions will help you decide how much support you require from your service provider.
5. Take your website’s growth into consideration.
Do you plan to scale your business significantly, or do you plan to stay the same size long-term? Do you foresee a drastic change in your website traffic as you scale, or do you expect your follower base and number of visitors to remain steady over time?
The answers to these questions — as well as your business type and industry — will help you choose an appropriate hosting service for your planned and estimated growth.
If you know you’re going to experience significant traffic on your business site, it might be worth investing in a dedicated server. If your expected growth and traffic are somewhat unknown but have the potential to change drastically over time, cloud-based hosting is a viable option. And if you’re a blogger who wants to share travel stories with friends and family, a shared server is likely all you’ll ever need.
6. Set a budget for your web hosting service.
How much does web hosting cost? The answer isn’t a simple one — it depends on the provider you choose, the type of hosting you need, and which plan you invest in. Still, this is one of the most important factors in your decision, especially if you're a small business.
This is why we recommend you take a deep dive into the information on each service’s pricing pages, like this shared hosting pricing table from Bluehost:
There are free web hosting services (which we’ll touch on below) as well as options that may cost anywhere from a few dollars per month up to several hundred dollars per month. Typically, shared hosting is the least expensive option and dedicated hosting is the most expensive.
In general, the more you pay for your hosting, the more bandwidth you’ll receive, the more security protections you'll have in place, and the more features and perks you can access (e.g., SEO tools, backups, analytics, and site builders). Many providers will try to upsell you on these features, so it’s best to go into your search with a set budget in mind.
7. Consider free vs. paid web hosting.
As mentioned, there are several free hosting providers that won’t charge a dime to host your pages. We’ll list some options in the next section. However, if you’re interested in free hosting, there are several drawbacks.
First, free hosting providers impose far more limits than paid providers: limited pages, limited, storage, limited bandwidth, and limited uptime. Fewer pages and storage affect your site’s ability to grow. Low bandwidth and uptime mean slower (or nonfunctional) web pages, which mean fewer happy visitors and poor search engine performance.
Second, many free providers will insert their own branding or advertisements into your site. This could take the form of their name in your site’s URL ("example.wordpress.com"), the provider’s logo on your pages, and/or display advertisements. And no, you won’t be making money off these ads — all profits go to the host.
Finally, though perhaps most importantly, free hosting servers tend to be less secure and lack the proper security measures like encryption, firewall, and spam blocking. A successful attack on your server can impact your reputation far more than a temporarily inactive page or a banner ad. And, with security breaches on the rise, it’s not something to take lightly.
To sum up, we’d only recommend free hosting services for hobbyists who don’t plan to scale their website or store any private information. A small business, blogger, or any other website owner looking to grow their online presence should invest in a paid plan within their budget range.
8. Pick a web hosting provider.
Now that you have all of the information you need to narrow down your web hosting service options, it’s time to choose the right one for you. In the next section, we’ll review 11 of the most popular and top-rated web hosting services for your consideration. We'll also throw in some free options too.
While choosing a provider, reference the conclusions you made throughout the above steps. You can also study reviews and testimonials real customers have shared via sites like Web Hosting Geeks.
Lastly, you can consult the individual websites of the services you’re considering — just know that they are, of course, biased.
Best Web Hosting Sites
- CMS Hub
- Google Cloud
- WP Engine
- A2 Hosting
The hosting providers listed below all include multiple options, making them great for small businesses up to medium and large companies in need of more powerful hosting.
1. CMS Hub
|CMS Hub Web Hosting Pros||CMS Hub Web Hosting Cons|
|Optimize your site content securely and effectively for search and mobile with automatic responsive design and secure sockets layer (SSL).||There’s a migration fee if your page count is above 20.|
|Integrate the CMS with HubSpot CRM and other marketing, sales, and service tools seamlessly to create an all-in-one platform for your business.||There’s a one-time required onboarding fee for customers unless the CMS is purchased with Marketing Hub Professional or Enterprise.|
|Personalize user experience (UX) based on information about your Contacts with smart content or CTAs and design site pages with pre-built or customized templates.||The CMS limits you to 1,000 static lists and 1,000 smart lists.|
|Bluehost Web Hosting Pros||Bluehost Web Hosting Cons|
|Choose between shared, VPS, dedicated, or WordPress hosting. Bluehost is acclaimed for its managed WordPress hosting services.||There isn’t free website migration offered (and migration options are limited overall).|
|Use a free domain name for the first year you’re a customer.||Many of Bluehost's first year prices are discounted. After your first year, Bluehost increases the cost of these plans by almost double.|
|Take advantage of support that’s available to all customers 24/7.||Website back-ups are controlled which is why buying for a third-party back-up software or paying for Bluehost’s back-up add-on is encouraged.|
|SiteGround Web Hosting Pros||SiteGround Web Hosting Cons|
|Maintain fast load times and reliable service because there are many data centers located around the globe.||Site transfer isn’t free unless you pay for one of their two most-expensive plans.|
|Forget about manually backing up your site — the service offers daily, automatic backups.||The “StartUp” (least expensive) plan only allows you to host one website. You can't use on-demand backups unless you pay for one of the two most expensive plans.|
|Choose whether you want to work with the easy-to-use site builder to launch your small business website, or simply migrate your website.||The “StartUp” (least expensive) plan only allows you to host one website.|
|GoDaddy Web Hosting Pros||GoDaddy Web Hosting Cons|
|Take advantage of unmetered bandwidth and a free domain if you choose an annual plan.||The blogging tools are basic compared to many other types of hosting.|
|Choose between several different types of hosting that are offered including shared, business, VPS, dedicated, and WordPress.||There are fewer layout options that are completely customizable in comparison to other popular providers.|
|Keep your website safe with 24/7 security monitoring.||The live chat support hours for all customers are limited to weekdays and certain hours of the day.|
|Hostgator Web hosting pros||Hostgator web hosting Cons|
|There's a free SSL certificate included when you sign up.||Private SSL isn’t provided with all plans.|
|Use $100 worth of free pay-per-click Bing ads you get as a new customer.||A domain name is free only if you sign up for a one, two, or three-year plan.|
|WordPress migrations are free.||There’s a fee if you want to restore a version of your website or if you want a copy of one of your website backups.|
6. Google Cloud
|Google cloud web hosting pros||Google Cloud web hosting cons|
|Pay for exactly what you use at any point in time and easily scale your hosting plan as needed.||Third-party tools are recommended for templates and creative support when designing your website.|
|Use Google Compute Engine to build your website (if you choose to).||If you need more than the “basic support” provided, Google’s support options are pricey.|
|Implement the same hosting infrastructure on your website that’s used by major sites like Google and YouTube.||The number of hosting options and features Google offers often make it difficult to estimate your monthly or annual costs.|
|Squarespace web hosting pros||Squarespace web hosting Cons|
|Choose from dozens of professional and creative website template options for small businesses, ecommerce sites, and more.||There aren’t any automatic back-up features available.|
|There’s always unlimited site storage and bandwidth.||Third-party customizations fall outside the customer support that Squarespace provides.|
|SSL comes with your plan, no matter which option you choose.||Refunds for annual plans aren’t offered after 14 days following your first payment — and there aren’t any refunds for monthly plans.|
8. WP Engine
|WP engine web hosting pros||WP engine web hosting Cons|
|Choose to pay monthly or annually for any hosting plan.||Limited bandwidth and local storage across all plans.|
|Custom options for sites that need to have the ability to receive over 1 million visits per month.||24/7 phone customer support isn’t available for the lowest-tier paid plans.|
|Managed WordPress hosting is available.||24/7 phone customer support isn’t available for the lowest-tier paid plans.|
Paid with a free option
|WIX web hosting pros||WIX web hosting cons|
|There are servers located across the globe which provide fast-load times for all sites.||Only some plans allow you to remove Wix ads from your website.|
|The easy-to-use SEO tools are designed to help you optimize your site.||The lowest tier hosting plan requires you to have a Wix subdomain.|
|Choose from over 500 templates to design your website with.||You can’t change your website template once your website has been created.|
10. A2 Hosting
|a2 web hosting pros||a2 web hosting cons|
|Determine which of the five types of hosting you want to use (shared, VPS, dedicated, reseller, or WordPress).||A2 markets 20x faster hosting than their competitors, but only the Turbo tier of their hosting offers that.|
|There’s an anytime money-back guarantee and a 99.9% uptime guarantee.||The service doesn’t support payment card industry (PCI) compliance making it less-desirable for ecommerce businesses.|
|Choose from the various customer support options available including help desk, ticket system, and live chat.||If you want to move your data center without upgrading your account, there’s a migration fee.|
|hostinger web hosting pros||hostinger web hosting Cons|
|Access a custom-developed cPanel (web hosting control panel) no matter which plan you have.||Daily back-ups are only available to users you pay for the most-expensive “Business” plan.|
|BitNinja security comes with all plans to keep your website and information safe.||Only annual “Business” plans get free SSL.|
|There's a website builder with no technical or coding knowledge necessary included with all plans.||There are several unique refund policies to be aware of when purchasing your plan.|
Free Web Hosting Services
A few of the options we reviewed above offer a free hosting plans to get you started with their service — meaning, services that are free for a limited amount of time. But, if you’re looking for something totally free, try one of our recommendations:
|Infinityfree web hosting pros||Infinityfree web hosting Cons|
|Use the unlimited amount of bandwidth and disk space.||The number of email accounts and My SQL databases are limited.|
|Decide to either bring a domain name or use an available, free subdomain name.||One-to-one customer support and a cPanel aren’t available.|
|There will never be ads on your website.||There’s limited server power.|
|wordpress.com web hosting pros||wordpress.com web hosting cons|
|WordPress is trusted, popular, and reputable in the blogging space.||Website URLs are branded with "wordpress.com".|
|There are many easy-to-install themes available for free.||Website pages show display ads that you can't turn off.|
|The free plan includes Jetpack essentials like basic SEO, site stats, and social media sharing features.||There's no email or live chat support, though you do have access to help forums.|
3. Wix (Free)
|Wix free web hosting pros||wix free web hosting cons|
|Wix emphasizes its ease-of-use, and this is no different in the free version — it's one of the best tools for getting your site live quickly.||Your web pages with include display ads and Wix branding (including "wixsite.com" in the URL) that you can't deactivate.|
|Wix's free plan offers better customer support than other free options listed here.||Storage and bandwidth are limited to 500 MB each.|
|Many of Wix's website templates are available for free.||Analytics and tracking aren't offered on the free plan.|
|weebly web hosting pros||weebly web hosting cons|
|Weebly includes free marketing tools for SEO, lead capture, and social media marketing.||The free plan does not allow for custom domains.|
|The free plan comes with a free SSL certificate.||Web pages include display ads.|
|There are dozens of website themes you can apply with Weebly's intuitive website builder.||The website builder doesn't allow you to edit its source code for custom HTML and CSS.|
|000webhost free web hosting pros||000webhost free web hosting cons|
|The easy-to-use website builder requires no technical or coding experience.||Only one website and one email account are included.|
|Although there isn’t an option for a free domain, you’re offered two free subdomains.||There are no daily back-ups available.|
|You can pay to upgrade your plan and access more features.||One MySQL Database and limited bandwidth are offered.|
|byethost free web hosting pros||byethost Free web hosting Cons|
|There won't ever be any ads on your website.||Very limited disk space is offered.|
|Gain access to community forums for support.||There’s a maximum of five email accounts.|
|Use a free subdomain name if you choose to.||There’s no Windows OS available.|
Find hosting for your small business.
Long story short, your website needs a hosting provider to be accessed over the internet. Choosing a hosting service that suits your needs and is tailored to your expected growth is critical to the success and performance of your website.
Follow the steps we outlined above and consider the plethora of service options available so you can make an educated decision regarding your host.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in February 2020 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
Originally published Jul 12, 2021 7:00:00 AM, updated July 12 2021