Getting your website up and running is one of the most important things you can do for your business. Once you have your domain name selected, it's time to find a host, and that also means signing and adhering to a website hosting agreement.
If you're a novice website owner, the process of getting a website up and running can seem intimidating, but it doesn't have to be. Generally, web hosting service providers, also called web hosts, provide help for starting your site, which can make the task very much easier. Still, though, you want to be sure you understand the terms of your website hosting agreement, as it is a binding legal contract.
Web hosting basics
Before digging into the specifics of a simple website hosting service agreement, it's important that you understand what your website host does for you.
A web host is an enterprise that offers the technologies and support services necessary for websites to appear on the internet. Your website will be "hosted" by this provider, which connects your website to their server, enabling internet users to find your site by typing in your domain name or clicking on your link through a search engine or on social media.
There are several types of hosting you may consider. Many first-time website owners choose shared hosting, which means you share your server space with other websites. A virtual private server is also shared, but with fewer sites sharing the space, and you generally receive a guaranteed baseline of services. By contrast, a dedicated server is yours alone, while cloud hosting pulls resources from several servers instead of being located on just one.
The pros and cons of each type of hosting is beyond the scope of this article, but rest assured that whether you're signing a virtual server hosting agreement, a cloud hosting agreement, or even an agreement for both website hosting and maintenance, you should pay careful attention to the terms of your contract.
Typical website hosting agreement provisions
Although web hosting contracts differ, and you must always pay careful attention to your specific terms, most agreements cover the same basic issues:
- Timing: the length of the contract (usually yearly, though sometimes monthly) and the date your service begins
- Cost: the cost of your service, what that service includes, any setup fees, and the types of payments the company accepts
- Renewal: usually automatic, and often with a notice that fees may change, so pay attention to those come renewal time
- Dispute resolution: the venue and/or state law that applies to any disputes under the contract as well as what costs the prevailing party may recover, which may include legal fees
- Intellectual property: your assurance that you have the right to use the copyrights and trademarks associated with your site
- Termination: the specific steps to take when you want to change providers, such as notifying your current provider within a certain time period to avoid incurring additional fees
On the topic of termination, the provider often reserves the right to terminate the contract under certain conditions—upon written notice from the provider that you are in violation—such as your failure to comply with the terms of the agreement. For instance, if you receive a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) Takedown request for content on your site but fail to timely remove it, your website hosting provider may terminate your services.
Website hosting companies generally also include a special statement that they make no warranties regarding their services, including connection speed. They also may expressly limit the damages the client may receive in the case of downtime of the server.
Having a website for your business is no longer an option, it's essential, and a website hosting agreement is just like any other contract that details the rights and responsibilities of each party. Make sure you read and understand the terms, so you know exactly what you're getting into the moment you sign one.