If you're trying to build a website, you may find that everything about the process is just confusing. But don't worry, you are not alone. When I began creating websites back in 2003, I spent quite a bit of time screaming in frustration at my computer screen.
Think of this article as my way of helping you avoid some of that pain and anguish.
If grabbed the website download bundle from the members area, you've got the basic building blocks for creating a website. But you're still dead in the water until you get web hosting and a domain name.
What is Web Hosting?
When you click a link to visit a website, a few things happen in a matter of seconds. Your web browser reaches out across the Internet and grabs a set of files, scripts and programs. It then drags all of that data back to your laptop or smartphone and arranges it so that it looks like a website. The start point for all of those files is a server farm sitting somewhere across town, across the country or on the other side of the planet.
A web host is a company that deals in these specialized server farms or clouds as they're sometimes called. And just like with iCloud, Amazon Web Services or any other cloud you've ever heard of, if you want to park your files there, you gotta pay rent.
With companies like Wix and SquareSpace, that's not something you think about because that rent is baked into the price of their service. When you're building a self hosted site like WordPress, you gotta do a little shopping.
Choosing a Web Hosting Plan
The first time you put eyes on a typical web host's list of offerings, it will probably feel like trying to read hieroglyphics. You know the words mean something, you just can't make out exactly what.
Typically you'll see four tiers: Shared Hosting, WordPress Hosting, VPS Hosting and Dedicated Server Hosting.
We're going to scratch VPS and Dedicated Server hosting off the list right from the start. Those plans are much too expensive and are loaded with way more functionality than a typical small business website can use.
That would be like buying a brand new Chevy Corvette with the Z51 performance package and having no intention of driving faster than 45 miles per hour. Nothing's stopping you from doing it, but it would be a massive waste of horsepower.
That leaves Shared and WordPress Hosting.
This is by far the least expensive of the two tiers. If you're just starting out and are extremely budget conscious, Shared Hosting is the route to go. It doesn't deliver as much goodness as WordPress Hosting, but it delivers more than enough to get the job done.
Most hosting companies will present you with three or four variations to choose from. If you don't know what you're looking at, we're back to reading hieroglyphics. A good rule of thumb is to assume that the lowest level is underpowered and the highest level brings options that you don't need and won't notice. Whatever's left will work for you.
If you're building a WordPress website, this is your preferred hosting option. If you don't have a geek on speed dial, this is overwhelmingly the route to go. There are geeky reasons for this and there are practical reasons.
On the geeky side of things, WordPress Hosting is tuned specifically for the particular peccadilloes of WordPress websites. WordPress is a very popular platform to build websites on. As of this writing WordPress powers about 37% of the Internet. By comparison, Wix and SquareSpace power just 1.3% and 1.5%. With that large a footprint, customizing a hosting solution that caters to that market makes sense. So they did and you can enjoy the benefits, even if you aren't fully aware of what they are.
From a practical standpoint, it's important to realize that sometimes websites have glitches and sometimes they crash. It's the price of doing business when you're dealing with software that's constantly being updated by developers.
If you are on a Shared Hosting plan when your site has a glitch, you can be very much on your own. If you call your web host for support, you may find that your hosting package doesn't come with the level of assistance you need.
WordPress Hosting plans generally come with several features that can keep an annoying situation from becoming catastrophic.
Daily automatic backups are an example. If your site crashes, your web host can roll your site back a few days and quickly bring your site back online.
When sites that I am taking care of crash, normally I catch it during my daily checks. For minor glitches, my clients call me and I take it from there. If you don't have someone to perform routine maintenance on your website, this one feature is a game changer.
Choosing A Domain Name
Once you sort through your hosting preferences, you'll need to turn your attention towards registering a domain name for your site. A few years ago, a typical domain name ended in .com, .net or .org.
With the new vanity domains, that's all changed. Now you have all sorts of interesting options. There are location based domains (.paris, .vegas or .nyc), industry based (.tattoo, .accountant), even legal based (.llc or .llp). With all of that choice there are still a few best practices to keep in mind when picking a domain name.
Domain Name Fundamentals
- Choose a domain name that's easy to remember
- Include a location or niche keyword for SEO purposes
- Avoid confusing dashes or numbers in the domain name
- Avoid using trademarks registered with the US Patent and Trademark Office.
- Avoid domain names that are similar to prominent domain names already in use
Choosing a Domain Registrar
Now that you've got a bit of a guideline on how to pick a domain name, let's discuss getting it registered.
Domain names are controlled by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), and if you want to avoid future headaches, the first thing to wrap your head around is that you don't own domain names. It's kind of like the license plate on your car. You can't buy it, you can only register it.
When you do register your domain name, if there's even the slightest chance that you're planning on holding onto it for the long haul, set it to auto-renew. If not, you may find that just like any other registration, those things can and do expire. Sometimes in spectacular fashion:
- Dallas Cowboys Forget to Renew Team Web Site
- Microsoft Forgets to Renew Hotmail.co.uk
- The Guy Who Bought Google.com from Under Google's Nose
- Foursquare Goes Dark Too. Unintentionally.
There are plenty of domain registrars across the Internet. Finding a place to register your domain won't be a problem. You may, however, find making an apples to apples comparison a little challenging. That being said there are two points of comparison that should make your job a little easier.
When comparing domain prices, you'll find that different registrars charge different fees for the exact same domain name. Also the price that's displayed on the website is the usually an introductory price. Since you're probably going to hold onto your domain for several years, pay attention to the renewal price to get a better idea of the real cost of the domain.
When you register a domain, the domain registrar provides ICANN with your contact information (such as name, email, address, and phone number). This is then added to the Whois database. This database lists the owners of every domain name online, and it can be searched by anyone on the Internet. As you can imagine, there's an entire industry of scammers who search this database on a regular basis.
Most registrars offer some sort of Identity Protection. This hides your information from marketing firms and spammers and displays substitute generic contact information. Companies like Namecheap, Godaddy and Hover provide this protection free of charge while others charge an annual fee for the service.
Wrapping Up. What I Use and Why
I use Namecheap for my sites and my clients' sites. I find Namecheap to have better pricing for the domain names I need, more transparent with their pricing and a lot less upsell in their checkout process. They were also the first to provide free registration protection.
My original hosting choice, when I began my career, was Hostgator. I used them for all of my hosting and client recommendations but have since switched to A2 for all of my hosting. Both have good customer support but A2 is a better fit for the control and capacity I need to host sites for Gold and Platinum members.
My recommendation for clients who don't host their sites with me is GoDaddy. This is primarily a functional decision. In my opinion their hosting is fine and has decent uptime but I prefer A2. The primary reason they're my goto recommendation is because of their Pro Dashboard. This feature allows clients to delegate access to their files without need to send me login credentials or have access to their payment information. This is convenient for all parties concerned.
As we said at the beginning, choice isn't an issue in selecting a web host or domain registrar. Hopefully this article provided you with a framework to make the choice that's best for your project. If you're still unclear, schedule a quick consultation and we'll work through your questions together.
Until Next Time, Happy Marketing.