How to Host a Website: Finding the Right Web Hosting Provider
You’re at the point in your business planning where it’s time to build a website, but you still have to figure out all the little pieces to getting one up and running. And one of those pieces is figuring out how to host a website.
There are a lot of web hosting providers, and almost all offer a number of different hosting plans. It’s a lot to take in! But if you’re new to figuring out how to host a website, don’t worry. We’ve got a rundown of what you need to know.
Steps to host a website
How Web Hosting Works
All the different parts that make up your website—from the SSL certificate and domain email accounts to images, video files, and text—live on a web server somewhere. Most internet users don’t have to think about how web servers and hosting work because all that happens in the background.
But for small-business owners, finding the right web hosting provider is a crucial step toward their company’s success. Do you need fast speeds? Hacker-proof security? Guaranteed uptime? Or are you simply looking for the best deal on hosting so you can focus your spending on other parts of your business?
We’ll walk you through what website hosting features are most important for your business.
How to Host a Website in 8 Steps
Whatever type of business you have, these eight steps will guide you toward finding the best web hosting services.
1. Clarify your needs
Determining the right plan will be easier if you take time to define what you’ll need before you start. So ask yourself a few questions to get an idea of what you’re looking for:
- What type of website will this be?
Web hosting providers offer a range of plans because different types of websites have different needs. An e-commerce website will need security features like an SSL certificate to protect the sensitive financial information your customers provide. A small local business like a plumber will need just a simple site and can save money by sticking with a basic shared plan with fewer features.
- How much traffic do you expect to have?
Generally speaking, for business websites, the more traffic, the better. But you need the right web hosting plan, whether that’s virtual private hosting or a shared hosting plan, to handle the level of traffic you get. Otherwise, your website will crash.
- What are your goals for the future?
What you need from your business website will change from day one to a few years down the road. If you’re planning for business growth, you need a provider who can support you as your needs change over time. When researching a web host, evaluate both the plan that works for you now and the plans you may need down the line. Confirm that your chosen provider offers VPS and dedicated server plans (most will) because these will accommodate more traffic in the future, and check how much these plans cost and what features they have compared to other web hosts.
2. Pick your type of web server
Hosting providers offer plans for two main types of web servers: Linux and Windows. The majority of plans you’ll encounter are hosted on Linux servers. If the hosting plan’s description doesn’t say otherwise, you can count on it being a Linux plan. But for some businesses that primarily use Windows programs like ASP.NET or Microsoft Sharepoint, a Windows hosting package will make more sense.
3. Research hosting providers
It can be overwhelming to research hosting providers, since there are so many web hosts out there to consider. But there are a few things small-business owners can do to quickly narrow down their options:
- Look for web hosting companies that specialize in small business Providers like Bluehost and HostGator offer affordable plans with basic features that meet the needs of small businesses with tight purse strings. And web hosting services that include features like intuitive website builders or WordPress compatibility can make designing and updating your website easier for companies that don’t have web designers or IT specialists.
- Pay attention to promises of uptime
Uptime is the amount of time the web host guarantees your website will be accessible to visitors online. It’s standard for legitimate providers to claim 99.9% uptime (some go up to 99.99%). Check if that claim comes with a money-back guarantee, which shows they’re willing to put their money where their mouth is.
- Check third-party reviews and articles
You’ll want to take a look at reviews and posts scattered throughout the internet that address how web hosting services differ and how they perform in important categories like customer service. Find sources you trust, and use that information to narrow down your choices.
You don’t have to thoroughly research every web hosting company out there. Instead, focus on companies with a strong reputation. Then as you learn more, concentrate on the providers that match your site’s needs.
4. Compare web hosting plans
Each provider you research will offer a variety of plans. The most common types are these:
- Shared web hosting
This is often the best plan for new small-business websites. Because you share a web server with many other small websites, it’s the most affordable. If you have a business like a restaurant or local contractor—meaning you need to reach only a limited audience and provide basic information and images—you’ll get all you need from a shared hosting plan.
For websites that need more bandwidth or customization options, virtual private server (VPS) hosting is more expensive but can handle more traffic. You still share a web server, but you get more of it and your section is partitioned off from other websites. VPS hosting makes sense for e-commerce businesses that need a higher level of security and customization than shared plans allow but don’t yet have enough traffic to warrant dedicated hosting. VPS hosting is also great for growing small businesses starting to get more coverage and traffic.
- Dedicated hosting
For bigger, more popular websites, dedicated hosting provides you with a server that’s all your own. It’s more expensive than the others, but it provides faster loading times and a higher level of security. This is the best option for popular e-commerce stores with a lot of high-resolution media (like photos or videos) that requires fast load times. It’s also a great choice for enterprise companies and entertainment websites that see a lot of traffic.
You’ll see variations of these three main plan types that include different bundles of features, but these are the most important hosting plans to know.
Customize your website with an easy-to-use site builder that’ll make your brand look professional and polished in no time.
5. Consider any extra features you want or need
One of the key differences between web hosting providers and plans is the features they include or offer as add-ons to their web hosting services. Some common extras to keep an eye out for include the following:
- Domain name registration
For any site, you need a domain name, and once you pick the domain name you want, you have to register it (more on that below). Plenty of web hosting providers offer domain name registration but not all.
- SSL certificate
An SSL certificate is required for any business that will be collecting sensitive information through the website, especially financial information. Web hosting companies usually offer an SSL certificate as an add-on to a plan, but some plans include it for free.
- Customer support options
Many web hosts offer 24/7 customer support, but they vary in how they provide it—chat, email, or phone. Check the hours and type of support their reps provide.
- Website builder
Some web hosts offer their own website builder as an add-on to make website creation easy. For small businesses that want to skip the cost of a designer, this can make getting up and running easier.
- Domain email accounts
Having branded email accounts that end in @[yourdomain].com shows professionalism. Ensure if your hosting plan comes with free email accounts and if there’s a limit on the number.
6. Get a domain name
Your domain name is your address on the web. It’s the thing you type into a browser that usually ends in .com. Many web hosting providers also offer domain name registration, so you can get your domain name at the same time you sign up for hosting. Look to see if they have a domain name search on their website, and check the availability of the name you want. Many .com domains are already taken, but you can probably get the domain you want if you go with another top-level domain like .net or .biz.
7. Change your DNS address
This is a standard part of the process when setting up a new web hosting account. You need to update your DNS (Domain Name System) records to sync your domain location with your hosting account—so consumers can find your website. Honestly, updating your DNS records is easier than it sounds, and your web hosting provider will provide instructions on how to do it.
Web hosting FAQs
Still have questions? Here are a few answers to common queries about how to host a website.
Can you host a website for free?
Yes, there are a number of free web hosting providers, as well as website builders, that offer free hosting—but they come with trade-offs. Usually, they run ads on websites they host and require you to use domain names that include their branding (e.g. [yourbrand].[theirbrand].com). Businesses that want to show professionalism are better off sticking with paid plans to avoid the ads and branded domain names.
How much does it cost to host a website?
It varies. Simple shared hosting plans start at around $3 a month, and dedicated hosting can cost over $100 a month. Most plans fall somewhere in between, based on the features they offer and the type of plan you get. Be aware that some web hosting companies offer cheaper rates at the start that go up later, so make sure you check the long-term subscription cost for your plan.
Can I host my own website?
Technically, yes. But it requires a powerful web server and a special relationship with your internet service provider (ISP) to ensure you have the right amount of bandwidth. For small businesses, web hosting providers offer better service and maintenance for a lower price than hosting a website on your own.
How do I find out where a website is hosted?
If you want to see what your favorite sites use for web hosting, free sites like Hosting Checker will dish the goods.
Deciding on your web hosting plan is an important early step in building your website. By clarifying your needs and doing a little advance research—with the help of resources others have compiled—you’ll make the best choice and get your website started on the right foot.
Looking for a hosting company for your website? Take a look at our rundown of the top web hosting providers for small businesses.
At Business.org, our research is meant to offer general product and service recommendations. We don't guarantee that our suggestions will work best for each individual or business, so consider your unique needs when choosing products and services.