What is Web Hosting? How it Works and How to Get Started

How do we keep this site running? This post may contain affiliate links — the cost is the same to you, but we get a referral fee. Compensation does not affect rankings. Thanks!

Guide to Web Hosting ServicesWant to launch your website but not sure how to get it online? The web can seem like a massive tangle, and it’s definitely confusing when you first dive in. One of the most important decisions you’ll make for your website’s success is how and where to host your website. It’s crucial that you understand what web hosting is and what options you have to make the best decision for your site. We know, we know, the name alone (hosting) sounds daunting but we are here to help. Here we’ll help unravel the intricacies of web hosting, so you can have a successful, killer website.

What is Web Hosting?

Web hosting refers to an Internet service or company that gives your website a home, where it’s available on the world wide web for public access. Web hosting companies provide servers that you can lease. These servers typically reside in one or more secure data centers maintained by the host company.

How Does Web Hosting Work?

Essentially, website files (HTML, which stands for HyperText Markup Language) containing code that instruct your web browser to display your web pages (including images, video, etc.) are stored (“hosted”) on one or more servers described above. These are associated with an account that is tied to a domain name (ie. WeRockYourWeb.com). While this domain name is hosted at a domain registrar, your hosting company will point records at it connecting the two, so when someone types your domain name into their web browser, they will see your website. If you make changes to your website files, they will see these changes as well. How do you update your website files? Your web host will typically give you access via File Transfer Protocol (FTP). If you are using a CMS (Content Management System) such as WordPress, Drupal, or Joomla, you will be able to manage your content using a front-end interface, taking away the need to modify files directly. Once you make changes to your website files (or add new files), your visitor will see the changes in their browser window (Internet Explorer, Chrome, Safari, Firefox, etc.). This change may be delayed if you have caching in place (a system that stores and serves a “cached” version of your page for performance reasons, and only updates changes periodically).

Shared Hosting vs Dedicated Hosting: What’s the Difference?

There are two main types of hosting services available: shared hosting and dedicated hosting.

Shared Hosting vs Dedicated Hosting

What is Shared Hosting?

Shared web hosting means the same server houses a large number of websites. Shared hosting is usually a much cheaper option for smaller businesses that don’t need a lot of bandwidth and file storage space. But since you’re sharing server resources with dozens of other clients, there are downsides. The server is more vulnerable, and your site performance is subject to how other clients treat the server’s resources. For example, if one site gets hacked, it could bring the entire server (including your website) down. Therefore, cheaper, shared hosting environments typically perform slower and less reliably than dedicated ones.

What is Dedicated Hosting?

A dedicated server is all yours. Dedicated hosting gives you total control of a full hosting environment and its server resources. Dedicated servers typically offer much higher performance (faster loading websites) and reliability (sites go down less) than shared environments because you are in control of your resources, but they come with a higher price tag.

Is there A Hybrid Hosting Solution?

There’s also a hybrid hosting version called VPS (Virtual Private Server), which essentially is an allotted chunk or fixed subset of resources on a server. Since a VPS is a subset of a larger server there’s still a chance that a mishap on another subset of that server could cause issues. However, the chance of this happening is much lower than on a shared server because these resource chunks are isolated, and do not share the same environment.

Which Solution is Best for You?

Once you have narrowed down which solution makes the most sense for you and your business, your next step will be to find the best company to provide that service. Our Web Hosting Comparison can help you take a look at your options, read their pros and cons alongside pricing to make sure you get the best value for your money and needs.

Check out this video by InMotion Hosting service that illustrates the differences between shared hosting vs dedicated hosting vs virtual private server hosting.

How to Choose a Web Host?

The absolute most important factors to consider when choosing a web host? Essentially you get what you pay for. You’ll want to look for a host that has a good customer service record. And if you opt for a shared environment, avoid what’s called overselling (a host may “oversell” resources – ie. allocate more resources to clients than are physically available). Here’s a general web hosting guide to help you nail down what to look for when choosing a hosting service.

Technical Support and Customer Service

What kind of support does the web hosting service provide? Most services list their customer support hours on their website. The more the better. If your website is having problems on a weekend, for example, you need to know you can reach them for help. Do they offer live chat? Phone support? Email support? Again, this is an area where researching customer feedback can save you a lot of headaches down the road.

Speed, Bandwidth & Storage Space

Bandwidth, speed and file storage space are biggies. You need to make sure you have enough bandwidth (how much data is allowed to travel to your visitors in a given amount of time) for your site to run smoothly and function the way you desire. A lot of service providers now offer unlimited bandwidth and storage at a relatively low-cost as part of the monthly subscription, but this can be a red flag, because if you are in a shared environment and one account runs out of physically available resources (which are never in reality unlimited), everyone on that server suffers. As mentioned above, for shared environments you’ll want to avoid overselling. For dedicated environments this is not a concern since you get a physical allocation of your own resources. Speed and reliability are also essential to SEO which helps you to move ahead of your competition on Google and the other search engines.


This is a critical consideration for your site because the last thing you want is to go with a hosting service that is notorious for frequently going down. It jeopardizes your reputation and can cost you customers. There are a number of services that guarantee 99% uptime, but what does that really mean? 99.0% uptime over a year’s time can still mean you experience 3.65 days of downtime each year, which would prove catastrophic to most businesses that rely on their website for their bottom line. With 99.9% uptime, your site can still go down for 8.76 hours each year, which again, based on your website’s earnings per hour, could still be very detrimental to your business on an annual basis.That’s where finding customer feedback on your hosting provider is crucial. Do your research around the web to find out what consumers are saying about their experiences with your host’s downtimes. Also important is speed – if your site is up all the time but your pages take forever to load, your visitors will still leave and possibly go to a faster-loading competitor’s website.


Yes, there are free web hosting options, but you’ll likely end up with a bunch of ads on your site, weak performance, and little to no technical support. You can find better hosting options for less than $10 per month for shared hosting, which is a much better choice than the risks associated with free hosting services.

Ecommerce Capability

Want to sell online? A number of web hosting services offer ecommerce solutions that make running an online store a breeze. Some services include these features as part of their monthly hosting subscriptions, but many charge an added fee per month. So, be sure to understand what you are getting before you sign on the dotted line.What to Look for in a Web Host?

One Billion and Growing

While doing our research we found this fun site called internetlivestats.com that, among other cool stats, has a running counter of how many websites are currently live. The number of websites grew by 44% from 2013 to 2014 and surpassed the one billion mark. With so many websites on the internet, it’s a jungle out there, and competition is fierce. But one of the most important steps you can take is to find a solid hosting solution that gives you the most reliability, performance and resources to keep your website live and thriving. See our Web Hosting Reviews article to see our top picks for shared and dedicated hosting services.

What web hosting questions do you have?

Sally has coupled her passion for writing with her (slight) obsession for the latest high tech gadgets. While she’s not daydreaming about the beach, she’s taking advantage of all the activities her hometown has to offer in the Blue Ridge foothills.

Leave a Reply

2 Comments on "What is Web Hosting? How it Works and How to Get Started"

Mark Martinez
Mark Martinez

What about user reviews? The company may have a good reputation but in reality cause its users nothing but trouble. I prefer to read genuine reviews before choosing a web host.

Kimberly Alt
Kimberly Alt

We completely agree with you Mark! Reading real customers’ reviews helps you get a feel of what you can expect from a company. We’ve compiled some of the most common pros and cons from users in this article https://www.werockyourweb.com/dreamhost-vs-bluehost-vs-godaddy-vs-hostgator/. Perhaps it can help you begin your search! Let us know if you need any help!


Send this to a friend