The Different Types of Hosting Plans (In Plain English)
When you start shopping for a web host, you’ll see a lot of different hosting types (VPS, cloud, etc.).
I’m going to give you a very brief summary of each type in a way that should be easy to understand.
What’s a Web Server?
Before we do that, you need to understand what a web server is. A server is just a computer (without a monitor).
A web server is a server that is connected to the Internet. When people go to a specific address that points to a web server, the server can send those files (your web pages) to the visitors.
In short, a web server is just a computer hooked up to the Internet that contains your website files.
With that out of the way, let’s look at the main types of hosting services.
Comparison Table: Types of Web Hosting
What’s the difference between shared, VPS, dedicated, and cloud hosting?
We make it easy to understand in comparison table below.
|Type of Hosting||Description||Best For|
|Shared hosting||The cheapest type of hosting. You share the resources of a web server with other websites, so you all share the cost. It’s the slowest and least reliable form of hosting, but an okay option for very low traffic sites.||Hobbyists|
|Virtual Private Server (VPS) Hosting||Again, you share a server with others. The difference here is that you have your own space on the server carved out, so no other site can interfere with your site’s performance. This is a good, reliable option for most small businesses.||Small and medium businesses|
|Cloud hosting||Just like VPS hosting, you have a certain amount of resources dedicated to your site. However, a VPS uses a single server, while cloud hosting involves spreading out your computing load over multiple servers. This makes it easier to scale up resources if your site grows quickly, and you usually only pay for the resources you use.||Small and medium businesses|
|Dedicated hosting||You get a dedicated server with its own IP address all to yourself. These are high performance, but quite expensive. They’re worth it if you have a lot of traffic and sales from your website are worth a lot (more on that later).||Medium and large businesses|
|Managed hosting||A service added to one of the above types of hosting. With a managed plan, your host takes care of server security, backups, and more, and you usually get much more hands-on support. The only catch is that it’s more expensive.||Businesses of all sizes when it’s affordable.|
What is Reseller Hosting?
You also might come across reseller hosting, which is a type of hosting where you can sell a host’s services and make a profit. Completely irrelevant for business web hosting, so just ignore it when you see it.
When you go to a host, you’ll see that there are different plans for each type of hosting.
The difference between those plans is the number of resources available to your website.
Start by estimating your web hosting bandwidth needs, or contact a web host’s sales line if you need help figuring out the right plan for you.
Do You Need Windows Hosting if You Use MS Office?
One of the most common sources of confusion is that the vast majority of hosting services are based on Linux web servers.
Let me make this really clear: Just because your business uses MS Office, doesn’t mean you need Windows hosting.
Most of the time, Linux servers will be better and easier for you to use.
They have better-developed server and hosting technology (control panels, content management systems, etc.).
If you don’t know if your site needs those (which is uncommon), it’s safe to assume that Linux hosting is fine for you.
Which Type of Web Hosting is Right For My Small Business?
Most small businesses will want one of these 3 types of hosting:
- VPS (Virtual Private Server)
Any of those options will do just fine.
In general, a VPS or Cloud plan is the best value for price and performance.
VPS plans are the cheapest of the 3 on most hosts and are a good choice if you don’t expect your site traffic to change dramatically over time.
Cloud plans costs are comparable to VPS plans and are great choices if you’re not really sure how many resources your site will need, as they can scale up or down easily.
Some hosts combine VPS and cloud into one type of plan because they’re so similar (technically a VPS is one specific type of cloud hosting).
Dedicated hosting plans are usually the highest performance, and you have complete control over them. You won’t see much of a difference unless you have a resource-intensive website.
These are generalizations that are usually true, but if you have a web developer, check to see if your site needs any special consideration.
Buying or Transferring a Domain Name
All business websites need a domain name, which needs to be purchased from a domain registrar.
Almost all hosts are also domain registrars, so you can purchase a domain name as you sign up from hosting if you’d like.
Most (but not all) hosts charge more than a low-cost domain registrar like NameCheap, but it’s more convenient since it will automatically be configured on your hosting account.
Alternatively, you can register a domain on any other registrar, and then point it towards your hosting account.
This isn’t difficult in most cases, but the experience will vary based on the registrar you choose.
The first step of signing up to most hosts is to pick a domain name.
This is where you’ll go through the domain name registration process, or forward your existing domain to your hosting account.
Basic Business Hosting Features to Look For
I’ve split hosting features to look for up into 2 sections.
The ones here are features that almost all businesses need, while you may or may not need the features in the advanced section.
If you have any sort of interaction with clients, partners, or customers, you’ll want professional email addresses (e.g. Dale@domainname.com) for your domain.
Usually, there is some limit on how many email accounts you can create for each domain on your hosting package.
Make sure that any plan you purchase has enough to cover your current and future needs.
A control panel is a basic feature that’s provided by almost all hosts.
It lets you easily manage your domains, email accounts, security, and more.
It will take a bit of time to learn where everything is in your control panel, and how it works.
But since cPanel is offered by almost every host, you’ll already know what to do if you ever switch to a new host.
Some hosts offer custom built control panels. These are typically worse, they lack the same amount of functionality and they don’t have the same depth of support documentation.
All hosting plans will say if they come with a control panel pre-installed or not.
Note that you can install any control panel you’d like on most dedicated servers.
All hosts offer some form of support, but the difference between the worst and best is huge.
Some offer 24/7 support through live chat, phone, and email from highly trained staff.
Others offer live chat support during limited hours and outsource it to an overseas support center that isn’t specifically trained for their hosting platform.
Take the time to read through our hosting reviews, which are from business owners like you, and see how their support experiences were.
Additionally, some hosts offer premium support for an extra fee. Find out if this is offered and how much it costs.
If your site going down for a few hours can cost you hundreds of dollars or more, immediate support could be crucial.
An SSL certificate is an essential security feature for websites, especially business websites.
If you have it, visitors will see a green “secure” icon in their address bar. If you don’t, visitors might see a red warning page saying that your site is not secure.
Most top hosts offer basic SSL certificates for free, but many hosts still charge for this essential feature.
See if it’s included, or how much it costs per website.
Security and Backups
If you’re new to web developing, you have to understand that things will go wrong.
Your site could get hacked, or you could accidentally break your site. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen.
That’s why you first need some sort of security (a basic firewall at the least), as well as regular backups.
Most hosts take care of firewalls and basic security measures for you, but double check before buying a plan.
But backups vary depending on the host.
Some only allow you to do manual backups, while others let you schedule automatic backups. Some hosts let you create backups for free, while others pay.
It’s important to regularly create backups, even if you have to pay for it.
If you opt to go for a managed hosting plan, automatic backups are usually included, so you won’t have to worry about it.
Content Management Systems (CMSs) and Website Builders
Coding your site from scratch usually isn’t worth it unless you need something unique. It takes a lot of time and is expensive.
A website builder lets you create web pages on your site by dragging and dropping visual elements in an editor.
It’s good if you only need a few pages on your site.
First, you need to decide how you’re going to build your website. Then you need to see if your web host supports it.
Just about all hosts support major CMSs like WordPress, but only select hosts have their own website builder that you can use.
Additionally, some hosts offer 1-click installation of popular CMSs, while others don’t.
You can still install them yourself but expect a few headaches the first time while you learn how to.
Advanced Business Hosting Features You May Need
Depending on your specific business, there are other features you may need to specifically look for in hosting services.
When you purchase a hosting plan, your website files are stored on a web server in a datacenter that the web hosting company owns.
Some hosts only have 1 or 2 datacenters with all their servers, while others have servers around the world.
The reason this matters is because the farther a visitor is from the datacenter, the longer it generally takes to load pages on your site.
A slower website results in a worse experience for potential customers, and a lower conversion rate.
So you want to go with a host that has a datacenter near most of your customers.
Or, if your visitors come from all over the world, choose a host that has several datacenters around the world.
Content Delivery Networks (CDN)
One way to speed up your website, especially if you serve a lot of media (images, videos) or have traffic spikes, is to find a host that leverages a CDN (content delivery network).
A CDN is a network of datacenters around the world that acts as proxy servers.
In plain English, a CDN consists of a bunch of a datacenters that serve a copy of your web files to visitors.
Since there are datacenters around the world, it ensures that all visitors load your site as fast as possible.
This animation from Cloudflare demonstrates how a CDN works. When visitors try to access your site, it’s served to them from a data node that’s geographically closest to them. This is constrasted with serving a website from one centralized location.
CDNs are highly scalable, so while your normal hosting may slow down if too many people are accessing your site at once, a CDN will remain fast.
Some hosting companies like A2 Hosting offer specific CDN hosting packages.
Some hosts come automatically configured with a free CDN, others offer paid options.
HIPPA & PCI Compliance
There are 2 sets of hosting standards that certain businesses must meet:
- HIPPA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) – Legislation that specifies how medical information must be stored securely.
- PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards) – Standards that outline how businesses must store sensitive financial data.
If you’re collecting medical information you’ll need to know what data security laws and regulations apply to your venture. You could be fined if you do not comply with the law.
These laws are country-based. For example, if you are an American with an online business that collects medical information, you’ll want web hosting that is compliant with HIPAA guidelines.
If your venture is Canadian, you’ll want to find how Canada’s private sector data and security laws — such as PIPEDA and PIPAA — affect you. Pro tip: Don’t neglect to explore which regional laws may apply to your venture.
Similarly, if you’re collecting and storing payment information of any kind, you’ll want PCI compliant hosting.
Hosting is only a part of fulfilling these standards, but a required one.
Most hosts (especially managed ones) meet these standards, but check before purchasing a plan.
Marketing and Web Development Help
If you’re just starting a small business, you may be looking for some help.
Some hosts also offer advertising, marketing, SEO, and design help.
If it’s available from the web hosting company you pick, should you purchase it as well, or should you find a separate company that specializes in the help you need?
Generally, it’s fine to purchase additional services from a hosting company if it’s related to hosting. That covers work like design or web development.
But if you need SEO, marketing, or advertising help, I’d strongly advise that you hire a company that only focuses on those areas.
Why the Cheapest Hosting Plan Will Usually Cost You Business
But unlimited really means a reasonable amount of bandwidth and storage according to the host.
As soon as you go over a threshold of resource consumption, your site either goes down or slows to a crawl for visitors.
(Refer to this page about unlimited hosting if you’d like more details.)
This can cost you a ton of business.
Here are some statistics that show how important speed is for a business:
- 47% expect a page to load in 2 seconds of less.
- Each 1 second delay (past 2 seconds) of loading correlates to decreased customer satisfaction by 16%.
- A 1 second delay also correlates to a 7% reduction in conversions.
For most businesses, a 7% reduction in sales will cost you far more than the most expensive hosting out there.
And that’s just site speed.
When you go with cheap hosting, you’ll likely suffer in other areas as well:
- Uptime – Your website going down means you lose customers, which will happen on cheap hosting plans. Premium hosts like Liquid Web have 100% uptime guarantees.
- Customer support – If your site breaks, customers can’t lose it. How much would it cost you if your site went down for a day or two? Paying extra for immediate, experienced support can save you hundreds or thousands if you run into issues.
I’m not saying you should go out and buy the most expensive plan you can possibly find.
But you want to find a web hosting plan that will keep your site running quickly and reliably, with immediate support available if needed.
Do the math and pick a host and plan that’s not going to come back to cost you more in the long run.
The 3 Best Hosts For The Majority of Businesses
Of all the hosts out there, there are 3 that stand out as business web hosts in my experience.
No matter what your technical level or budget, at least one of these hosts will work well for you.
All of them offer all the basic business web hosting features outlined before, and most of the advanced features as well.
Note that these are in no particular order.
They have all types of plans from shared hosting, to cloud hosting, to dedicated servers, with datacenters around the globe.
I typically recommend SiteGround for small to medium sized businesses.
Despite having the latest server technology and a good support team, the prices are on the cheaper side compared to premium hosts.
They have one-click installers for all major content management systems (WordPress, Joomla, etc.), and cPanel for managing your hosting account.
Check out our SiteGround review page for specifics.
WordPress is arguably the simplest way to get a site (and blog if needed) up and running, and the managed aspect makes it even easier.
The servers are high performance, and the support is excellent. If this sounds appealing, here are more detailed WP Engine reviews.
When you sign up, you can choose the location to host your site:
If you’re looking for high performance, LiquidWeb is a great choice.
They have several cutting edge datacenters distributed globally. It’s a popular choice for medium and large businesses.
They don’t offer shared hosting at all, focusing solely on fully managed cloud, VPS, and dedicated hosting.
None of the plans are cheap, but they have the best performance you’ll find.
Finally, the “heroic” support goes above and beyond when you need help, and has a stellar reputation in the web hosting industry. You can see my detailed LiquidWeb review here.
Choosing the right web host is a big deal, it will affect the success of your business for years to come.
I understand that this was a long guide and takes some time to get through, but it’s worth spending the time to make sure you understand your options and can pick one that will work well for your business.
If you get stuck at any point, or are not sure if a host is right for you, find our review page for that specific host and see what other small business owners are saying.
Other features in Specialty
- Multiple Domain hosting
- DDoS Protection
- Domain Name
- Streaming Audio/Video
- Green Hosting
- Unlimited Sites