What did you do that last time you wanted to go do something specific in town? Unless you already knew exactly where you were going, chances are you picked up your phone and Googled it. Right? Even if you knew for sure where you were going, there’s still a good chance you did that to check the hours or other specifics.
The same applies for buying something. Even if you knew exactly what you were buying and where you you were buying it from, you probably checked to make sure it was available or if there were any specials you could find.
That’s just the way it is today. And exactly why having a website for your business is pretty much required to be competitive. As is using social media and online marketing. Even those who are online aren’t exactly doing a stellar job.
But still, many small businesses think it’s too expensive or too difficult. And unfortunately, some have started the process only to get stuck or frustrated and give up.
We get a lot of customers new to the world of running a website who struggle with the process of getting their domain and hosting to work. Or who just don’t understand that sometimes it isn’t instant.
This guide will help with that. If you aren’t sure where to start in order to get a website up and going, then keep reading.
Get a domain name
First things first – get a domain name. Your domain name will be one of the most important decisions you make while planning out your new website. It’s a must-have unless you’re planning on using one of the many free website platforms… which in pretty much all cases is a bad idea (more about this in a few minutes).
How do I choose a domain name?
Your domain will be what customers will type into their browser to get to your site. And what you’ll share across social media for attracting new potential customers. So it’s important that it’s easy to remember. Try to keep it short and stay away from acronyms or abbreviations if possible.
You’ll also have to decide on which TLD (top-level domain) you’re going to use. This is the suffix that comes after the domain name you choose. The .com, .net, etc. While .com is what most people are used to and is easiest to remember, it can be difficult today to find one that fits your brand and is also available. Finding a suitable .com that’s available is a challenge these days.
Sure, you could contact the owner of the domain if the one you really want is taken and offer to buy it. But domain buyers know the value they hold in their hands and you’re probably not going to get it for cheap.
However, there are hundreds of alternatives to a .com. Some examples are .biz, .travel, .shop, .news, .tech, .store. For some businesses, this can work out nicely. A small law firm might use .associates, while a clothing store might use .boutique.
But if you choose to use one of these newer, alternative TLDs, you’ll have to make sure you pay close attention to your branding. All your marketing and branding should make it clear your site is not .com like most people will assume if your marketing materials aren’t memorable.
There are several helpful, free online tools that can help you find the perfect domain, too. A few you can play with are:
You can also try these tips from Social Media Today for coming up with a fitting domain.
Once you’ve chosen the domain for your new home on the web, you’ll need to register it. You can do this through one of the many domain registrars, but it’s usually also offered when you sign up for your hosting. Which is something else you’re going to need. But first, you need to know what your site is going to need so you can choose the right hosting plan.
Choose your web host
Before you start looking for hosting, you need to know what you’ll be hosting. Are you going to use a common CMS (Content Management System) like WordPress? Or something custom made? Will you need specific versions of PHP (A coding language), Windows applications or other special software?
Do you expect high volumes of traffic from the onset or do you suspect it will rapidly grow once your site is established? You have to be honest with yourself here, as you don’t want to waste money paying for bandwidth you’ll never use. On the other hand, you want to ensure you have enough bandwidth if you have lots of traffic to your site.
All of this will affect what type of hosting you need. Let’s take a quick look at some of the hosting plans you have to choose from.
Shared hosting plans
If you choose shared hosting, your site will be on the same server as several other sites. You’ll have your own little section assigned to you, but overall, you’ll be sharing the resources of that server. I’ve often seen this compared to renting an apartment. The apartment is yours, but there are plenty of other people in the building too.
Shared hosting is the cheapest option because the cost of running and managing that server is split among everyone on the server. It’s also the easiest to work with if you’ve never managed a site and aren’t familiar with coding.
But it has the least flexibility and won’t cut it if your site becomes popular and has lots of traffic. You’re limited as to what you can run on your site. A basic site on WordPress, for example, should be fine. But if you need to run scripts that require certain PHP versions that the server doesn’t have… well, you won’t be able to.
You can’t install just anything you want on the server or change the operating system, as the server isn’t yours alone to customize.
Virtual private servers
Virtual private servers, or VPS, are a step up from shared hosting. You’re still on a server with other people, but there aren’t as many. And the section that’s assigned to you is larger with more flexibility. Your section is setup as its own little server within the main server, giving you more control over what you can run on it.
If at some point, you realize you need more resources or even more flexibility, it’s easy to scale up on a VPS.
A dedicated server is just what it sounds like. A server that’s all yours. No one else will be on that server, period. You can customize it fit pretty much any need your site has. You have complete control over every aspect of the server, but keep in mind that managing the server is your responsibility. So is security. And it takes more technical knowledge to run a dedicated server.
Connecting your domain and your hosting
Once you have a domain registered and you have a hosting plan in place, you’ll need to make sure they’re connected. If you register your domain somewhere other than your hosting provider, you’ll need to update your nameservers.
Your hosting provider will tell you what the nameservers should be changed to. If you’re hosting with us, you can find this info in your client area.
Go to Services > My Services and select the hosting account by clicking the blue “View Details” button on the right. You should see this (keep in mind, this is an example… you need to check your client area to find your nameservers, as they’re probably not the same as this example):
It will also be emailed to you. Once you have your nameservers, go to your domain registrar to change them. This is normally done in your client area or control panel with the domain registrar. It’ll vary from registrar to registrar.
Once you’ve updated the nameservers, it can take anywhere from a few minutes to 72 hours to fully “propagate”. During this time, ISPs (Internet Server Providers) and servers around the world will notice the changes depending on their TTL (Time to Live). Once it’s fully propagated, your site will be visible by visiting your domain in a browser.
Note: TTL is a time interval that’s set by the administrator of that server, ISP, etc. This determines how often it’ll check for new and updated info. So even if you’ve updated your nameserver, if it hasn’t reached its TTL to look for that new info, it’s still going to use the previous nameservers. When it reaches the TTL, it’ll see the new info and use that.
Why not use free website builders/hosting?
Of course, many people looking to start a website are tempted to use a free website platform like Weebly, Shopify, Wix, etc. The main problem with this is that you don’t actually own the site. They do.
You don’t really have full control over your site either. What you’re allowed to do with your site or put on it is limited to what they say you can do. Also, they make can make changes to their site and platform as they see fit… whether it affects your site or not. And whether that effect is good or bad.
For example, here’s an article about just that. This, though, is talking about Etsy and why you’d want to consider moving your site off of their platform and onto your own domain and hosting.
On a completely different note, having your website on your domain vs. one of those free sites just plain looks more professional.
Hopefully this guide makes getting your domain and hosting ready to go a little easier to understand. Because without this part, nothing else is going to happen. Whether it’s a brochure, informational site you need to get setup for visitors to browse or an ecommerce site for your store. You can’t do anything until you’ve got your domain and hosting in place.
Is there something in particular that you’d like to see as a follow up to this? Optimizing your site so it’s easier to find on Google (SEO, search engine optimization)? Design? Social media?
Or if you have any questions regarding this information, please leave a comment below or get in touch with us through live chat.