Web hosting is a hot topic among many business groups. Similar questions get asked on the daily, and the answers section instantly swells out to loads of answers of “This one is the best”, “This one is the cheapest” or “My hosting is the best. Pick me, pick me!”.
With so much info out there it makes it is really hard for the non-techies (henceforth referred to as “you”) to understand what you are getting. What do all these terms like shared, managed, dedicated, VPS mean? How much should I be paying? What the hell is a web host, anyway? I’ll answer all this in a bit.
A Summary (tl;dr)
This next paragraph is for someone who knows a few of the industry terms and just wants to make a decision. If you are brand new, jump right over it.
- For most small businesses, shared hosting is plenty, even if you have a few hundred visits a day
- Managed WordPress hosting is also good, but costs a bit more. A truly managed WordPress host takes some burden off you
- Don’t use a plain VPS unless you are very techy
- For higher traffic sites or higher budgets use a Managed VPS or a dedicated plan on a Managed WordPress host
- Shared: Site5
- Aussie shared host: Site5 (Sydney datacentre) or Uber
- Managed WordPress: WPEngine
- Aussie Managed WordPress: Kinsta (Sydney datacentre)
- VPS: Amazon EC2 or Digital Ocean or Liquid Web
What is a web host anyway?
In a sentence:
A web host is a computer, connected to the internet, which responds to requests from other computers.
When you type in “mysite.com”, this is what happens:
- Your computer asks a DNS (not the topic of this post) where your site lives
- The DNS tells your browser the internet address of the web host
- Your browser asks the web host for the web site
- The web host spits out a bunch of code and gives it to the browser
- Your web browser builds the code into a web page
When you see the word “server” mentioned, it essentially just means a big beefy computer that can handle lots of things happening at the same time. For the purpose of this post, a server and web host mean the same thing.
A quick note on Australian Hosting
It is worth nothing that everything is more expensive in Australia. Hosting companies have to pay more to house their servers in datacenters in Oz. They pay more for the data which is sent to and from the servers, and will pass this cost onto you.
Should you host in Oz? Ultimately it is up to you. It doesn’t make a huge difference in the load times for your website, but it does make a little difference. This site is hosted in Dallas, USA.
Also consider where you want to keep your data. If you are storing sensitive client data on your website, privacy laws may effect your decision. If it is just a few pages about your business, it really doesn’t make a difference.
The Types Of Hosting
Price range: $4-30 / month
What it is: It is essentially lots of websites living on one server. Servers generally have a lot of computing power, so a single server can handle a ton of requests. This means you can have a bunch of lower traffic websites on one server with little downside.
Just don’t expect to be able to send out lots of emails from the server. They will usually end up trapped in spam. For email you should be using something like Mail Chimp Or Active Campaign.
The potential downside of shared hosting is that one website on the server can be problematic and cause issues for everyone else on the same server. Most good hosts are onto this though, and shut down the offending websites. I’ve only had one issue like this in my years on the web.
- Cheapest option (which doesn’t mean that it is bad)
- Server updates and issues handled for you
- Usually offer automatic backups
- Can usually install WordPress in a couple of minutes with no tech knowledge
- Limited control of the server. You only get a control panel. (not a problem unless you are trying to do something out of the ordinary)
- Other websites on the same server can effect the performance of your site
- Won’t support high traffic
Who we recommend: Site5. They offer free migrations if you have an existing website. They have a 24/7 live chat that has resolved any issues we’ve had within minutes. They are very well priced and have an Australian datacentre option.
Price Range: $10-100+ per month (for normal use – enterprise is different)
What it is: VPS stands for Virtual Private Server and is what most people refer to when they say “Cloud Hosting”. A “virtual machine” is a computer that lives on another, bigger computer. One large server may have several VPS’s on it, but each acts just like a private computer. A VPS usually has dedicated computing power so other sites can’t impact yours.
If you are reading this post, chances are you will not want a plain old VPS. These are for tech heads, or those with staff who are tech heads. A plain VPS means you have to manage EVERYTHING yourself. From core server updates, performance/uptime monitoring, to security updates and web hosting software. This is stuff you just do not want (and should not have to) to deal with as a small business owner, and likely a waste of your time. In the last few months there have been 3 MAJOR Linux security breaches that everyone with a plain VPS has to patch themselves. Granted, that is fairly rare.
- Most power for the price
- Dedicated computing power
- Full control of the server
Have to manage everything yourself. If something goes wrong, you are often on your own.
Who we recommend
There are so many great VPS providers out there. My two favourite are Liquid Web and Digital Ocean. Digital Ocean is very very cheap. Liquid Web have great support.
Who we recommend: Digital Ocean (cheap), Amazon EC2, Liquid Web
Price Range: $60-400 per month (can range to thousands but I’m being practical here)
What it is: VPS and Managed VPS are VERY different as far as you the end user are concerned. We in the IT world like to create two things that sound the same just to confuse everyone else.
A managed VPS means that someone else handles all the tech stuff for you. Server updates, security patches, installing web host control panels (usually included in the price), and support are all handled. However, you pay for this service.
All the Pro’s from plain VPS apply here.
- Dedicated computing power
- All the techy IT stuff handled for you
- Still have control if you want it
- Generally backed up for you
- The most expensive (excepting dedicated servers)
Who we recommend: Liquid Web
Price range: $250+ per month
What it is: A dedicated server is similar to a VPS in that you have full control over your server. The difference is that you are renting an entire computer in a datacenter somewhere. These are pretty much reserved for really big sites, and even then most people opt for larger VPS’s in this case.
If you are looking to host with someone, and they include “hosting on our dedicated servers”, generally they mean that they rent a dedicated server, and host lots of small sites on them. This is effectively the same as shared hosting, except the company maintains control of the websites on that server.
- Same as VPS, but usually more computing power
- More difficult to put backup plans in place. VPS providers usually have systems in place to easily backup a VPS, where dedicated servers usually don’t.
What is Caching?
Every time someone visits your site, your server runs a bunch of code to generate the web site, which gets sent to the user and displayed on their internet browser.This code takes time and computing power to run.
If 100 people visit your site, the server runs that code 100 times.
Caching means that after the server runs all that code, it stores the result into a little file somewhere. The next time someone visits that same page, it just sends them the information in that file, so all that code doesn’t have to run. “Cache expiry” defines how long the server will use that file before it decides to build a new one in case anything has changed.
What does this mean in practice? Your site speed should improve and the server can handle more volume without more power.
Managed WordPress Hosting
Price range: $30-150 per month
What it is: This is essentially shared or managed VPS hosting with a bunch of extra features and benefits. These may include caching (see the description in the box on the right), automatic backups, easy restores, WordPress updates, guarantees to fix your site if it is hacked, options of CDN (hosting media files on computers around the world to make them load faster) and staging area (ability to make changes to your site in a testing area so only you can see it).
Managed WordPress Hosting is often the most worry-free hosting, as so much is taken care of. Thankfully, there are still low priced entry points.
The term “Managed Hosting” is thrown around a lot by different companies. Not all of them offer “true” managed WordPress hosting. Be careful with this one. Feel free to drop us a line if you are unsure on a company.
- Not much to worry/think about, except WordPress plugin updates
- Some companies will let you scale up your plan really easily as your traffic gets larger
- Little to no control on the server. Generally the way the host says it goes, goes
Who we recommend: The biggest player in this space is WPEngine. This is who we use. So far the best player I have found to host in Australia is Kinsta. As yet, no others come close to the likes of WP Engine.