It’s unavoidable. To have a website you need two very important things:

  1. A domain name (like outboxonline.com)
  2. A web hosting service – the place where you’ll put the files that make up your website so that you can access them through your domain name (see above)

These can be mysterious and often confounding propositions – where to begin?

If you’re just starting out, I recommend that you buy both before you do anything else about your website (or figure out if your web designer will take care of it for you).  And buy them for as long as possible – usually it’s cheaper that way & search engines favor long-term sites.

I often get asked where to purchase both domain names & web hosting, and I use and recommend both SiteGround.com and BlueHost.com.  They’re competitively priced, have great customer service, and allow you to do everything you could possibly need to do to administer your website online. Your mileage may vary, however, as no web host is perfect.

If you already have a domain name, but no hosting package, I recommend that you get a hosting package through the same company (ie: registrar) that owns your domain name.  This isn’t necessary, but in the long run it’ll make your life easier.  If you own your domain name through a company that is difficult to work with (you’ll know this because you have trouble contacting them, and when you finally do it’s like talking to a pile of rocks), you can transfer it to another provider.  This can sometimes be a painful process, but it’s worth it.  Here are the basic steps:

  1. You contact your existing domain name registrar and have them unlock your domain name.  Domain names are locked so that people can’t just initiate a transfer of other people’s domain names to their own account without permission – it would be chaos.
  2. You also ask your existing registrar for the “authorization code” that you’ll need to complete the transfer.  This is like a password that only you know to make sure only the owner of the domain name can transfer it.
  3. You initiate a transfer at your new registrar & provide them with the authorization code.
  4. You wait a few days for the transfer to take place.
  5. Once your domain name is fully transferred, you should make sure you close your account with the previous registrar so you’re no longer paying them for a service they’re no longer providing.

If you already have a hosting package with the company to which you transferred your domain – have them update the “DNS settings” so that the domain name is connected to your hosting package.  Your website can now go live!  Unlike with domain names, if you had a hosting package with another provider, you don’t need to transfer it – as long as you’re set up with a new hosting package with your new provider, you can just cancel the old one and ideally get a refund for any unused paid time.

getting your domain name and hosting organizedHere are some interesting things to note about hosting packages & domain names:

  1. You might be asked about private domain registration – this is because there’s a public database (the WhoIs database) that keeps track of everyone who owns a domain name & their contact information.  If you don’t want that information public, you can pay to have the information replaced by the information of the service you’ve employed – thereby masking your info.  If for whatever reason the feds or interpol or someone needed to get at it, they certainly could, but a regular person could not. Hopefully, that’s not much of a concern for you!
  2. You might be asked if you want to pay for your domain name to be “certified” – there’s really no reason to pay for this.
  3. You’ll often get a whole bunch of choices when it comes to hosting packages – like Windows vs Linux (the answer is almost always Linux – but your web designer/developer can let you know if they need the specific development languages supported only by Windows).
  4. There’s also the choice of how much data you plan to transfer & how much storage you need – unless you’re hosting lots of audio and video files on your own server – you can probably stick with the cheapest option.  Keep in mind that companies like BlueHost won’t bring your site down if you exceed the amount of bandwidth allocated b/c suddenly something you wrote on your blog blows up – they’ll gracefully handle it and give you the chance to upgrade and pay for the additional traffic.  There are other companies (like one whose initials are N.S.) who will just bring your site down causing you major headaches to resolve and blemishing your online reputation. However, paying for a mid-range or higher-cost hosting plan often puts you on faster server hardware, thereby making your site load more quickly. There are things you can do to your site to optimize it to load quickly (like WordPress caching plugins) but nothing speeds up your site like super amazing server hardware.
  5. And then there’s the option of owning multiple domain names — there are two things you can do if you have multiple domain names:
    1. If you want to own multiple domain names but have them all point to one website, you can just place a “permanent redirect” on all but the one connected to your hosting account (which would be your primary domain).
    2. If you want to own multiple domain names for multiple sites, you don’t need multiple hosting accounts – you just need to make sure your hosting account supports the ability to host multiple domain names (it’s usually slightly more expensive).

Once you have your domain name and hosting package organized, you’ll need to keep track of your account access info.  Even if your web designer/developer(s) will be handling everything for you, it’s *very important* that you know your administrative login & password (and a phone number for the provider), plus the FTP login & password.  If your web designer gets hit by a bus (*knocking on wood*) – what will you do if you don’t have that info?

If someone owns your domain name and hosting package on your behalf (which is completely fine) – just make sure you’re also listed as an administrator on the account.

Phew! It’s lots to know – but just like managing any project, even if you’re not doing the work yourself, it’s best to understand the work being done.