8 Steps to Understanding Website Hosting and Domains
Are you confused about website hosting and domains?
You are not alone!
How exactly do you successfully put a website up on the internet? So many non-IT people find the terminology and processes of website hosting quite confusing. So, we thought we’d help you out by providing a brief overview of domains and hosting on the internet in this guide using simple, every day language. *skip to the summary*
Business owners and teams generally focus on the look and content of their website but don’t really understand all the technical aspects. After all, your expertise lies within your business field, not with internet technology. And yet, website domain registration and website hosting are the essential foundational components of your website. As briefly touched on in our previous article on why your business needs digital marketing, your website is your digital store and it would be useless, even bad for your reputation, if your store couldn’t be found or was in a state of disrepair!
When clients come to us for either a new website or to redevelop an existing site, we take the time to explain how websites (and the internet!) work, so that they have a basic understanding and a general overview. This helps them to make decisions with us on the best approach for their website for both the immediate set-up and the long term maintenance of their site. We help our clients navigate technology without having to be experts in IT, and we do all the heavy lifting for them.
1. What is the internet?
Of course, YOU know what the internet is! But for the other people out there… Everyone assumes that the internet is self-explanatory, but it is actually quite easy to use something without really understanding how it works. As with driving a car even though you’re not a mechanic, it is only when we encounter problems with it that we realise that we don’t know what we don’t know!
The simplest explanation is that the internet is a vast web of computers around the world that are connected with each other via various routes such as cables, satellites and wifi. Every website consists of many different computer files that are stored on a computer somewhere in the network. When IT folk talk about “servers” all they really mean is “computers”. (You’re welcome!) We access this network via our own computers and digital devices, find the website addresses by using search programs to find their digital addresses and are then routed to the websites stored on the internet computers. This is similar to the way telephones work – individual codes sending connection requests to specific devices by using a network.
“Surfing the internet” used to be a long-winded process, more like travelling on a bus route with a number of changeovers than actual surfing. But thanks to ever-improving technology, we now apparently give up on a website and bounce away if it takes longer than 3s to load!
2. What is a domain name?
A domain name is basically the name of your website on the internet. It is the main part of the url that is typed into the browser bar that functions like a street address so that people can find your business online. It translates to a very specific code (called an IP address) so that their computer is connected to the computer where your website is stored, sort of like GPS coordinates for physical locations.
Generally your domain name is a version of your business name, but it can be anything that is connected with your brand/product/service. You also need to decide what domain extension you want – do you want a TLD (top level domain) like .com or .net or do you want a country level domain like .ie? (Perhaps it is a good idea to own a few!) There are different reasons behind making each choice. Our domain name is swan.consulting
This domain name (along with your logo & colours etc) needs to be used consistently everywhere your brand is found – on Google, social media, online articles and printed material like flyers and business cards. We have a client that came to us with 4 different domain names reflected in different places making it almost impossible for people to find their website. It was quite a tangled mess to sort out!
A common occurence that we see with small businesses is that their email addresses do not match their domain names. Just because when you started out as a sole trader your email was [email protected], it doesn’t mean that you can’t easily change to [email protected] (Don’t worry, emails sent to your old email address can still be directed to your new email address.) You can also set up a few generic email aliases like [email protected] or [email protected] without incurring additional expenses. This helps you to establish your brand and looks professional.
3. How do you get a domain name?
You need to register your chosen domain name with a domain registrar. Make sure you use a reputable company. The IEDR maintains a list of accredited .ie registrars. You can register your domain name yourself using a registrar like Blacknight or Register365, but if this is your first time doing so you will need to supply supporting documentation. Generally it is easier if we do it for you as part of our service. We know the questions to ask and the boxes to tick, and that way we can keep track of it for you, along with all the technical aspects of your digital identity. In most cases domains are renewed annually but sometimes businesses pay for longer terms, like 10 years. You can move registrar’s easily enough, given a few caveats, so don’t worry about that.
Have you ever typed in a url when looking for a business and landed up on the website for something totally unrelated because the wording or spelling was just slightly different? We recommend that your domain name (and even variations) are registered as soon as possible to ensure that your brand is protected and that people are finding YOU when they are looking for you. You may even find that the domain name you want is already taken by someone else and you need to consider a different name. Think about it from your visitors’ perspective – short is best for eliminating typos and makes it easier to remember. A domain name is as important as your business name itself, so choose wisely and soon!
4. So then, what is website hosting?
Aha! That is the million dollar question, isn’t it 😉 A web host is simply that computer (or computers) on the internet network where all your website files are stored. So website hosting is the service of providing space on a computer for your website files to reside. You can think of it as a virtual realtor or estate agent renting out digital real estate.
When people type in your domain name they are directed to where your website is hosted in order for your website to be displayed to them. It is important to know who is hosting your website or where your website is hosted. We have a new client who we discovered was paying 2 different businesses to host their website (and of course only 1 could actually be doing so!)
5. What website hosting is right for you?
There are many different types of hosting available, so it is important that your business website has the right kind of hosting for your needs. You may have heard of the following terms:
- Managed hosting
- Shared hosting
- Cloud hosting
- WordPress hosting
- Virtual hosting
We won’t go into detail in this post about all the different terms as it can get quite technical, and you should engage an expert to look after this for you. What is important to understand is that there are many options available and the choice depends on what website platform you are using as well as the current and future needs of your website. Your website developer or IT adviser should explain the options and implications of web hosting to you, preferably even before your website is built. However, web hosting can always be changed and changing your web host doesn’t necessarily affect your domain name or website design.
Hosting providers offer many different types and levels of services and you need to compare like for like. Some website platforms include hosting while some do not. We highly recommend that you have proper managed hosting for your website so that you can be assured that all the technical stuff is taken care of for you.
6. What is managed hosting?
If hosting is just the space rented for your website files to live, then who is your website maintenance manager? Many people think that once their website is hosted, then nothing further needs to be done, but that is definitely not the case. Managed hosting is a service whereby your hosting company looks after all the technical aspects of your website, like configuration, security, updates, back-ups, performance, etc. The hosting company is then responsible for ensuring that your website runs smoothly on the host computer infrastructure. People assume that their hosting company is takiing care of the site maintenance, but unless the hosting company states that they provide a managed service, generally they do not and so no one is actually maintaining your website.
Managed hosting can sometimes also include ongoing technical support for your completed website. This includes updates to your website platform, maintenance and security, technical consultation on your hosting infrastructure and any structural design changes you may be considering on your website. But this is not always the case, so make sure you understand exactly what is included in the price, and what is not.
7. Why is managed hosting important?
If you don’t have managed hosting, then you are responsible for the administration of all the technical aspects of your website hosting. Unless you have the technical knowledge and access to the hosting environment, this can result in your website going offline, loading very slowly, displaying broken links or missing images, having important functions break down, or being affected by hackers, amongst many other things.
You wouldn’t want to be responsible for cleaning and maintaining your business office premises on top of doing all the work required to run your business successfully, would you? As a business owner you already wear so many different hats, and your time is precious. So let the experts look after your hosting and you focus on your business.
You can find a bit more detail on why we recommend managed hosting on our website hosting page.
8. Which hosting company should I choose?
The choice of hosting company for your website is dependent on many factors, including what platform your website is built on, the current and future performance requirements of your website, an assessment of costs vs risks, and the level of your own in-house technical expertise. You need to consider the reputation of the company, the expertise of their staff, and what level of customer service and advice you can expect to receive from them.
Swan Consulting has a team with decades of hosting knowledge and experience who can advise you on the best type of hosting to meet your needs and your budget. Think of us as your friendly site maintenance manager providing you with peace of mind while you make your business a success.
- The internet is a vast web of computers around the world that are connected to each other via various routes such as cables, satellites and wifi.
- A domain name is basically the name of your website on the internet that functions like an address.
- You need to register your chosen domain name with a domain registrar.
- Website hosting is simply the service of providing space on an internet computer for your website files to reside.
- There are many different types of hosting available, so it is important that your business website has the right kind of hosting for your needs.
- Managed hosting is a service whereby your hosting company looks after all the technical aspects of your website, like configuration, security, updates, back-ups, performance, etc.
- If you don’t have managed hosting, then you are responsible for the administration of all the technical aspects of your website hosting.
- The choice of hosting company for your website is dependent on many factors. Contact Swan Consulting for advice and to discuss the correct hosting plan for you.