What is web hosting? The ultimate beginner’s guide [updated]

Get to grips with hosting

UPDATE: This article on what is web hosting was first published on 19 December 2017 and updated on 23 September 2022.

Want to launch a website but don’t know where to begin? You’re not alone. Getting to grips with the ins and outs of launching a site can be confusing for anyone.

If you’re new to the whole process, one of the most complicated parts is web hosting. With so many packages to choose from, it can be confusing. Should you go with shared hosting? Do I need a dedicated server? And what is a VPS?

In this guide, we’ll go through the basics of hosting to help you understand what you need to get your website online.

So what is web hosting anyway?

We take it for granted that websites are just there, waiting for us to visit and interact with them. We may not even think about all the processes involved in making a website appear in our browser.

But of course, all the files that make up a website have to exist somewhere, and that somewhere is a web server.

Think of a web server as a computer that is always on and always connected to the internet. Websites are stored, or hosted, on these servers. Hence, web hosting.

Think of a web server as a computer that is always on and always connected to the internet.

Now if you wanted to, you could go out and build your own web server and use it to store your website. But unless you’re a very large business,Web hosting text blue background on laptop doing this would be expensive and inefficient.

That’s why web hosting companies like GoDaddy exist. We have a huge number of servers in our data centres, and we sell web hosting services that allow businesses and individuals to host their websites with us.

Of course, not all businesses are the same, so we offer a range of hosting packages to suit the needs and budget of everyone from individuals looking to build a basic site, to large companies expecting thousands of website visitors a day.

Let’s look at those packages and what they mean.

How much does UK website hosting cost?

Since the cost of web hosting varies between each provider, there isn’t a set price for each option.

As a general rule, Shared and Cloud Hosting are typically the cheapest options, while Dedicated Hosting is the most expensive, due to the nature of these services.

Shared Hosting VPS Hosting Dedicated Hosting Managed WordPress Hosting Cloud Hosting Reseller Hosting
GoDaddy £3.99 – £9.99 per month*** £3.99 – £54.99 per month*** £109.99 – £349.99 per month** £4.99 – £15.99 per month* n/a £75.99 – £125.99 per year
IONOS £2 – £11/month for 6 months £1 – £12/month for 6 months £50 – £100/month for 3 months £1 – £9/month for 12 months £5 – £360/month n/a
HostGator $2.75 – $5.25 per month*** $23.95 – $59.95 per month* $89.98 – $139.99 per month*** $5.95 – $9.95 per month*** $4.95 – $9.95 per month*** $19.95 – $24.95 per month***
Namecheap £1.86 – £4.25 per month* £5.87 – £21.22 per month* $48.88 – $242.88 per month £4.16 – £11.84 per month n/a £16.96 – £50.22 per month
*Annual purchase required. ** 2-year plan. Annual purchase required. ***3-year plan. Annual purchase required. Please note: prices exclude VAT.

Free VS paid website hosting

Some providers advertise free hosting — but, as with anything free, there’s always a catch. While the prospect of free web hosting may sound enticing, this service comes with restrictions that could end up costing you in the long run.

Here are some examples of how free and paid web hosting differ:

  • Customer support
    If you’re having issues with your free hosting plan, you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who’ll resolve your issue promptly. Most paid hosting providers, however, will offer a selection of contact options, with some like GoDaddy even providing 24/7 support.
  • Storage space
    The amount of storage space that you’ll receive with a free hosting plan won’t come anywhere near that of a paid hosting plan, which, depending on your chosen plan, could be unlimited.
  • Domain name
    With free hosting, your domain will usually include your provider’s name. Not only does this look messy, it does you no favours with search engines. With paid hosting, your domain can state anything you want.
  • Bandwidth
    Few free hosting providers will offer unlimited bandwidth, which may result in slower loading times for your website. Most people won’t wait more than a few seconds for a site to load before clicking away.
  • Reliability
    Paid hosting plans will often boast uptimes of up to 99.9%. Some providers may even offer refunds, should you experience any site downtime.
  • Security
    Paid hosting plans will provide greater protection against hackers and viruses.
  • Advertising
    Some free web hosting providers will include adverts on your website. Very few, if any, paid hosting providers will do this.

You can scroll through customer reviews of free hosting on Trustpilot here.

How does web hosting work?

When you sign up with a hosting provider, you’re essentially hiring a plot of server space to store all your website’s files.

Your hosting provider will make sure that your website runs smoothly and stays online at all times.

This includes:

  • Keeping page loading speeds to a minimum
  • Protecting your site from malicious threats like hackers and malware

Should your server fail or any of your files be lost, chances are your provider will have a recent backup that you can restore.

Now that we know the basics of web hosting and how it works, let’s go into more detail about the different types of hosting.

Types of website hosting

While web hosting is often used as a blanket term for publishing a website, there are several types of hosting that you can choose from. Here’s a brief overview of the most popular options.

Shared Hosting

With this option, you will be sharing a server, and its resources, with multiple other users. Shared hosting is typically the most affordable and easy-to-use option available, making it a popular choice for personal websites, small businesses or anyone with a limited budget.

This is a good place to start if you’re just launching a business.

However, if one website uses an unnecessary amount of resources — has a sudden large spike in traffic, say — other sites on that server may be affected.

VPS Hosting

Much like Shared Hosting, Virtual Private Servers (VPS) host multiple websites within a single server. Where they differ is that with VPS hosting, each user receives their own environment with dedicated resources, which can be scaled up or down based on their needs.

High-traffic ecommerce sites or those that store many large files (e.g., photography) use VPS.

Although this option is more expensive than Shared Hosting, it does offer a scalable solution that can help you grow your business. Since you won’t be sharing resources with other users, the risk of your website being affected by the poor performance of other sites is also reduced.

Dedicated Hosting

With Dedicated hosting, you’ll have your own server and won’t be sharing resources with anyone else. This means your website will enjoy the highest level of performance, greater security measures and maximum uptime, making it a perfect choice for businesses that offer resource-heavy services like media streaming, online gaming or communications.

However, this does mean that you’ll need some technical know-how, not to mention a bigger budget, since you’ll be configuring the server and paying for all the costs yourself.

Managed WordPress Hosting

Prefer using a WordPress website? Then you’ll love Managed WordPress hosting!

WordPress Themes WordPress LogoThe popularity of WordPress stems from the fact that it’s so customizable. GoDaddy’s WordPress hosting offers an excellent starting point for less-techy users, thanks to its incredibly simple set-up wizard.

Due to its managed nature, updates, backups and security patches will automatically be taken care of for you.

Furthermore, with its extensive library of free plugins at your disposal, you can build upon your website, with no coding skills or complicated installation procedures required. You’ll also receive a staging site, where you can test any new features before publishing them to the world.

Cloud Hosting

While every other hosting option involves storing your files on a physical server, Cloud Hosting allows you to publish your website in the cloud.

Since your website will be hosted on a collection of servers, rather than a single one, this will ensure that it will remain online should any one of them fail.

Furthermore, you can scale the resources that your website needs, such as CPU, memory and storage, up or down. That way, you won’t be stretching the server’s resource limit or paying too much for resources that you don’t end up using.

However, there are inherent security risks with having your data being shared across multiple servers. Furthermore, access to your data does depend on the quality of the internet connection. If your provider experiences any disruptions, this will result in an outage of your website.

Reseller Hosting

If you’re looking to set up your own hosting business, then Reseller Hosting is a superb starting place.

As part of this service, you will rent server space from a hosting provider that you then sell to your own clients.

You can also create custom packages based on the resources of your chosen provider, allowing you to earn an income from this service. You won’t need to worry about performing tasks like server maintenance or security either since your provider will take care of all this for you.

However, this dependency does mean that should your provider experience any outages, you will too. Furthermore, you’ll still need to have an intricate knowledge of hosting, since your provider won’t be able to assist with any issues your customers are experiencing.

Note: GoDaddy’s Reseller Hosting offers English-only help to all their resellers’ customers around the clock, every day of the year.

How to choose a web host?

Now that we know how to differentiate between each type of hosting, it’s time to work out where to buy your perfect plan from.

Finding the right hosting provider is just as, if not more, important than finding the right hosting plan. While some providers may have a cheaper offering, others may offer greater benefits with their services, like more storage and free products.

The hosting features that matter

Here are a few topics to consider when deciding which hosting provider to use:

  • Customer support
    If you’re experiencing any technical issues, being able to contact support for help can be a huge boon. While most providers will provide some form of assistance, identify what their main channels are (i.e. telephone, live chat, ticket) and whether they offer 24/7 support.
  • Storage space
    The more storage you have at your disposal, the more content you can include on your website. Try to find out how much space you need for all your assets and then base your decision on that amount.
  • Free domain/email address
    Some providers include a free domain name and/or email address when you purchase one of their hosting packages. That way, you can set up a seamlessly professional online identity for your business straight away.
  • Bandwidth
    Some providers place a cap on the amount of traffic you can receive or will charge you extra for going beyond their set threshold. Try to find out whether your provider has any limits on bandwidth usage.
  • Reliability
    If a visitor can’t access your website, they’ll just move on to the next site. Check if your provider boasts any statistics on their server uptime.
  • Security
    Cybersecurity is an incredibly important aspect of any website. After all, the last thing you want is for a virus or data breach to undermine all your hard work. Check whether your provider performs regular security scans to ensure the integrity of their platforms.

The connection between a domain name and website hosting

Every website on the Internet, no matter how big or small must have a domain name and web hosting. The easiest way to describe the connection between the two is by imagining that your website is a house.

The domain name is the street address and the web hosting is the land it’s built upon.

Domain ExtensionsIf you have a domain name but no hosting, you’ll be telling visitors where to go but there won’t be anything to see once they get there. Conversely, if you have hosting but no domain name, you have no way of telling anyone how to view your content.

However, your website is likely to be one of many on a server. So how does it know to display your website, instead of your neighbour’s?

When the server receives the DNS request, it gets parsed through a Web Server application, which knows which domain names have websites on the server and where their files are.

If the domain name has a website on the server, the Web Server application gives the files to the computer requesting them, allowing them to view and access your website.

However, if a request comes through for a domain name that’s not on the server, the Web Server application returns a 404 error, which means the website can’t be found at this location.


While there’s still a lot more to learn about web hosting, such as FTP users and directory permissions, you should now have a basic understanding that will help you make an informed decision.

Ultimately, the right hosting plan and provider for your website will depend on your specific needs. However, by conducting research and assessing your available resources, you’re bound to find a plan that can meet both your operational plans and budgets.

If you’re still struggling to find a suitable option, then why not take a look at GoDaddy – the world’s #1 web host!