Should I host my own website?
Getting your site up and running on a web server
There are billions of websites, including countless corporate websites. A company website is often the first point of contact with a customer. Now small businesses around the world are going online, if they aren’t online already. Getting your website live is a regular part of starting a company these days. This comes with decisions to make: what does the site need? How can it be designed and built? How is it going to be hosted? These questions are universal; it doesn’t matter if you're planning your very first website or a redesign/upgrade of an existing site, you'll still face similar questions.
As you surely know, the nature of a website can vary widely: It starts with very simple landing pages with basic contact information, to business blogs and ends with fully-fledged applications such as online shops, catalogs or systems to manage whole business processes. This article aims at giving you a rough idea of how to assess what is required to host your new website, how to find suitable hosting services and the right technical-minded contractors to get the job done. Before we dive into hosting, let’s discuss the question: do you actually need a website or does a Facebook page do the same job?
Should I just use a Facebook page instead of a website?
You might want to take a shortcut to avoid the work involved in getting a website built and hosted by just getting a Facebook Page. But there are a few things which aren’t in favor of this idea.
While a Facebook Page gives you a lot of control over the page itself and its functionality, it doesn’t give you the two key controls: actual control over the content and an option to directly connect with visitors. Facebook reserves the right to remove content and limit its exposure on Facebook. Updates posted on a Facebook page aren’t automatically shown to all people liking or following it. Quite the opposite: Organic reach continues to decline, leaving your results slim. You can boost these, if you are willing to pay Facebook for it. Reaching your users directly in a way a newsletter would do is not possible. Leaving you only with the paid option.
Can I have a small website without a web server?
Thanks to modern hosting services such as Netlify, there is a good chance you actually can. Netlify runs servers you can use for free for smaller websites. The service is specialized to run so-called static websites. Static websites are websites without any dynamical functionality such as forms, login areas, etc. If your website doesn’t run older web-software such as WordPress, you are a good candidate for the service.
If you have just hired a freelance web designer or developer to get a new website developed, ensure you are getting a modern static website from the get-go. If your developer or designer suggests WordPress, it might be because they haven’t built a static website before. A friendly signpost to 11ty or Nuxt can help. Both are great to start new sites and upgrade existing sites to, are battle-proven and work well on Netlify out-of-the-box. For content management, Netlify has a free solution too: Netlify CMS. It’s easily integrated with the prior mentioned static site frameworks.
What if your website needs more than static hosting? If you are building a website with dynamic features such as a search, catalog or built-in shop you need something more powerful. Read on to learn what it takes to get it online.
What web server do I need for a small business website?
If your website requires a login section, complex search or other dynamic features like a catalog system, you probably want to make your life easier and stick to a more traditional website. Your web developer can help to make a decision as he or she knows what the exact requirements are. Usually, the developer is also able to assist with setup, a topic we discuss further on.
If you are starting your project from scratch, it is advisable to pick a technology which is broadly supported to avoid depending on one developer or team too much. Laravel is a great choice for this as it is by far the most popular backend framework on the market. If your website is more a content style of site, SilverStripe comes with a guarantee by the New Zealand government to keep the software secure and provides various hosting options. In a world with increasing cybersecurity threats, it’s an underestimated advantage. For either one, you can hire a software engineer easily.
Should I physically build and operate my own web server? Can’t I just host my website from my computer?
While a web server is technically “just” another computer, there are plenty of good reasons you still don’t want to take care of the actual physical server and instead rent a machine from an established provider. The key points to consider are:
- Internet connection: Even if you’ve got a great internet connection for surfing. Usually upload is much slower than download. You most likely also don’t have a secondary option to access the internet. Meaning, if your internet connection is interrupted, your website will be offline.
- Hardware: Consumer hardware isn’t made for servers. Server hardware is designed to run for years on end without any interruptions. Redundancies are planned and built in. Even premium consumer hardware doesn’t meet this need and frequently fails much earlier. Buying server hardware will set you back much more than a regular desktop computer. Adding the costs of power and Internet connection and traffic in, you won’t save anything and will have a lot of additional headaches.
- Costs: As mentioned above, hosting of a simple website comes at almost no cost. The costs of electricity alone are higher than a hosting package will set you back each month, not to mention hardware costs mentioned in the previous point.
- System: Most users use Windows, which is optimized for desktop computers. Most web servers run some form of Unix or Linux. Exposing a Windows computer openly to the Internet comes at high risks. Linux is built as a system in a network, Windows isn’t. Also: If you are hosting your website on your desktop, anyone attacking your website is also attacking your desktop computer.
The use-cases for own physical servers are limited to high-security needs and large-scale operations such as Google, Facebook and co. Most likely, your business will never need its own physical servers. On the other hand, renting servers from large hosting companies is very common and usually the way to go. Continue to learn where to rent such a server.
Where do I get a web server for my small business website?
As stressed above, in almost all cases you want to “rent” a server from a company instead of physically maintaining it yourself. The advantages of renting over buying are very clear.
There are usually different tiers you can choose from. Here a quick overview to make sure you get what you want:
- Shared hosting is the cheapest option and usually the least desirable. You share a server with other websites and applications, without dedicated resources. Meaning, if another website on the server is very busy, your website gets slower. While the price is lower, risk is inherently higher and the service quality lower.
- A Virtual Private Servers (VPS) is a virtual server running on a larger server. This virtual machine has its own dedicated resources. If another website on the physical server gets a lot of traffic, this has no effect on your website as you’ve got your resources guaranteed.
- A bare-metal server is an actual physical server in a data center completely for yourself. You have 100% control over the physical server and access to all resources at any point in time. Naturally, this is the priciest option on the market.
For a small business, you're usually looking at a VPS. It provides the best balance of power vs. costs. You get a solid dedicated environment for your websites starting from less than $10 USD per month.
A company striking a good balance between technical focus, good customer support and user-friendliness is Digital Ocean. You get solid VPS without any headaches at a very moderate pricing point. That leaves one question: How do I set up my new web server?
How do I set up a web server?
As most virtual private servers (VPS) are intended to be used as web servers, you can assume that the majority of the software required to use it as such is installed. It will come at least with MySQL for databases and nginx or Apache2 as web-server software. These need to be configured further to respond to requests with your new website.
Sometimes your VPS might even come with a “one-click install” process for commonly used web software. With this, you will only get your developer to upload the custom part of your site (theme) or rely on existing modules you install via the admin panels. This is the simplest path and might fulfill your needs. A conversation with your developer can confirm this.
If no such “one-click install” is available, it gets a little more complicated. You probably want to discuss the setup with your web-developer or your hosting company. Both should be able to set up the website or at least point you in the right direction. If your developer hasn’t got much experience with Nginx, nginxconfig.io does most of the heavy lifting and can help get the job done.
If none of the options leads to success and you haven’t got any experience yourself, you can always hire a freelance devops engineer for the extra peace of mind. This allows you to ensure your VPS is configured and secured correctly at a low one-time cost.
Hosting your own website might sound daunting at first. But the steps described above are easily completed without too much stress. For a small business, the simplest way is to consult their web developer and include the setup and configuration as part of the web development project. If you have a simple site that goes on Netlify, this will be less than one development hour of work. After this one-hour setup, hosting itself comes for free and you will only need to pay for the domain name itself.