First, let's clear up a popular misconception.
You don't buy a website name - you lease it. This is not how people in the business of selling website names - also called domain names - present it.
It's important to know this from the start, because you can lose your website if you don't pay the domain name fee on time (see Virtual Property). In an instant, all the hard work you've put into building a good website with a carefully-chosen name, and building your brand around that name, can be gone. So before you rush off to publish your award-winning website design, or start cashing in on your perfect business idea, you need to understand how the website name system actually works.
Often, people who don't have a website already (and even people who do!) confuse the two pieces of a website: its name and its location.
Your Website Name: Find a Domain Name through a Registrar
Your next step is to register your domain name from a registrar. As we said above, you aren't really purchasing your website name, but renting it from the registrar. Most domain names cost about $10 per year, and most registrars provide similar services -- for example:
- Registration for multiple years
- Bulk registration for people who want many domain names
- Notification services so you don't let your domain name expire accidentally
Shopping around might provide you a discount on your desired domain name, as well as discounts for add-ons such as private registration (which guards your personal information from the public). It pays to look around and see what's out there.
- Take a look at this list of registrars to get started.
The most important thing to remember is that your domain name must be renewed after a given period of time, depending on how many years you pay for when you first register. Should you forget to pay, you will lose your right to use the name, and it will become available to anyone who wants it. It would be a shame to lose the right to use the domain name that's become part of your brand and identity, just because you forgot to pay a simple fee.
Your Website Location: Choose a Web Hosting Company
Once you've secured your domain name, you'll need to find someone to host your website on a computer, known as a "server". This server will connect your site to the Internet, so people can find it.
The cost of hosting a website is a wild card. It really depends on what you want the website to do.
- If you want your website to be nothing more than an online business card, you'll need a simple hosting plan.
- If you want to host a community on your website, you'll need something a hosting plan that can accommodate databases and a large number of visitors coming to your site. You'll be looking for a plan that offers you both more storage space and more bandwidth.
- If you are selling goods or services from your website, you'll need to consider even more complex hosting plans to make sure your site doesn't lock up just when people are trying to buy.
You'll need to shop around for the hosting company and services that best suit your needs. It's a good idea to read website host reviews, but take care when you look for a website hosting review site. Some bias their reviews in favor of companies that advertise with them.
These review sites provide a lot of information about website hosting companies:
- WebHostingGeeks.com has ads from web hosting companies, but the reviews appear to be unbiased.
- UpperHost.com says it's a nonprofit and that it tests the performance of web hosting companies. It also publishes reviews from hosting companies' customers.
- BestHostRatings.com has a limited number of ads, and says it pays for its own web hosting, just like anyone else. Includes user reviews, performance reports and more.
Talk to other people you know who own or operate websites. Your fellow webmasters can provide a wealth of information about hosting companies.
Website Hosting Terms to Understand
It's important to understand the language that web hosting companies use to describe their services. Once you do understand, it will be easier to evaluate hosting plans and ask the right questions as you vet web hosting companies.
- Uptime is the average percentage of time that a hosting company's servers are actually functioning. All hosts have servers fail -- or "go down" -- from time to time. Your website is less likely to be unavailable to visitors if it's hosted at a company that has 99.9 percent uptime than at a company with an uptime of 75 percent.
- Disk space is the amount of space on a host's servers that you are allowed in your hosting plan. All your web pages, email and other files that are part of your website are included in this quota.
- Bandwidth refers to how much traffic you are allowed to send and receive in any given month. If you are going to offer files for download on your website, you'll definitely need to look for a higher level of bandwidth than a "business card" site will need.
- Overselling is what a web hosting company is doing when it sells more disk space and bandwidth than its servers are physically capable of providing. Companies do this because they assume that all their customers won't be using all their allocated resources at once. This isn't a good assumption. If too many customers do use all their allocated resources, the host's servers won't be able to handle it, and your site could become unavailable for a period of time, or simply fail to perform as well as you want it to.
Once you have your domain name and a website hosting provider, you're ready to create your website and start promoting it.