The topic of website hosting has come up recently in F3 (if you’re not e member of F3, our fabulous and free support community, check it out here
). There’s always some confusion around hosting, what it is, and what the differences areas I thought this might be a good chance to clear that up.
First out of the gate, what IS hosting?
At its purest level, hosting is a computer (or “server“) with a constant connection to the internet that houses and delivers websites. A website has to reside somewhere, be based in a physical “host” from where it reaches out into the world – that’s hosting. You can in theory host your own website with a home-brew server, but that’s crazy town and only seriously committed nerd-types go there. NOT for us designers. We need to purchase hosting.
Marketplaces like Etsy perform as hosts for you, so you don’t need a host. Proprietary “SaaS” (Software as a Service) subscription based platforms like Shopify provide hosting as part of their packages. When you build your own site with WordPress (or any other self-hosted CMS – Content Management System) – that’s when you need to find and decide on your own host. And the choices can be very confusing.
You can pay as little as $3 or $4 a month for hosting, or as much as $100 or even more. If they’re all performing essentially the same service of placing your site on a server and connecting you to the internet, why the huge difference? Let’s look at that.
You know the real estate mantra: Location, Location, Location
Have you ever rented space anywhere? An apartment, or retail space? If you have, you know how much location and amenities have to do with the price. Imagine for a moment a big warehouse space. Huge, open, tons of space to do anything you want – except it might be a little drafty, the pipes leak, and it’s not in the best part of town. There’s no security, and no locks are provided on the doors; if you want them you have to bring your own. You can transform your warehouse into a wonderland – but the pipes will still leak and it can still get broken into. And the super isn’t so great at answering the phone. Oh – and the police don’t come around this part of town very often.
This is $4/month hosting: Cheap unfinished warehouse space in a not-so-great part of town
Now imagine a sleek retail space in the newest center in a densely populated urban area. Newly built, it has everything. The plumbing and HVAC are all state of the art, with security cameras and 24-hour security at every entrance. The concierge is always on call for whatever you need. They’ll even build it out for you in whatever form you want – and maintain it, clean it, and keep away burglars. A loyal assistant logs everything you do so nothing is ever forgotten. Everything in the space just works. All the time.
This is $100/month hosting: State-of-the-Art built-out custom just for you with the best address
You may not need $100 hosting – but you probably don’t want $4 hosting either. There are lots of options in between, many of them a whole lot closer to the experience provided by that $100 host than you might think. Hosting essentially breaks down across two spectrums, Shared and Managed.
Shared hosting, or Standard Hosting is where you’ll find the cheap seats. Companies like Bluehost, Hostgator, Dreamhost, all the single-digit-per-month companies. You get server space, more or less, and sometimes a list of “perks” that unless you’re well versed in more specialized ares of Nerd-dom you frequently won’t understand a word of. Shared hosting can be used not only for WordPress but also for a number of other CMSs which makes it ideal for developers who need flexibility but can be confusing for designers who just need a no-fuss website.
Shared hosting also usually comes with something called cPanel, which is an installable bit of control software that’s pervasive in the industry – lots of hosts love it, and so do developers. It can be configured on the host’s backend to allow the user to manage all kinds of stuff: install CMSs and Scripts, manage files, and also frequently get into trouble if you don’t know what you’re looking at. There’s a LOT of information in cPanel. If you’re a technophobic designer it might short circuit you, or at a minimum cause temporary blindness.
cPanel can be complete overkill for a novice webmaster
Shared hosting can be great if you’re fairly technical, and don’t mind getting your hands dirty – but we very aware that your costs don’t stop at that $3 or $4 a month, because you’ll need to supply a bunch of stuff that isn’t built into your big empty warehouse. There’s no heat, power or water included with this rent… no security software, no backup, and no virus protection. You’ll need to add those and monitor them yourself. This adds to your cost and to your work. And because they’re add-ons instead of built-in, they’ll only be as secure as the job you do installing and monitoring.
Some of these things you can handle for a relatively low cost, others you’ll need to pay for – depending again on the quality of the service you want and the level of support you need. If you’re sending a patter here you’re right – life on the web is all about price vs. quality and service. You can ALWAYS get it cheaper – or even free in many cases – but you very much get what you pay for.
Shared hosting is missing a LOT of the things you need for a safe & secure website. That cheap price isn’t the end of the story
If you’re game for shared hosting, the best ones to look at are Siteground and Fast Comet for sites you intend to take live. Note that on Siteground they have a menu item for “WordPress Hosting” – but it’s the exact same plans as for shared hosting with the word “WordPress” added. Nonetheless Siteground is a solid host. Having had sites on SIteground though, I can’t say they’re not actually Managed Hosting…
So what IS Managed Hosting?
Managed Hosting, in my book, should take the pain and uncertainty out of hosting, and lift a lot of the burdens off YOUR shoulders. You pay more for managed hosting, so you should expect more. What kind of “more”?
1) WordPress usually comes pre-installed – one less step when setting up a site. It’s ready to go when you walk in.
2) Backups are usually automatic and frequent. The best hosts allow you to create new ones on the fly as needed, for instance before you make big changes. Restoring from a backup is usually quick and easy too – not usually the case with shared hosting if you’ve ever been there…
3) Security and virus/malware scanning are usually top of the list for managed hosting. Keeping a clean and safe environment matters to these guys.
4) WordPress core software is usually updated automatically for you, so you’re always working with the latest (and safest) version of the software. Some will even update your plugins.
5) Managed hosting frequently includes an SSL (a security certificate that keeps passwords and financial transactions safe), which is becoming critical with Google updates – shortly they’ll be severely penalizing site that don’t run on SSL, and it can be an expensive hassle to get one on your own.
6) The support.
Managed hosting excels at support.
The form the support takes isn’t usually the issue, because we all tend to prefer different formats – phone, chat, ticketed email – and most will offer some combination of those, The important part of managed hosting support is that you will not get a response of “I don’t know”. When you’re on a shared host, that host can be juggling installations from dozens of different bits of software – there’s no way the entire support staff can no every piece intimately. But managed hosting is all about WordPress – and everyone on that team knows WordPress. Everyone speaks the same language. The software does power nearly 60% of the internet, so it makes sense that a sector would spring up to support it.
Shared hosting, like that big warehouse, can be a great place to play and learn, to store projects and teach yourself how to do things if you’re learning about website building. But it can also be very frustrating if your site’s uptime and overall health are important to your business, and you don’t have either the time or expertise to do serious troubleshooting. Selecting a managed host, and paying a little more, frees you up enormously. I use and recommend Flywheel
. Their plans begin at $15/month – just a few dollars more to have a great team behind you and have your site in a much better, well protected neighborhood. (Yes that is an affiliate link – I only recommend and share services I actually use. I have 10 sites on Flywheel, and I’ve been with them for nearly three years. Good people.)
If you’ve never had your own site, managed hosting takes a LOT of the angst out of it. If you’re wobbling between WordPress and Shopify (or another proprietary SaaS), managed hosting gets you nearly all of the perks of an SaaS with the freedom of WordPress – at a much lower monthly cost. If you already have your own site on a shared host, you’ll be amazed at how much smoother your life runs on managed hosting. I know. I used to be on shared hosting with all 10 sites.
Our signature course, WordPress for Designers & Makers is gearing up for the 2017 edition.
If you think you might be interested, drop us a line here and we’ll get you on the list. We don’t do any big goopy webinars, free trainings or come-ons. But we will teach you how to build a solid e-commerce site geared towards creative product people – taught by creative product people, not developers or web designers – we’re YOU. With a side of SEO and Photoshop thrown in for good measure, so you learn what you need to get your stuff up there and get it seen. It’s the best time and money you’ll ever spend for your business. Let us know if you might be interested, and we’ll keep you in the loop. Jump on the bus here and we’ll keep you informed. Doors are opening shortly…