What is Shared Hosting?
This guide walks through everything you need to know about shared web hosting, including how it works, the pros & cons, and tips for choosing the best shared hosting provider.
by Catie Leary
Shared hosting is a popular choice for many website owners because it is often the most affordable and user-friendly option available. This may sound great, however, the reality is that different types of hosting arrangements are designed for different needs and functionalities. Shared hosting is no different.
Hosting a website on a shared server comes with its own unique set of strengths as well as limitations that can hinder your site’s performance if you go for it without first understanding how it works and what kind of website it is meant for.
In this handy guide, we cover everything you need to know about shared hosting, including:
- How shared hosting works
- How it differs from other hosting types
- The advantages and disadvantages of shared hosting
- Tips for choosing the best shared hosting provider
How shared hosting works
Shared hosting is an arrangement in which multiple websites are hosted on one server. Resources such as disk space, CPU, and memory are shared, and costs are split between all the users on that server.
This sharing of real estate and resources is why shared hosting is so affordable.
A shared server can accommodate hundreds of websites, but because resources are shared, it is an option best suited for smaller websites that don’t receive tons of traffic or require considerable space.
How is shared hosting different from dedicated hosting or VPS hosting?
To understand if shared hosting is right for you, it’s important to consider other hosting types, as well. Beyond shared hosting, dedicated hosting and virtual private server (VPS) hosting are two other common hosting arrangements. What’s the difference between them? Let’s explain:
- Dedicated hosting means a website is hosted on its own server. This gives customers full control over how their server is used, and it guarantees exceptional performance because resources aren’t shared with anyone else. While having complete control means you can configure the server to your needs and preferences, it also means you need technical knowledge and a good understanding of server management. Dedicated hosting is geared toward big businesses that get substantial traffic and have access to a technical/development team.
- VPS hosting is similar to shared hosting in that the server is shared with other users, but instead of sharing resources, customers are allocated their own resources and dedicated space on the server. Hosting a website on a virtual private server offers several perks, such as having root access to the server. Root access allows site owners to install their own software and operating system and ultimately have more control of their website. Managing and maintaining resources requires technical knowledge, unlike shared hosting, which is more fully controlled by the hosting company. VPS hosting is ideal for medium-sized businesses and site owners who have some technical expertise or access to a technical/development team.
Psst — have a WordPress website? Be sure to check out our definitive guide to the best WordPress hosting providers.
What are the advantages of shared hosting?
There are many advantages to using shared hosting, especially if you’re on a tight budget and don’t want to spend too much time worrying about the technical aspects of managing a website. Here are the four biggest benefits of using shared hosting.
1. Low maintenance
One of the most appealing things about shared hosting is that it requires little to no effort on your side. Most companies offer a one-click email setup and WordPress install and all the admin and technical maintenance of the server is handled by the host.
2. Super affordable
Another major benefit of shared hosting is the price. Shared hosting is super affordable because multiple websites share the costs of using that server. This dramatically reduces the cost of hosting and gives you more money to pour into your business and keeping your website looking fresh.
3. User friendly
Hosting a website on a shared server is wildly popular with beginners because it doesn’t require any sort of technical knowledge or previous experience. It was designed to be easy to set up and navigate so users don’t need to stress out about having to learn the ins and outs of web hosting.
4. Easy to upgrade
Although shared hosting is the most basic option available for web hosting this also means there are ample opportunities to upgrade. If you start getting more traffic or want to expand your site you can easily upgrade to the next tier of hosting. This is as simple as sending an email to your host.
What are the disadvantages of shared hosting?
On the flipside, hosting a site on a shared server has several disadvantages. If you are careful about the provider and plan you choose, these don’t have to be a major issue.
1. Security issues
Security can be an issue with shared hosting because instead of each website having its own directory where files are stored, everyone on the server shares the same directory. If a hacker manages to infiltrate the directory, they will have access to everyone’s files.
2. Limited resources
While sharing resources means lower costs it also makes you vulnerable to sluggish performance and system crashes. If everyone on the server is maxing out their resources you are going to notice and so will your users. This also limits you when it comes to running resource-intensive functionalities.
3. Potential impact on SEO
This is a hotly debated topic, but a recent experiment on long-term shared hosting revealed that hosting your website on a shared server can negatively impact search engine optimization if you end up in a ‘bad neighborhood’ with low quality, spammy websites.
“Yikes. Those disadvantages seem pretty serious.”
Although shared hosting is sometimes associated with slow speeds and security risks, hosting providers have had to up the ante over the years and adapt to the high expectations of users. While there are still dubious providers out there, the shared hosting industry has improved dramatically.
For example, at SiteCare, our managed WordPress hosting service is technically cloud shared hosting, but we’ve implemented software and put redundancies in place that eliminate the security, resource, and SEO issues that sometimes crop up with a traditional shared hosting provider.
The fact remains that a reputable shared hosting provider is a great option if you’re a small or medium business, you’re on a tight budget, or you don’t know much about web development and management.
How to choose the best shared hosting provider
Choosing the right company to host your website is quite possibly the most important decision you will make when it comes to setting up your website.
This can be a little daunting because the market is saturated with providers claiming to be the best of the best and promising unparalleled service and speeds. Not all shared hosting providers are created equal. Some will be good and some won’t be. But if you do your research and follow the advice set out in this guide, you should be able to sift through the noise and separate the reputable providers from the questionable ones.
Here’s what you need to consider when deciding on a hosting provider for your website:
1. Understand your needs and requirements
Before you start approaching hosting providers you need to have a good understanding of what your current requirements are and what your future needs will be.
This will allow you to ask the right questions and ensure you choose a plan that fits your needs. Some of the questions you should ask yourself are:
- What platform will you use? WordPress works on most systems, but if you are using a custom-built website you need to make sure it is compatible with your host’s system.
- How much traffic do you currently get and what is your predicted growth? You need to ensure your new hosting plan can handle your traffic or you risk a poor performing site.
- Will you need technical support and guidance? If you aren’t well versed in the technical aspects of running a website you should look for a host that offers 24/7 support.
- What kind of content will you publish? If you are publishing high definition images and interactive media, you will need a hosting plan that can accommodate this.
- Do you need any specific features and add ons? Most hosting providers offer a wide array of additional features, but it will help if you know what you need.
2. Look for strong uptime rates
The amount of time a server is available (i.e. your website is available) is called uptime. This is generally defined as a measure of system reliability and maintenance quality, so it’s arguably the most important metric when looking for a hosting provider.
Although some sites can get away with occasional downtime, if you are running a site that requires seamless responsiveness then you need a host that has dependable uptime rates. It also impacts SEO, so if you are putting money and time into optimization efforts, high uptime rates are essential.
3. Customer support is important
Having access to responsive customer support is not just a nice to have, it is vital if you are serious about keeping your website running smoothly and efficiently.
If your site is suddenly down or you encounter an error, you want to know you can get in contact with customer support and resolve the issue quickly. This is particularly important if you don’t have much technical knowledge because it means you can get answers and help whenever you need it.
You can read reviews to find out what a provider’s reputation is like for customer support, but also check out what options are available for getting in contact with the support team (e.g. email, toll free phone number, live chat).
4. What security measures are in place?
Whether you are starting up a boutique bakery or e-commerce store, security is not something you can compromise on. If your website is hacked or infected with malware you risk jeopardizing your business and reputation. Users are unlikely to visit a website again after a security breach.
Most hosting providers have measures in place to safeguard against cybersecurity attacks and intrusions, but security features such as SSL encryption, DDoS prevention, and a reliable backup & restore system are all features you should expect from a hosting provider.
5. Scalability is key for future growth
If you plan to expand your business or want to prepare for an increase in traffic you should look for a provider that offers room for expansion and easy upgrades.
Most shared hosting plans have several variations, so it is generally quite easy to upgrade.
A good rule of thumb is to check the limitations on your chosen hosting plan and find out what the next tiers for that plan are and what other options are available for upgrades and add ons.
Get speedy, reliable web hosting
SiteCare’s managed cloud hosting package is specially curated to include everything a business needs — from top-notch technical features to outstanding customer support. Contact us today to learn more about hosting your site with us.