The Layman’s Guide to Website Hosting and Maintenance

May 10, 2023  | Web Development

Guide to Website Hosting and Maintenance

Googling web hosting, maintenance, and security terms leads you into a labyrinth of jargon.

Everything sounds like something else. How many of the confusing terms actually mean the same thing?


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What does your site really need?

You don’t want to overspend for unnecessary extras, and maybe you’d like to do some of the maintenance yourself.

At the same time, you have to ensure your website is safe and runs smoothly.

This article will illuminate your way.

Here’s what to expect (and the links to jump straight there):

We’ll go over the pros, cons, approximate costs of each option and concrete examples.

But if you have five minutes, we suggest you read from the beginning to make a fully-informed decision for your site.

What Is Website Hosting?

Website hosting is your online real estate. It’s the digital equivalent of renting a space to set up shop – you rent a dedicated server space where you store your website so people can visit it and engage with your company online.

For example, StateWP uses SiteGround to host the blog you’re reading currently (and the rest of our website).

These are some other popular hosting providers, a.k.a. your potential digital landlords:

When you build a site, hosting is one of the first things you need to get sorted.

Besides normal criteria like pricing and host reputation, you need to consider which content management system you’ll use to create and manage your site.

For instance, if you’re planning to use WordPress, you need to ensure you’ve picked a host that supports this platform. A poor choice here can impact your site’s performance; if you want a WordPress-optimized solution or a server that loads content quickly, you have to get the right hosting.

Coincidentally, all three examples we’ve listed are compatible with WordPress.

The other thing you’ll need to sort at the same time as hosting is your website domain, which is why these two terms are often mentioned in the same breath.

For instance, Bluehost offers both hosting and domains because you need both to create a website people can visit.

So what’s the difference between website hosting and domains?

What about domains?

If the hosting is your digital house or rented space, the domain is your name or address – it’s what people type into the URL bar to discover you.

For example, StateWP’s domain name is “statewp.com”

image showing the domain name statecreative.com

But that doesn’t look like an address, right? You would normally expect some numbers in there.

And you’d be right.

Computers are connected to each other via IP addresses, which are a unique series of numbers that distinguish one computer from the other.

To make them easier to access and remember, we attach words to IP addresses and use names like “statecreative.com” instead.

A domain can be owned by you or the company that builds your website, and it’s up to the owner to ensure the domain is renewed yearly (so it doesn’t expire).

The average cost is up to $20 for domain registration and then between $10-$90 per year for renewals.

Website hosting and domains work together to make building and discovering websites possible.

That’s why a lot of hosting companies offer both.

Now let’s add website maintenance to the equation.

What Is Website Maintenance?

Website maintenance is a set of tasks and practices you do on a regular basis to keep your site in peak condition – secure, fast, attractive, accessible, and easy to navigate.

So, back to square one.

You’ve chosen your trusted hosting provider and picked a domain name. You’ve built your WordPress website. It looks great and runs fast.

Now you just need to not mess with it, and it will work fine, right?

Meme that says

Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. Your website won’t simply stay in the condition you leave it in when you press “launch.”

You have to maintain it.

Do your digital cleaning, decluttering, renovating, and run safety checks like you’d do for a real store or office, and for the same reasons:

  • Prevent and fend off security threats
  • Attract and impress your visitors
  • Provide a smooth user experience

Website maintenance tasks include:

  1. Updating website core and plugins
  2. Backing up the site
  3. SEO audits
  4. Content editing
  5. Security monitoring and reporting
  6. Website analytics
  7. Creating standard policies and training employees
  8. Disaster scenario planning

Most maintenance tasks need to be done regularly, not just once when you create the website or only when you notice problems.

Otherwise, your once beautiful and well-performing site could start lagging and experience downtime, lose traffic, frustrate visitors, or worse – get wiped in a data breach.

It takes more work to rebuild your website than it does to maintain it.

At the same time, you might be losing revenue because your customers don’t trust you’re keeping their data safe, and potential conversions are giving up on your business because the site is taking ages (over three seconds) to load.

A lot of small businesses never recover after a security breach.

Investing in regular maintenance pays off, and it doesn’t have to be expensive. But we’ll get to that in a minute.

Now, let’s recap the differences between website hosting and maintenance.

Website Hosting and Maintenance Are NOT the Same Thing

You need to handle both website hosting and maintenance services as you plan, create, and manage your site.

But they’re two separate tasks.

Website hosting means renting a digital storefront for your website that people can visit online.

A website hosting service may come with some maintenance tasks, but that’s optional and not a core part of website hosting.

Website maintenance is the set of tasks you do regularly to keep your website in tip-top shape, so when people visit, they have a smooth experience and aren’t met with broken links or outdated content.

Website maintenance plans can cover a single maintenance task, like website backups or search engine optimization (SEO) audits, or it can be a rounded maintenance package that covers every aspect of maintenance and security.

You need both website hosting and maintenance.

If you stop paying for hosting, your website can’t exist online.


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And, if you have hosting but you don’t invest in regular maintenance, it can impact your website’s functionality, so you won’t be able to compete or guarantee to customers and donors that you’re trustworthy.

What if you lose their payment records or other sensitive information?

Both website hosting and maintenance help keep your site up and running and performing well.

But you have a couple of ways to handle them.

So How Can You Handle Both Website Hosting and Maintenance?

You have three possible routes to handle website hosting plans and maintenance tasks:

  1. Head to a hosting provider, sort a domain and package, and then take care of everything yourself with a DIY attitude
  2. Head to a hosting provider, sort a domain and package, and then:
    1. Source a freelancer to take care of maintenance
    2. Hire an internal IT resource to take care of maintenance
  3. Head to an agency that can take care of both hosting and maintenance services for you (fully managed)

We’ll walk you through the pros, cons, and approximate costs of each option.

DIY route

The main benefit of the DIY route is that the immediate spending is low.

You have to sort the hosting and domain (and keep renewing them regularly) – that could cost you up to $60 at registration and then an additional $3-$10 per month.

Solid hosting service is the base-level requirement regardless of the maintenance route you take, as your choice can affect your new website’s performance and optimization.

But the rest is pretty much up to you. Be careful, though: this option comes with the highest risks.

Besides hosting, you need to be thorough about your maintenance as it impacts both your UX and your security.

Without proper maintenance and regular updates, you’re risking your traffic, customer trust and loyalty, and everyone’s sensitive data that could be lost in a breach.

A lot is at stake.

But the DIY route could work if your website is on the smaller side and you’re willing to put in the effort.

You’ll need:

  1. Continuous education on important web maintenance and security topics and current best practices
  2. The time to learn and to regularly complete all the necessary tasks and upgrades
  3. Some sort of tech support just in case, like an expert to consult with once in a while or if something happens and you need help

Ideally, this would be your temporary website hosting and maintenance solution because small businesses are just as popular targets for hackers, but less likely to fully recover from a breach.

Without expert help, it’s hard to assess how safe your site is.

Plus, think about what happens when your business grows and you have even more pages to maintain.

If you have the means to delegate maintenance tasks, you should do it sooner rather than later.

Hosting provider + employee or freelancer

If you have an internal IT resource or the ability to hire a freelancer, they can take care of the maintenance part, and you just have to buy the hosting and domain.

With an employee, the good side is that they know your company, and you can train them to provide a customized service regularly (within their working hours).

But you have the overhead costs to worry about. On average, you could be looking at c. $60k per year for a salaried employee. And training and managing them is still up to you.

With a freelancer, you can get highly specialized help for a specific task.

Freelancers are also flexible and can offer highly personalized services because you’re typically only speaking to one person.

And because you’re not paying overhead, this could be a cheaper option. On a retainer, you might pay a freelancer $500 per year for regular maintenance tasks and then $50-$60 per hour for any additional fixes and tasks.

Both of these options could work regularly for smaller websites.

Additionally, a freelancer could jump in on a one-off basis to help you migrate your site or do an SEO audit alongside standard maintenance for most businesses.

But, depending on the scope of work, a freelancer or employee might not have the capacity to carry out all maintenance-related tasks regularly.

Freelancers work with multiple clients at a time, so you can’t rely on them to be 100% focused on your site at all times.

And even a dedicated employee has a limit.

If you have a lot of product pages that are frequently updated or post plenty of content on your blog, it’s often more work than one person can do.

If that’s the case, or your company recently outgrew your hired help, you need to bring on more and more.

Mixing and matching website maintenance packages from various providers can get tedious.

Which brings us to…

Agency

Agencies offer a fully-managed website hosting and maintenance plan.
It’s the only option where you know that one provider can handle everything for you long-term.

Agencies are also best equipped to handle website security for you, a crucial part of maintaining and protecting your site.

Agencies can:

  • Handle websites of any size
  • Help to scale websites
  • Create a custom package for a better price
  • Have an entire team dedicated to your site
  • Carry out regular and irregular maintenance services based on your needs
  • Just generally have your back

There’s less risk of overlooking important details because there’s no doubt about accountability – the agency does everything.

An employee or freelancer may be over capacity at times or need to take a leave.

But with an agency, you always have a dedicated team around.

There may be a round or two of approvals when you need some changes to the regular service package you’re using, and the cost is higher than hiring a freelancer.

But it’s worth it because every possible scenario is accounted for, and there will always be someone to support you.

Plus, agencies have to keep in the loop with the best practices.

They work with tons of other sites and have the best systems in place to support them.

If you’re just starting out and have a very small website, you might not need that level of service as it can be a bit expensive.

But in most other cases, an agency is best placed to handle website hosting and maintenance services.

Agencies cost $100-$600+ per month on average, depending on website size and industry. Nonprofits and professional services would be on the lower end, and eCommerce sites typically on the higher end.

Your website hosting and maintenance options: a comparison table

Too long, didn’t read?

No worries, you’re at the right place. We’ll sum up the pros and cons of each option, as well as give you some approximate website hosting and maintenance costs.

OptionsProsConsApprox. cost
DIY route
  • Low initial cost
  • No unnecessary extra tasks or fees
  • Not scalable
  • Very time-consuming on an ongoing basis
  • Not as secure as other options
$60 once
+
$4-$15 per month (hosting)
+
$10-$90 per year (domain)
Hosting provider + freelancer
  • Highly specialized knowledge
  • No overhead costs
  • Quick service and flexible hours
  • Can be unreliable as freelancers work on multiple websites
  • Not as scalable as agencies because it’s just one person
Hosting and domain
+
$500 per year on average on a retainer for maintenance
+
$50-$60 per hour for out of ordinary maintenance tasks and fixes
Hosting provider + employee
  • Customizable option
  • Reliable, focused on your website only
  • Takes time to onboard and train employees
  • Management is still up to you
  • Overhead costs add up
  • Often fixed hours
Hosting and domain
+
c. $60k per year on average for employee salaries
Agency
  • Fully managed service and full accountability
  • Complete website maintenance and security package
  • Reliable, with your own dedicated team
  • Works for all businesses
  • Can be expensive
  • Require meetings and approvals when you need to change anything
$100-$600+ per month for website hosting and maintenance packages

No matter which of these options you choose, the important thing is that your website hosting and maintenance are taken care of.

With that said, only one of these options is pretty much a safe bet.

Turn To StateWP for Website Hosting and Maintenance (And Peace of Mind)

Web hosting and maintenance often get lumped together, so the confusion around the two is understandable.

However, you can’t have a thriving website (or any kind of website) unless you invest in both.

If you’re ready to take the fully managed agency approach and never worry about these terms again, reach out to StateWP.

But if you want to go down a different route, no worries! We still have your back.

Use our blog to learn which web design mistakes to avoid when you plan and create your site.

And if you already have one, see where you’re at by checking how secure your website is right now.

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