This post is for: small business owners who are unclear about the difference between getting a domain name and getting hosting for a website.
If you’re a small business owner, you need a website. To get one, you need to do the following:
- Buy your domain name. This is the “www.(yourcompany).com” address that you will advertise as the location of your website.
- Buy hosting for your site. This is the place on the Internet where your website will reside, and where everyone will be able to find it.
- Build your website, or get someone to build it for you.
Many business owners are unclear about the difference between Step 1 and Step 2, because many domain name registration companies also offer hosting services, and many website hosting companies also offer domain name registration services. It’s often packaged up as one seamless process on the vendor’s website, which is convenient for you, but also possibly a bit confusing, because they don’t usually explain how they’re setting up your hosting and your domain name registration behind the scenes.
It’s worth knowing that these are two different processes, and understanding what each one does, because if you ever need to change one or the other, you’ll need to know exactly what needs to be done and who to contact.
So here, in a nutshell, are some small-business-friendly explanations of domain name registration and hosting:
Registering a domain name for a website
Since you want people to find your business on the web at the address “www.(yourbusinessname).com”, you need to buy that domain name. You can buy that name at a domain name registration company, usually referred to as a “registrar“. Registrars have a place on their website where you can search to see if the domain name that you’re thinking of using is available (i.e., isn’t already being used by someone else). And then they also offer an online process for you to buy (“register”) that name. They charge by the year, and it’s usually a good idea to register your name for more than one year, because a) it’s cheaper, b) you don’t have to remember to re-register it as often, and c) it’s better for SEO (search engine optimization) purposes.
Once you’ve paid, you become the owner of that domain name, and the company that registered it for you becomes your registrar. It’s important to make a note of your domain name’s registrar and their login information (your username or ID number, and your password), because when your domain name registration is about to expire and it’s time to pay again to renew it, you’ll need to know who your registrar is and how to log in to the “Manage my account” area of their website.
Your registrar also performs one other crucial function for you: as part of your registration, they keep track of where your website is currently hosted, so that whenever someone types your domain name into their browser, they will be taken to the correct location of your website. When you register your domain name, you provide them with the Nameserver (DNS) addresses of your hosting company. Your hosting company will provide these DNS addresses to you when you buy hosting (see below).
So if you ever need to renew your domain name registration, or if you change hosting companies and therefore need to change the DNS address that’s associated with your domain name, now you know that those are things that need to be done at your registrar’s website.
Getting hosting for a website
To find a good hosting company, it’s often best to go with a recommendation either from a business partner or from your website designer. As for which hosting plan to choose, your web designer can advise you on the best choice for your needs. You normally buy a certain amount of server space (typically several GB, which is much more than most websites need), and a certain amount of bandwidth, which is the amount of data that you’re allowed to transfer to and from your server each month. The more visitors your website has, the more bandwidth you use. But even the smallest amount normally included with a simple hosting plan will be more than enough for most small business websites.
Hosting is normally sold by the month or by the year, with discounts for the latter. Once you buy a hosting plan, your hosting company will send you some login information, which your web designer will need in order to be able to upload your website’s files onto your host’s server.
Your host will also provide you with two DNS nameserver (IP) addresses, which you need to give to your domain name registrar. This is the information that will allow your registrar to point your domain name to your new host, that is, to the location of your website.
Many small businesses buy their domain name and their hosting at the same time, so they’re left with the impression that it’s the same process. In fact, your hosting may be provided by one company, and your domain name registrar may be a different company altogether. So it’s not necessarily the case that your registrar and your host are one and the same. It’s a good idea to keep track of both for your company, in case you ever need to find a new host or change the DNS records at your registrar.
And if you inherited the tasks of arranging hosting or renewing your domain name registration from someone else who is now long gone, you will need to figure out who your registrar and your host are. You can find out who your registrar is by doing a WHOIS search on your domain name: go to a WHOIS lookup site like this one or this one, and enter your domain name. Your registrar will be listed in the search results. And if you don’t know who your hosting company is, check your company’s files and emails for any bills for hosting fees, or try some of the other tips suggested here.
I hope this helps! Your web designer may take care of arranging both your domain name registration and your hosting for you, but it’s always good to know how it’s done and what’s involved, in case you need to take care of it yourself at some point.