A practical guide to setting up web hosting for any website affordably.
Learn to use cPanel, change domain nameservers, and setup Cloudflare security with performance optimizations and SSL. This a simple guide for dependably fast hosting without spending more than you need to. Get everything you’d come to expect from a top notch host:
- High Speed (fast page load times)
- Great Reliability (99.9% uptime)
- Performance (premium hardware)
- Ease of Use (cPanel control panel)
When it comes to hosting, businesses are usually looking for something that isn’t difficult to learn or overly technical. Naturally, the low costs and beginner friendly control panels of shared hosting plans start to look appealing.
However, the major drawback is that shared environments often result in bottlenecks during peak performance. They have less reliability and suffer in page speed as a result. It’s not unusual for sites to be surprisingly slow and difficult to use on a shared hosting setup.
The best recommendation is a managed virtual private server (VPS) or cloud server. If cost is a major concern, another promising alternative is RackNerd’s reseller hosting. Our web hosting section will cover this in further detail.
Let’s get started..
- Domain Registration
- Choosing a Web Host
- Option 1: An Unmanaged VPS or Cloud Server
- Option 2: A Managed VPS or Cloud Server
- Option 3: Shared Hosting
- Option 4: Dedicated Server
- Option 5: Reseller Hosting
- Getting Familiar with cPanel.
- Cloudflare Setup Configuration
- Changing Domain Nameservers
- Additional Cloudflare Settings
- Configuring SSL for your Domain
- Managing your Website’s Files.
- That’s It!
If you have registered your domain already – you can skip ahead.
NameSilo may have an old interface but the value they provide is phenomenal. Their low renewal costs and included WhoIs privacy makes it easy to set-and-forget domains.
Privacy has become a necessary addon to avoid spam and NameSilo has managed to bundle it free. We have searched everywhere for a better deal and haven’t found one. They have reliably low yearly costs that don’t increase overtime. We have come to trust them over bigger brands such as Godaddy or NameCheap, which have hidden renewal costs after the first year.
This guide will include screenshots and examples from NameSilo but if you are using another registrar, the process will be identical with a different interface.
Once you have a domain registered, you can buy and setup web hosting.
Choosing a Web Host
We will review each option for web hosting but if you are already familiar or have chosen a web host already, feel free to skip this section.
All options featured below will use the industry standard cPanel control panel. CPanel is a highly recommended hosting software and is the best solution for most businesses. There are other platforms such as DirectAdmin or Plesk but neither are as stable, secure, and trusted as cPanel.
Option 1: An Unmanaged VPS or Cloud Server
An unmanaged VPS or cloud server provides great performance but requires self-administration.
Should any problems arise you will be expected to troubleshoot the solution on your own. Issues do not typically occur often but it’s unwise to expect nothing will ever go wrong. You should be competent in the Linux command line interface if you choose an unmanaged server.
With that said if you do have the technical proficiency, an unmanaged VPS can be a good way to save money.
The top 2 hosts for unmanaged servers are RackNerd and ServaRica. Be sure to explore their special offers.
When you choose unmanaged, off-site backup space is something you will want to consider. This is highly recommended because it allows remote backups to be conducted and exported to another server. Should your data get corrupted or deleted, you can rest assured you always have a backup that can be used to restore your websites.
After selecting your plan, choose to add cPanel and complete the rest of the checkout process. CPanel is a paid upgrade that will raise your month-to-month costs but its ease of use is worth the additional cost. After your purchase you should receive an email with your login details, server IP and other useful information.
Note: A VPS is no more complicated than shared hosting when cPanel is bundled to privde the same familiar control panel.
Option 2: A Managed VPS or Cloud Server
A managed VPS or cloud server provides great performance and fully covers any technical issues that may arise. The downside to a managed server is that it’s typically a lot more expensive.
This is a safer solution for your websites and the best option for the majority of businesses. With a managed VPS, there is always a competent technician just a phone call or support ticket away. These servers can be well worth it for the peace of mind and long-term reliability.
If you don’t have the ability to troubleshoot and fix servers issues in-house, managed gives you that capacity without having to hire help. Many companies even monitor for unexpected outages and provide emergency care services. This can be extremely important for large websites or applications where every second of downtime is a concern.
There are plenty of good options for a managed VPS with cPanel including HostWinds.
Be sure to select cPanel and the managed server option at checkout. After your purchase you should receive an email with your login details.
Option 3: Shared Hosting
Most hosting setup guides recommend shared hosts because they are quick and easy solutions.
However, the shared hosting environment should only be considered as a last resort. Shared hosting tends to suffer from major performance issues. They do not come well recommended.
This is where the majority of businesses make mistakes because they choose shared hosting due to its low costs. Once that inevitably begins to cause issues they upgrade but user confidence has already taken a hit.
For any user-facing website or application, it’s best to choose a VPS and avoid the headache. Should you just need to display simple static webpages, shared hosting may suffice but is not a recommended long-term solution.
Most shared hosts will make CMS systems like WordPress slow and difficult to use. Navigating the admin panel on a shared host can make each click take seconds longer than a VPS. If you are frequently making changes or publishing content this becomes a major irritation.
Should you still need shared hosting for development, testing or other purposes there are providers such as Godaddy, BlueHost or HostGator. Use these companies at your own risk. Shared hosts typically have hundreds if not thousands of users sharing the same server. They are also very predatory and will use ads, time sensitive offers, unlimited space and bandwidth, and other manipulative tactics to encourage signups.
Option 4: Dedicated Server
A dedicated server means you own the entire server instead of a virtual portion of it. Dedicated servers are the most robust hosting solution as you are renting the full hardware capability of the server.
However, dedicated servers aren’t recommended unless you absolutely need one. Their cost, the technical expertise needed, and their inability to scale make dedicated a poor choice in today’s market.
Option 5: Reseller Hosting
My personal favorite for the budget conscious business is reseller hosting. With reseller hosting you are on a shared environment but you get the added benefit of creating multiple cPanel environments for your domains (protection from hacks), hardened security, hardware controls on accounts, and the host can set limits to keep their servers running strong.
Reseller hosting can be very reliable and a significant upgrade from shared hosting when you choose the right provider. RackNerd is one of the more affordable hosts and they provide free ClientExec billing software for new resellers.
While reseller hosting doesn’t typically receive an isolated virtual hardware environment like a VPS, they do benefit from being fully managed with customer service available to you at anytime. They also come standard with cPanel for managing your accounts.
Getting Familiar with cPanel.
You may scoff at the additional monthly costs of adding cPanel to your server but CPanel is an incredibly powerful control panel with built-in security. Many of the alternatives can cause problems such as errors and bugs that are difficult to troubleshoot.
CPanel has become a highly reliable industry standard. The free alternatives often result in added complexity.
Here’s what cPanel looks like:
Under ‘Domains’ you should find the domain you registered your hosting account with.
You can add additional domains under ‘Addon Domains.’
Should you want to create a subdomain such as example.yourdomain.com you can do that under ‘Subdomains.’
Note: subdomains will only work if you have the DNS for your domain pointed to your new web hosting account. If you’re using a DNS intermediary such as Cloudflare then you will need to create any subdomains on Cloudflare and not within cPanel. Cloudflare is a highly recommended DNS manager with advanced security features and a base level service that’s completely free.
Cloudflare Setup Configuration
Inside the email containing your cPanel details you should have received two servers labeled nameservers. These are important to creating the connection between your domain and hosting. Keep record of these servers.
Within this same email you should also find a server IP. Keep record of this as well.
If you don’t need free security features then you don’t need to use Cloudflare. Feel free to skip ahead. If you would like to use their platform then head over to the website and create an account.
Once inside you should select your domain:
Then select ‘DNS’ – at this time it’s the third option from the left:
Now we need to add an ‘A record’ for your domain. This is where we will enter the IP address from the email.
For Type, simply select ‘A.’ For Name, enter your actual domain name. And for Content, enter your actual IP address. TTL should be set to ‘Auto’ and if you want the advanced security features that Cloudflare has to offer Proxy status should be ‘Proxied.’
Additionally, subdomains and email servers can be configured now or sometime later.
If you have a separate mail server you would configure it with a new A record (usually mail.yourdomain.com) and point to the mail server’s IP address. If you do not have a separate mail server you can use your web host and assign to the same IP address as your main domain.
You will then need to configure an MX record for your main domain that points to the mail server.
Now click continue and we will proceed to update your nameservers. You should see something like this on the next page:
This is asking you to change the nameservers at your domain registrar. Keep record of the Cloudflare nameservers.
Head back to NameSilo and login to your account.
Changing Domain Nameservers
Find the link on NameSilo to manage your domains. You should see your domain listed along with its current nameservers:
This is where you will enter the nameservers you intend to use. If you’re using Cloudflare, this will be the two nameservers listed under ‘add Cloudflare’s nameservers’ in the previous section.
If you chose not to use Cloudflare you will simply enter the nameservers provided by the email from your web host here.
The Domain Name System can take up to 48 hours to take effect once you have changed your nameservers. This is because the changes have to propagate through the network and although the Internet is fast, it’s quite large.
Additional Cloudflare Settings
Cloudflare’s free plan is pretty great. To get the most out of it, there are a few settings worth tweaking.
Conveniently, their Quick Start Guide can help you enable these without fumbling through the settings.
Here are those options and where you would find them normally:
Found under ‘SSL/TLS’ within ‘Edge Certificates’
Found under ‘SSL/TLS’ within ‘Edge Certificates’
Found under ‘Speed’ within ‘Optimization’
Found under ‘Speed’ within ‘Optimization’
Notice that we enabled HTTPS which might have you thinking I’m about to recommend an SSL/TLS certificate. These are the certificates that are necessary to have an https address with encryption and security enabled for your website.
Normally I would recommend buying one but Cloudflare is convenient enough to provide free SSL certificates.
Click on the ‘SSL/TLS’ settings once more and select ‘Full (strict)’ as your encryption mode.
Now navigate under ‘Origin Server’ within the SSL/TLS tab.
Select ‘Create Certificate’ as shown:
On the next page, select ‘Generate private key and CSR with Cloudflare’ for the first option:
For the list of hostnames, you can leave it alone, there just be a wildcard to cover any subdomains and your bare domain name like so:
Under ‘Certificate Validity’ you should select ’15 years’ and click ‘Create’.
Notice you can easily ‘Click to copy’ for the certificate and the private key.
We haven’t been there in some time but the last step will be to head back to our web hosting’s cPanel and provide this certificate and private key so keep it handy – don’t exit out of this CloudFlare page.
Configuring SSL for your Domain
In the previous section we created a free SSL certificate using Cloudflare. If you decided not to use Cloudflare it’s understandable if you’re having second thoughts. Feel free to backtrack and incorporate Cloudflare into your setup.
Alternatively, you can purchase an SSL certificate from a provider. These can get pretty costly but are more robust than the certificate you receive from Cloudflare.
Do note that SSL is not required just recommended. Search engines and customers often prefer websites with security.
Now that you have your certificate and private key, open up the tab for your web hosting’s cPanel account again.
Under ‘Security’ find ‘SSL/TLS’ and click the link:
In the bottom right, you should see a link to ‘Manage SSL sites’ that allows you to install and manage certificates. Click it.
Once you are on the next page, scroll to the bottom.
- Select your domain from the list under ‘Domain.’
- Copy and enter your certificate within the textbox under ‘Certificate.’
- Copy and enter the private key within the textbox under ‘Private Key.’
- You can leave the textbox for ‘Certificate Authority Bundle’ empty.
Click ‘Install Certificate’ and you’re all done!
If you are using Cloudflare for the certificate, it is good for 15 years and will auto-renew.
Managing your Website’s Files.
Now that the domain, DNS and SSL configuration is out of the way we can discuss managing your files.
In cPanel, you will find ‘MySQL Databases’ under the ‘Databases’ section:
This is where you can create new databases and database users. A user must be assigned a username and password for access.
Should you be transferring a website you can use the ‘phpMyAdmin’ tool to import SQL databases. This is also where you will find the export options should you need to transfer a website to another server.
Note: the file format for imports and exports is .sql. Compressed files will need to end in .sql.zip.
You can also find ‘File Manager’ under the ‘Files’ section:
File Manager is a convenient way to upload and edit files. You can even upload a .zip and easily unzip using the interface. Moving files around is also very easy.
If the File Manager isn’t working for you there is also FTP or File Transfer Protocol. This is useful for uploading or transferring large numbers of files.
When you purchased your server the web host should have provided the FTP details in the welcome email. This is typically your server IP and a username and password. It is possible your FTP account wasn’t setup initially and you will need to do so in cPanel.
Note: you will also need to download an FTP client such as FileZilla in order to connect via FTP.
This guide covered the essentials including what type of web hosting is best for your business, how to setup cPanel and how to get the most out of Cloudflare’s free DNS and SSL.
Should you have other questions on web hosting or website management be sure to explore our other guides.