Hosting can be an intimidating and confusing concept, but it’s important to understand it before you build a website. Let’s break it down.
Think of hosting as a place (a physical server) where your website files are stored. In the same way your spreadsheet files are saved on the hard drive of your computer, the files that comprise your website are stored—or “hosted”—on a server.
Essentially, when a company provides hosting for your website, what they’re really doing is storing your website files on a secure server.
Now, with website platforms, you commonly have two options:
- Hosted platforms—providing you with the server storage to host your website
- Self-hosted platforms—you organise your own hosting with an external provider
Popular hosted platforms include Wix, SquareSpace, and Shopify.
The most popular self-hosted platform is WordPress.org.
We’ll outline the main advantages and disadvantages of each type of hosting, so you can decide which will be best for your business.
Hosted platforms will save you time. You don’t have to choose a hosting provider, install the CMS on your servers, or load the website template. Avoiding this process could be a smart idea if you’re not super tech-savvy. The interface that you’ll use to set up your website is generally intuitive and straightforward.
Once your account is set up, you don’t have to worry about installing the latest version of the software, or theme file, or plugin. It’s all handled by the hosted website platform, which results in a low maintenance site for you.
In order to keep their systems easy and affordable, hosted platforms generally come with restrictions on customisation and functionality. Most hosted platforms allow you to change a new theme or template, perhaps construct your own basic webpage layout, and replace default images and text. The flexibility often ends here. The functionality you get is often limited to the functionality that came with your selected theme.
You can enhance functionality with apps, plugins and widgets. However, the scope of customisation and the range of apps, plugins and widgets is very limited compared to self-hosted platforms.
Pricing is another downside of hosted platforms. Since you’re leaving the hosting and ongoing maintenance up to someone else, you’ll be required to pay for that service. You can often choose a free option, but it comes with its own limitations. Generally, you’ll be required to pay a monthly fee.
When we talk about self-hosted platforms, the biggest player in the game is WordPress.org.
Self-hosted platforms such as WordPress.org offer a lot of flexibility when it comes to design. It might not seem like a big deal, particularly when you’ve found a hosted platform template that looks gorgeous, but as your website grows, you might find yourself frustrated that you can’t tweak a simple element such as colour theme, fonts, text boxes, columns, or header design.
Functionality is one of the most significant advantages of self-hosted websites. WordPress has thousands of plugins available. There is just about always a plugin for the functionality you require—usually more than one, so you can select the most suitable and visually appealing. From a basic contact form to a complex appointment booking system, WordPress plugins are often free or low-cost, and are simple to install.
You’ll have to set up your own web hosting with a third-party provider. This initial setup can feel tricky and stressful, particularly if you’re not tech-savvy. For a small website, you’ll likely only need a starter plan, which can be billed monthly or annually. Once you’ve purchased web hosting, you should be able to access support services from the provider to help you install WordPress and get started.
Security is another disadvantage, because you’ll have to take care of it yourself. Updating to the latest version of WordPress and your various plugins is important—having said that, WordPress make that as easy as possible with an “update” button that you simply click. So this disadvantage is a matter of remembering, rather than effort.
You’re also responsible for backing up your website. In case of hacking or untoward activity, it’s important to have a recent backup of your website to restore. Some hosting providers offer regular backups, some don’t.
Troubleshooting is in your hands. If your site crashes or gets hacked, it’s up to you to fix it.
Choosing a platform based on its hosting offering can take some consideration. Do you want a simple store with security you don’t have to worry about? And is that likely all you’ll ever want? Or do you want a website that you intend to grow as your business does, with additional functionality and customised branding? Selecting the right option at the start can save you time, money, and headaches later down the track.
If you want help deciding whether a hosted or self-hosted platform is right for your business, book in for our ASBAS Digital Solutions mentoring and allow our mentor to assist you.