Friday, 03 April 2020 19:41

What is Web Hosting? - The ultimate guide for beginners (2020)

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Today I’m going to show you everything you need to know to confidently choose the right hosting plan for your website.

In this guide, you will learn;

  • the basics of how hosting works
  • the benefits of setting up your own hosting platform
  • the features you need to get the most out of the service

And the best part? There's no jargon!

So, let’s get started...

 

Part 1:

Web Hosting in a Nutshell...

The basics of web hosting can be summed up in these five simple points;

1. Remote File Storage

Web hosting is a service enabling you to store the files that make up your website on a high-powered computer called a 'server'.

Servers are located in racks with many other identical servers, in a purpose-built, tightly controlled, multi-million pound building called a ‘data centre’, or ‘co-location’.

 

file storage

 

2. Internet Access

The server is connected to a high speed network with connections to the major data hubs around the world.

 

internet access

 

3. Remote File Access

When someone looks at your website on their computer or phone, the server sends your website files to their device.


website live

 

4. More than just your website

When you pay for a hosting service what you are actually doing is renting space on one of these servers.

The space you rent on the server is not just for your website. It can be used for anything to do with your digital profile; your website files, files for specific business related software, email files, etc..

 

more than a website

 

5. What are you paying for?

When you set up a hosting service platform you are basically paying for two primary services; disk space or storage, and bandwidth or transfers.

a. Disk space/storage is the amount of space you have available on the server (usually given in GB). This is for your files and programmes, or apps.

b. Bandwidth/transfer allowance concerns the amount of traffic you are permitted to have coming to and from your hosting space. 

Traffic is counted as site visitors and the transfer of files to and from your server space.

 disk space bandwidth2

 

Summary of Web Hosting in a Nutshell

As you can see, the actual process of website hosting is very straightforward;

  1. Put your files on a server

  2. The server has access to the international internet network

  3. Your files are delivered to visitors when they come to your site

  4. You can place more than just your website files on the server, and

  5. You pay for the space you use on the server and the traffic that comes to and from it, via the network.

Of course there's a lot more going on behind the scenes to enable this seemingly simple process, but for the most part you don't need to know about it.

If you're looking at setting up a hosting account for a basic website, or even just so you can have professional email accounts, then all you need to know is how to choose the right hosting company.

And that information is easy to understand and included in this guide.

Don't be intimidated

If you've previously looked at setting up your own hosting service, you may have found the process intimidating. 

There are many companies offering variations on this basic service. All come with additional features and most have confusing pricing structures.

However, as you will see, this service is not as complex as it appears. And, by understanding it and deciding to set up your own account, you could save hundreds of pounds.

 

 

Part 2:

Benefits of setting up your own hosting account

There are three main benefits to setting up your own hosting account;

  1. security,
  2. convenience of a long-term partnership and
  3. saving money.

Let's take a look at what each of these mean...

1. Increase security with control over access

A hosting platform is the home of your digital presence.

It is attached to your domain name, and, at its most basic, it houses your website and email accounts.

Considering the importance of your website and emails, it is wise to keep access to this account secure. 

In much the same way as you would only give someone building you a new kitchen access to your actual home for the duration of the work, that is what you give web professionals.

Access for as long as they need to complete the job they are hired to do.

And then they leave.

If at any time you need additional work done, then you will give access to the right individual at that time.

In short, you are the only person who needs the access details for your hosting account. Anyone else you hire can be given the details as needed.

2. Convenience of a long-term partnership

Web developers and site managers may come and go, but a hosting account is, ideally, a long-term partnership.

This is reflected in the fact that many companies will offer deals over multiple years.

For example, two of the companies reviewed in this guide; GoDaddy and A2 Hosting, both offer deals over 36 months.

Although it isn't difficult to move from one hosting company to another, it is an inconvenience. And there will be downtime, during which your site and emails will be unavailable, while the transfer is being made.

So you want to find a company you'll be happy with for years to come.

If you hire someone to develop a new site for you, or do additional work on the one you already have, unless there is something wildly different about the software the new site is using, there is no need to move your site from one host to another.

If you’ve picked the right hosting company to start with then any changes, great or small, should be possible on the host you already have.

3. Save money, potentially, a lot!

If you are in charge of choosing and setting up the account, then you have complete control over choosing the right one, at the right price.

And, when it comes to pricing, there can be a huge difference for similar services.

How much?

As you can see below, the cheapest service on the popular GoDaddy platform is over £210 more expensive, over a 36 month period, than an equivalent service.

 

 Cost over 36 months for comparative services

 hosting a2   hosting godaddy
Startup Plan Economy Plan
£112.88  £323.61 

 

The figures above may surprise you.

If you’ve looked at GoDaddy before you will have noticed that they advertise their service from just £3.99 per month. Which would make the service £143.64 over 36 months.

So where does that extra expense come from?

Understanding these additional costs is one of the main reasons you should read the rest of this guide.

Before we get into the features responsible for hiking the price of GoDaddy services, however, there are three primary considerations you need to understand before you can select the right type of plan, regardless of which company you choose.

 

 

Part 3:

Understand Your Options

Each of the three options below plays an important role in the cost and efficiency of your site, and all are easily explained.
They are;

  1. The geographic location of the data centre you choose
  2. The two choices you have for which software to use as a hosting platform, and
  3. An understanding of shared and cloud hosting

 

1. Geographic location of data centre

Wherever you are in the world, choose a hosting company local to your audience. 

This is simply because site visitors are physically closer to the data centre, and websites hosted on local servers load approximately three times faster than those hosted on international servers.

There are many thousands of companies in the UK and across Europe which will serve you well if you are based in the UK.

With so many options to choose from, you will have no problem finding a suitable provider, no matter how small your budget.

 

data centre map

 

2. Software options for hosting platforms

Just with any computer, servers within data centres are just physical hardware. They must have software programmes loaded on them to make them useful.

The two most popular hosting software options are Linux and Windows.

  • Linux is ‘open source’, which means it is developed by a community of developers. As open source software is available free, the cost of hosting on a Linux platform is cheaper than the alternative Windows.
  • Windows is proprietary software owned by Microsoft.

Although Microsoft software is something you are familiar with for your personal computer, from a hosting perspective, Linux is the preferred option.

Note: the software you use on your personal computer has absolutely no bearing on the software used for your hosting. All devices can access files on any of the two server software options.

Linux is generally accepted as being more reliable, secure and cheaper than the Windows alternative.

This is reflected in the market share of the two options with Linux taking up 55.6%, while Windows represents around 35%.

 

linux vs windows

 

The only time you would choose the Windows option is if your site is going to be using some custom-built software that depends on it.

If that is the case then you are likely developing a large complex site and your web developer will advise. 

3. Understand shared and cloud hosting

There are several hosting package options available depending on your needs.

These range from ‘free’ (with a catch!) to hundreds of pounds a month.

An explanation of all available options can be found in this excellent article on Inline Host Blogger: 7 different types of web hosting service explained.

For your purposes, as an entry-level website, the option of most interest is Shared Hosting.

With Shared Hosting, you have two options;

  • Single server shared hosting and
  • Cloud shared hosting. 

Both these options are very easy to understand and are described and illustrated below.

What is Shared Hosting?

Shared hosting is when many small sites are hosted on the same server.

 

what is shared hosting

 

Shared Hosting = Shared Resources

All the sites on the shared server use the same resources, such as CPU (Central Processing Unit) and RAM (Random Access Memory).

 

cpu

 

A CPU and RAM are found in all computers from your laptop and smartphone, to the servers used for hosting.

 

shared hosting shared resources

 

Shared Resources = Low Cost

As these resources are shared across many sites, the cost of hosting is relatively low, just a few pounds a month. Which makes them an excellent option for most starter websites.

So, what are the differences between single server shared hosting and shared cloud hosting and which should you choose?

The Differences Between Shared Hosting And Cloud Hosting

With small hosting packages, both shared and cloud hosting share the same principle. 

Both are set up so that many sites share the same resources.

  • With shared hosting your site files are stored on a partitioned section of a single server,
  • with cloud hosting, however, many servers are networked together and configured in such a way that any one of them can deliver your files as required.

So, with cloud hosting, because the files are spread across a network, the ability to deliver your site is not reliant on the stability of a single server.

The major difference here is...

  • with shared hosting, if the one server hosting your site goes down, your site will no longer be available.
  • with cloud hosting, if one server fails, the other servers in the cloud continue to deliver your site.

 

cloud hosting

 

The most obvious result of the cloud hosting structure is that it can guarantee a more substantial ‘uptime’ for a site.

Guaranteed uptime

Uptime is the amount of time your site is available.

There will always be periods when a server may not be able to deliver sites, such as routine maintenance, software updates or, in the extreme, electricity outage.

Today most companies guarantee an uptime above 99%.

With cloud hosting they are generally able to offer 99.9% - 99.99%.

What does that mean in real terms?

Over a 30 day period there are 43,200 minutes (30 days x 24 hours in a day x 60 minutes in an hour).

99% uptime = 1% downtime = 432 minutes or 7.2 hours per 30 days

99.9% uptime = 0.1% downtime = 43.2 minutes per 30 days

99.99% uptime = 0.01% downtime = 4.32 minutes per 30 days

Once upon a time you would have expected to pay more for increased uptime. But today that's not the case.

With cloud hosting and the competitive nature of the industry, today you can expect maximum uptime on the smallest budgets.

Guaranteed % uptime = possible minutes downtime over 30 days

uptime

Bottom line - cloud hosting is much more reliable. And, because it also shares resources among many small sites, is as cheap as shared hosting.

In summary of the options for low-cost web hosting, choose;

  • Servers in UK or Europe,
  • Linux platform,
  • Shared Cloud Hosting

So now you have a basic understanding of the structure of the options available to you, let’s take a look at the other basic requirements you’re going to need to get your site up and running.

 

Part 4:

Feature Guide

A2 Hosting vs GoDaddy vs Krystal

 

In this section we'll look at the additional features of interest with most hosting services.

To help with comparison of services available I have highlighted the current cheapest offers of three popular companies; A2 Hosting, GoDaddy and Krystal.

I've also included a second plan from A2 Hosting, because the deal is still very cheap and it has some excellent features which will make your life easier.

The companies/plans compared are;

A2 Hosting - Plan: Startup

A2 Hosting - Plan: Drive

GoDaddy - Plan: Economy

Krystal - Plan: Amethyst

 

Disclosure: If you grab either of the hosting services provided by A2 Hosting using our referral links, we’ll get a small commission. However, there’s no extra cost to you.

 


This chapter is divided into five sections;

4.1 Foundation Services | Disk space, bandwidth, uptime, location.

4.2 Tools you must have | Control panel, emails, databases, site building tools.

4.3 Security | Site backup, security certificates (GDPR).

4.4 Host Account Support | Customer service, moving to a new host (migration).

4.5 Extras | Number of websites allowed, free domains, hiring help.

Feel free to jump ahead to any of particular interest, although I recommend reading through each to get a full understanding of your options.

 

 

4.1 Foundation Services

disk space, bandwidth, uptime, location. 

 

4.1.1 Disk space or storage

Simply the amount of space you 'rent' on the server.

This space will be used for all your files; website files, any additional programme files AND your emails.

There are very cheap services offering as little as 1GB of storage, but I recommend you start with a minimum of 5GB.

As you see below, the 10GB offered by Krystal is tiny compared to the 100GB offered by GoDaddy, and an incredible unlimited disk space from A2 Hosting.

Available disk space

 hosting a2   hosting godaddy   hosting krystal   hosting a2 
Startup Economy Amethyst Drive
UNLIMITED  100GB 10GB  UNLIMITED

 

4.1.2 Bandwidth or transfers

Many host providers offer ‘unlimited’ or ‘unmetered’ bandwidth plans.

However, strictly speaking, neither the term ‘unlimited’ nor ‘unmetered’ is accurate, for the following reasons;

  • Available bandwidth is not without limit. It is a finite resource, and the host company must purchase a set allocation, which it then uses to service all its customers
  • If you’re using too much bandwidth, while it may not be metered, the provider will be aware. If that happens they may limit the bandwidth available to you, or ask you to upgrade your package

However, as a small project your requirements are going to be tiny in comparison to the overall bandwidth availability.

So the hosting companies can comfortably offer packages that appear to be either unlimited or unmetered, knowing that the vast majority of sites will never come close to using more than is available to them.

Just be aware that these plans are only intended for small business or personal use sites. They are not suitable for storing private files, for file sharing or for hosting large numbers of websites.

Available bandwidth

 hosting a2   hosting godaddy   hosting krystal   hosting a2 
Startup Economy Amethyst Drive
UNLIMITED  UNMETERED UNLIMITED UNLIMITED

 

4.1.3 Uptime

As mentioned previously, the Uptime is the amount of guaranteed time your site will be available. Of the services featured here, only Krystal guarantees 99.99% uptime.

Uptime on all package offered

 hosting a2   hosting godaddy   hosting krystal 
All Packages All Packages All Packages
99.9% Uptime 99.9% Uptime 99.99% Uptime

 

4.1.4 Server location

Each of the three services is sufficiently ‘local’ to provider a fast delivery to UK site visitors. 

Server locations

 hosting a2   hosting godaddy   hosting krystal 
AMSTERDAM EUROPE UK

 

 

4.2 Tools you must have

Control panel, emails, databases, site building tools.

 

4.2.1 Access to Control Panel

With your hosting plan you are given access to a private control panel which enables you to manage the services available to you.

The two most popular control panels are cPanel and Plesk.

On a standard Linux, shared cloud hosting service, the companies we are reviewing here all use cPanel.

Within cPanel you can perform every task necessary for operating your platform. Including;

  • Setting up email accounts
  • Issuing security certificates
  • Managing databases
  • Building a website
  • and much more

Some of these tasks, like setting up email accounts, are simple step-by-step processes which don’t need technical expertise and which you can easily do yourself.

Others, like setting up databases, are best left to the person building your website or, if using any of the available site building tools, will be done automatically by the system. 

But it is important to know that these features are in place for when you need them. And to give you the confidence to speak to a future developer, who will need to know what resources are available on the server.

The image below shows the full extent of cPanel as provided by Krystal. Other host providers may vary slightly.

Don't be intimidated by the image. There are very few sections that will be of interest to you for the basic running of your site. As we continue with this guide you will see images of those that may be of interest.

 

cPanel as used by Krystal

cpanel

 

4.2.2 Email accounts

Although often viewed as a separate service, the ability to set up email accounts linked to your domain name, i.e. you @ yourwebsite.co.uk, is actually provided as a standard with the cPanel on most shared hosting services.

Meaning, you can set up your own email accounts within the cPanel of your hosting service, free. 

You do not need to pay extra for a premium service. In the Email section of the cPanel, you can manage this task yourself.

 

email

 

Host providers may limit how many accounts you can set up, as a way of reducing the amount of disk space and bandwidth you use. But there will be some available free.

There is no need to pay for email accounts.

You may be offered premium Email services while registering your domain name, or signing up for a hosting service. But you don’t need them.

For most websites, the free Email Account feature within the cPanel has everything you need and is a great option. 

You can set up email accounts yourself in 3 simple steps, and save £100+ per year on unnecessary premium services.

From one to unlimited

Within your hosting package you may be limited to setting up just a few accounts, or it could offer an unlimited amount. Whatever the case, you need to manage them well.

Email accounts use up disk space

The space taken on the server by emails is included within your disk space. In fact, the majority of the space will be taken up by them.

Save space by downloading messages from the server to your computer and by deleting anything you don’t need. 

Don’t set up too many accounts

Even if you have unlimited email accounts available to you, don’t allocate too many.

Be aware that although the number of accounts you can create may not be limited, the resources they use, probably are. You will find an excess of email accounts eating into your disk space.

When it comes to email, GoDaddy's marketing is not very transparent

Despite the fact that if you have a hosting account with GoDaddy, then you automatically have email accounts available to you through the cPanel, this is not mentioned as a feature in the plan descriptions for GoDaddy’s Economy plan.

Instead the company encourages you to sign up for an Office 365 email account. A premium add-on which you will need to start paying for in the second year of service.

 

godaddy offer

 

As someone new to setting up a hosting service, you may not be aware that your hosting plan automatically comes with free, unlimited email accounts. 

And, as GoDaddy specifically markets it's hosting to small business owners, who do not have experience in setting up a hosting account, the fact that they don't mention these free email accounts is disappointing. 

Knowing that you have access to email accounts within the cPanel will save you from falling into this trap.

Editors Pick: 

Of the plans we’re reviewing here, A2 Hosting Drive plan offers the best deal. It offers unlimited email AND unlimited disk space. 
This is great if you want to store some emails on the server.

Krystal offers unlimited accounts on it’s Amethyst plan, but with a very small disk space allowance (just 10GB), if you are storing any emails on the server, it will use up the available space very quickly.

I can’t comment on GoDaddy’s Economy plan as it doesn’t state how many email accounts you can create through its cPanel. 

 

Email Account Allocation

 hosting a2   hosting godaddy   hosting krystal   hosting a2 
Startup Economy Amethyst Drive
25  ? UNKNOWN UNLIMITED UNLIMITED

 

4.2.3 Databases

Databases are a necessity. If not when you start out, then when it comes to building your website. You will need access to at least one.

As your site and business develop you may find you want to add more business management programmes, or apps, to your business, such as, a Customer Relationship Management system (CRM), or an accounting programme.

With any additional software programme you will need a database to accommodate it.

Apart from your email and a basic holding page, there is very little you can do without databases.

The databases are handled on the DATABASES section of the cPanel, as shown below. 

 

Database management on cPanel

manage database

 

Manually setting up a database is an intermediary task. If you’re unsure of what you are doing then it is best to leave this task to a web professional, if you are working with one. 

If, however, you use any of the pre-installed site building apps that come with cPanel, as described below, the automatic installation process will also set up the database required, so you do not need to do anything.

Editors Pick:

Most starter websites need only one or two databases to start with. Even the A2 Hosing Startup plan, with just 5 databases is sufficient to get started.

 

Database Allocation

 hosting a2   hosting godaddy   hosting krystal   hosting a2 
Startup Economy Amethyst Drive
10 20 UNLIMITED

 

4.2.4 Site Building Tools

Within cPanel you have several options for building a website. 

Whether you do this yourself, or hire someone, there have tools available in two sections: SOFTACULOUS APPS INSTALLER and SOFTWARE.

 

softaculous

 

website builder

 

Within SOFTACULOUS APPS INSTALLER you can install either of the two most popular, free content management systems; Joomla! or WordPress.

Free, powerful, open-source tools

Both Joomla! and WordPress are powerful tools that enable you to build websites from simple blogs to full-featured complex sites with ecommerce features, forums, calendars, image galleries, and just about anything else you can think of. 

They are both modular, meaning you can start with a small site and gradually add more features and functions as your budget and ideas develop. 

Both Joomla! and WordPress are also open-source, meaning they are developed and maintained by international communities of developers. They are not owned by any one company, and they can be downloaded and used, free. 

Around the world there are literally tens of thousands of developers creating new apps for both Joomla! and WordPress. Often these extras are also available free, or for a very low price. So it is possible to build a full-featured site on the smallest of budgets.

Both these tools are capable of building international standard websites which can keep evolving. However, they also both have quite a steep learning curve and can be a bit intimidating for absolute beginners. 

Having said that, millions of people have learned how to build their own sites using these tools, and there is no reason why you can not do the same.

Alternatively, there are tens of thousands of developers around the world who have the necessary skills to build a site for you using these tools. To find such developers you can check out freelance hiring websites like Fiverr.

Simple page building tools for ‘brochure’ websites

An alternative option is to use the less complex software available in the SOFTWARE section. Just be aware that less complex software, leads to less sophisticated websites, sometimes referred to as 'brochure sites'. 

Brochure style websites tend to be passive sites, meaning they rarely change. They are designed to act as an online brochure with basic information about the product/service on offer, details about the company and a contact page. 

There is little or no option for building blogs, content marketing strategies or any other features you would expect to find in a dynamic site.

Building this type of site using the available site building tools within the cPanel is a much easier task. However, the site building software used may vary from one host to another, which may cause problems if you decide to move to a different host at a later date.

Brochure sites are not as likely to get well-positioned in search engines, so are limited marketing tools. 

One popular site building tool, used by Krystal, is Site Pro. You can check out it’s capabilities here

Editor’s pick – Website building tools

For a site that is;

  • full-featured, 
  • will grow with your company and,
  • can easily be hosted anywhere, 

your best option is to consider building your site in either Joomla! or WordPress.

 

 

 

4.3 Security

site backup, security certificates (GDPR) 

 

4.3.1 Site Backup

Having a strategy in place to backup all files on your server is really important, but often overlooked.

There could be any number of reasons why your files may become compromised; your website could be hacked or files could be damaged in some way during a software upgrade.

Whatever the case, without a backup you could lose all files on your server and face a significant expense hiring someone with the appropriate skills to restore the data for you.

How Host Providers Handle Site Backups

The two best hosting plans for handling this important aspect are Krystal ‘Amethyst’ and A2 Hosting ‘Drive’. Both of which offer an automatic backup service of all the files and emails on the server.

However, both companies also advise you to perform your own backup as well. But, this may not be necessary.

Free backup services can not be guaranteed

It would be foolish for any company to offer a guarantee on a free service, especially one as important as backing up your entire web presence. 

However, it can be assumed that both Krystal and A2 Hosting, as major players in a highly competitive industry, take the responsibility of this crucial task very seriously.

They just can’t absolutely guarantee it.

A2 Hosting offers a service called Server Rewind Backups with the Drive plan. The company states, however, that you should also back up your own site because, ‘you never know when our datacenter will be hit by a meteor’.

In other words, the company is pretty confident that their backup service is reliable, unless something in the extreme happens.

With Krystal, you can set-up an automatic backup on a monthly, weekly or even daily basis. Again, the company can not guarantee it, but I use this service on a number of sites and have found it to be excellent.

If you do not feel confident with the reliability of these services, then you may consider using a separate backup service. Like the one offered by DropMySite.com.

DropMySite Backup Service

Dropmysite is a backup and archiving service that enables you to automatically backup and recover all data on your server, including your website and emails.

Using a very clean and simple dashboard, you can schedule Dropmysite to backup everything on a daily basis.

At just US$29.99 (approx. £24) a year, this is an additional service that is well worth signing up for if you are considering a service that does not offer free backup like Krystal or A2 Hosting.

When you sign-up for a GoDaddy account it offers an add-on backup service for £1.99 per month, this is actually the DropMySite service. You have the option to add this to your account when you sign-up for their Economy plan.

Having a backup feature in place is basically an insurance policy for all your digital files. And it should not be ignored.

 

dropmysite

Visit the site and check out the service.

 

4.3.2 Security certificates and the GDPR

Introduced in May 2018, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is considered to be the world’s strongest data protection rules.

The GDPR is basically a set of rules designed to give each of us more say over how our personal information is used and to ensure that it is kept safe.

This includes making sure that any information we share digitally is secure and can not be intercepted by third parties.

For more information about the GDPR and your website, see A practical guide, how to get your website GDPR compliant, on Loyalty Matters.

Security certificates are good for users and in the spirit of the GDPR
With regard to your hosting, the main point of interest is the use of security certificates, called Secure Socket Layer (SSL) certificates.

These certificates serve as the backbone of online security by enabling an encrypted connection. This means that any information sent via an online form, such as a contact or subscription form, is secured against being intercepted by a third party as it travels from the form to the recipient.

 

ssl working

 

Strictly speaking a SSL certificate on your site is not required under the GDPR. However, there are definite advantages to having one in place, including;

  • building trust with your site visitors
  • without a certificate some browsers will advise people that your site may not be secure, and
  • Google prioritises websites that have a certificate over those that do not.

The good news is that basic SSL certificates are available free through most hosting companies. And, even though the use of them is not a legal requirement, for the reasons given above, it’s a really good idea to have them in place.

Site security at a glance

The easiest way to see if a site is using a SSL certificate is to look for the little padlock icon next to the address bar. Depending on the browser, the icon may be green or black.

Additionally, the full website address will start with https, rather than http.

 

ssl

 

Where to get SSL certificates

SSL certificates, and the integration of them onto a site, can be complicated and expensive if your site is large and complex.

However, thankfully there is a free and simple alternative available through most small site hosting plans.

Let’s Encrypt is a global non-profit organisation which provides encryption certificates, free of charge.

Most host companies provide the ability to enable a Let’s Encrypt certificate on your site in the cPanel, under Security.

 

letsencrypt2

 

How to set-up a Lets Encrypt Certificate

Once you have selected Lets Encrypt from the Security section of the control panel, as shown above, setting up the certificate in cPanel is a very easy two step process.

Step 1

letsencrypt issue

Step 2

letsencrypt issue2

 

However, once the certificate is installed on your hosting platform, you may need to make some minor adjustments to your website to attach the certificate on the actual website files.

If you are using a developer to build a site for you, then this is something that they will do at the time of uploading your site files onto the server.

At this point, however, while you are still deciding which host to use, what is important to know is that the Let’s Encrypt service is available to you.

Commercial certificates

The alternative to the free Lets Encrypt certificate is a commercial SSL certificate, which offers more features and increased verification. However, for the vast majority of sites, commercial certificates are not needed.

SSL Certificates offered

The three companies we’re reviewing all handle SSL certificates slightly differently;

A2 Hosting use the free Let’s Encrypt service and automatically install a certificate on your site, at no additional cost.

Krystal also uses Let’s Encrypt, and it is included in cPanel, again at no additional charge. You just need to follow the simple steps to set it up.

I don’t know whether GoDaddy has Let’s Encrypt included in their cPanel, and, just like with the free email, they don’t mention it in the promotional material.

What they do offer, however, is a commercial SSL certificate for which they will charge you £5 per month.

My recommendation on this is that whatever host you choose, make sure they give you access to free SSL certificates like Let’s Encrypt.

If you find later that you need a commercial certificate, then this is something that can easily be added.

 

SSL Certificate

 hosting a2   hosting godaddy   hosting krystal   hosting a2 
Startup Economy Amethyst Drive
FREE  £5 PM FREE FREE

  

 

4.4 Host Account Support

customer service, moving to a new host (migration)

 

4.4.1 Customer Support

Far from being a technical issue requiring technical knowledge to manage, setting up and managing your hosting platform is merely an administrative task. With this in mind, host providers know that many of their customers are not tech savvy and provide numerous support and knowledge channels to help you as you go.

It’s important to note, however, that they will only deal with issues that are related to your hosting. They will not help you out with problems with your website. If you are unsure about whether a problem is server or website related, then a quick chat with the customer support team will be able to tell you. So don't be afraid to ask.

In general the following avenues are open to you when it comes to support and learning more about your hosting facilities;

Ticket System

All host providers have a ticketing system for asking questions and troubleshooting problems.

These provide a quick and easy way of getting help. With responses typically given within a few hours, often much quicker.

Live Chat

Most providers have a live chat feature on their main site. When viewed on a laptop, the live chat icon is usually found in the bottom right corner.

Support staff tend to be very supportive of customers with very little experience and will help you resolve any hosting related issues.

In addition most of them will offer you the option to have a transcript of the live chat conversation emailed to you. This is a good idea so you can refer back to it later.

Email Support

Naturally email support is offered. However, you may find the ticket and live chat support quicker.

Phone Support

Phone support is usually provided. However, you may find the ticketing system, live chat or email support better as any instructions will be written down and perhaps easier to follow.

Documentation & Tutorials

It is common for providers to have a section on their website offering simple to follow written and video tutorials. Again these tend to be produced with non-technical customers in mind, so don’t be afraid to dive in and take a look.

If there’s anything you don’t understand after going through the material, you can always follow it up with a live chat or email conversation. 

4.4.2 Ease of moving site from one host to another (migration)

Migration is the process of moving all files from one server to another. This will include all your website files, databases, email accounts and any other programs you have installed.

There could be any number of reasons why you may want to change your host provider, including cost or perhaps you are not happy with the customer service provided.

The hosting industry is very competitive, so if you are moving from one host to another, the new company you are moving too will usually offer you a free migration service.

Although migration is a simple process there will be a period of inconvenience involved in the move. It is possible that you will lose access to your files, including email, for a few hours. However, after the migration all files will be accessible to you again.

If possible order the migration at the weekend, or when you know you will be quiet.

 

Free migration service

 hosting a2   hosting godaddy   hosting krystal   hosting a2 
Startup Economy Amethyst Drive
YES  YES  YES  YES 

 

  

 

4.5 Extras

number of websites allowed, free domains, hiring help

 

4.5.1 Number of websites you can have on one platform

Some providers allow you to host more than one website on the same account.

This is useful if you have a couple of sites, or if you want to help out a friend and share the cost of hosting between you.

However, you will only have access to the cPanel of the primary account. So, if you are the one sharing the host platform, you will not have the same access to manage the environment as the person who owns the account.

 

Number of websites permitted on each account

 hosting a2   hosting godaddy   hosting krystal   hosting a2 
Startup Economy Amethyst Drive
1 2 UNLIMITED

 

 

4.5.2 Free domain names

None of the companies we have reviewed here offer a free domain name with the smaller plans, but many companies do.

However, my recommendation is always that you do not take this offer but instead invest the extra £6.47 it will cost you to purchase your domain name separately.

There are reasons for this recommendation, which are covered in a separate article, but the bottom line is, your domain name is too important to be registered in anyone else's name. Or for someone else to have control over.

You can register a .co.uk name for £6.47 from Name.com. When you renew in a year, the price will increase to £7.68.

If you do opt to register a name with the same company providing you with hosting services, be sure to check out the renewal cost. At the moment, August 2020, GoDaddy is offering domain registration for just £0.01 for the first year, which will increase to £11.99 to renew for the second!

 

4.5.3 Hiring tech support

Once you have set up your hosting, there really is no need to pay someone for tech support. The support teams from all the host companies are more than qualified to help you resolve any issues with the server.

If you hire someone to build a website for you then you may come to some arrangement to pay a monthly retainer, to manage your site and deal with any issues with the server, for you.

However, if you are looking to save money, rest assured, it is unlikely that any problem will come up on the server which you and the customer support team can not handle.

So if you are looking at the least expensive option possible; then build your website yourself with the available tools and get comfortable communicating with the support teams available to you.

 

Part 5:

Costs

A2 Hosting Vs GoDaddy Vs Krystal

 

As both A2 Hosting and GoDaddy offer deals for 12, 24 and 36 month plans, below you will find the initial cost over those periods for all three of the companies being reviewed here.

As SSL Certificates are such an important part of your platform, any costs for this feature have been included.

Please note, these prices are correct at time of publication, August 2020, but may change.

A2 Hosting - Startup - Editor's pick for pricing

I like A2 Hosting a lot.

The company has clear and detailed descriptions of what is included in all its plans, is very reasonably priced and has great reviews.

For sheer low cost, at £112 for 36 months, A2 Hosting Startup is the clear winner.

It has an impressive unlimited disk space allowance and a sufficient 25 email account allocation.

The only thing I would change is it’s backup service, as it offers only the basic manual backup provided by the Backup Wizard in cPanel.

That being said, even adding on the DropMySite service as well, the pricing is still great. 

Sign up here (Affiliate)

hosting a2 Startup - 12, 24 & 36 month plans 
 Plan Duration 12 months 24 months 36 months
 Hosting £42.34 £75.25 £112.88
 Backup Manual Manual Manual
 SSL FREE FREE FREE
 Total £42.34 £75.25 £112.88
Highly recommended: Consider using the DropMySite service. Additional £24 per year.

 

A2 Hosting - Drive - Editor's pick for features 

A2 Hosting Drive is my overall favourite.

It has all the same features of the Startup plan, just more of them.

What I particularly like about the Drive plan is the backup service.

The service, called Server Rewind Backups, automatically backs up all your data and gives you control of the restoration of data through the control panel.

Although A2 Hosting Drive plan is slightly more expensive than Krystal’s Amethyst plan, below, it does provide many more resources and is an excellent choice for growing your site into the future.

Sign up here (Affiliate)

hosting a2 Drive - 12, 24 & 36 month plans
 Plan Duration 12 months 24 months 36 months
 Hosting £51.75 £94.09 £141.14
 Backup Automatic - FREE Automatic - FREE Automatic - FREE
 SSL FREE FREE FREE
 Total £51.75 £94.09 £141.14

 

Krystal - Amethyst

I have been using Krystal for my own sites and some of my clients sites, and have never had reason to fault them.

I like their no nonsense pricing structure, it’s just £39.99 per year, every year.

The Krystal site clearly states what each plan includes and there’s no confusion over what is and is not available.

I’ve had personal experience from using the live chat customer service feature and have always had my questions answered thoroughly.

When it comes to backups, I like the fact that Krystal does provide a regular backup service. And my personal experience of this service has been positive.

The main problem with Amethyst is the low disk space. 5GB really is a tiny allocation.  However, if you're looking for the absolute cheapest for a starter site that requires very little space, then this is probably your best option.

Sign up here

hosting krystal

 Amethyst - Only 12 month plan available
 Plan Duration 12 months 2nd x 12 months 3rd x 12 months
 Hosting £39.99 £39.99 £39.99
 Backup Automatic - FREE Automatic - FREE Automatic - FREE
 SSL FREE FREE FREE
 Total (paid annually) £39.99 x2 = £79.98 x3 = £119.97
Consider using the DropMySite service. Additional £24 per year.

 

GoDaddy - Economy Plan

GoDaddy is my least favourite not just of the other companies I've reviewed here, but of every company I looked at for this guide. I only included GoDaddy in this guide because it is so popular.

So, why is it so popular?

According to a SalesForce study, 42% of business owners take technical advise from friends and family. And, as GoDaddy spends a fortune on advertising itself as the best option for small business, it’s a recognised name.

However, I can not recommend their service.

I find their practice of ‘hiding’ features, like free email and SSL certificates, which are offered as standards by most companies, to be deceitful.

It gains a point for providing the option to add the DropMySite service when you order, but that’s it.

GoDaddy promotes its services to small business owners without any experience in web hosting. But do not be fooled, the company is not your friend.

It’s marketing tactics are a 20th century throw-back, and today we all expect, and deserve, better.

A summary of their pricing below includes the add-on of a SSL certificate, because having one is important and every other service let's you know upfront, that the free Lets Encrypt SSL certificates are available, free. Of course, it may be the case that GoDaddy also offer this feature, but as they are not upfront about this in their marketing material, I can not be sure.

Review their plans here

hosting godaddy Economy - 12, 24 & 36 month plans
 Plan Duration 12 months  24 months  36 months
 Hosting (year/month) £59.88
£107.76
£143.64
 Backup MANUAL MANUAL MANUAL
 SSL £59.99 x2 = £119.98 x3 = £179.97
 Total £119.87 £227.74 £323.61
Highly recommended: 
Add Backup
£23.88  £47.76  £71.64 

 

Conclusion

What this guide has given you is an overview of hosting technology sufficient for you to make an informed choice about your hosting platform and save potentially hundreds of pounds in annual fees.

The technology behind hosting is capable of much more than we have covered here but as a small website, just starting out, the guide has covered the key points.

It is unlikely that you will need to ever use the full extent of what is possible on each of these platforms, but each can handle anything, from the simplest to the most complex.

 
Josette Dehaney

Josette Dehaney is a freelance technology writer with nearly 30 years experience working with non-technical individuals and organisations of all sizes, who want to get the most out of Web technology. As the founder of WorkingTheWeb.co.uk, Jo writes tutorials, long-form blogs, features, white papers and visual content designed for absolute beginners.

https://josettedehaney.co.uk

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