ask the expert | purchasing domain names and web hosting

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Today we have a very helpful post from our website expert: Lucie Battaini from multimediART

There are so many choices when it comes to purchasing domain names & website hosting. Please help!

When you’re starting a business, one of the first things many people think about is whether you need a domain name, website hosting or both! This question however usually results in a bunch more.  One of the first questions I get asked a lot is what’s the difference between hosting and a domain name.

Think of a domain name as your address. This is what people type in their browser to visit your site. Without it they would have to remember a big long number (called an IP address) to visit your site. In comparison, website hosting is your apartment. It’s a nice big empty space, utilities (bandwidth/traffic, email, webstats etc) all connected, waiting for you to move your furniture in. If you’ve played along with my crazy analogy so far, then you may have figured out that your furniture is your website.

Usually, your first step is to get your domain name.

So how do I chose a domain name?

Before you can order website hosting, you have to have a domain to link it to. In my opinion, everyone in business should have one, even if you have a free or no website at all in the beginning.

All domain retailers for the popular extensions have to be accredited partner or the reseller of one, and so you can be fairly free in your choice of company.

When shopping around, make sure to compare prices carefully. Some of the more well known ‘big guys’ or larger companies can charge more than three times what some others do. Also, make sure that you are comparing the apples with apples – some registrars advertise .com.au domains at a per year price, but registration requirements state you must register these for a minimum of two years at once. You can expect to pay around $10-20 a year for a .com and around $40-50 for a .com.au for two years.

Quite a few companies include domain forwarding and email forwarding for free, and if you’re just starting out this can be well worth it. Domain forwarding means that you can forward your domain name to any other existing address, for example your blogger blog or a free website. When people type in your domain name, they will go to your blog in the above example. Likewise, email forwarding allows you to forward emails sent to your at your domain to any other email, for example your gMail or ISP email. This allows you to have a professional email presence for around $10 a year.

If you are an Australian business, I recommend buying the .com.au and .com if you can afford it. This protects your brand, and any good web host should allow you to have both domains pointing to the same site. (from karen: this advice is the same if you are in the UK, NZ, canada etc.... purchase the additional domain names if you can!)

What do I need to look for in hosting?

So, once you’ve got your domain name sorted, the next step is hosting. While it’s not mandatory to have your own website when you’re starting out, it does help present your business with that professional edge. Again, shop around to compare prices and don’t be afraid to check out some of the smaller hosting companies. They often offer a more competitive price.

When ordering hosting, look for something that will grow with you. Hosting generally comes with a limit on space and bandwidth (traffic/number of visitors). What happens if you’re running out of bandwidth or space? Some hosts will suspend or switch off your site until you’ve resolved the overage, and so it’s best to ask the question before your sign up. Be wary of those that offer ‘unlimited’ anything. It’s worth checking what fair use policies are in place and whether it is really means unlimited.

Another must ask question is their backup and recovery procedure. Earlier this year, a large Australian hosting company had a catastrophic data loss following a security breach, and many businesses lost their entire website. Make sure that your host offers off-site backups, and ideally local backups as well. I also recommend asking them how easy it is for you to take your own backup. You should always keep at least a weekly backup of your own. Make sure this is both files and data or databases.

On this note, make sure that you host provides you with the access details you’ll need to access your own website information and data. If you’ve had your site designed for you, it’s common practice to have everything installed by your designer, but in my opinion you should always have full access to your own data too, should you need it down the line. Usually a control panel login is all you need, but it can be helpful to also have FTP information. Don’t worry if you don’t know what this is, your host should be able to give it to you.

Finally, make sure the hosting you’re ordering meets any technical requirements you have. For example if you’re running a Wordpress blog you’ll need a database. Your host should be able to tell you if they meet the requirements if you send them the list from the software provider.

In conclusion, whatever service you sign up for, make sure you can manage and access it yourself, even if you have your designer or web host set everything up for you. Consider protecting your brand by buying the two most popular domain extensions in your name, and make sure that you setup a process to keep backups of all your own data. Make sure that your host will work with you if you need more space or bandwidth, and also that they have safe and regular backups. Follow these steps and you’ll be building your website and business a firm foundation on which to grow.

Lucie Battaini is the director and head designer at multimediART, an experienced web design and development company that has been in business for 10 years. Posessing the rare combination of design skills and programming knowledge, Lucie loves helping other small businesses realise their online potential and achieve their dreams. multimediART offer services in web design & development, seo and social marketing, as well as other online marketing and promotion opportunities. Our designs have won awards, and we're proud of every site we create.