Thinking of starting a website but is overwhelmed by all the processes and jargons? Wanted to create your online presence but is unsure where to begin?
Well, the good news is that it is very easy and very affordable to build a website these days. This article is designed to help you navigate your way through what seemed like a labyrinth (for a beginner) of creating your own website and getting it up and running. It touches the different concepts involved in making a website and also answers some of the questions a beginner would normally ask.
Let’s start at the beginning.
What is Web Hosting?
This is a popular question among beginners. The short answer:-
Web hosting is a service of storing your website content and making it available to the public.
In this circumstance, setting up a website is not unlike creating a Words document and filing it under the My Documents folder. The difference is that your personal file is accessed only by you on your computer. Your website is to be accessed by people from all around the world, all day long.
In that case, can we store the website on our personal computer and then connects it to the Internet via our Internet connection? Sure we can. However, it is not practical as our computer is unable to handle the traffic when we have many users accessing the website at the same time.
To effectively host your website on your own computer, you will need a computer that is more powerful than your personal computer. You will also need a high speed Internet connection. In the Internet world, such a computer is called a web server. The buildings storing these web servers are called data centers. The company offering this service is called a web hosting provider. And all the websites in this world make up what is known as the World Wide Web or as we know it, WWW.
Web hosting providers come in different sizes. Some run their hosting service from their garage while larger providers build their own data centers, complete with their own power supply, customized security systems and redundant connections.
Basic features of a web hosting plan
Are there different types of web hosting plans? Yes, certainly.
While hosting plans more or less have similar features, it is the amount or quantity of these features that differentiates one plan from another.
These days, there are various types of web hosting plans being offered. That’s because different websites have different requirements. A simple website with a few pages of content will require only a simple web hosting plan. Meanwhile, a large organization’s website may incorporate an online store and blog and thus, requires a more sophisticated hosting plan that comes with better resources.
The following are the common features that you can find in most hosting plans:
This is sometimes also referred to as “bandwidth”. Data transfer means the amount of data that your visitors can download (or transmit / read / watch) from your website in a month. Most popular web hosts offer unlimited data transfer.
This refers to the maximum amount of space you are allowed to use. It can range from 100MB to 1,000MB to “unlimited”. Do note that you should not take the word “unlimited” literally. What it means is that the disk space will be sufficient for almost all websites.
Most websites find 500MB of disk space adequate, unless you are using the server for file storage or media streaming!
Support or post-sales customer service is an extremely important feature that you should look for when searching for a web hosting provider. There are various ways that you can communicate with the web hosting company’s customer support team e.g. phone, email as well as live chat or you can opt to search through the web host’s FAQ or knowledgebase articles for solution. Some web hosts provide all these support options while others offer only a few.
You should also find out whether the support is 24 hours a day or otherwise. This will determine how fast your queries are attended to and how quickly your problems can be solved!
Another thing to check is the quality of their customer service. Is the support speedy? Are the support staff knowledgeable? Can they solve your problem within 24 hours or do they usually need a day or two to reply your email?
Reliability and Uptime
Just how reliable is your web server? Does your web server stay up most of the time? Reliability is usually measured by the web host’s uptime.
A web host advertising 99.9% uptime is guaranteeing less than 43.2 minutes of downtime in a month. The lower the uptime guarantee is, the higher the allowable downtime is. If you are running a popular website or an e-commerce site, downtime can be harmful to your reputation and business. Therefore, it is crucial that you find a web host who has a good uptime track record.
Windows or UNIX
This refers to the servers’ operating systems. There are two popular operating systems for web servers i.e. Windows and UNIX (most web hosts offer the Linux variant of UNIX).
For beginners, we would usually recommend that you choose the Linux operating system because almost all web host offers this and also because it is cheaper. You should choose the Windows hosting plan if you are planning to install Windows-specific applications such as applications created on the .Net platform.
Types of Web Hosting
As mentioned earlier, web hosting providers offer a range of different hosting plans because each website may have different requirements. You probably know of some of them but for the purpose of this post, I will touch on the 5 most popular web hosting types for the average users, i.e. free web hosting, shared hosting, VPS (Virtual Private Server), Dedicated Server and cloud hosting. To find out how to choose the right web hosting type for your website, do check out our web hosting types comparison infographic.
Free web hosting
In a world where free lunches are rare, there are web hosts who would provide free web hosting services. This means that you can host your website with them for free. In return, these free web host providers may insert advertisements (that you have no control of) in your website.
Some popular free web hosts are Blogger, WordPress and Weebly.
If you are on a tight budget and do not mind missing out some features or lack of support, then you can consider free web hosting. Once your traffic increases or when your website is generating income, you can then upgrade to premium hosting. For a free and reliable web hosting, do check out Weebly.
Like the name suggests, shared hosting means that your account (your websites, applications and software) will be placed together with other user’s accounts in the same server. You will share the same hardware and software infrastructure.
Web hosts usually won’t disclose how many accounts are allocated in a server but it can range from a couple hundreds to even a few thousands! Naturally, the more accounts the slower your website will become! But it also means lower hosting costs because more users are sharing the cost of the resources.
If you are a beginner or have a website which do not need high performance then shared hosting is sufficient. As your traffic increases or if you need special requirements e.g. highly secure environment, then you may want to consider VPS and Dedicated Server hosting plans.
VPS (Virtual Private Server)
For VPS hosting, each website is hosted in a separate partition on a server. Although the websites are on the same physical machine, VPS allows each website to be fully independent as if each were on its own separate machine!
VPS hosting accounts usually have more control e.g. root access and more secured because you are virtually separate from other users. This type of hosting is more expensive than shared hosting. However, if you consider the fact that you have more allocated resources instead of needing to share with others and that you will be having better security, the higher fees is justifiable.
If you have been experiencing traffic spikes and that it has been affecting your website speed, you may want to consider upgrading to VPS hosting. Bluehost’s newly launched VPS services is one of the best in the industry.
If you subscribe for a dedicated server, you will have the entire server for yourself! No sharing with other people.
You will experience a greater performance from the server, higher uptime even when there is a spike in traffic, more secure, a couple of dedicated IP addresses and not to mention, better support from the web host!
But because the web host needs to provide you all the resources, the company is forgoing the hosting income that they could have made if they were to use that server for shared hosting or VPS. Hence, it is going to cost you more if you were to sign up for dedicated hosting.
While a dedicated server sounds really tempting especially for those who wishes to have better features and more control, this plan can cost a bomb. So unless your website is giving you a good extra income and your traffic is very high or if you require a very secure hosting, you may want to consider other cheaper forms of web hosting (for now).
Still consider dedicated hosting? Check out HostGator.
Cloud hosting, is getting more popular in recent years. It is based on a different concept compared to traditional web hosting. Instead of upgrading hardware and software to meet the increasing hosting demands, this new hosting type spread the hosting over more than just a single server.
This reduces the occurrence of downtimes due to hardware or software problems as well as being able to manage the web traffic better. By using a group of servers as opposed to a single server, there will be redundancy of resources, which can be allocated automatically when the need arises.
LunarPages provides an impressive cloud hosting service with lots of features, tons of flexibility and great support. You can choose between scalable, public or private cloud hosting.
Now that you understand the hosting part, let’s look at a separate component of creating a website i.e. domain names.
Before your website can go live, you will need to choose and register a domain name for your website. It is like your website’s name, its’ identity in a sea of websites on the Internet. Take this website for example. The domain name is 100webhosting.com. Those who wish to access this website can do so by typing this domain name in their browser. Other examples of domain names are Google.com and WordPress.org.
One thing to note is that if you were to build a website through free web hosting like Blogger, you will receive a domain name for free. However, this free domain name is a sub-domain of the web host e.g. mydomainname.blogger.com. While you don’t have to pay for it, you also do not have full control over the contents.
Therefore, you need to decide before you create your website, whether you want full control of your website or you think it doesn’t matter should your website disappear in the future. If you want control, then it is recommended that you register and get your own domain name. Doing so now is better because the name may no longer be available later!
Domain Name vs Web hosting vs website
At this moment, you may feel slightly confused with the terms domain name, web hosting and website. These are actually different but related concepts of website building.
To better illustrate this topic, let’s use a house as an analogy. Domain name is your website’s unique identification. It is very much like your house’s address. Your visitors require this to find your house (website). The postman (email software) needs it to deliver letters (emails) to you.
If domain name is like your house address then web hosting is like your house structure where your website is in. Web hosting is the space that you are leasing from web host providers, just like the house that you are getting. It doesn’t include the furnishings yet.
Once you have a house, you can start renovating and furnishing it. Your website is the furniture, shelving and decoration that are inside the house. How you decorate your house or website is what makes your house / website different from others.
If you want to find out how to find a suitable domain name for you website, you can check out these tips to Pick the Best Domain Name for your Blog.
Domain Name Registration
In order to own a domain name, you will need to register it. No two domain names can be the same. Your domain name is like your property and you are expected to pay to own it. Registration can be made for 1 – 10 years at once. Some registrars provide discounts when you register for a longer period. Once the domain name is near expiry, you should renew it in order to continue using it.
Domain name registrations are controlled and regulated by ICANN or the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. ICANN’s job is to ensure that domain names system (DNS) and IP addresses are unique so that computers around the world can communicate with each other.
You can register your domain name through popular companies like Godaddy and Namecheap, who specializes in domain name registrations. These two companies also provide web hosting services.
Alternatively, you can register through your web hosting provider. Some popular and reliable web hosting providers who also offer free domain name registration for the first year are Bluehost, iPage and HostMonster.
Registering Your Domain Name
First, you need to check the availability of your preferred domain name. You should be able to do so via your registrar or your web host. To make it easier for you to find a good name which is still available, I advise you to prepare a list of possible names, which you like.
After keying in your domain name, you will need to decide on the domain name extension. This is the extension of your domain name that is located to the right of the dot e.g. .com, .net, .org, .biz and so on. As you can guess from these extensions, some of them are specific for certain websites e.g. .biz is for businesses.
If you prefer a specific geographical location’s domain name, you can choose a country-code TLD (ccTLD). Examples include .uk for websites in United Kingdom, .au for Australia and .my for Malaysia.
If the domain name is available, you can proceed to register it. You are then required by ICANN to produce personal information like your name, contact number, organization and so forth, when registering your domain name.
To learn more about how to register a great domain name, you can read this guide.
As mentioned earlier, ICANN requires domain name owners to disclose their personal information. These personal information are publicly accessible via a WhoIs search!
But should we be concern about this? Well, in this information age, information is valuable and can be misused. For example, telemarketers, spammers and hackers can easily access your personal information through a Whois search to find out more about you and your website. There are even those who may use these information to scam you e.g. by sending fake domain name renewal notices!
What can you do about it? Well, there are registrars who offer domain privacy protections. What happens is these registrars will replace your personal information with theirs, thereby ensuring your personal information remains private. However, not all TLDs are allowed to have Whois privacy. For details, please check with your domain registrar or web host.
Domain Name Registrars
My favorite domain name registrars are GoDaddy and Namecheap. Both are very popular and offer some of the best rates for domain names. In fact, Namecheap even offers a free WhoisGuard protection for your first year of registration or domain transfer. This WhoisGuard is a domain privacy protection service, which we have explained earlier. Find out more domain name registrars in our article Top 10 Domain Name Registrars.
Addon Domain vs Sub Domain vs Parked Domain
You may have heard or read about these different variants of the word “domain”. They are different and as a web owner, you should understand what each has to offer so you can decide the type of domain to use.
There are times when you may feel like creating a second website. This second website can be related or not related to your first website. For example, you have a website called mainwebsite.com which is a blog on organic produce. You then decide to create a separate website (let’s call it website2.com) selling organic vegetables.
In the above example, website2.com can be hosted under the same hosting account of the first website. By doing this, you do not need to pay for a second web hosting account.
Though it may be somewhat related to the main website, this addon domain is independent and unique from the main domain. Because it is a separate domain altogether, you will have to register this domain before having it hosted.
Some web hosting providers like Bluehost and HostGator allow you to create more than one website under a single account. This means that you just need to pay for one hosting account and are able to create 2 or 3 or more websites and have them hosted as addon domains. All these websites are controlled via the same control panel.
Do note that all the addon domains share the same hosting resources. So the more addon domain you have the more resources you will use.
A sub domain is similar to having a second website or additional web pages on top of your current main website. But instead of registering for a new and separate domain name like you would for an addon domain, all you need to do is create a sub folder in your main domain.
Say you wanted to add a forum or a help page to your existing website. You can have these sub domains by creating forum.mainwebsite.com or help.mainwebsite.com. Another example of sub domains is mail.google.com.
A parked domain is NOT a separate website or page nor does it contain unique contents. It has no space allocated, does not use your hosting resources much or have any email facilities. A parked domain can be described as a website’s alias. In other words, a parked domain will point visitors to your main website.
Using the same example as above, a parked domain for maindomain.com can be m-domain.com and maindomain.net.
Web hosting providers may offer different combinations of domain types under different hosting plans so go through the plans carefully because some options may not be available under certain plans.
You can easily manage your various domains through your control panel. Read more about how to do so here.
How to choose the right web hosting
With the number of web hosting providers increasing every day and the number of things that you should consider before deciding on your hosting provider and hosting plan, we won’t blame you for feeling a little overwhelmed, especially if you are new to website building.
To help you narrow down your selection, here are a list of questions that you can ask yourself:
- What do you need your web hosting provider to support e.g. e-commerce, Windows operating system?
- What is the web hosting provider’s uptime record?
- How much is the hosting fees?
- How much is the hosting renewal fees?
- Do they have 24/7 support? Do they have live chat support?
- Will they help you migrate your existing website and is it free?
- Is the control panel easy to use? cPanel?
- Does the web host perform backup and if yes, how often?
- Is there room for future growth?
- Does the web hosting provider offer any refunds if you cancel before the account’s expiry date and if yes, what are the terms and conditions?
- Is it a green web host?
- What do other users say about this web host? Are there any users feedback and reviews?
For more tips, check out these tips to help you choose the Right Web Hosting Company.
Cheap web hosts suck?
An important rule when deciding which web host to choose is to find one that’s reliable. Unfortunately, it is easier said than done. Web hosts don’t advertise themselves as “unreliable”. Some website owners would use fees as a yardstick for judging the reliability of the web host.
Well, here’s food for thought: not all cheap web hosts suck. Yes, some unethical web hosting providers may lower their price tags to a level so low that their hosting quality is compromised in order to make profit. But not all cheap web hosts fall into this category. Some still are able to offer pretty decent hosting services despite charging low fees. It’s just like not all expensive web hosts provide great service. There are definitely reliable web hosts that are also affordable. I can safely say this because I have experienced it.
You just need to know where to find them and what to look for.
If you find a cheap web host that offers what seem like an offer you can’t refuse, ask yourself whether they have the basic hosting features e.g. adequate bandwidth and disk space, good customer support, reliable and over 99.5% uptime, money back guarantee as well as other freebies.
If you see limited customer support or expensive renewal fees or other charges for additional services, then it should raise some red flags. These may be web hosts out to make a fast buck… at your expense. Therefore, it is important to read the Terms of Service (TOS).
Now, it is very easy and affordable to create your own online presence. The web hosting industry has gone through many changes since the first few web hosting providers started offering web hosting services. Hosting fees have dropped and hosting features increased, thanks to stiff competition!
All that is standing between you and a new website is the knowledge to create it. This article has touched all the important departments that a new user would need to know. I do hope that it is adequate for you to help you get started. Remember, finding the right web host needs time and effort so don’t jump at the first or cheapest offer you find. Take your time to understand your requirements and then decide if the hosting plans meet them.