Getting Started: Hosting & Domains
To get started with your website, you will need to purchase a domain and hosting. These are things you must buy. There are companies offering these services for “free”, but I’m sure you know, nothing is really free online. These free services often cost more money later, or they cram your website with ads and online tracking software. For domains and hosting, our motto is “you get what you pay for”.
What is a Domain?
A domain is your domain – or territory – you stake out in the online world. Think of a domain like a deed to a parcel of land. Like a deed, you pay a realtor to buy a deed, and then you own that piece of land, and you can do whatever you want with it. In this case, we want to build a house on this land.
On the internet, a domain is represented by the text you see in the address (Search) bar of your browser. www.google.com is a domain. www.cutepuppies.net is a domain. A domain may or may not have www at the beginning (it doesn’t really matter).
A domain can be any word you want, so long as it is only numbers and letters (no symbols like: !@#$%^&*), doesn’t have any spaces, and isn’t taken by someone else. Usually, domains end in .com, .net, or .org, but there are now many other options for the end of a domain. The .com or .net part of a domain is called the Top Level Domain (TLD). There are dozens of new TLD added in the last few years. Some examples of new TLDs: .academy, .xyz, .yachts (see the complete list here). These new TLDs are fun, but I would recommend sticking with .com or .org (.org is generally best for non-profit organizations). Most people don’t know about the new TLDs, and they might get confused if there is no .com at the end.
The big difference between buying a real-world parcel of land, and a domain is, you don’t really ever own a domain. You are renting it (called registering the domain) from the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). It’s a non-profit that organizes and sets up the rules for the internet. Every year, you have to pay around $10 to the ICANN to renew your domain. The confusing part is you don’t pay the ICANN directly, you need to use a company to register your domain. More on this in a bit.
If you ever forget to pay the annual fee, you can lose the domain, and anyone can steal it from you. You will get an email reminding you, but I recommend putting a reminder on your calendar to ensure you pay up every year. I’ve had many clients miss out on their payment by just a few days, only to have some nefarious squatter swoop in and buy up the domain. If this happens, the only way to get the domain back is to pay the squatter, which could be hundreds or thousands of dollars, they get to set the price. So, don’t forget, pay a few weeks ahead of time, and you will have no problems.
Start thinking of a good name for your website. You could pick your name, or the name of your organization or anything you want. Start brainstorming and writing down some good names now.
What is Hosting?
The other required purchase is hosting. Hosting is like a house. If you want to build a new house, you need some land to put it on. You can pay someone to build a house for you, or build one yourself. Either way, the house needs to go on some land. You can’t have a home without a house and land, so to create your website, you will need both.
Hosting is actually a rental as well. You are paying a company to use one of their computers to store the files for your website on their hard drive. These special computers (called “servers”) hold on to all the information about your website (text, images, links), and send the information to people who want to visit your website. They also help protect you from hackers, and set up all the complicated internet configuration stuff so you don’t have to.
All websites are on a server somewhere in the world. A good hosting company will have several locations scattered around the world, and they make a copy of your website for each location. So if one server stops working, or catches on fire, or loses power, your website stays safe at the other locations.
Hosting prices can vary widely, depending on how many files you want on your website, how fast you want your website to be, and what other services (like an email address or extra security) you want. For a website that is just starting out, you can expect to pay around $50-$150 every year.
Choosing Your Hosting Company
There are hundreds of places you can buy hosting and domains from on the internet. To make it simpler, I would recommend buying both the domain and hosting from the same company.
You’ve probably heard of GoDaddy. They spend millions of dollars making sure you’ve heard of them. GoDaddy sells both domain registration and hosting for websites, as well as many other services. When clients come to me with existing websites, they often go with GoDaddy because it’s a familiar name. But, I would strongly recommend not using GoDaddy. Here are a few reasons:
Reasons to Avoid GoDaddy
- Support calls have long wait times, and most of the staff is overseas.
- Once you sign up, they will call and email you relentlessly to sell you more products.
- They are such a big company, that they are monopolizing the industry, stifling innovation from smaller companies.
- Your website shares and IP address with many other websites. If any of those websites are doing things Google doesn’t like, your website will be punished as well. You have no control over this.
- Closing your account to move somewhere else is a nightmare; they use high-pressure sales tactics to keep you.
- Really poor help documents.
- Wikipedia has a laundry list of other controversies.
There’s more, but that should be enough. Yes, it’s cheaper, but remember our motto? You get what you pay for.
Another company to avoid, for similar reasons, is the behemoth Endurance International Group. The own dozens of hosting companies that look like they are independent, but are not at all. Bluehost, HostGator, iPage, FatCow, TypePad and more all belong to the same company, which can create price fixing, and a lower standard of support. Here’s the complete list of companies they own. Save time and money in the long-run, and go with a good company.
The Better Choice for Hosting
Going for a medium-sized company means better, more human, support, a faster and safer website, and if you pick the right one, it can even help your website show up higher on a Google search.
This book will walk you through buying a domain and hosting from a company called KnownHost. I’ve been using them for years. Their support is friendly, not bureaucratic, and usually takes 1.3 minutes to get a solution. The prices are good, and they are big enough to have a great product, but small enough to care about you. They are based in West Chester, PA, with their support staff in Birmingham, Alabama. Support is available all day, every day, even on holidays. If you already have a website with another hosting company, they will move it for you free of charge. They also backup your website for free, twice a day. If you managed to break your website, just call them up, and they will fix it for you.
The best part, their hosting starts at $3.47/month, and comes with a free domain.
The Fast Way to Make a Website
KnownHost is a great company, but you will have to set up WordPress yourself. If you want a quick and automatic way to get a website up and running, go with WPEngine. They take care of hosting, domains, WordPress set up, and have tons of cool designs to choose from, so you can get your website up fast. And you’ll get three months free when you signup, so, that’s nice.
Choosing your Domain Name
Before you buy anything, you need to pick a domain name, and choose how your domain will end (the TLD, like .com or .org). A TLD makes no difference in how your website works, it is just what people type in the address bar to go to your website. Kind of like your home’s street address, it’s just how people find your house. Your choices are many:
KnownHost’s Choices for Your Top Level Domain
Should You Use a .com Domain?
Most people go for a .com, because it’s what most people are used to typing in.
Why You Should Choose a .com Domain
The new TLDs are only a few years old, and it’s like new country has suddenly appeared, with land available for all. For example, if you want to register the domain cutepuppies.com, you can’t; it’s taken. But you could register cutepuppies.xyz, or cutepuppies.academy.
And with the new TLD, you can do clever tricks like making a word out of it. For example blo.gs uses the .gs TLD to spell out the word “blogs”. Other examples are every.one, swit.ch, and brief.ly. While these domains can be confusing for some visitors, it looks great on a business card.
Why You Should Avoid a .com Domain
The big problem with the .com TLD is, most of them are taken. This means you will have to get creative with the name you pick.
And, a visitor to your website might not understand the .com version and the .xyz version are two different websites, owned by different people, so they might go to the wrong one.
Also, in general, most people on the internet are so used to .com at the end of a domain, that they don’t trust anything else. This is slowly changing, so you have to decide if you want to be a trendsetter, or go with the flow.
There are dozens of TLDs to choose from, and you can have more than one. If you want to search for ones that KnownHost doesn’t offer, you can check out NameCheap, a great place to register a domain, and a bit cheaper than most places. Please note, if you register a domain from NameCheap you will have to go through an extra step to connect it to your website, which is outside the scope of this course. Here is a guide on how to connect your domain to your hosting, if you are feeling adventitious.
Choosing a Hosting Plan
To set up your website, we will be using KnownHost’s Basic Shared Hosting. This is the cheapest option, and has everything you need. Below is a list of features of the plan, and what they mean:
|Hosting Plan Feature||Interpretation|
|Basic Shared Hosting||The level of hosting you are getting.|
|1 Domain||You can only have one website on this account, which is all you need. And it’s free!|
|5 GB SSD Cloud Storage||How many files, text, video and pictures you are allowed to have. A regular website will take up 1/5th of 1 GB, so don’t worry about filling it up.
SSD = fast hard drive.
|5 Email Accounts||You can have up to 5 emails like email@example.com. You can put whatever you want before the @ symbol. Optional.|
|2 MySQL Databases||A database is like a spreadsheet, it’s just a way for your website to remember things. Don’t worry about it.|
|LiteSpeed Optimization||Makes your website run fast. You don’t need to do anything with this.|
|Unlimited Premium Bandwidth||Ooooohh, premium. Bandwidth is like a pipe in your bathroom. Some hosting companies watch how much water flows through the pipe, and if it’s too much, they will slow down the water flow. Unlimited means you don’t need to worry about too many people visiting your website, they won’t slow you down just because you are popular.|
|Free SSL Certificates||Free is good. An SSL certificate changes a website from http://www.example.com to https://www.example.com (adds an s). This makes your website more secure against hackers, and Google likes it when you do this. It is a must for all websites.|
Features may have changed since this book was published
The pricing for hosting plans is always confusing, so I will explain it here. Hosting can be paid monthly or yearly (most people do yearly). The more you pay now, the cheaper it will be overall, like buying in bulk. Here is the break down:
|Payment options for Basic Shared Hosting|
|$10 one-time setup fee|
|Pay monthly||First month: $6.71
$8.95 every month after that
|Pay yearly||First year: $80.55
$102.03 every year after that
|Pay every 2 years||First 2 years: $118.14
$193.32 every 2 years after that
|Pay every 3 years||First 3 years: $124.92
$257.76 every 3 years after that
Prices may have changed since this book was published
You can always switch payment schedules at any time.
There’s an Easier Way
KnownHost knows some people don’t want to deal with setting up a website. If you don’t mind paying a few extra bucks, they offer a Managed WordPress plan (in the menu on this site, click “WordPress Hosting”). They take care of all the little details, and get you into your website faster. If you choose this option, you can skip the Install WordPress section in the WordPress chapter.
Good Alternative Hosting Companies
If you don’t want to use KnownHost, check out these other good hosting companies:
How to Buy Hosting
- Visit this page.
- There are three plans to choose from. Pick whichever you like, but most people will be just fine with the cheapest option. You can always switch later.
- Click the Order Now button.
- On the next page, there is a section on the left labeled Configurable Options. Where it says Domain type in the domain you want, for example yourwebsite.com
- Optional: Backups twice a day comes free, but you can pay more for even more backups. The free option is plenty for most people.
- On the bottom-right, choose a Payment Method, same options as in the domain purchase.
- Make sure you are still logged in from buying a domain, and if not, log in. You know you are logged in if you see your name lower down on the page, on the left, in the Client Information section.
- Check the “I have read and agree to the Terms and Conditions” checkbox on the bottom-left.
- Now you are back on the standard checkout page. Make sure your details are all correct.
- Click the Pay & Complete Order button.
- Make sure the payment went through. You did it!
Whew! Okay, You now have a domain and hosting. Congratulations! Now you are ready to set up your website.
You can set up a lot of different kinds of websites, but in this guide, we will be using a website manager called WordPress.
How to Register just a Domain, Without Hosting
No matter what company you buy hosting from, you can get your domain name from KnownHost.
To buy and register your domain name with KnownHost:
- Visit this page.
- In the search box, type in the domain name you want to register.
- Choose your TLD (go with .com if you are unsure).
- Click the Check Availability button.
- When the page reloads, look lower down on the page. There will be a red or green bar.
- If the bar says “Sorry, that domain is not available.” then you will have to use a different name or different Top Level Domain.
- If the bar is green and says “Congratulations, that domain is available.” then your domain is available for purchase. Yay!
- Domains are paid annually, so the minimum is one year. You can also choose to pay for two or three years ahead of time. That’s up to you.
- Click the Order Selected button on the bottom right. You are then taken to a shopping cart checkout.
- On this page, there is a section labeled Configurable Options with some boxes for Name Server information. Just ignore them, they are for advanced set up.
- Check the box labeled Whois Privacy. It’s a tiny checkbox, below all the Name Server boxes in the left column. Whois Privacy is a free service that makes it so you don’t have to put your home or business address on the domain (a legal requirement). Instead, KnownHost will put their address. This will save you from hoards of sales calls from random people, and there’s no setup or cost, ever.
- Click the Continue button on the bottom-right.
- Now you are in a standard shopping cart. Fill out the form. You are also creating an account, so you can log in later to get the hosting and pay bill next year. Make sure you use a strong password and have a way to remember it! Anyone with this password can destroy your website, put up new pictures of text, or even steal your domain. Keep it secret, keep it safe (or do what I do, and use LastPass).
- Click the Create Account button at the bottom-right.
- On the Order Summary page, read the terms and conditions (haha) and check the “I have read and agree to the Terms and Conditions” checkbox. Then click the Checkout & Pay button in the bottom-right.
- Then, choose a payment method. You can pay via ACH, credit (or debit) card, or PayPal.
- Click the Pay & Complete Order button.
- Make sure the payment went through. You did it!
Now you have registered your own domain. You are a proud owner of a piece of the internet! Now that you have the land, it’s time to build the house.
A notice about links in this course
Some links in this course are "affiliate links". This means if you click on the link and purchase the thing, I get a commission for purchases made through links in this post. It costs you nothing extra, and enables me to work toward my dream of making a garden program to help kids and people with anxiety and depression learn and heal by interacting with the natural world. Thank you for making this dream a reality!