When you set out to build your website, one of the initial decisions you’ll have to make is where to host your site. What exactly is a web hosting service? What do they do? What should you look for when choosing your provider? We’re going to answer all those questions right here.
The best way to understand hosting is to use a real-world example. Imagine you’re starting a new bike shop in a small town. The first thing you need is a place to do business – ideally, a building on main street where you can start to set up shop. You move your bikes into your new store, and when people want to see your bikes, they come to your store and you serve them.
Think of your web host as your empty storefront on the internet: You need a place to do business, and your web host provides the server space. Websites are made up of a collection of text files written in different programming languages – in the same way that you need a place on main street to operate your shop, you need a place on the internet to hold all your files and allow them to function. When people want to see your website, they type your web address into Google or Bing and your web hosts serves them your website. Your host is your website’s home online.
The thing is, all web hosts are not created equally. There are many providers to choose from, and while all of them offer a storefront, not all of them provide the same services.
Here are some things to look for when choosing a hosting provider:
Reliability and Customer Support
There are many things that can disrupt the delivery of your website. Sometimes your code is out-of-date, sometimes there are problems with the servers that are storing your code. Look for a provider that has 24/7 support, so that if your site goes down for any reason, there’s always someone ready to take your call.
Studies show that more than half of all visitors who come to your site will click away if it takes more than three seconds to show up on their computer or phone. Imagine if 50 per cent of the people who walked up to your bike shop found the door locked and walked away – you’d lose a lot of business, right? There are many factors that influence load times, including code optimization, image sizes and content volume, but one of the biggest influencers is your server speed. Cheap hosts typically have slower servers, so if you choose a host based on price you’ll probably drive away money-making traffic with slow load times.
Daily Secure Backups
Your hosting provider should keep a backup of the files and content on your site, including uploaded image files and database content. In an emergency, you’ll want a one-click restore of a previous version of your site, or at the very least a full backup that your developers or support team can access. Trust us on this one.
If you’re collecting credit cards or other sensitive information from your customers, you’ll certainly need some security on your site. And recently, SSL Certificates have become a standard for all sites, not just those handling financial transactions. Your Secure Socket Layer, known as “SSL”, is the security technology that encrypts credit card and other sensitive information as it whizzes across the Internet. An SSL certificate will make your customers feel confident about sharing their information with you. You can tell if a site has an SSL certificate or not by looking for “https://” in the URL as opposed to “http://”.
An SSL certificate can also help with search engine optimization, or SEO. This means that when someone types in “small town bike shop,” you want your business to pop up high on the list of results because most people click on the first link they see. Google ranks sites with SSL certificates higher than sites that do not have it, and as of July, 2018, sites without an SSL certificate will actually show an “unsecure” icon in Chrome. So be sure to look for a web host that offers a free or low-cost SSL certificate for your site.
Development or “Staging” Environments for Development Efficiency
The developers who are building or maintaining your website need to be able to preview and test changes before they go live on your site. The specific components of these capabilities get a bit technical so we won’t fully address them here, but it’s worth it to make sure that your hosting environment is a place where your developers can make the changes they need in an organized and efficient way. If you’re not sure, ask them!
At Mangrove, we use a hosting service called WP Engine for the sites we build, and for our company website. The service and reliability of WP Engine is the best option for us – and our clients – because of their reliable customer support, speed, frequent and complete backups, and robust developer tools. Their backend functionality and support is so reliable that we include free WP Engine hosting in our maintenance packages, so our clients receive the same high standard of support that we do. We also like that WP Engine has a commitment to diversity on their team, with a female CEO, over 50% female leadership team, and an over 25% non-white employee base. For more information on WP Engine visit https://wpengine.com/.
A Certified B Corp, Mangrove is a woman-owned website design and development company with a diverse, talented team distributed around the globe. We’ve been building websites since 2009 that amplify the work of change-making organizations and increase the competitive power of businesses owned by historically marginalized people.
If you found this post helpful, subscribe to our monthly newsletter for notice of future posts and other news from us.