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Web hosting for beginners — a guide
Sergey Potapov

Shared server, cloud hosting, VPS, domains, SSL certificates? All that information can become quite overwhelming quite fast. If you are like most small business owners out there, and your goal with hosting can be formulated as “I just want to have a website” for your shop/service/portfolio, then you are in the right place.

1. Start out safe and easy

If you are new to the whole website hosting thing, keep it simple

All you need is a basic “space” on the web to start out with your small business or personal services? Then the so-called “shared hosting” option is probably right for you.

With shared hosting your website will be hosted on a big server, servicing many hundreds or thousands of such sites simultaneously. This option is therefore very cost-effective, as the resources are being shared among all the sites on the server. For most websites and most traffic loads this solution will be optimal, as there is no need to go for more expensive services unless you specifically know what it is that you want.

If you have no idea what you will need in the long-run, it is still a great option to start with, and then you can always switch to something more appropriate as your business grows and your needs become more apparent. Provided of course your hosting service offers the option of easily switching between plans (see next point).

2. Scalability is important

You can’t predict the future, but you can prepare for it

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As your business grows, so will your needs. Translated into hosting terms this means things like more traffic, bandwidth, root access, extra security features, and other special requirements.

When you realize that you need more — space, bandwidth, control — more of anything and everything, you will want to expand and upgrade. The options can range from moving to a dedicated server (where a private machine is hosting your site only) to employing CDN cloud hosting (a global network of servers for increased speeds in content delivery with added stability).

It is good to know upfront what your hosting provider can offer and on what conditions, since changing providers down the road can be cumbersome and bear unnecessary costs.

3. Avoid long-term subscription plans

You don’t want to buy a cat in the sack

If you are worried whenever someone tries to sell you a service with a long-term subscription plan, your concerns are understandable. It is especially true of services that need time to be tested and evaluated, as in the case of hosting. A key metric of a good hosting service is its uptime stability, and this can only be tested over a sufficiently long period of use.

What good is a host if it works fine for a few months, only to start breaking down for several days at a time with annoying regularity. This kind of information however will only surface given enough time and experience with the service. Thus a flexible plan charged on a monthly basis is always a good sign, as it means the service provider either trusts the long-term stability of their offer, or leaves you the option of switching providers instantly should it fail to meet your personal criteria of quality.

Be aware that many companies out there operate with hidden costs and clauses, whereby they might offer you a “nice inexpensive deal”, with the added catch that it will cost you an arm and a leg should you decide to end your contract prematurely.

4. Reliability & uptime

There’s no 100% guarantee, but it can get pretty close

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A good web server should be online at the very least 99% of the time. Anything below is really not acceptable. Consider this: even a 1% downtime in a 24 hour period translates into 14.4 minutes of your website not being accessible to public. This could potentially put a huge dent in your daily business dealings, so it’s safer to aim for something better.

An uptime of 99.9% (and over) is preferable, and equals to 8.76 hours of downtime per year of hosting. Still that can happen at the most inconvenient time, so by now you probably get the idea of just how important uptime stability is for a server.

There is a variety of free tools on the internet to monitor the uptime of your website, such as uptimerobot.com or monitorscout.com.

5. The difference between domain & hosting

You better own it

To put it simply — a domain name is your address, and hosting is the house that stands at that address. Make sure that you buy those two separately, so that you fully own your domain name, regardless of the hosting. If a web hosting service offers you a domain name only as a bundle with a hosting plan, you should think twice about it.

Let’s say you want to change the host because of shoddy service, but your domain name is bundled within your hosting plan. Now you are either stuck with your host, or if you want to buy the domain name, it could suddenly be priced a lot higher than expected, since the hosting provider still owns it, and if you want to buy it out you might be forced to pay extra.

So make sure your domain name is registered with a domain registrar, and you have all the rights to it. Normally a domain name should go for around $10-$50 a year, depending on the name and extension (top level domain). As a general practice at our very own elinks.hosting we help you to set up the domain purchase, and also ensure the rights belong to you. You can always check the ownership status of a domain via sites like who.is just to be certain.

6. Server administrator for hire

When you need a professional, but not on a payroll

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This last one is really a special feature we’ve introduced for our hosting service elinks.hosting, and you pretty much won’t find it anywhere else. Normally for changes in setup, server settings, extra needs and services, etc. a company would have a so-called server administrator, who oversees the servers and overall hosting conditions of the business. But unless your company is big enough you won’t normally have such a position in-house.

We’ve launched this service so that even if you are completely new to the topic of setting up your website and do not want to hire a professional server administrator, you can still resolve all of your website hosting-related issues quickly and easily.

With an admin for hire you get professional help to work on your specific issues, delve into all your details as much as necessary, and ensure that everything works for you in the end. It’s like a very professional take on customer service, except you don’t have to do the work yourself, and don’t need to listen to questions like “did you try turning it off and on again?”.

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