Web Hosting for Online Business – Complete Guide

web-hostingI wanted to write this post for a long time. But never got to do it until today because I had the impression it would require much effort and time … and be kind of boring.

But when I finally started writing I was surprised to learn a thing or two about web hosting myself. So I guess we can all benefit.

This guide is about every aspect of web hosting that might be important to an online business owner (at least every aspect I know of). You can follow the advice step by step or just pick the elements that seem to be the most significant for your current situation.

Starting with:

Free hosts vs. standard hosts

Where “standard” means ones you have to pay for.

The concept of free hosting was kind of big in the mid 90s’. There were free sites sprouting up everywhere. But what everyone realized soon after was that free hosts are not very quality ones.

The main problems were the frequent downtimes and ads being displayed everywhere (ads you had no control over, and couldn’t profit from).

Thankfully, this is in the past and now we have some quality free hosting platforms to choose from. I’m going to recommend only one, though. So if you want more, you’re going to have to do some researching on your own.

The platform is WordPress.com.

WordPress.com is the cloud hosted version of WordPress – the platform I’m using to run this blog.

The main benefit of using .com is that you don’t have to worry about any technical issues or take care of some mundane tasks like setting everything up and managing the backend of the site.

WordPress.com allows you to hook up your own domain (more on that in a minute), so your visitors won’t even know where you’re hosting the site. And if you don’t want to buy a domain, you can get a free subdomain at .wordpress.com.

If you choose this path you can actually stop reading here. There are no other steps you need to take…

BUT.

There are some downsides to using services like this. Unless you’re a big publisher who’s really powerful.

The main downside is that you never actually own your blog.

I know that the guys at WordPress.com say that you do, but it’s not true.

That’s because if they decide that your blog is no longer “cool,” they will delete it just like that.

To give you a counterexample. If you’re hosting your blog yourself then even the government will find it difficult to shut you down.

So, moving on to, in my opinion, a better solution – standard web hosts.

Domains

If you’re going to sign up to a standard web host, the first thing you’ll have to do is get yourself a shiny new domain.

The best place to do it depends on your geographical location. If you live in the U.S. I think the best choice is GoDaddy. If you’re in Europe or Australia, do some research of your own or ask your friends about who they are using.

Essentially, the place where you get your domain doesn’t matter. So find the cheapest registrar in your area.

In the end, a domain is about $10 yearly.

If you want to learn more about how to choose the right domain, I send you over to one of my guest posts at ProBlogger: Which Domain Is Right for You?.

Choosing a web host

Once you have a domain you can start looking for a hosting provider.

These days, most of the popular providers are quality ones. Although sometimes you can have some bad luck and run into some trouble. Like I did with WPWebHost (the malware thing).

However, the first rule of finding a hosting provider is to get a server that’s near your target market’s location.

For instance, most of my audience is US-based, which means that I can safely use IX Web Hosting. However, for my other sites, ones that are targeting audiences in Poland, I’m using a Polish-based provider. This is a crucial rule.

Therefore, if your audience is based in the U.S. you won’t have any problems at all selecting a webhost. Same thing for Australia, UK, and Europe. If you want to target audiences in Russia or Asia then sorry but there’s not much I can recommend as I have no experience there.

Here’s my list of hosting providers you should check out first (we’ll talk about the different types of plans in a minute.)

USA:

  • HostGator. No longer recommended.
  • Blue Host.
  • Site5.
  • IX Web Hosting. My web host of choice. Great service, low prices. It’s actually where I’m hosting newInternetOrder right now.
  • FatCow.
  • Rackspace.
  • Verio.
  • ServInt.
  • Codero.
  • SoftLayer.
  • FireHost.

Australia:

Europe:

  • IX Web Hosting.
  • FatCow.
  • City Cloud.
  • One.com.
  • Speednames.
  • Surftown.
  • GratisDNS.
  • Binero.
  • Nazwa.pl.

Africa:

  • Hetzner.
  • Web Africa.
  • Afrihost.
  • 5ITE.
  • Synergy Hosting.

Selecting a plan

Before you can choose a specific hosting provider, you should first compare the prices across the market for a specific type of plan. Just because some company says that you can start at $2 a month, doesn’t mean that you’re going to end up paying this little.

There are several basic types of hosting plans (feel free to go to Wikipedia to get the full story):

  • Shared web hosting. It’s the cheapest plan and usually the most suitable for new sites. The idea is that your site gets placed on the same server as many other sites – hence sharing the hosting space.
  • VPS – Virtual Private Server. This is still shared hosting, but your server is configured separately as a virtual machine. Which means that you get some control over the setup and get some of the benefits of having a fully dedicated server.
  • Dedicated servers. You get your own machine and have full control over it. Well, you don’t actually own the machine, per se, but that’s not important here.
  • Cloud hosting. This is one of the more scalable models. Setting all the boring details aside, cloud hosting is about placing your site on multiple servers in a data center and then delivering the contents depending on the volume. This means that your site is less likely to go down due to whatever difficulties.

If you’re starting a standard online business site, which means that you don’t have a massive launch campaign supporting you (mentions in media, heavy advertising, and so on), you can confidently go with a standard shared hosting plan.

In most cases, this is only going to cost you $5 or so per month. So go ahead, pick your provider (make sure to check online reviews and overall reputation of the provider you’re about to pick), click the buy button and complete the purchase.

The setup process

This is the final piece of the puzzle. Once you’ve signed up for a plan, the only thing you have to do now is point your domain to your hosting account.

Of course, later on you also have to install WordPress and eventually launch your site, but that’s a whole other story.

Three steps you have to take here:

  1. Get the nameservers from your hosting provider. GoDaddy says that nameservers are the internet’s equivalent to phone books. What this means is that a nameserver is the internet’s way of finding out where your domain is hosted. The thing you have to do here is simply contact the support at your web host and ask about the addresses of the nameservers. This is a pretty basic piece of information so you should have no problems getting it.
  2. Go to your domain registrar and set the nameservers for your domain. This is where you have to tell your registrar to point your domain to your web host’s nameservers. If your domain is at GoDaddy, just go to Account Manager > Domains > Launch and Select “Set Nameservers.” Then select “I have specific nameservers for my domains” and click “OK.”
  3. Set the domain in your hosting account. Now it’s time to notify your web host about your domain. Depending on your web host, this can be done in many ways. Probably the best approach is to chat with the support team and get them to do this for you.

At this point your domain and hosting account are ready to host your new website, so there’s nothing more for me to explain.

I hope the information here will help you to get through the process of selecting and setting up your hosting account. With some experience, this whole thing can be done in less than an hour, so there’s surely nothing to be afraid of.