Are you looking for a hosting provider for your tech company's website only to be lost in a sea of funky brand names such as DigitalOcean, Bluehost and HostGator? There are so many options out there and the right choice depends on your site’s specific needs. So how’s a marketer narrow down the contenders?
Well, first off, a few content management systems (CMSs) require you to host on their servers. That would be platforms such as HubSpot, Wix and Squarespace. Hosting is included and you aren’t able to transfer your website to another host. You’re locked in with the vendor and you have to stay put. So, your quest is over!
However, if you have a website that requires hosting, such as WordPress, you’re just getting started. With 72% of tech companies using WordPress as their CMS of choice, chances are you need to keep reading to find out if you should self-host or host externally, sign up for shared hosting or dedicated and find out if managed hosting is right for you.
Should you self-host your tech website or use an outside platform?
First things first: where would you like your website to live? If you have servers on-premise or currently rent space in a data center you could host your website yourself. Some tech companies can manage this and some can't. Just because you have a server available to you doesn't necessarily mean that your website should reside there.
The advantages of self-hosting
There are a few immediate advantages to self-hosting your website (aka running your own website by setting up a server and network yourself). The most obvious perk is that you have full control over your data without having to rely on a vendor.
The amount of flexibility is also advantageous. There are no restrictions on the amount of data you can upload. Want to run your own software or plugin that a big host doesn't support? Cool. Want to scale up to a monster server? Done.
You can customize your environment at a very low cost to the business. And since you're already paying for servers and their maintenance, on a month-to-month basis it's "free."
(We're using air quotes around free because, in reality, you have to account for electricity, salary for people maintaining the server, etc.)
The potential pitfalls of self-hosting
What happens if there's a problem with your website server at 2 a.m.? Do you have support staff monitoring it 24/7 who can fix everything before the start of the next business day? How much will that cost in overtime? If you self-host, all of that stress (and related costs) will be your responsibility; if you use a third-party, server issues will be monitored and fixed according to whatever hosting agreement you've signed.
Since you're hosting the site yourself, you need to make sure you are doing your technical due diligence on that server and that includes mission-critical services like backups. Whether you're backing up to tape or a cloud service, your site and data must be backed up because things will fail. Drives, power supplies and so on can lead to data loss and that can impact your business's bottom line. Better yet, save onsite and offsite backups.
This leads us to security. There are potential threats everywhere itching for a weak spot in your defenses. Hosting your website on your own servers opens you up to even more attacks. And if a hacker enters through your website, chances are you're going to have a tangled mess to fix once the issue has been found. If your company doesn't completely understand web servers, they should either gain the knowledge to be able to host your website safely or consult a third-party expert.
If you’re not comfortable hosting your website on your own servers—or don’t have servers available to you—external website hosting is the way to go!
Do you just need external hosting or also managed services?
If you fail to read the fine print in your website hosting contract, you might assume that the hosting provider will be making all necessary security- and performance-related updates to your website and server…and you might very well be wrong.
When you don't need managed hosting
External hosting is simply paying an outside company to "host" your website data on their servers. Most of the low-budget options (think GoDaddy) are pretty hands-off—aka "unmanaged"—when it comes to maintaining your site. If you have experienced staff that are able to look after your website on the vendor’s servers, this ends up being a very affordable option; you’re basically borrowing their hardware and infrastructure, but all of the maintenance is done by your team.
When you should consider managed hosting
If you don’t have a dedicated web administrator or have limited technical knowledge, a managed plan is your best option. Managed hosting providers (think WPEngine) proactively monitor your site and provide support to ensure nothing goes wrong. This includes automatic software and security updates, automated backups, proactive security and more. According to popular belief, these services are not automatically included with all hosting packages so check the details!
Should you use a shared or dedicated server?
Shared website servers are definitely cheaper…but if you're concerned about site speed, security and scalability, going with a dedicated server will be your better option.
Warnings about shared website hosting
If you're on a cheap hosting plan, you're going to be on a shared server; that means hundreds (if not thousands!) of other websites live in the same place. The reality of using a shared resource like this means there is only so much bandwidth to go around: clients who have shared hosting are at the mercy of the other websites on the same server. If another site on your server is getting a high amount of traffic, the resources are given to that website. This can mean a reduction in speed for your site, which affects everything from SEO to the user experience.
Shared servers also opens your site up to security risks. Compromised sites on the same server can affect the security of your site. Your company has limited access to the shared server so there's only so much you can do from your end to proactively safeguard your site.
Shared servers are also bad for scalability. If you plan to grow your website significantly in the future, you likely won't have the necessary infrastructure without a dedicated server.
P.S. Want to see how many other sites are on your shared server? Check out this list of resources to find out.)
What to know about dedicated hosting
Hosting on a dedicated server means you aren't sharing server space with any other websites. Obviously, this is more expensive because there's no one else to help you share the cost of the server, but you'll have amazing resources at your disposal. Bandwidth? There are a number of options out there! Space to grow? All yours! Security? Whatever you can handle! Dedicated servers offer reliability, scalability, security and the performance users want.
Is the price tag worth it? Heck, yes. Is it in your budget? Maybe not…but there could be another option.
What if you can't afford a dedicated server?
Scared off from shared hosting, but can't afford a dedicated server? There are a couple other options to consider: a semi-dedicated server or a VPS (virtual private server).
An overview of semi-dedicated servers
A semi-dedicated server is a shared physical server, but with significant limits on the number of sites per server. This gives your site the room and resources to maintain high-level functionality without the huge price tag of a dedicated server.
Note: there’s not an optimal number of sites to have on a single server as it mostly depends on the site traffic and memory requirements for each site. Your provider should plan out server space with some room for you to grow.
An overview of virtual private servers (VPS)
VPS stands for virtual private server, which is multi-tenant cloud hosting (think AWS and DigitalOcean). With added software, a single physical server can be broken up into virtual systems ready to host your website, cloud apps, etc. This option is a bit more expensive than semi-dedicated hosting, but it allows you to have more control and space.
While VPS hosting is new-ish, our recent report "Tech Marketing Survey Series: Websites in the Real World" found that 37% of tech companies use a VPS…and that number is skyrocketing for good reason. VPS melds the best of shared and dedicated hosting into one. Because these are virtual environments, your site is secluded and secure from others: no need to worry about your neighbors. VPS can quickly scale if you need more space and it’s still cost-effective because ultimately you’re still sharing the server.