This article was first written in reply to a friend’s request for advice about buying a domain name, getting a hosting package and building a website. I’ve posted it here for reference and for anyone else who’s considering trying his or her hand at webmastery for the first time
First things first, consider whether you’re willing to shell out a bit of money and a lot of time in developing a website that might never give back any real financial return. You have to be prepared to build a website for fun just as much as for profit (assuming profit is your aim). Secondly, you can read up on all things web related until your brain explodes but you’ll only really learn by giving it a go. With that in mind, here are some pointers for beginners to help get a site up and running.
I’ll work around the hosting package I use because I know it and trust my hosting provider (Hostgator).
A few terms you might need to know:
In its simplest form a server is a computer with a hard drive that holds information and software that it serves up to any computer that makes a request and that presents the right pass codes to permit access to that information or software.
Provider of server space for a website.
The entity through which a domain name is registered. Think along the lines of births and deaths, domain names are little different – their birth’s are registered and the registrar says when they will die.
Website or Webpage?
A webpage is a single page of data that is accessible via the Internet. A website is, technically, a collection of webpages although some might argue that a domain name with only one webpage that fulfills all the expectations of its owner is a website too.
And we continue…
Owning a website entails paying to register your domain name and paying for server space to host your website.
The way purchasing a domain name works is more akin to you creating a domain name and then hiring the exclusive right to use that domain name on a per year basis. A domain name registration can either be renewed on a yearly basis else registered for a several year term then renewed at expiration of that term. Those who do not re-register their domain name(s) before expiration risk losing their domain name to someone else.
Web server space is similar in that you hire it. Some hosting providers offer the option to pay monthly, yearly or several yearly. You can host your own website on your own home based or office based server but then you’d have to ensure your server is continuously switched on and is secure from hackers, viruses and trojans. You’d also need a static IP address. So unless you’re very tech savvy and know what you’re doing it’s better to lease server space.
The cost of a domain name varies from registrar to registrar and differs according to the Top Level Domain (TLD) designation otherwise known as the bit after the final dot e.g .com or .co.uk or .net.
It’s important to have the right end bit in that it designates the location and scope of the website. For examples, .com represents commercial, .co.uk represents a website from the United Kingdom and .edu represents an educational establishment. As you’ll know from experience, most .com sites are not commercial; many webmasters choose .com because search engines pick them as worldwide enterprises and thus return them for searches made anywhere in the world, and, more importantly, because most people remember the .com ending more readily than a .net or .org. If you intend to serve people in a specific country then you should use a TLD that represents that country.
When deciding on your domain name, choose something related to your website, a keyword that search engines will pickup on; make it easily memorable, something that shouldn’t need to be writen down to be remembered; and try not to use punctuation marks because people forget them. For example www.webmaster.com is easier to remember than www.web-master.com
You can register your domain name with any registrar you trust; it doesn’t have to be the same people who provide your server space.
If you buy a .com domain name from Yahoo! then it’s likely to cost around $9.00 but the renewal fee will be closer to $28.00 (for this reason I’ve just moved my domain registrations from Yahoo! to Hostgator, my hosting provider). A .com purchased with Hostgator is $15.00 per year and can currently be renewed for the same price. Any domain can be re-registered with a different registrar anytime after 60 days of registration.
When a change of registrar is enacted the old registrar will not usually refund any money based on time left before the current registration expires. Extension of registration with a current registrar can be done before a domain’s expiration and usually runs on from a domain name’s natural expiration date (i.e you don’t lose any registration time and therefore money already spent).
Back to server space, all websites need to be hosted somewhere people can have ready access to them by entering the site’s domain name into a browser. That somewhere is usually leased server space. When a website is built it is usually with a pre-made software package that’s installed onto a server. Content is then added by the website’s owner and, if he/she allows, by the website’s users.
Providers of server space offer different packages tailored to meet the different needs of websites. As expected, the more services needed and the more resource hungry those services, the more that server space costs. Plus, not all hosting providers allow all types of content to be hosted on their servers e.g some allow adult content, some don’t, most will not allow torrent sites or sites that breach the laws of the country where the hosting server(s) is located. Server fees can be higher when the host touts his/her business toward particular webmaster markets e.g a host who is dedicated to adult websites will generally charge extortionately for using his/her servers.
The hosting provider I use (Hostgator) offers a good service for reasonable fees. Up-to-now, I’ve had no issues with using their services. For $9.95 per month ($119.40 per year) I get to host as many domain names as I wish; I get loads of server space (they say unlimited but they have a fair use policy); excellent customer service; a well used user support forum; A good selection of pre-packaged software (no stops on me from using my own software as I often do); and I can host adult content – I checked before I purchased. I could’ve gone on selling them but that’s not my reason for writing this.
Putting the above together, for under $140 a year (less if you buy several years server space in one go and use coupon codes) anyone can get a domain name, server space and therefore a website set-up.
But, setting up a website is the easy part, attracting visitors, and adding content to attract and keep visitors is the hard part which is why I say to anyone whose willing to set-up a website that unless his/her website compliments a real world business like a shop, charity or social club then he or she must be willing to do it just for fun as a hobby and learning experience or face the possibility of disappointment. Personally, there are days when I want nothing to do with any of my websites but most of the time I really do enjoy developing them and learning new things to do with them. It’s quite a thrill when you see visitor numbers reach a hundred a day (upsetting when they drop to zero) and when you make that first sale through something advertised on “your” site it can be very rewarding to know that your own work, skills and business has made a little money.