Where To Begin
The very first thing you need to do when looking into getting a website is to ask yourself why. Why do you want a website?
Do you want a little personal space? Perhaps you are running a project for school which will require multiple people to work on. Do you want to add an online store to your home based business? Are you a budding photographer who wants to put their photographs online?
There are many reasons for going online and each one has its own series of answers, not all of which require you to get a website of your own. There are many free sites you can get for sharing photographs (flickr) or blogging (WordPress) and so on. For purposes of this discussion we are going to assume that you do not want to use a free service but instead want your own space online.
Other than your content the domain name you pick is the single most important thing you need to think about. The domain should be as short as possible while still being descriptive enough for people to associate it with you and your content.
Take HMTK dot com for example. I have had this domain since June of 2002. I picked it out because HMCG dot com was already taken. Why would I do that you wonder? Because HMTK stands for HackMaster Tool Kit, a software package I wrote years ago. It was originally to be titled HackMaster Character Generator but some people wrote the HarnMaster Character Generator before me and took the name. I no longer maintain that software but I still have the domain and four letter domains are quite valuable these days.
Some domains are valuable not because of what they stand for but because of how they are written. The most well known example of this has to be del.icio.us, a very popular bookmarking site. In fact, all of the good three syllable words ending in us have already been registered. Well, the last two syllables have been registered as the first syllable is nothing more than a subdomain of the domain.
Domains and Subdomains
A domain is what you register, a subdomain is something you add to your domain name afterwards. In all domain names the www that comes first is a subdomain. If you leave it off most modern browsers will assume you are looking for the www subdomain and send you there.
There are differing viewpoints on when to use a subdomain and when to use a subdirectory but the one thing you need to keep in mind is that a subdomain does not have to be on the same server as your main (www) domain while a subdirectory does. I use a mixture of the two myself and I will cover this in more detail in the future.
Picking Your Domain Name
With all that out of the way you should be at the point where you are deciding on a domain name to use for your site. I can not stress enough how important it is not to check to see if your domain is already registered or not. There are some nefarious persons out there who setup servers that watch for domain lookups and report back on failed requests. These people then register the domain (they can register it for free for a few days to 'taste' it) in hopes of scoring some easy money. Then, when you go to register it, you find it has already been taken.
What I suggest you do is make a list of five to ten potential domain names and only check them when you are ready to buy. That way if all of them are already taken you can go back and try again. If one of them is not taken you can register it right away with no fear of a domain squatter sniffing it out and grabbing it out from under you.
How To Register
When it comes to registering your domain there are two options.
- Option 1: Register the domain on its own.
- Option 2: Register the domain when you buy your hosting package.
There are good and bad bits about both of those options and personally I choose to register my domains with a different company than the one I get my hosting from. I find that it costs a little more to do it this way but it gives you far more freedom and control.
When you register the domain on its own it is not tied to the company who provides your hosting. The reason this can be a good thing is that if your hosting company drops you for a TOS violation your domain name is not affected and you can quickly bring your site back up via another host. By having your domain in the same hands as your hosting you can easily lose both and clearly the domain is far more valuable than the hosting.
When you register the domain with your hosting provider you often save money as they will waive the domain registration fee. What this means in real terms is that the domain registration fee is built-in to the hosting price. in other words, you are already paying for the registration!
For your first site I recommend having your hosting company register the domain name for you. Yes, I know what I said above but, what I did not point out is that many website burn out within the first six months and stop maintaining their site. After you have been online for a year is the time to move your domain names to a registrar who does not provide hosting services to you.
There are a ton of hosting companies out there. There also multiple levels of hosting:
- Shared Hosting - Your site is on a server with a bunch of other sites. Some servers have a small number of sites on them while others may have hundreds. This sort of hosting is cheap but often subject to certain restrictions about bandwidth usage and CPU usage.
This level of service is good enough for most websites and a great place to start.
- Dedicated Hosting - You have the entire server all to yourself. Bandwidth restrictions are in place but the server is yours with no one else on it.
This level of service is the best you can get but you may need to go with a managed dedicated server if you do not know how to maintain a server. Expect to pay a lot for this.
There are some graduations within those above two groups but the important thing to note is that one type of service is all yours while the other is not. For your first site it is best to go with shared hosting. Why spend a couple of thousand dollars for a dedicated server if paying $5 a month will suit you just as well?
For domain registration I suggest you use GoDaddy. I use them myself and have been very satisfied with them and their support staff. I have called them for account support (not a toll free number) and I talked to someone who spoke perfect English and lives in the USA. Many companies outsource their support call center to areas where English is not the native tongue. Notice I said the number was not toll free? Yeah, you pay for the call but it is worth it.
For hosting you could use GoDaddy but that would break my cardinal rule on keeping the two separate. The other thing is that I have never liked their website control panel. I have administered some sites in the past hosted through GoDaddy and I was never happy doing it. Instead I recommend going with ImHosted.com Web Hosting. They will register the domain for you when you sign up and they have some great plans in place. They also have some 'one-click' install tools in their control panel to get you up and running fast.
Stay tuned for the next article in the series, Get on the Web Part 2: Open Source Solutions