Whether you already have a website up and running, or are thinking about getting one, there are a few things you should know about website hosting so you don't get caught off guard.
Website hosting is technically space on a file server where your website's files are kept. Think of it as a virtual filing cabinet for all the code, text, pictures, and video that make up your site. You are paying someone to make sure your files are held somewhere in the cloud, and hopefully on a machine that is always running at full steam. I often run across people who have a completely different idea about what a web host is and does, so I thought it may be good to provide a general overview.
First, when you sign up for website hosting, either directly through a hosting company or through the company building your website, there are a few things you should automatically get with your hosting package:
Free email accounts. These should be part of your hosting package, not something that costs extra. They should be "name"@yourdomainname.com not "name"@someotherdomainname.com. You DEFINITELY want email that matches the URL of your website - it's simply more professional than using yahoo, gmail, or some other extension.
Access to a cPanel, or something similar. Ok, I am not going to get too involved on what that is here, but it gives you (or your webmaster) access to create your email accounts, create and access FTP accounts, databases, and so much more. You should have your own cPanel for your website. If not, don't sign up with that hosting service.
Access (usually through cPanel or something similar) to your website files - the real ones that make your site run, not just the Pages and Posts that make up your site. You will need this access much more than you realize!
Second, it's important that you realize that when you pay for website hosting, that's usually all you get. Here's what you should not expect:
- Don't expect your host to fix your website if something goes wrong. Most of the time, website issues stem from the site files not working properly, the site being hacked into, or conflicting coding. This has nothing to do with your web host, and while they may have someone on staff who can help you fix it, be prepared to pay for that service.
- Don't expect your host to backup your website files. Most hosting companies DO have backups as one of the things you can set up through your cPanel. However, I don't believe in backing up my site on the same server that holds my account. What happens if something happens to that server? My site goes down, my files are messed up, and I probably won't have access to the backed-up files. I prefer to have a separate company/site conduct a full backup of my websites daily, or at least weekly.
- Don't expect your host to make changes to your website. Unless your web host is also your web designer, they probably aren't going to update your site for you. Additionally, even if your web host is also your web designer, chances are that unless you've signed up for a special package that provides web updates as a part of your hosting, you should expect to pay for anything beyond the monthly or annual hosting fees if you want new text, pictures, pages, etc.
- Don't expect your host to have a firewall on your site. Firewalls are very important. Let me say that again so you know I'm really serious - FIREWALLS ARE VERY IMPORTANT! There are numerous cyber criminals who look for weaknesses in websites so they can go in and steal information, or even just mess things up. A firewall is not a guarantee that they won't get in, but it definitely helps protect your site files far more than ignoring my recommendation.
- Don't expect your host to do anything beyond provide space for your website files. It's not that they can't or won't, but additional items are not usually included in a basic hosting package, you will need to pay more to have these services.
Additionally, it's important that you realize:
- Your webmaster may or may not automatically tell you how to login to your cPanel, or even where your site is hosted. If you trust him/her, great, don't worry about it too much. BUT, just to be safe, I suggest you ask for this info and put it in a safe place.
- If you fail to pay your web host, your site will go down and there's nothing you can do about it. Truly. Your site won't be accessible in any manner, you won't be able to move your site files to another host, and you may not be able to build a new site somewhere else and use the same domain name. So, if nothing else, pay your web host so you at least have a chance of keeping your site up and productive.
- Cheaper is not necessarily a good financial decision. I've seen hosting packages for $.99/month, which sounds great until you realize there are many limitations, that price is only for the first 3 months, and email is extra.
- Website hosting is just one small piece of a BIG puzzle, so do your homework carefully, or work with someone who will point you in the right direction.
Granted, there is a LOT more to learn about web hosting, but this should cover the basics to get you on the right track.