What are domains and hosting?

Website Domains

All websites need two things to exist and be easily accessed – a domain & hosting. I often see people get these confused, or think they are the same thing. They’re not.

The best analogy I’ve found for explaining it is to compare it to building a new house. To build a new house, you need land to build it on, and for people to find it easily you will need an address from the post office. Hosting is like the land you will build your new house – er, website – on. And a domain is the address that makes it easy for people for get to.

To register a domain, you need a domain registrar. My favorite is NameCheap. They have standard rates, an easy to use interface, and great customer service. For a .com domain, you can expect to pay about $11 USD/year. (The rate goes down slightly if you renew for multiple years at once.) No matter which domain registrar you use, they all offer pretty standard services after the registration.

Website Hosting

Hosting is a bit more involved. Going back to the building of a new house analogy, you would have to make sure the property is zoned for correct use, and has access to the utilities & services that you need.

When choosing a hosting company, make sure they offer the services & software that you will need. For a WordPress website, that means a minimum of PHP & MySQL. FTP should be available, too. Depending on your technical skill/comfort level, you may want to check in with their customer services & see how responsive they are. There are lots of budget/cheap hosting companies out there, but many of them have very poor customer service.

I personally use Siteground. I’ve been with several hosting companies over the years, and have left others for a variety of reasons. I stick with Siteground because their servers are set up to handle WordPress sites the right way. Their customer service is also great, and has proven to be very helpful whenever I’ve needed it.

Shared Hosting

Shared hosting is basically the most common type of website hosting. This means that the hosting company has a bunch of servers and sells space on those servers for you to host your website. The “shared” part of this means that the hosting company runs many websites on one server – potentially hundreds. This kind of set up allows them to lower their costs because the expense of maintaining the server is spread across many customers.

With this cost savings comes some other potential issues:

  • Security – shared hosting environments tend to be less secure than other hosting because you have no control over what other people are uploading to their accounts that are on the same server as your. While many hosting companies have policies in place to prevent people from straight-up uploading malware into their account, there are varying degrees of security when it comes to securing files from being exploited and account from being hacked.
  • Speed – another common issue with shared hosting is speed. Remember, you are sharing your server with usually hundreds of other websites. and while the servers are setup to handle common traffic to those websites, spikes in traffic to other sites can affect your site’s loading time and performance.
  • Resources/Downtime – just as a traffic spike to another site on a shared hosting site can affect yours, excessive traffic or resource usage from your site can negatively affect other sites on the same server as yours. If the hosting company notices this and/or has a problem with it, they could throttle (limit) the resources your site can use or simply shut it down until you upgrade to a different account or service that includes additional resource allocation.

Those issues aside, shared hosting can be a good option for you if you have a smaller budget for your monthly website hosting. I use shared hosting but my hosting company, SiteGround, has a very good policy regarding security and resource management, and I’ve had better luck with them than any other hosting company that I’ve used.

I just looked at SiteGround’s hosting packages and the are calling their service Managed Hosting. They are less restrictive than the typical managed hosting company as described below, but the do remind you when WordPress core updates are available and will automatically update you after 48 hours.

Managed WordPress Hosting

When you have a WordPress site, there some website maintenance that’s recommended required to keep your site in optimal health. Some of this includes regular backups and updates of your WordPress software, plugins, and themes. Managed WordPress hosting is a hosting service that handles part of this for you. Most managed WordPress hosting services offer regular (usually daily) backups, and will update WordPress core software when updates are released. As far as I know, they don’t automatically update plugins and themes for you, so you’d still need to handle that (or hire someone to handle that for you.)

Managed WordPress Hosting (MWPH) companies almost universally don’t offer integrated email (although I don’t recommended hosting your email with your website anyway) so if you want branded emails for your business, you’ll need to use something like GSuite or ZohoMail to service that.

MWPH companies also are typically more expensive that a shared hosting plan. They also tend to have more restrictive security and performance policies and may prohibit or restrict the use of certain plugins because of these policies. But, they do typically host many websites on on hosting server, similar to shared hosting companies.

Some options for Managed WordPress Hosting companies include Flywheel, WP Engine, and Liquid Web. Liquid Web is one of the only ones in the market that specializes in managed hosting for WooCommerce sites, which require some additional attention than a standard WordPress website.

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