Courtney George / Posted 2.21.2017
Hosting your own website vs. hosting with your web developer
Before I worked for Q Digital Studio, a web development firm, it never occurred to me that you could have someone else manage your website hosting. Which is sort of ironic, considering that when I was an independent designer, I assisted clients so frequently with researching, purchasing, setting up, and/or switching hosting services, that at one point I considered offering hosting services myself to save all of us time, money, and brain damage.
Even then, I still looked at it as “self-hosting” because I, myself, would be the one setting it up and managing all of it. In the end, I opted not to offer this service for two reasons: First, it would have required I learn a LOT about hosting, servers, databases, and site maintenance for all different types of sites. Second, managing all of that on a monthly, quarterly, and/or annual basis would have quickly become overwhelming for my already insanely busy work schedule. I would have needed to develop a new system to keep track of payments, updates, and site maintenance schedules… no thanks.
Which brings me to the point of this post: not everyone works with a web developer to design, build, and maintain their site, but if you do, should you handle the hosting yourself, or have your web developers handle it for you?
As is the case with many aspects of the digital era, the simple answer boils down to this: How much time do you have? How much money do you have? The realistic answer is slightly more complicated. The following is a list I’ve compiled to help you better understand what is actually involved in hosting a website. Hopefully it will help you gain some insight into what you think you could reasonably handle on your own, based on the knowledge, time, and financial resources you have available.
First up are the pros and cons of purchasing site hosting through your web developer.
Pros of hosting with your developer
- Hosting with your web developer can save you some money. Your developer will make sure you have the right hosting for the type of site you have; that the hosting is configured properly for your site; and that you’re not paying for bells, whistles, and services you don’t need.
- Some web firms who provide hosting, also offer package deals that might include other helpful services, such as SEO and site upgrades for smaller fees than you would pay for the same services purchased a la carte.
- In addition, some firms offer free hosting if you sign up for an ongoing site security or maintenance package (usually requiring a monthly, quarterly, or annual fee, depending on the size, scope, and complexity of your site).
- A web developer understands the intricate details of servers and your website. They understand the importance of site security and can continually monitor your site for problems, which means heading off potential issues before they snowball into something much bigger. Additionally, if and when problems do arise, a web developer already has high-level access to your site, which allows them to act immediately, rather than first having to contact you, the client, for admin access.
- A web developer understands the ins and outs of hosting packages and their associated costs. For instance, you pay more if you have a larger site, need more email addresses, use more server space, or are likely to have a lot of traffic on your site. The opposite is also true, but many people don’t realize they might be paying for way more hosting than they actually need.
- Developers know which hosts to avoid (usually based on painful personal experience), and understand what makes a host good or terrible to work with when it comes to fun stuff like server uptime, speed, reliability, and technical support.
- Also, your dev team will know which technologies you need, and at regular intervals, can keep you apprised about when site and server upgrades need to be performed to keep your site secure and functioning optimally.
- Developers know the “lingo,” the language of hosting, coding, servers, and websites, so that when they need to contact hosting support (which will happen), they know exactly what questions to ask and therefore receive faster, more accurate responses from the hosting support team. A layperson could spend hours working with tech support just to figure out what the initial problem is, on top of even more time with tech support being walked through the process of fixing whatever the problem turned out to be. Your time is valuable. Do you really want to spend it dealing with server upgrades and site or hosting issues?
- Unless you are a web developer yourself (in which case you’re probably not hiring a web developer to build your website), or someone with a very strong interest in learning web development, it’s likely the only parts of your site you even remotely want to deal with are things like updating events, posting to a blog, or making minor edits to content. The last thing most people want to deal with: upgrading servers, versioning software, or worrying (and wondering) whether their site is secure. You have a business to run and outside of that, you have a life. Almost anything technical you have to deal with regarding your website and hosting will take you three to five times longer than it would take your web developer to accomplish. Honestly, it’s not worth it.
Peace of mind
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- Web developers can perform regular site and security maintenance for you, and if they also manage your site registration, they can help ensure your domain registration renewals and iCANN information are current.
Cons of hosting with your developer
- It does cost money, whether you’re just paying for hosting, or buying a package deal—but honestly, even cheap self-hosting can turn out to be really expensive much of the time.
- You want to do your homework and make sure you’re working with a reputable web developer. Check out this article explaining How to tell if your developer is BSing you for some insight on the subject.
- Some unscrupulous developers have been known to hold a site hostage when clients tried to leave them, as is evidenced in How to Rescue Your Website from the Clutches of a Bad Web Designer or Bad Web Host, which also has some good advice for remedying this unfortunate situation.
- Your developer will probably allow you to access your site (if you need or want to), and possibly even your hosting, but for the safety and security of your site, they will probably only allow limited access to site files and the hosting account.
- You will want to maintain a full backup of your current site in a location separate from your developer’s server or hosting service. You can set this up yourself if you know what to do, or have your developer set it up for you. It’s as much for your peace of mind as it is for your developer’s.
Pros of purchasing hosting yourself
Some people might beg to differ with me on this, but I don’t recommend this option unless you really understand how hosting works, and how your site is (or should be) built. You could go the route of purchasing hosting with one of the large corporate hosting companies that also offer site-building services (like the one with race cars in their ads), but I really, really, don’t recommend that. Chances are very good you’ll spend way more than you think, for a sub-par website, that doesn’t function the way you want or need it to. If you know you don’t want to build your own website, go local for a web developer—for a million different reasons that all benefit you, the client.
- If you know what you’re doing, and are willing to do your research and shop around, you can probably find a good deal for what you need in terms of a hosting package.
- If you choose a good hosting company, they will make things as easy on you as possible with regards to user-friendly services, add-ons, and tool dashboards that are easy to use.
Cons of purchasing your own hosting
- No matter how you look, at it purchasing and maintaining the hosting for your site is going to cost you time. Expect an average of 50 hours per year or more, depending on your knowledge and skill level, and on how user-friendly the hosting is (or isn’t). Even if you’re not dealing with it on a weekly basis, this average includes all of your front-end setup (making sure your payment reminders are on, pointing your DNS servers to the right place, setting up your email accounts, etc.) in addition to the time you will spend on the phone or on a chat when your site goes down for no apparent (or known) reason. No pun intended here, but this is the biggest CON of hosting your own site I can think of.
Peace of mind
- You won’t have any. Seriously. You'll be constantly wondering if you set your site up correctly, if it’s down, or if it’s been hacked. If you’re not constantly wondering (and checking in on your site), when you finally DO think about it, I can almost promise you your site will in fact not be set up (and functioning) properly—it will be down or will have been hacked.
The middle way (best of both worlds)
There’s another (very useful) option that falls somewhere in between buying hosting yourself or buying it from your web developer—and that is working with your developer to find the right hosting package for your needs, but then paying for that hosting package yourself (therefore owning it), while allowing your developer top-level access to manage the hosting and your site as needed. With this option, you essentially benefit from all of the above- mentioned pros, and eliminate all (or most) of the cons.
- You keep your costs in check by working with your developer to find just the right hosting for your site, not paying extra for features you don’t need and will never use.
- Your developer has top-level access to set up and maintain the site for you, but since you technically own the hosting account, you don’t ever have to worry about them locking you out or holding your site hostage.
- You save tons of time not having to figure out how to set up your own hosting, not to mention all the time you’ll save by having your developer deal with any maintenance or site security issues that may arise.
- All of which should bring you great peace of mind. Knowing your website is handled, running smoothly, yet always in your custody, is honestly the best scenario you could hope for.
Hopefully, you now have some better insight into what you need to know before you decide how and where to host your website. It’s not necessarily cheaper to do it on your own, and if you do decide to take the recommended route and hire a professional, it’s imperative you do your homework and know you’re working with a reputable firm that always has your best interests in mind.
Client Relationship Manager
Courtney George is the Client Relationship Manager for Q Digital Studio. Over the last 18 years, Courtney has held positions with design studios, advertising agencies, and an in-house design team at an architecture firm, as well as having run an independent design business. During her years immersed in the creative industry she has expanded her appreciation for sustainability, community involvement, collaborative environments, and relationship building. This shifted her focus from the design side to the client side and she embraces client relationship building as a vital aspect of any successful business.