This is Part 1 of 2.
Go to part 2 of 2: How to Find the Best Niche Web Hosting Providers
How to Find the Best Niche Web Hosting Providers
You like having a home, right?
Sure you do! Everyone and everything needs a home; your website is no exception.
When talking about your website's home, one thing I guarantee that you do not want is a “fixer-upper”. You want your website to have a nice new foundation to grow on.
This discussion will help you avoid the bad neighborhoods so that you move into a nice safe location.
After you’ve decided what subject to focus on, you’ve got to decide where your content is going to live, and that choice is often the difference between focusing on your business and focusing on the technology you use to get your message out.
This is no trivial matter, I can tell you without a doubt that you do not want to be focusing on your tech. Your technology is likely not going to bring in any cash directly, and your content will.
Systems, especially redundant systems, don’t often fail if they’ve been proven. So finding those systems that are going to serve your content reliably, make sure it’s always online 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and ensuring that things get backed up regularly is a must!
You do not want some rinky-dink little outfit in charge of all your priceless content, and you definitely want a hosting partner that is going to be able to grow with you.
Some Terms You Need to Know
One thing that can seem daunting are all the terms that get bandied about while researching the details of hosting a business online. Really, it’s not nearly as complicated as many make it, the trick is understanding what is meant as you compare features of various hosting platforms.
The fact is that you don’t really need to know all that much about the technical minutiae - like you would have to if you were going to do business online 10 years ago.
However, there are some things that you should consider because knowing these things can mean the reduction of technical headaches now, and pitfalls in your future.
Let’s go through some terms and explain some fears away.
Some other phrases that are very close to the same meaning as the vague term “hosting” are:
- web hosting
- website hosting
- WordPress (WP) hosting
- content hosting
- business hosting
- shared hosting
- data hosting
Terms that are not necessarily the same, but are another type of “hosting” that go hand in hand with those terms and phrases just mentioned are:
- email hosting
- domain hosting
- database hosting
Now some would argue that there are differences between the various phrases mentioned above, and technically they would be right.
However, for our purposes, I’m going to refer to all of the above using the simple one-word term: Hosting
The reason for this is simple. Practically speaking, these are all services that allow you to create content, communicate and will make your efforts available for your friends, your family and all those Internet friends you don’t even know yet. Collectively, your visitors.
Everyone needs to be able to access what you create. When I talk to you about hosting, assume that means that your email, your website, your images, and everything that you are going to need to be able to provide the world with your creativity are going to be wrapped up in this one place.
Hosting is the “home” where all your ambitions and concepts are going to take form so they can be presented to the world.
All you need to know at this point is that is you want a hosting provider (some company that provides hosting) that is going to give you all that you need at the best cost you can achieve.
But what do you need?
We’re getting there, keep reading.
A server, in its simplest sense, is a computer. It’s a computer that a human will rarely access physically as you would your home computer, but it is still a computer.
It is nothing more than a specialized, often high powered system that allows traffic to flow into your website.
I’m not going to delve into the complexities of things like load balancers, virtual machines (virtual servers), and shared versus dedicated hosting systems during this discussion because it’s just not something you need to know at this point.
In fact, if you ever get to the point where you do need to know about all those nifty little nightmares, you’ll likely have the funds to hire a crack team of IT gods to help you with those concerns and decisions.
Just understand that when I, and those locations you’ll be researching, refer to a server, I’m referring to the machine that your website, email, and everything that goes with it will “live” on.
Choosing a domain is a topic all its own, so I won’t get into that here. Understand that a domain is nothing more than an address.
For example, your house has an address and that is what allows people who know your address to find you. A domain is the exact same thing.
Given your house address, the post office knows exactly how to translate that into a physical location.
When someone types in your domain, or clicks on a link containing your domain using a web browser, then the web browser will transparently work with various servers (that you need to know nothing about) to “resolve” the name (domain name) to what passes for a “physical” address on the Internet known as an IP (Internet Protocol) address.
For those of you that want just a bit more information, something like google.com becomes something like 126.96.36.199 behind the scenes that uniquely identifies a server, in this case, google.com.
If nothing else, that should develop an appreciation within you when you realize how much harder it would be to remember that number, than it is to remember google.com.
See, it’s almost like it makes sense! It’s almost as if someone knew what they were doing when they thought of all this, isn’t it?
Another advantage to this hidden system is that if you ever do decide to change hosting partners, since you own the domain and they own the IP you can change the IP (the "physical" address) and your customers won't even know it happened, everything just keeps working.
You see, your domain name is your public address. This means that your IP address can change all the time and no matter where you’re “physical address” is, your visitors will always be able to find you!
In this way, it’s probably more similar to a phone number than an address. Meaning that you can have a single phone number that belongs to you, and yet you can change phones and service providers as often as you like.
Static IP Address
As long as we’re on the topic, even though you don’t normally need to know about IP addresses, I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least talk about them a little bit.
The reason for this is because you’ll likely see mentioned things like:
- static IP’s
- dedicated IP address
- how many IP addresses can be used
- shared IP address
- dedicated IP address cost
All of these things point to having a dedicated IP address that only you use.
If you are working with a hosting provider that does not rabidly protect their shared IP’s or those that require you to have a dedicated IP for secure communication (more on that later) then you are going to want to insist on a dedicated IP.
Anymore this is a fairly painless process. In fact, some hosting providers will make this almost a non-issue.
Why would I need a dedicated IP address?
To answer this, you first need to understand the difference between a dedicated and a shared IP address.
A shared IP is an IP that you and any number of other people share between different domains. What I mean is that your domain and any number of other domains you don’t own will have the same “physical” address (IP address), while your logical address (your domain name) is very different.
You can think of this kind of arrangement like an apartment complex.
If someone wants to visit you in an apartment complex, then they’ll have a physical address of the building itself where you and any number of other families might live.
Once there, the apartment building will have a numbering system that will allow someone to be directed to the individual apartment that you live in.
This is very similar to the way shared IP addresses work.
Now, if you think about it, an apartment building might have a bad reputation.
For example, maybe there are known unsavory characters that live in the same apartment building as you. Maybe some known drug dealers operate out of your apartment building, or other unsavory personalities.
As a result, people might avoid coming over to see you because they either don’t like your neighbors or worse, they suspect you might be one of these “unsavory characters” yourself. So, it’s guilt by association in other words.
On the Internet, this takes the form of Search Engines potentially penalizing your efforts making it harder to be found for the search terms that people are going to be searching for to find your website.
Bottom line, it’s hard enough to get ranked for the terms you are going to be focusing on without having to worry about your neighbors ruining things for you.
The takeaway here is simple: If your hosting partner hosts a community of like-minded individuals and protects their IP addresses (kicks out the unwanted or bad elements) and they provide you with secure communication then it’s safe to use shared IP addresses. Otherwise, demand a dedicated IP address.
Knowing your neighbors (like-minded individuals) is actually a huge advantage because when you know your neighbors you have an instant social network and a type of “neighborhood watch” all rolled into one. However, it is very rare to have this kind of situation evolve.
Soon I’ll give an example of just such a hosting provider.
Secure (SSL) Communication (HTTP vs HTTPS)
Often a dedicated IP address is necessary for “secure communication”.
It’s tough to talk too much about secure communication protocols without delving into the depths of techno-hell.
There are two major forms of communicating on the World Wide Web, HTTP (Hyper-Text Transfer Protocol) and HTTPS (Hyper-Text Transfer Protocol Secure).
Perhaps you’ve seen these show up in your web browser from time to time.
There’s also the concept of SSL, which stands for Secure Socket Layer. This is the web server part of HTTPS that allows your site to support HTTPS.
Basically, when people talk about SSL and HTTPS, for all practical purposes, they are referring to the same thing. So, don’t get confused by all the techno-babble.
All you need to know is that when a web browser is using HTTPS to communicate with a website then all information between your browser and that website is encrypted, meaning that it is very difficult (almost impossible in the practical sense) for anyone intercepting the transmission to decrypt the data so that it can be read.
On the other hand, if the website is using HTTP then anyone can inspect the data easily.
In many cases, this is not a big deal, but when dealing with sensitive information (like usernames, passwords, and credit cards) it can be a huge deal.
All of that aside, here’s the one thing you need to remember: HTTPS is better. Google and other search engines like sites that use HTTPS.
Therefore, it is a MUST that any hosting provider you choose supports dedicated IP addresses with HTTPS or shared IP addresses with HTTPS.
Let’s Break It Down Simply
I know, it’s a lot to take in, before we continue let’s cut to the chase a bit.
So far, here’s what you need to look for when researching web hosting providers:
- Do they provide dedicated IP addresses or a protective community? One or the other is a must!
- Do they support HTTPS?
- Do these features cost more?
What are Other Features I Need to Consider?
There are several, luckily, they aren’t quite as technical in nature.
Since you don’t want to have to focus on the technology, you are going to want to work with a CMS (Content Management System).
There are many out there, but the number one by far is WordPress. WordPress is a blogging platform, and it can be used in an almost infinite number of ways, which makes it perfect for most.
Add to that a very active community with the added bonus that just about anything you need to do beyond the basic functionality can be done with mostly free plugins, and you’ve got yourself a powerhouse platform that will allow you to focus on what’s important, instead of the daily grind of technology that so often can be a distraction from what’s important.
That said, the hosting (as I outlined above) plays a pivotal role because if you choose the wrong hosting you’ll likely start getting frustrated before you ever get your site off the ground.
What I’m getting at is that you need to find hosting that is going to give you access to WordPress so that you can take advantage of the myriad free resources and assistance that is available.
Since WordPress is far from the only “game” in town, let’s touch on some of the other platforms available.
Wix is a platform that has been around since 2006. It’s a great platform for building professional looking websites even for those people that are very new and have little technical and design experience.
Wix has many free templates that you can use, but you better like the template that you choose, because if you change your mind, it may not be easy to change to a different template without re-inserting all your content.
If you are using Wix, then you cannot move your site. You are required to use their servers and you are stuck.
That’s not entirely true, it is possible to export your content, but then you’ll have to import into another platform which is likely going to look very different, and even more likely, will not be a pleasant experience.
Squarespace, like Wix, is a beautiful platform and targets designers. As such it gives you very granular control over all aspects of style.
Also like Wix, you have to host your site on the Squarespace hosting platform. If you decide you want to transfer away, well …you can’t. You can only export your content.
Weebly is probably the easiest to use platform out there so it’s great for newbies. They are slower to introduce new features but that’s not always a bad thing because sometimes stability is nice.
Like the other two platforms, you can export your content, but you can’t just take your site and move away to another hosting provider if you decide things aren’t great.
Other WordPress-Like Platforms
There are other platforms that are similar to WordPress meaning that you can move the entire site, structure and everything to many hosting providers like:
The problem with many of these is that they are either entirely focused on blogging and only blogging (not a problem if that is all you are interested in), some will cost you money, or they are more technical in nature.
However, like WordPress, many hosting providers that specialize in these systems have made it very easy to set these up so that a lot of the technical aspects are hidden away.
My recommendation is to plan on using WordPress. It is arguably the most used system on the planet, and it will most likely always be free. While this doesn’t automatically make it the best, it’s very easy to get basic, and advanced help if you need it. It’s also got a never-ending stream of free and paid themes and plugins (which add functionality).
In Summary of How to Find the Best Niche Web Hosting Providers - Part 1
I spent the majority of this article teaching you about the finer points around what you need to know when choosing a hosting partner.
I discussed what it means to host your website, the content contained on your website, and everything that goes along with it.
We also went over what a server is and what role it plays in the context of hosting your website.
We waded into the concept of domains and dove shallowly into IP addresses. I also talked about how the two are related to giving you a basic working knowledge of how it all works together.
I revealed what people are referring to when they mention the Hyper Text Transfer Protocol both secure and insecure (HTTPS and HTTP) as well as SSL (Secure Socket Layers). I also explained why it's important, that Google and other search engines give precedent to secure sites ...oh and it keeps the data secure between your site and your visitors.
Finally, we went over another basic element that you need to know like having a content management system and though we discussed several, I recommended WordPress (WP) as the defacto standard because there are so much support and flexibility automatically available to you.
In "How to Find the Best Niche Web Hosting Providers - Part 2" I'll discuss hosting providers and some of their differences.
By the time you've consumed part 1 (this article) and part 2, you'll have a decent working knowledge of what to look for and how to do some comparisons if you want to research other providers besides the ones that I'm going to be focusing on as examples and recommendations.
Engage! Feedback is Important to Both of Us
If you have any questions or comments I want to know about them. It's good for you because you get your questions answered, and you get used to engaging. Engaging is pivotal to your success if you're serious about being successful.
It's good for me because then I know people are reading what I've put out here and I get feedback on what is working, what isn't, and others will benefit from your questions.
Be fearless, and engage!