What’s a website host and why should I care?


As average internet users, most of us probably don’t think about what happens behind the scenes of the websites that we visit on a daily basis. Isn’t that why we have IT departments and nerdy friends? But as technology expands, so does its influence on our day-to-day lives.

Personal websites, blogs, and digital resumes are becoming increasingly popular. For small and large business owners, your website is often the first touchpoint with potential clients. In 2016, the number of internet users grew to 286 million – a whopping 88.5% of the U.S. population!1 Knowing how your website works and how users interact with your site is more important than ever, and we’re here to help with a series of blogs on our recommended Digital Best Practices.

In this first part of our digital best practices blog series, we’re talking about website hosting. Simply put, a website host is where your website lives and where your website files are stored. Website hosting companies have large banks of computers that are available for you to rent space on to store your website’s files, allowing users from all over the world to view your content. In terms of security and overall website performance, your website host plays an important part in determining the success (or failure) of your site. In fact, an astounding 40% of people will abandon a site that takes more than 3 seconds to load.2 So if your website host takes an average of 1 second to respond to requests, that’s 33% of your ideal page load time taken up just by your web host! (We shoot for 300ms or less server response time, fyi.)

In addition to overall website speed, the most important role that your website host plays is that of security. Regardless of what data your website handles, it’s imperative that you protect your company’s information and your customer’s information. Security starts and ends with your hosting environment. We recommend a 3-step security approach, and Step 1 is choosing the appropriate host. Stay tuned for Step 2 & 3 as our Digital Best Practices series continues with upcoming blogs and additional recommendations for your digital spaces.

So how do you choose a good host? When we recommend a website host, the features and requirements that we evaluate are:

  1. Attack monitoring and prevention – The question is not if your website will be attacked, but rather when. Attacked doesn’t and shouldn’t mean compromised, but a surprising 52% of web traffic is comprised of bot activity. Over half of that bot traffic is malicious, and many will attempt to access your site’s root files and settings.3 Your host should have active monitoring and attack prevention.

  2. Proactive security monitoring and patching – The battle against bots and hackers is a constant one, and new holes and vulnerabilities are found every day. Regular and prompt maintenance and patching to secure against known vulnerabilities is a vital part of a robust security program. Look especially for hosts that provide support for ‘Zero Day vulnerabilities’

  3. Up-to-date server software – New server software is released constantly. From the web server applications (like Apache and NGINX), to the core code frameworks that your server is running (like PHP or Ruby), having the latest, supported versions of these applications is vital to web security.

  4. Problem and server isolation – Web hosting often offers options for either “shared” or “dedicated” server options. If you choose a shared server, that means your website will be stored on the same server as other websites. This means that if another website on your server is compromised, there’s a chance that your website could be compromised as well. A reliable host should have protocols relating to isolating specific problem websites and servers, so that your website won’t be affected by your shared server digital neighbors.

  5. Server reliability/uptime – Uptime is the amount of time a web server is up and interacting correctly with the internet. Ask your website host for their uptime figure. No host is perfect, and some downtime is expected for regular maintenance and security updates, but we recommend that this figure be over 99.5%. Any less and we strongly recommend finding another host.

  6. Server upgrade options – You can start your website with a shared server, but if your site experiences a spike in traffic, you may want to consider upgrading to a dedicated server. Your hosting provider should inform you when an upgrade is necessary due to your traffic.

  7. “Managed WordPress hosts” – WordPress is one of the most popular content management system frameworks used for websites. Using a managed WordPress host can make the installation process of your WordPress website easier. In this case, the best way to find a good host for your needs is simply to read reviews online. We use WPEngine – one of the best hosts we’ve found for managing our WordPress installations, with reliable and cheerful customer support

  8. Dedicated IP option – A dedicated IP option is necessary for ecommerce sites to function correctly, so be sure to do some extra digging if you’re researching for an ecommerce site.

  9. Easy to use web interface/cPanel – cPanel is the backend that your developer will use to manage your WordPress database settings and more technical features, such as FTP, DNS and CDN settings and you will want to work with your developer to make sure you choose an option with a cPanel that fits their preferences.

  10. Regular site backups, easy restore – Regular backups are not necessary, but we highly recommend daily backups and an environment that allows you to easily revert to a previous backup should something go wrong with your website such as a CSS/editing malfunction, problems during the update process, or a malicious intrusion. An easy reversion process can turn a 2-week website fix into a simple 5-minute button click. This is one of the easiest ways to get on your web developer’s good side.

  11. Staging/Live site – Some web hosts provide a staging site that will mirror your live site and provide an environment for you to securely edit and test your website without risking the integrity and functionality of your live website.

  12. Great customer support/tech support options – A 24/7 helpline or live chat availability with the hosting provider can be a make or break during website emergencies. For managed WordPress hosts, certified WordPress experts available regularly to assist with customer issues are a must.

If you’re new to website hosting and website technology in general, there’s a good chance your head is spinning by now. It’s a complicated subject, and grows more complex as the technology continues to develop, and choosing a host is only the first step in securing and enhancing your website.

The good news is that you don’t have to worry about it alone. Don’t have nerdy friends or an IT department you can ask more about this? We have a couple on staff and a team of digital professionals who are passionate about digital security. To learn about steps 2 and 3 of our recommended security approach, check back frequently for more in our Digital Best Practices blog series.

Call To Action: Looking to develop a new website? Contact Us to get a more individualized assessment, call us at 972.488.1660.

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1. http://www.internetlivestats.com/internet-users/us/
2. https://blog.kissmetrics.com/loading-time/
3. https://www.incapsula.com/blog/bot-traffic-report-2016.html