What is hosting and why do you need it?

Many of our clients ask us what hosting means and seem embarrassed to ask the question. It’s a completely valid question and one that you don’t need to be shy about. While you might think that having a website means everything is online and you don’t need to worry about anything physical, this isn’t the case.

In order for a website to be viewed on the internet, it needs to be hosted or stored on a server. A server is essentially a different type of computer and it will hold all the files that make up your website. We’re not going to go any further into the technicalities of this as we want you to keep reading!

Your website is going to be one of your most valuable assets to your business. Therefore, it is important not to try and cut costs but to find a hosting package that will meet all of your needs. Before we started writing this post we used Ubersuggest to see what kind of searches people make about website hosting. The top responses included ‘website hosting free’ and ‘website hosting cheap’. Obviously it makes sense to see if you can try and get something for free or as cheaply as possible, but you always need to consider whether this is really going to be the best option.

So if you are either about to launch a new website or want to review your current hosting, how much should website hosting cost?

This depends on a few things:

  1. What kind of service you want from your hosting
  2. How large your website is and how many monthly visits it gets
  3. Whether you are concerned about the environmental impact of your website

Let’s take a closer look at each of those points.

What service do you want from your hosting?

Some hosting services are pretty basic. These might set a limit on how many visits your website gets a month, a limited amount of storage for backup and that could be it. Furthermore, your website is likely to be on a shared server, meaning thousands of other websites could be stored in the same place. Also if you have a question or need support, you will have to contact a generic helpline. If your website goes down and you aren’t taking orders or it is a brochure site and potential clients can’t find you, this can have a big financial impact. For a basic hosting package, you could be charged on a monthly or annual basis and it might cost around £50 + VAT across the year.

At the other end of the spectrum, you could go for a dedicated server just for your website, with a huge amount of storage, RAM, bandwidth and CPU. You can also go with a company that gives you a dedicated account manager, someone you can always call if you need help. Further to this, you could even have a custom-built server that is designed for your specific requirements. However, all of this will come at a big cost. Potentially four figures a month.

As with most choices, you might want to end up somewhere in the middle. This is what we recommend to our clients. We tend to use either dedicated servers or cloud-based products, which we source for each of our clients. Our solutions are not shared with companies that we do not work professionally. This means we don’t need to worry about the state of other websites having an impact on the ones we look after. We also undertake regular checks to ensure that our server runs well, is up to date and secure. Further checks are carried out to ensure our backup solution works – you can never assume that just because you have backups in place, these actually work. Backups have been known to fail so like everything else, it is important to test them. Hosting for our clients starts at £115 + VAT a year. The figure is variable as it comes down to other factors, which we will go into more detail later.

How big is your website and how many regular visits does it get?

If your website is relatively small and you’re happy with that because it gets you the business you need, then you don’t need to be too concerned about the amount of RAM your server has. It is hard to generalise when it comes to size as there is no standard rule really. However, if a website gets less than 10-20k visitors a month, it should be absolutely fine on our standard package. This will depend on the platform though. Magento websites are heavier than WordPress so might have a greater requirement.

If a website is static i.e. it doesn’t run off a database, it is more likely to handle greater volumes of traffic and could be suited to other services such as S3 static hosting.

Should you be looking to grow or hoping to push a particular service, think about the set up you need right now but also what you might need for where you want to be. If you are looking around, have conversations with various server providers to see what they recommend. But always remember they might be trying to sell a certain service. We are always happy to advise clients or companies and never push towards a particular solution as we wouldn’t benefit from this.

Are you concerned about the environmental impact of your website?

The environment is playing more of a role in decisions we make about our lives. The environment may be a factor in the choices for what food we eat, where we shop or how we travel around. However, many people don’t think about the environment when they have a website built or use a website. Yet websites may be having a bigger impact on the environment than you might think.

“If the Internet were a country, it would be the sixth largest consumer of electricity on the planet behind Russia, Japan, China, India, and the US.”
Web Neutral Project

There are a few ways you can make your website more environmentally-friendly and one is through the server you host your website on. Some server companies are now ensuring that they are using more or even purely renewable energy. Others are offsetting their carbon output to become carbon neutral, like UKFast, who we use. Do a quick search of a server company’s website – if they make no mention of how they are trying to reduce the environmental impact of their services, then steer clear. You can also use a tool from The Green Web Foundation to check out existing websites and see if they are hosted by a ‘green hosting provider’.

Over to you

What the above should do is to help you to think about what you really need. You should consider whether you want to try to keep short term costs down but have the risk that you will pay a much higher price in the long-term if you run into a problem. We would advise it is always best to pay a little more in the short term. This should ensure that over time, you won’t have additional costs at inconvenient times.

While the points we’ve gone through are helpful for considering how much you should be paying for hosting, they don’t cover all the other factors you may need to consider when you decide where to host your website. For example, we recommend to our national and local clients that they use UK-based companies due to the GDPR. We aren’t sure yet how Brexit is going to affect data protection laws but it makes sense to try to keep data within the country where you operate.

Ultimately website hosting shouldn’t really be a huge cost to you, but it is important to put some time into your decision as to where you will host your website. As mentioned at the start of this post, your website is one of your biggest assets to your business. Anything that may damage it is going to have consequences. Therefore, don’t let your decision come down to maybe a difference of a few hundred pounds or possibly even less. Focus on what you get for your money and ultimately come back to your business objectives – all of your choices must always be aligned with these.