As a business owner or marketer, you may have heard the term “web hosting” and had a vague idea of what it means, but what exactly is web hosting? And why is it so important to your website’s success and performance?
This article will explain in simple terms what web hosting is, why it’s important for your business website and how to pick the best option for you.
What is web hosting?
Put simply, a website is just a collection of computer files, and a web host is the publicly available server that they are stored on.
To better explain this, I’ll walk through the process of what happens when you browse the internet.
- When you type a domain into your internet browser (like Chrome or Safari), or click on a link from Google (or any other page), your web browser is forwarded to a website link, also called a URL.
- Your web browser then asks the domain, for example mywebsite.com, “Where the are the files that make up the web page that’s been requested?”
- Your domain then gives the browser a server address, where the browser goes to request, download and display the files that make up the web page you’ve asked to view.
- You then view the web page in your web browser.
This process usually happens in a split second and all you’ll see on your end is the website address (or URL), a brief loading period, then the web page appearing.
In this process described above, the server which stores your website files is what is referred to as your “web host”.
The server is always on and available to deliver your website files to whoever requests to view them.
Why web hosting is important
So now we know what website hosting is, but why is it so important to the success and performance of your business website?
The first reason why good web hosting is crucial to the success of your website is speed, or more importantly how fast your website feels to visitors.
We saw in the last section that the browser requests and then downloads your website files so that your website can be viewed.
If the server does this quickly then your visitors will experience a fast loading website. But when the server takes a second too long to complete this action, then your website will likely feel slow to a visitor.
And it’s well documented that website visitors get frustrated with slow loading websites – this is a major factor in visitors leaving your website before they’ve got the answers they were looking for.
In fact, according to a study carried out by Google, 53% of mobile users will leave a site that takes longer than three seconds to load.
Another key issue to be aware of with website hosting is stability.
How stable is the server your site is stored on? Does it go down a lot or fall over if there’s an increase in traffic?
Web hosting is a complex, highly specialised service and it’s imperative that servers are maintained and load balanced effectively to make sure they provide a stable base for your website.
If your web server is down too often leaving your website unavailable, this can have a huge negative impact on how potential customers view your business.
It also means you could be missing out on website visitors who are looking for the services you offer.
Your website is a piece of software available on the internet, and so it will always be a target for hackers both big and small.
Whether hackers are looking to make money by injecting SPAM or ransomware into your site, steal any personal data your site contains or just use your traffic for their own purposes, hacking is a big threat which is only likely to increase.
Your website host (and whoever looks after your website) should be working hard to avoid and repel these threats so that you stay one step ahead and your business website stays safe and secure.
Managing your small business web hosting yourself
So now you know what web hosting is and why it’s so important, you may be wondering whether you should manage your web hosting yourself, or have your web designer or web design agency do it for you?
In short, either option is fine as long as the hosting plan and provider you pick are of a good quality.
If you would like to retain full ownership and control over your hosting then I’d encourage you to do this. I’d always recommend that you speak to your web design agency about picking a provider though.
Picking a reliable web host with a top quality service can be a minefield if you don’t know what you’re looking for and your web design agency should be able to recommend a few trusted providers to choose from to help you narrow your search.
How to pick a reliable web hosting provider
When advising our clients who would like to manage their own web hosting, we always recommend the following tips for picking a hosting provider:
- Look beyond the big names and especially avoid any hosting company who advertise on TV. These tend to be “pile them high and sell them cheap” types of packages with lots of extras bundled in but not always a particularly reliable core hosting product and limited support options.
- Look for companies who have been in the hosting space for a number of years with lots of excellent reviews.
- Look for a company with excellent support – hosting is a complex product and you will probably need help at some point so you need to make sure that the support they provide is quick and of a high quality.
- Ask where their servers are based – the closer the website visitor is to the web server’s physical location, the faster the website files will download to their browser, and the faster the site will feel. So if most of your website visitors are in the UK then it makes sense to choose a company with UK based servers.
- Check the company’s uptime score – this is the percentage of time that their servers are up and available. Ideally this should be 100% but most solid providers will advertise a 99.9% uptime to account for a small margin of error.
- Don’t buy cheap! Yes you can get web hosting for £1 /month but it is likely to be lacking in quality, and will end up giving a bad impression to your visitors when your website is down or extremely slow to load.
For your reference, our top hosting picks are:
Having your web design agency manage your web hosting
If you don’t have the time or expertise to manage your web hosting yourself, or you’d prefer that everything was under the same roof and managed by an expert, then having your web design agency manage your hosting for you is also a great option.
Web design agencies work with website hosting every day so they know who the best providers are, and will often optimise their workflow for their preferred provider, so you’ll get the benefit of their depth of knowledge and efficiency.
Another benefit of having your hosting managed for you is that your web agency will usually take care of any technical or support issues on your behalf so you never have to worry about any problems that may arise with your website hosting.
That means you never need to worry about your website being down, as any issues will usually be picked up and fixed before you or your clients even know there’s a problem!
I hope that this article has explained in simple terms what web hosting is and why it’s so important, and that you have more confidence in deciding which option would be best for you and your business when it comes to your web hosting.