Extending the analogy of domain registration being essentially the lobby directory in an office building, web hosting is renting an office in the building where you can receive visitors. A web host is nothing more than a computer that is always on and which contains all the things necessary to display your web site to visitors when they ask for your site.
Amusingly, in the early, early days of the internet when individuals and small businesses wanted to have a web site they often had to purchase their own computer, set it up at home or in the office, and leave it always running in the corner so that it would be on 24/7 in case somebody wanted to visit that web site. This led to funny tech stories about how the web site was down because the kids spilled milk on the keyboard, etc. Today we have large datacenters with racks and racks of computers, backups generators, super-fast internet connections and what-not. Sadly the frequency of fun stories has all but dried up. But we digress.
Today if you want to have somebody host your web site there is no end of options out there. From entirely free web hosting options (beware: free hosts will insert ads onto your web site) to low-cost options like DreamHost, BlueHost, GoDaddy and tons of others, mid-tier dedicated server farms like RackSpace, all the way up to super-expensive, Fortune 500 level of web hosting solutions like AWS.
As a small business owner you should be looking at the low-cost web hosting providers. We use and love DreamHost here at White Dogwood. These low-cost web hosting providers offer something called Shared Hosting, in which they create a virtual web site space for you on one of their large computers in their datacenter, and handle pretty much all the basic stuff of keeping the lights on for the computer itself. It is called Shared Hosting because your web site sits on a large computer shared with hundreds of other customers’ web sites. Typical costs range between $5-10/month for a basic shared server web host. What you’ll usually get is a single web site (usually with easy tools to install WordPress yourself), and a web-based control to manage things like settings, email, permissions, etc. It’s a do-it-yourself model but it is extremely cost effective for what you get. If money is tight and you have the appetite to learn how to do things yourself, this is a great option for you.
Many of these providers (DreamHost included) usually offer a slightly stepped up version of this do-it-yourself model called Managed WordPress Hosting, in which they go a little further in terms of managing things for you. Things like updating your core WordPress files when new versions are released, doing regular backups, and putting your web site on a slightly faster server. Depending on how much of the “do-it-yourself” model you want to embrace, these options could be a good value for you since it takes some of the web site management chores off your table. In our opinion these Managed Hosting solutions only get you about 30% of the way home because they still leave a large amount of things “undone” in terms of managing your web site, but they charge a premium for what are essentially tasks that are fully automated.
The next step up from Shared Hosting and Managed Hosting is to get yourself a dedicated Virtual Private Server. At DreamHost these start at about $15/month, but you’re entirely on your own. The benefit of a Virtual Private Server (or VPS as they are called) is that they are lightning fast compared to shared solutions. The server is yours and yours alone. The downside is that you need pretty much the same skill set and appetite for learning as you do with a Shared Hosting account.
Shameless pitch: What we do here at White Dogwood is to manage a collection of VPS machines at DreamHost, and to make sure we over-allocate server space and computing power to each of our customer web sites. We do the 30% that Managed Hosts do for you, but we also do that remaining 70% that Managed Hosts do not do. Everything from installing and configuring WordPress themes, to installing and maintaining plugins, monitoring backups every day, setting up Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools, setting you up for SEO, etc. And we do it in a way that you don’t have to lift a finger or learn a thing. That’s why we’re much more expensive.
If you want to get your own web hosting account…
If you want to do things yourself, we strongly recommend going to DreamHost and getting a standard Shared Hosting account. Pay for the one year plan at about $10/month and (as of this writing) it will include your domain registration for free. Follow the prompts to open the account, and then use their simple tools on the control panel for installing WordPress and for setting up any email accounts you want.
Yes there are other cheaper Shared Hosting providers out there where you could get similar results for closer to $5. However many of these (GoDaddy comes to mind quickly) are notorious for tricking you into buying things that you have no need for. So that $60/year suddenly turns into a $250/year bill and they make it a royal pain in the butt to turn these things off. We really like DreamHost because they don’t play these games, which is why we’ve used them for years. In the Shared Hosting space you really get what you pay for, and reaching down to save a few bucks per month usually costs you a larger amount than you expected in terms of time and money.
Disclaimer: If you click any of the links for DreamHost.com contained in this page, they contain an affiliate code whereby we get paid a small amount for people we refer (not for domain registration, but for any hosting accounts). You don’t need to use this code, but it helps us keep the lights on if you do, without costing you anything.