Hosting can be an odd term for the uninitiated. If you refer back to the article on domains you might recall the metaphor of the postal service, and physical addresses. Your domain is like your physical postal address; your hosting is like your local post office. Everyone needs to be hosted, somehow.

When you buy a domain (eg. you buy “www.coke.com”) you then need someplace to keep it. Although in the physical world it would have an ERF # and a location that is more tangible, bear with me in the metaphor… For hosting, your website (a set of files, within folders – to put it simply) have to live somewhere, and so they live with your host. Imagine your one page website is about windmills and there are ten images, and four hundred words about your favourite five windmills. All that info sits on a hard drive at your “post office” (it would be on a server) and so when someone types in your address (the blahblahblah.co.za) they are taken to that set of files and folders, but obviously represented in PHP and CSS and HTML and Javascript (or whatever code you write the whole site in – I forgive you if you’re lost with this).

A host makes that whole technical, behind-the-scenes nonsense incredibly simple for you to understand and work with. They basically say (with giant, red buttons so it’s easy) “Click here for a domain and hosting at R50/month and we will handle it all for you”. Then you own the domain, they host your files on their server, and everything works perfectly. They usually throw in e-mail too (which requires another article to explain) and you’re good to go: you are visible online and can work on making your website so people see your services.

What you need to know is that a hard drive has capacity perhaps for 1,000 websites (or more, or less, depending) and they are all relying on the same hard drive, memory, and CPU – much like the computer you are using right now. That is what we called ‘shared hosting’ – as it is shared. This obviously means if 30,000 online troopers all happen to be on those websites (scattered about among them) their experience is limited to the performance of that server (hard drive, memory, CPU – to keep it simple). The hosts know this, and do their best to mitigate the issues and to their credit they do very well. However, you can actually have your very own server for basically the same price as sharing this server – it just takes some knowhow and work. And risk, I might add.

Is it worth it? Well, imagine your neighbour (in the physical world) has a thief come on their property, or starts a fire, or releases a super angry leopard – it will wreak havoc on their property, but if there is no protection between their property and yours, it can destroy yours as well (the property now being your website). There is software to stop this (a digital fencing of sorts) but none of it is perfect. So the solution: take things into your own hands. I did. I host my website on my very own server (one man can be an island after all), have it backed up daily, and split that backup across two continents (they’re on different servers). Yes, anything can be hacked, and it’s not full-proof, but it’s a lot better than sharing my website’s performance with 500 others.

And here is the catch: do you want a website that Google ranks highly? You need to outperform your competition on a dozen metrics. One of these metrics is how fast the site loads, and with a dedicated server (that you will now manage and run) you can easily achieve that. Best of all: it costs little to nothing extra.

Bonus tip: Stay tuned for the article on CDN’s and how they can also bolster your site’s performance. We primarily use Cloudflare and Fastly, yet there are other options, too.

Looking for a little more to read on this? Read this follow-on article about choosing hosting in South Africa.