7 Evaluating Hosting Options

Mary Ton

So you’ve created a website with a content management system. How do you make it accessible to people with an internet connection? In this section, we’ll talk about web hosting services– what they are, and what kinds of things you should take into consideration when evaluating options.

What is a host?

A web hosting service supplies the infrastructure to create and maintain a website. This typically includes a server to host the files that drive the website and a web server that distributes those files to readers. Hosting services are provided by a range of organizations– some universities offer hosting services to students and faculty for free, but the most common type of hosting service is purchased from a business.

In addition to a host, you will also need a domain name, which is a unique string of numbers and letters that serves as the address for your site. These typically end with .com, .org, or .net. Many hosting services offer you the option to purchase your domain name as an additional service, but there are also domain name registrars that enable you to buy a domain name separately. If you know what domain name you would like to use, but are not yet ready to publish a website, it may be strategic to purchase the domain name to make sure that no one else creates a site with that name.

Define needs

Having a clear sense of who your website is for, what purpose it serves, and how much you want to invest in the website will help you prioritize features that you want in a web hosting service. Other sections of this textbook go into greater detail about how to define your audience and what the purpose of your website will be, but let’s recap key questions that you will need to answer about your site in order to evaluate hosting options:

  • Who is your audience?
    • What kinds of content are they looking for?
    • Where will they be looking for relevant content?
    • What are their expectations regarding the design and the functionality of the website?
  • What do you need your website to do?
    • Provide information?
    • Function like a digital storefront?
    • Showcase your professional portfolio?
  • How long do you need for the website to function?
    • Short-term class project?
    • Long-term website for a business?
    • Experiment that could be short or long term?
  • How much time, effort, and money do you want to invest in creating and maintaining a website?
    • What kind of content management system do you want to use?
    • To what extent do you want to customize the look and feel of your site?
    • How much do you have budgeted for yearly hosting?

Things to consider

With your website’s audience and content in mind, let’s look at the most important features of a web hosting service.


How much does this hosting service cost per month? Per year?

If you…

  • Are planning to maintain the website for a limited amount of time (say for a class project),
  • Can create a free website through your university,
  • Are comfortable with limited opportunities for customization, or
  • Don’t mind ads

…then you may want to consider free hosting options through your university or through sites like WordPress. Typically, free sites limit the degree to which authors can customize their sites in order to make the sites easier to maintain. Additionally, the domain names for these sites tend to include the host in the address (e.g. yournamehere.illinois.edu or mywebsite.wordpress.com). Finally, to offset the cost of hosting, some services display advertisements on your site. – Rremoving these ads often requires a paid subscription.

If you…

  • Need the website regardless of institutional affiliation
  • Want a custom domain name
  • Need lots of storage for large media files
  • Prefer to use a proprietary content management system (like Squarespace or Adobe Portfolio), or
  • Don’t want third-party ads,

…then you will need to invest in a commercial hosting service. These tend to give you greater control over the content of the site as well as expanded options to tailor the site to your needs. Services like Adobe Portfolio or digital shopfronts like Etsy have the added benefit of a well-established audience. Sites like these attract specific types of visitors, which in turn can help you connect with your target audience.

Technical support

Say you prefer to use a CMS like WordPress– some hosting services make it easy to install a CMS and often automatically update CMS software as part of their support package. As you evaluate hosts, take a look at the kinds of platforms and file sharing options that they provide.

Keep in mind that hosting services with proprietary CMS like Squarespace have limited support for moving your site and its content to a different server. Choosing an open-source CMS like WordPress makes your site more portable should you choose to move your site.

Degree of personalization

If personal branding is important to you and your site, you will need a hosting service that offers you the option to customize your domain name and your site.