Ever get confused about what the heck hosting is, if you need it, where to go, what to look for and how the heck it’s different from buying a domain?
Hold on to your britches, we’ll dive into all of this using a housing analogy that I’m pretty sure we can all relate to so that this can make more sense.
What is Hosting Anyway?
Buying hosting is a lot like renting an apartment…for your website. The hosting company you use is like a big apartment complex that has locations in multiple cities and states except your hosting company is more likely to have multiple locations across countries. The server on which your website is hosted is like the building number for your apartment, and the plan differences will help determine what kind of ‘building’ you rent.
Let me explain this a bit more:
Just like with apartment complexes, certain hosting companies and hosting plans are good for different things. Some have better security, some are targeted to appeal to those looking for a specific solution (like WordPress hosting that they don’t have to do any maintenance with their website on) and a ton of exclusive amenities (similar to a gated community), some are pretty cheap and just provide the necessities (for lower-income housing) and some provide a nice middle ground providing a decent living environment but without too many exclusive amenities.
Regardless of which hosting company you go through, you’re going to want to make sure they have a server that is ‘somewhat’ near your area because that way the people you are most likely to be doing business with can access your site that much faster. (We’re talking milliseconds here but on the web every second counts).
Hosting plans are like building layouts and will help determine which server your website lives in. Most companies have a range of options so it can be a bit difficult to know what you really need (hence I’ve included a list of the essentials below).
Typically the lowest cost hosting plan ($3-$5/month before discounts) would likely serve your needs just starting out but may be putting your website in a bad neighborhood or low-income housing. You never know who your neighbor will be and if they’ll play nice.
Bad neighbors might be spammers or people who exceed the monthly site visits for their plan and crash the server which is like a power outage for the whole building…resulting in all of the sites sharing the server with them going down.
High-end hosting ($30/month before discounts) is like putting your website in a gated community that sells clean air (aka non-smoking) but that comes with a higher price-tag too.
I typically recommend a mid-level hosting plan (roughly $10/month before discounts typically) which has the prices to detract from inviting the ‘bad neighbors’ into the community while also having a pretty decent selection of amenities.
When do I Need Hosting?
When you are ready to put a website for your business up you will need hosting.
However, if you’re planning on building a Squarespace website you’ll need to host through them since they keep everything within their closed-source software. This comes with a list of pros and cons, the main pro is that they are able to better maintain security and optimize site speed for you since you are using all of their own software. The main con is that you have to use all of their software and that means more limited options of what is possible.
This is the main reason why I recommend WordPress.org websites, they are open-source software and the growth potential is pretty limitless. If you’re not on Squarespace, i.e. building on WordPress.org or some other DIY builder you’ll be needing to buy (or rent) hosting from a third party.
What To Look For In Hosting
When choosing a website host I’ve compiled a brief list of the most important ‘amenities’ your hosting plan should include.
General Needs For Everyone
- Suitable web space and visit capacity for the size of your business
- Free email hosting (so you can create branded email addresses)
- Daily backups (recommended)
- Free SSL certificates
- Good tech support
- Servers located in your general area
- Servers that run updated PHP code (version 7 is best currently)
I like to recommend going for this option if you plan to take payment in anyway through your site, but only require it if you’ve set up a merchant account yourself. To clarify: if you will be taking credit card payments through stripe, paypal or some other third party software than you need to be sure that your site is secure, but does not need to be meeting the rigors of PCI compliance.
Allows you to test plugins for potential issues before running an update on the live site. This is amazingly useful if you’re worried about an update potentially crashing your site. The term ‘White Screen of Death’ is around for a reason. There are workarounds, but having the server provide staging is just easier typically.
If you plan to sell courses with their own membership backends this is going to be very desirable.
How the Domain Name Relates to Your Website Host
First of all, you may hear of Domain Name Servers (DNS). This is not the same thing as a website server. Your hosting plan for your website is different than the hosting for your domain name (URL).
A domain name server (DNS) is kind of like a database (aka a filing system). It’s basically the name of your file and inside it’s going to have the address for where your website lives, email, your actual address unless you purchased additional privacy, and all that good stuff. If you ever want to find out about who owns a certain URL you can search whois.com and unless they protected their info, you’ll know where they live and their number and all sorts of goodies…so I recommend getting privacy.
When you purchase a hosting plan you’re assigned a series of numbers called an IP address. It’s like if you were to tell a friend your address so they could visit or send you something in the mail.
This IP address is your website’s address that you would give a friend. But we’re not so good at remembering a long series of numbers typically. This is why we purchase a domain name and then update the address on file for your website by pointing your domain name to your website server. This allows you to give out a domain name that is much easier to remember, but it’ll still get the user where they need to go.
Here’s the cool thing about that: if you ever want to change where your website is located (move to a different hosting company or server within the same company) it’s very easy to point your domain to a new IP address.
Best Practices for Purchasing Domain Names
One: Purchase Your Domain Name From a Different Hosting Company Than Your Website Host.
Many website hosts will offer a free domain name for a year with your hosting package…I DON’T recommend taking that option. By keeping your domain name server separate from your website host it’s much easier to navigate migrating your website to another host should the need ever arise.
Why would you need to do that? What is the best hosting company today may not be the best tomorrow or your needs may grow beyond the hosting company. So, spend an extra $10-20 and purchase your domain name separately.
Another reason to not purchase your domain URL from your website host is security. By going through two companies, should one get compromised (aka hacked) they don’t have full control of every aspect of your website. This is unlikely, but prevention is the best medicine and really easy.
Two: Do Not Use a Domain Email to Purchase Your Domain Name.
Was that confusing? Let me word it like this. Buy your hosting from a personal email account. The reason for doing this is because should your domain get stolen or bought out from under you if you forgot to renew in time, then you can still access your account and communicate with your DNS host company.
Three: The .com, .co, .org, Debate.
.orgs are for non-profits. If you run a non-profit feel free to get the .org, otherwise, avoid it.
.com is still industry standard for businesses in the US and internationally. If it’s available I recommend getting it.
However, if the .com for your business is taken, the first step is to make sure that it is not being used for a business similar to yours. If it’s not likely to be confused, then feel free to go for the .co instead. (The .co is a pretty widely accepted alternative and typically won’t raise questions as to professionalism and trustworthiness). Alternatively, you can also try adding on prefixes like thecompanyname.com. In fact, you may want to do this anyway if you are concerned that the .co could be confused with the .com.
.uk, .us. .io…? There are a lot of different endings for a domain name because each country has its own domain ending. For instance: .uk is the United Kingdom, .us is the United States, .io is the Indian Ocean. There are also endings like .shop or .club. These aren’t as popular as a .com or .co, so I like to avoid using them in general still.
If you are considering an ‘alternative’ option then consider whether it’s accepted within your industry and demographics. I have noticed that many tech companies have started using .io regardless as to whether they are actually residing in the area of the Indian Ocean. In fact, it’s become so common that I’d say ‘alternative’ domain names for a tech start-up is very acceptable.
Additionally, your demographics may be more open to alternative URL endings in general. I have (again) noticed that many people who reside in European countries are much more used to seeing the .co and the country domain code. Not so much in the US yet.
Four: Go for the Privacy Upgrade
That is, I would recommend getting privacy unless you want people to be able to easily find out your physical address, phone number, and email. It’s super easy to come by all this personal info unless you include privacy on the domain. If you don’t care, then, by all means, forgo the additional expense.
Website Host Top Pick: Siteground
Siteground has great security, customer support, and plans for varying levels of business needs. In fact, when Siteground came onto the server scene they set industry standards for security. Safety first. This is your livelihood after all.
(The above is an affiliate link, but I recommend them all the time regardless as to whether or not I share my link)
Domain Name (URL) Top Pick: Google Domains
They are my current favorite because they strip away the up-sell fluff that many other companies incorporate into their checkout process and include privacy for free!! All you’ve got to do is make sure the option is checked during check-out.