Many of you are brand new to the world of creating a website for your business, but even if you already have an existing website, you may still be feeling a bit confused about how domains, hosting and your website design and development all fit and work together.
I want to ensure that you have a solid understanding of these components.
Let’s take a closer look at the 3 basic parts of every website: your domain name, website files and website hosting.
Part 1: Your Domain Name
Domain names vs IP addresses
A domain name is the unique name that appears after the WWW in website addresses.
For example, my domain name is BonAccordCreative.com
An IP address is unique string of numbers made up of four values, separated by periods and it might look something like 123.456.789.123
You can think of it like the street address for your home or business.
Whereas your street address identifies your home’s location, an IP address identifies network computers because an IP address is given to every individual computer, server, and network on the Internet.
Think about a landmark like the Space Needle.
The street address of the Space Needle is 400 Broad Street in Seattle, WA, and it’s an exact location, just like an IP address.
You might not know the exact street address, but when you visit Seattle, you can tell your taxi driver that you want to visit the Space Needle and still get there.
Domain names are used the same way.
It’s an easy way to reach the exact location of a website without having to remember its numeric address.
You can imagine how difficult it would be to remember how to find a website if it didn’t have an easy to remember domain and was instead a string of numbers.
For example, BonAccordCreative.com is a HECK of a lot easier to remember than an IP address that looks like 123.456.789.123
And would you rather have to remember an IP address like 126.96.36.199, or Google.com?
Both addresses go to the same place, but I think we can agree the latter is significantly more memorable.
Domain name components
A domain name consists of a top-level domain and a second-level domain:
- The top-level domain (TLD) is the part of the domain name located to the right of the dot (“.”)
- The second-level domain (SLD) is the part to the left of the dot
For example, in BonAccordCreative.com, the dot com is the top level domain and bonaccordcreative is the second level domain.
But registering a domain, doesn’t automatically create a website – it only means that you’ve registered the domain.
Part 2: Website Files
A website consists of a whole bunch of files, for example files like index.html or index.php.
Your website will also include image files, likely ending in .jpg, as well as .css files, and so on. In many cases, your website will have a database as well (for example, if it is built on a platform like WordPress).
In a nutshell, your website files are what are used to create what your visitors and potential clients actually see when visit your website through an internet browser like Chrome or Firefox or Safari.
You might create your website files by working with a website development company to design and develop your website on WordPress.
Perhaps you’ll DIY your website using WordPress.
Or you might go through a website builder like Squarepace or something similar.
But where do you store all those website files?
When you have a website, you need all those files to be accessible 24/7 so that your visitors can browse your website.
This is where the third component comes into play: website hosting.
Part 3: Web Hosting
Web hosting is really just the space on a server where your website’s files and database are located and can accessed by your visitors and search engines.
One analogy I’ve seen is to think of a website hosting company like a shopping centre that contains various individual stores.
If you want to open a store at the shopping centre, you can lease space and set up shop.
Just like a shopping centre, website hosting companies who offer shared hosting services give you the ability you to lease space on their web servers where you can store your website files and make them available for visitors to view.
If you use a site builder program like Squarespace, they will provide the hosting for you, because in order to use their website building software, they have to host your sites so that you can continue to use their software.
Whereas if you build on a platform like WordPress, which is my own choice and what I recommend to business owners, then you’re going to need to set up a website hosting provider to store your website files.
Domain Best Practices
Let’s look more closely at your domain and some tips and best practices when it comes to choosing your domain name.
Make it unique
I have seen so many domains that almost seem interchangeable, they’re so similar. Ensure you stand out.
That’s not to say you should start to get too fancy. Stay away from attempts to add bits and pieces to your domain to make it ‘unique.’
Avoid unusual spellings
Please don’t try to get cute or clever with your spelling.
I had one client who had the word “Project” in her desired website address and the domain that she wanted was already taken.
Instead, she was considering getting the domain with it spelled “Projekt” instead of using the proper spelling.
I urged her to not do it because it was just asking for trouble in terms of people misspelling her website address and ending up on the wrong site.
You also don’t want to substitute numbers for letters, so for example don’t use the number 4 when what you actually mean is the word “for.”
It’s easy to forget where the hyphens should be, and while I’m not aware of any technical reason to not use them, from a user’s perspective (and whether a fair judgment or not), it impairs your credibility.
The key is to make as easy as possible for visitors to figure out your domain name, even if they are just guessing and hoping it’s right.
Memorability is important
Try to keep your domain names as short as possible.
I know this is harder than it used to be because so many domains are already taken but there is usually still a way to find an appropriate domain name that works and isn’t overly complicated to remember.
Short domain names are still easier to remember, easier to share, and have a smaller chance of resulting in typos, so try to keep it as simple as you can.
A lot of the time that will mean simply registering your business name. For example, my website development company is Bon Accord Creative and my domain is BonAccordCreative.com.
Choosing your business name, if it’s available, will usually be the best approach here.
Research the name.
Before you proceed with a domain registration, be sure that the name you’ve selected isn’t trademarked, copyrighted or being used by another company.
None of these is a scenario you want to find yourself in, so do your due diligence beforehand.
How to pick a domain registrar
Once you’ve nailed down what your domain name is going to be, it’s time to register it!
There are some simple things you can do before you pick your registrar to make sure that you’re making the best choice for your business.
Make sure you understand the registration fee and the renewal fee.
Many providers will offer a cheap domain to get you to register it, but their renewal cost could be significantly higher.
And, while you’re at it, check if the registrar charges an additional fee to let you transfer the domain.
Most domain registrars make it straight forward to transfer domain names (should you wish to do so in the future) without extra costs or hoops to jump through, but double check to be sure.
Make sure there is auto-renewal available.
You might not be thinking about it when you first sign up, but you should be thinking renewals as soon as you register. Ensure they have auto renewal features so you can set your domains to automatically renew so you never forget to renew them.
I’ve known more than a handful of business owners who’ve forgotten to renew their domain and suddenly their websites and email addresses ceased to function.
And it’s not just small businesses or solopreneurs who forget to do this. In 2017, the marketing giant Marketo forgot to renew their domain.
It shouldn’t cost a fortune to register.
You typically shouldn’t expect to spend more than around $15 USD per year on a .com domain, if the domain isn’t currently registered. (If the domain is already registered by someone else and is being made available through a domain broker or the domain’s current owner, it may cost considerably more.)
Make sure you don’t get up-sold by a domain registrar on add-on services that you don’t need.
If you’re unsure whether you need an additional service that a domain provider is suggesting, ask your web developer specifically what you need.
Ensure they have a solid reputation.
Ask around to see what the registrar’s reputation is like.
- What is the typical customer experience?
- Do they have solid customer support?
- Do they have multiple ways to contact them for support? (For example, do they have both live chat and support tickets).
Make sure you’re the primary domain contact.
When you register your domain, make absolutely sure that you register the domain in your name and with your contact information.
Please do not delegate this to a website designer or developer.
I have witnessed more than one domain hostage situation.
One in particular that jumps to mind was a business owner whose developer had registered her domain for her. When things went sour in their working relationship, the business owner had to fight to regain access to her own established domain name.
If you make sure that you’ve registered the domain in your name as the administrator and attached to your email address, you won’t find yourself in the same situation.
Choose a well known company.
It’s just a good rule of thumb to deal with a well-known company.
The little ones, in my extensive experience, can be very problematic to deal with, whether it’s not being able to update name servers or host records.
Most of the bigger domain companies do it right, because they have to.
My Registrar Recommendation
Finally, if you’re looking for a personal recommendation, the registrar I use for my own domain registrations and renewals is Namecheap. (Affiliate link)