PART 1: Prepare
Your website will live on the web, of course. But what does that mean?
Websites need a few technical components. You can think of these parts like a virtual house for your business. You may or may not have heard of the terms below (if you have, feel free to skip!) If you have not, what follows is a short primer on basic web technology. I think it’s important for every small business owner to understand at least this much. And if you want to know more, please reach out and ask!
Technical parts of your website
Your virtual website house consists of two things you must purchase separately; sometimes you can purchase them together. Those two things are:
Domains are also known as URLs or website addresses. To get really (really!) basic: your domain (or URL or web address) is the string of letters that you type into the address bar of a web browser to go directly to your web page. In your virtual house, your domain is the address of your virtual house – the string of numbers and letters that help others identify it.
When you purchase a domain, it’s generally said that you are registering a domain, kind of like registering your car. You are claiming that domain name for your use, for the amount of time you pay for. Depending on where you register (or purchase) your domain, you may be able to pay for 1, 2, 5, or more years ahead of time, and save money in the process. Purchasing a domain for a longer length of time also shows Google that you are committed to your business, and you get a small SEO bump for that.
Wherever you purchase your domain, that company is called your domain host or your domain registrar. It’s important to keep this login information handy – you’ll need it for setting up email and/or to connect your domain to your hosting.
I keep a teeny Moleskine on my desk with passwords, or you could sign up for a password management service, such as LastPass.
It’s never too early to purchase a domain! If you come up with an idea for the name of a company that you might want to use, check to see if it’s available, and if it is, purchase it. If you don’t purchase right away, you run the risk of planning everything around a name that’s not available.
Your hosting account is where your website lives. In your virtual house, your hosting is the plot of land that your tech house sits on. In slightly more technical terms, your hosting account is where all of the files for your website are stored.
In some instances, you can purchase your hosting from the same company that you purchased your domain from. Other companies only offer one service or the other. Some tech experts argue that it is better to keep hosting and domains separate, though there isn’t a big advantage to do it one way or the other. There are a few types of hosting accounts, but the two most common are shared and managed.
Shared hosting means you share a server with a few other websites. Picture a hard drive in a sea of other hard drives in a dark, air-conditioned room. Depending on the company, that number can be anywhere from 400 to over 1000. Shared hosting is often very cheap because of this – you’re sharing the server space with others. Shared hosting is kind of like living in an apartment building. It can often be less expensive than living in a house, because you are sharing resources – eternal walls, bills, etc.
Shared Hosting Pros
– Can generally host more than one website on the account
– Usually includes email at no additional cost
Shared Hosting Cons
– Can be hacked more easily (if another site on your shared server is hacked, your site is more likely to become infected)
– Email interface can be very dated and difficult to use
– Can often be very slow, or crash often, depending on how many other sites are on the server
Managed Hosting is a higher tier of service. Generally, automatic updates for WordPress, nightly website backups, dedicated servers, and malware scanning/cleanup is included. Of course, this costs more! But you get security, better up time, and an overall piece of mind with managed hosting.
Managed Hosting Pros
– Usually includes malware scanning and removal
– Faster load times
– Dedicated server means virtually no downtime
– Nightly backups
Managed Hosting Cons
– More expensive
– Usually does not include email
– Can only host one site per account
Unless it’s going to shatter your budget, choose managed hosting. If your site ever gets hacked (and, unfortunately, the odds are against you), you won’t have a mess on your hands – your host will simply clean it up for you! It’s worth it. Managed hosting is kind of like a security system for your virtual house – a really expensive one that posts cameras at all of your doors and has a dedicated service professional watching, at all times.
Don’t purchase your hosting ahead of time! Your web designer or developer will more than likely have a hosting provider that they like best, and can assist you in setting it up.
Domain and Hosting Recommendations
Below are some recommendations for companies that I have worked with and have had good experiences with. Again, it’s never too early to purchase a domain, but unless you’re DIYing it, wait to purchase hosting until you chat with your web person.
HOW: How do you get a website?