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If you’re running your own small business, a website gives you a powerful marketing tool to stay engaged with existing customers, attract new ones, and strengthen your brand awareness.  Your website is your company headquarters on the Internet.  Yes, I know that Facebook and Instagram have billions of users…I still maintain that a website, even a 1 or 2-page site, has incredible value.

When setting up your online platform, the first considerations are important but can be confusing:

  • Choosing a domain registrar.
  • Choosing a web hosting service.

How do you go about this, and what are your options to effectively ensure you get your online message across to the masses?

A basic understanding of what web hosting services and domain registrars do will help you make an informed decision about what’s best for your site and your business.

We’ll start with…

Why You Need a Web Host and a Domain Registrar

You need somewhere to host your site and a name for it, and that’s where web hosts and domain registrars come in. 

Your web host is your virtual house, containing everything that makes up your website – text and images, and the framework that holds it all together. Your domain registrar is like your street address – telling people how to find you.

Here’s what you need to know about web hosting services and domain registrars in a little more detail. Hopefully, it will help you make sense of all the baffling sets of initials and acronyms you’ll encounter. 

What is a Domain Registrar?

The first step in building a website is choosing a domain registrar. This enables you to pick a domain name and register it to an IP (Internet Protocol) address. Your domain name is part of your URL (Uniform Resource Locator).

Computers can’t communicate using domain names, so instead, they find one other through IP addresses – these are combinations of numbers and periods that tell your browser or search engines exactly where to find you in the infinite mass of the Internet.

Registering your domain name involves going through a DNS (Domain Name System) registrar. These registries are managed by the International Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), a wing of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

Most domain names are acquired from a domain registrar and web hosting companies such as GoDaddy, Register.com, and Namecheap.  Heck, you can even use Google to manage your domains (I’ve used them and the prices are very competitive and the interface is quite good).  

Although people often talk about “buying” domain names, it’s the registries that actually own the names. Registrars allow you to reserve a domain name for a limited period – like a lease.

Picking a Domain Name

Picking a domain name is similar to choosing your business name – it needs careful consideration. 

Your domain name should reflect your business and make it easy for people to find you, so: 

There is a benefit to having your location in your domain depending on your service, so a plumber might want SpringfieldPlumbing.com as an option.  Length and detail are two competing elements you will want to consider.  For example, which might a lawfirm want to use:  DeweyCheatumandHoweLLC.com or DCAHLLC.com?  In these situations, I usually will get both domains and use one for the primary domain (the longer, more accurate one) but use the shorter one for all the emails and have the shorter one forward – as an alias – to the longer one where the website is located.

What is a Web Hosting Service?

Without the services and technologies provided by a web hosting service, no one would see your site.

Web hosts store websites in powerful computers called servers, linked to a high-speed network. When an individual uses your website address, the internet hooks up with the webserver containing your site’s files and transfers this data back to the individual’s computer.

Different types of web hosting include:

  • Shared hosting – the most common type of web hosting, with multiple people sharing a single server. 
  • Dedicated server hosting – your own server and all its resources, solely for your use.
  • Cloud hosting – cloud servers sharing hardware but using virtualization technology to ensure each server has its own dedicated resources. 
  • VPS hosting – using Virtual Private Servers that work similarly to a fully-dedicated server while running multiple operating systems.
  • Website building packages – typically offering a free domain name and web hosting account. 

Web hosting providers often provide a domain registering service, so you probably won’t have to directly deal with a DNS registrar.

So, next, we’ll look at…

How to Choose Your Web Host

When deciding on your web hosting provider, it’s advisable to look for business web hosting companies that ensure a high level of security to protect your customers, such as safeguarding payment information. 

Web hosts like these also frequently offer:

  • Integrated email hosting, including spam filtering.
  • Unlimited bandwidth and storage.
  • E-commerce tools. 
  • Automatic backup.

The web hosting service that’s right for you depends on many factors, including:

  • Your website’s goals.
  • How much traffic and growth you anticipate.
  • Your budget.

You’ll also want to consider what you need in terms of:

  • Uptime and load speed.
  • Customization of content.
  • Support services.

Your Web Hosting Options

As technology has evolved, so have your options for choosing a web hosting service that meets your businesses and your customers’ needs.

Shared Hosting 

Shared hosting is a popular choice for small businesses on the grounds of affordability and ease of use. However, it can be less flexible than other types of web hosting.

Cloud Hosting

Cloud hosting creates an infrastructure that can expand with your requirements over time while providing the flexibility to scale up quickly to deal with unexpected traffic surges. 

VPS Hosting

A hybrid of dedicated hosting and shared hosting, VPS hosting is the option many larger businesses choose because it’s less costly than a full dedicated hosting plan using a physical server.

Website Building Packages Incorporating Hosting

Web building packages with hosting are popular among small businesses, so we’ll look at them next…

Web Builders with Hosting

Many web building platforms integrate web hosting with site-building tools to make it relatively easy to create a site and get it online, with multiple templates to choose from. 

These web builders include:

WordPress web builders, a favorite with small businesses, come in two different flavors – hosted and non-hosted.

If you choose WordPress.com, you’ll need to arrange your own hosting, but with WordPress.org, you don’t have to sign up for hosting on your own.  If you choose to build a site with WordPress using your own hosting, an option to look into is Managed Hosting.  It is the most costly but offers you excellent customer support, nightly backups, hacking recovery, and other features that you might not get with some of the other hosting options.  Two vendors to consider are WP-Engine and Flywheel.

There is a more detailed and helpful article that talks about the specifics of these hosting options and talks about some of the providers to consider.  Personally, I’ve used Siteground for non-managed hosting and been very happy with the service and support.

The Importance of Keeping Tabs on Hosting and Domain Registrar Details

It’s important to make sure you always know your login details for web hosting and domain registrar accounts. The contact information and payment method they have for you are up to date.  If your credit card number changes for any reason, be sure to update the information for your registrar and hosting providers.  An invalid payment option can cause all sorts of headaches that are best avoided by a healthy dose of prevention.

If you lose access to either your registrar or host or your payments expire, it can cause huge problems, even if the payment option is kept up to date.  Your company should have access to and control of your domain and hosting accounts.  If someone at your company or an outside developer built your website, ask for the login information for these accounts.  If for some reason you don’t know this information, the hunt to figure it out starts with these two resources.

GoDaddy’s WhoIs database will usually tell you the registrar that someone used to reserve a domain.  It generally won’t tell you their name if the privacy option has been selected.  But, it helps narrow it down to a specific registrar.  Getting access to that account is another matter.  Hopefully, whoever set up the account can then recover the account access (if that’s the issue) and turn control of the domain over to you, preferably transferring it to an account you control.

WhoIsHostingThis is a query tool that can help you figure out where a website is hosted.  Again, the goal is to narrow the range of options to help identify who might control an asset so it can be turned over to you.

The key points of this article would be that you should:

  • Be thoughtful about the kind of hosting & the registrar you select
  • Retain and update the account and payment information to avoid painful disruptions
  • Find the hosting situation that fits your business needs