Many groups I work with don’t fully understand how one web host is different from another. But your hosting can make a big difference in what you can do with your domain, and it’s worth paying to get what you need. I’ll explain.
Once you own a domain, you’ll want to “host” the files that will come up when someone visits the domain in a web browser. This is similar to how you want to rent an office because you have stuff you want to put there (like desks or file cabinets). Just as you can rent an empty office or an unfurnished one (and most people want to rent an empty office so they can decide what goes in it), most standard hosting plans are a storage space that you will fill with files. Usually, your website files.
Your hosting also includes where your mail will be hosted when someone sends a message to an address at your domain. (Unless you’re using Google Apps, which I often recommend, but even then, we generally configure it through your web host).
If you configure your email and website correctly, you won’t generally have to worry about the amount of storage space you need, and many hosts offer “unlimited” storage. If there are limitations, as long as they’re at least offering 2 GB of storage, it should more than meet your needs.
Cost: You can budget about $100 per year for hosting. Some hosting plans cost less because they have limitations. Super low-cost hosting sometimes don’t allow for hosting a WordPress site (because it does not include the ability to host your WordPress database).
Best practices: I also suggest to people that they use hosts that use the cPanel interface (pictured to right): it is a common interface to control mail configuration, file hosting, website file management and more. That way if you want to change hosts, you have many choices of hosts where you already know how to do simple hosting tasks.
Keep in mind: some hosts will include registering a domain for you. This comes in handy, although can complicate your efforts to change hosts if you are having hosting problems later.
Some hosts only allow you to use certain software — for example, Weebly hosting only allows you to use their software to power your website. You can’t pick up and move your website when you decide you’re ready for something more robust. Most web hosts are not like this — but it’s why I don’t generally recommend services like that.
Similar words: domain hosting, hosting plans, hosting migration, DNS (Domain Name Server — this is the address of your host used within the registrar system) web host, website hosting.
Examples: I use and recommend
www.greengeeks.com, which provides “green” hosting powered by wind and offsetting the carbon produced by all those computers running 24/7. From my perspective, all web hosting should be green. There’s also low-cost green hosting via Acorn Hosting.
Hosting is a simple but essential part of your website. If you still have questions, let me know!
Edited April 30: I no longer recommend Green Geeks hosting, they have too much downtime these days. Instead I’m recommending Hostgator or Acorn Hosting, both “green” hosts with solid customer support.