Websites – Hosted v Self-Hosted

Website - Hosted or Self-Hosted?Understandably, in these technologically orientated days, the topic of websites frequently arises. It therefore merits some discussion. Undoubtedly, many readers will already have knowledge of the following nevertheless, as one of the aims for this website it to assist fellow authors, especially those new to the craft, the differences between facilities and services is worth highlighting.

What is a website?

‘A location on the internet that maintains one or more web pages.’ (Oxford English Dictionary)

‘A connected group of pages on the World Wide Web regarded as a single entity, usually maintained by one person or organisation and devoted to a single topic or several closely resulted topics.’ (Dictionary.com)

‘A set of pages of information on the internet about a particular subject, published by a single person or organisation.’ (Cambridge Dictionary)

‘A website is a set of data and information about a particular subject which is available on the internet.’ (Collins English Dictionary)

Website Hosting

No matter the type of, or purpose of, a website, a ‘web host’ or ‘web hosting service provider’ will have been engaged. These provide the technology and services that enable a website or web page to be built and to be viewed in the internet. This applies to both hosted and self-hosted websites as described below. All websites are stored (hosted) on servers (special computers designed for the purpose).

There are four principle types of hosting service: Website Builder; Shared Hosting; Dedicated Hosting; Collocated Hosting. These may be referred to by different names but essentially the facility is the same. There is also something called ‘Managed Hosting’ that will be discussed later.

For the sake of relevance, and to keep on topic, this discussion will now focus upon the differences, advantages and disadvantages of self-hosted or hosted websites.

For those who may be interested, resumes of the principle hosting types, referred to above, are provided at the end of this discussion.

Hosted Websites

A hosted website is one that utilises a readymade service such as WordPress, Blogger, etc. The user is limited to the facilities already in existence and provided to them. These are ideal for those new to website technology and those who do not have the technical skills or knowledge to build a site for themselves. The ‘web hosting service provider’ (WordPress, Blogger, etc.) provides a simple, easy to use, online system for the user to construct their website. They also host the website without the user having to undertake any additional work.

If the website address (URL (Uniform Resource Locator)) contains ‘wordpress.com’, ‘blogspot.com‘ or the name of another service used, the website is hosted. It is being operated under the name of the web hosting provider and in essence belongs to them.

Note: It is possible for a website not containing the providers’s name in the address to still be a ‘hosted’ website. This occurs where the user has obtained a unique domain name they have then requested be utilised. By having the provider name omitted the site appears more relevant and unique to visitors and users of the website. This is not in any way dishonest, it is just a means of trying to making the website stand out more.

Advantages
  • The provider is responsible for security; backups; functionality; and management of the website.
  • The provider supplies the software and building tools for the website to be constructed. This includes a selection, usually a wide selection, of readymade/ready formatted templates from which the user may select one that suits the aim and purpose for their website.
  • The user requires no technical or programming knowledge, understanding or expertise.
  • The user does not have to concern themselves unduly when there is a system failure. The provider is responsible for troubleshooting any problems.
  • Hosted websites are frequently free to use or are available for a minimum monthly fee.
Disadvantages
  • The user does not own or have any control over how the website actually works.
  • The functions available are limited and may be changed at any time. Often without notice.
  • The domain site under which the website is operating (WordPress, Blogger, etc.) may be taken down at any time. Unlikely, though not impossible, with the large ones but could easily occur with smaller companies. The user has no recourse should this happen. In this instance it is probable all their website files will be lost.
  • Additional applications or functionality, usually referred to as ‘plugins’ cannot be added. They are restricted to those the provider has enabled and/or are comprised within the chosen template.
Self-Hosted Websites

Though a ‘web hosting provider’ is still used, primarily for the purpose of having the website hosted on a server, the website is owned by the user. The website address will be unique; the user will have obtained their own domain name.

Advantages
  • The website owner has full control over design: Fonts; Colours; Template; Style; etc. They are able to make it truly unique. Uniqueness helps a website to stand out amidst the millions now in existence.
  • Any desired plugin (application or extended functionality) may be added.
  • Analytical tools, to determine and understand website traffic and audience, may be incorporated.
  • Enables, for those who wish to sell products (books) direct from the website, robust advertising and selling tools e.g. credit card detail capture and individual landing pages.
  • Easier incorporation of e-mail newsletter signup.
  • Freedom for the owner to do what they wish, when they wish.
Disadvantages
  • Security: The owner has complete responsibility. They need to have taken appropriate steps to include security software.
  • Backup: The owner is responsible for doing. Required to cover if the website crashes, is hacked or there is a problematic update.
  • Management: If it goes down, for any reason, the website owner will have to sort out the problem, whether caused by a bug or something else.
  • Cost: Monthly host fees; employment of a programmer (either for design or to sort a problem); paid plugins (some are free but many are not); etc. There are estimates of $6,000 per annum to maintain a fairly straight forward website. Of course, the cost could be more or less depending upon what is being done.
Managed Hosting
  • For those who do not consider a ‘hosted’ website will meet their requirements but do not have the knowledge or experience to ‘self-host’ there is the option to find a company that provides ‘managed hosting’.
  • The user will have the advantages of a self-hosted site but without the worry of having to deal with: security; management; backup; function; troubleshooting; etc. themselves. The only thing to ensure is the company provides high level, readily accessible, support.
  • Naturally, there will be a monthly fee, though, it is not always extortionate. The website owner should carefully search for an appropriate company that will meet their requirements and for whom they are able to locate some reliable recommendations and/or genuine reviews.
Conclusion

Prior to deciding upon the type of hosting required, a user needs to consider to what use their website will be put. Do they simply want to share with others? Are they just looking for a place to show off their writing or knowledge? Do they wish to sell from it;?Will they have a high volume of visitors? Do they need in-depth analytics of activity and audience? Does their activity (e.g. publishing books) provide their main income? etc.

Most will recommend a self-hosted website, primarily because of the control the user has over it. However, for many authors, at least in the earlier stages of their career, a hosted website may be sufficient. It has the advantage of allowing them to become accustomed to running a website and to see what they may or may not achieve through it. These usually also has the advantage of being free.

Self-hosted websites carry a lot of responsibility for the owner which, many may find difficult, especially if they lack technical knowhow.

Managed hosting may be the answer for those who want the advantages but not the responsibilities of a self-hosted website.

For many, the costs of self-hosted and managed hosted websites will be a limiting issue.

With a little thought and creativity, a hosted website may be manipulated to meet requirements. In this instance it would help if the user obtains a unique domain name: most are available for a minimal annual fee of around $10 – $15 – $30.

Types of Web Hosting Services

As promised above, for those interested, here is a resume of the primary types of website hosting services. To comprehend the following: websites are stored (hosted) on servers (special computers designed for the purpose).

Website Builder: Cater for beginners who have no technical skills or knowledge. This enables them to build a website themselves using browser based interfaces. All the necessary tools and software are provided. WordPress and Blogger are such.

Shared Hosting: The server is shared with other hosts including the physical server and the software. Makes the hosting more affordable as costs are shared with the other users. However, due to being shared, there is limited storage and the systems are slower.

Dedicated Hosting: The server belongs to the host in entirety. Provides faster communication but does mean they are responsible for the total costs, security, operation, etc. Good for those who require a lot of system resources and higher level security and run very popular websites. This type of hosting is expensive.

Collocated Hosting: The host purchases the server though it is housed in a web hosts facility (collocated). Along with everything else they are also responsible for the server itself. Advantage: full control and able to install whatever scripts and applications desired. Again this is expensive and may only be appropriate to large companies with substantial turnovers.


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