Setting up shop online doesn’t require you to have a fixed adress for your organisation, to live anywhere, to sign anything, or even to be a real entity. It doesn’t cost much and anyone can do it.
But there are two basic things you’ll need to buy for people to be able to find and access your website online.
First, you’ll need a domain name, like an entry in an infinately fat adress book that points people’s browsers to where ever your website is stashed.
Then, you’ll need a ‘host’ – some place to stash your website, most likely a tiny corner of a massive computer somewhere in the suburbs like a self-storage.
A domain name might cost you $15 + per year and a host might cost your $50 + + per year.
If you want to avoid these costs all together you can still set up a website
– eg yourwebsite.wordpress.com or yourwebsite.wix.com, in which case you can leave other people to manage your domain, hosting and website installation, but you’ll be limited in what you can customise yourself.
If you want to share the costs of a domain and host you could ask your friend if they can set you up a space such as me.mymateswebsite.com or mymateswebsite.com/me/.
If you don’t want to manage these things yourself you might decide to pay someone else (like us) to do it for you.
Or you might decide to buy a deal where you get your domain, host and website installation from the same company, in which case you might want to skip through this.
But you might decide that owning your own unique domain is important, and you want to be able to create a kick ass website where you are free to make and break things as you please, in which case you’ll need to understand what a domain name and host actually do.
Whichever way you choose, its still important to understand what you are buying, so that you’re in control of whats going on, can change it to suit you, and can pack up and move if you’re getting a raw deal. So read on.
So a domain name is the name your website will go by – and it becomes the URL that your browser uses to look up the information that you are searching for. Right now you’ll the domain name in your browser adress bar in backtofrontdesign.co
We bought the name backtofrontdesign.co, so that when you type it into your browser, your computer will look for that domain in massive adress book of names, which will then point your browser to go and get the information from the host where our website is stored.
Top level Domains
The .co part of backtrofrontdesign.co is known as the top level domain. Other top level domains (TLDs) you’ll be familiar with are .com, .com.au .org, .gov, etc. These TLDs signal to the user what kind of group your website belongs to. Some have certain rules about how can buy them – eg to own a .gov you must be a U.S government department. To own a .com.au domain, your supposed to have an Australian Business Number, and .org.au is supposed to be registered in Australia as an associated organisation.
So the TLD gives a signal to the user whether you are a business, a not-for-profit, or a .guru. Choose a TLD that makes sense to you.
Choosing a domain name
When choosing a domain name its great if you can make it simple, easy to remember, easy to type, and not too long. Use the name of your group, yourself, and if your can something that describes what you do. Be original and quirky, but its useful to imagine that you are saying your domain name in a radio interview, for example it would be confusing to listeners and a waste of time if you had to say ‘baktofrontdesign.co with a k and no c’.
Your domain name must be unique, so if someones already bought the name, think about whether to choose a different TLD, or whether to use a completely different name. You might be able to negotiate to buy the name of whoever owns it, but it will cost you a whole lot more.
To change your domain name takes some time and effort, and google doesn’t like it, so pick a good one.
Buying a domain
There are countless companies who sell domain names. They are known as registrars. Some offer cheap specials for the first year, but you’re probably going to want to own the name for a long time to come, so consider the yearly price and whether they offer good technical support also.
If you can afford it, pay for a few years in advance, and use a credit card that can be automatically be re-charged, so you won’t be evicted for forgetting to pay the bill.
When you enter your contact information, be aware that this information is publicly associated with your domain and can be found online using a whois https://who.is/ lookup. Your registrar will never contact you by mail or phone, if they want to get in touch they will email. So provide a valid email, but unless you’re a business with a public adress, avoid getting hate mail and provide the adress of a public place that you’re associated with, or a tropical location that you’d like to imagine you live.
Choose a strong password for your domain. If you somebody steals your password, it will be difficult to make sure that the domain still points to your website. Choose a unique password for your domain. If somebody steals your domain password, you’ll still have access to your host and all the information stored in your website.
Setting your domain
There are heaps of settings that associated with your domain name that you’ll probably never need to worry about.
If you’ve paid for hosting with the same company that you bought your domain from, you won’t need to change anything.
If its a different company (which is a good idea not to put all your eggs in the same .com bubble) all you’ll need to do is set the Name Servers to point to domain name to the host where the website is stashed.
Once you’ve set up a host, you’ll just need to find out their Name Servers, which are usually something like
Changing nameservers, and anything to do with domains doesn’t happen instantly, but takes a while take effect while all copies of that massive adress book is sent around the world. Changes usually take effect within a few hours but can take up to two days.
Custom domain names on WordPress.com
If you’re publishing your website wordpress.com and just want to remove the wordpress.com from your domain name, you can simply buy a domain from wordpress.com and skip the next steps.
However if you also need to remove ads from your site, or make theme customisations, this will become a more expensive option. If you need to install plugins, edit template files, or make other changes to your wordpress installation, you will need to find your own host where you are free to make and break things however you want.
Now that you’ve got your very own domain, you still need a place for that domain to point to, where you will store your website to be accessible to anyone on the internet.
Any computer could be set up to serve as host, but it needs to be online all the time for people to be able to access your site, and all the necessary software components need to be configured and maintained all of the time, so lets pay someone else to do that for us.
Choosing a host *
As with domain registrars, there are infinite choices of hosts out there which store your website in very different ways.
Usually the cheapest way to store your website is on a shared host. This means that your website will be stored on computers shared with thousands of others.
Shared hosts cost more or less $100 per year, which is still quite expensive, but most also allow you unlimited websites to be stored in the same place, so if possible, chuck in with some mates to whittle this cost down to almost nothing.
They are not the fastest way to deliver your website to an audience, but unless your expecting a whole lot of visitors, there are plenty of tricks to make sure your website is still fast to load.
Disadvantages of shared hosting can be that if not set up correctly the website could crash if you suddenly have tens of thousands of visitors, small php memory limits might make running big applications or backing up your website difficult, and due to the low cost you might not get awesome support.
When shopping around search for ‘best wordpress (or your preferred platform) shared hosting’ on websites like lifehacker which aren’t blatant advertisements, and add search terms which are important to you such as ‘support’ ‘australia’ ‘CDN’ or ‘secure’. Most hosts offer discounts for the first year, don’t get sucked in but do search for discount codes if they offer them because they probably do.
If you are expecting a lot of traffic, its essential that your website is online at all times, you need support for custom software installations, you want better control of SSL implementation, or you would like to build a website yourself but leave backups and security to other people, dedicated hosting could be a good solution.
Dedicated hosting doesn’t mean that you’ve got computers dedicated to serving only your website, but does mean that your website runs on a server stack seperate from any others that can be customised to deliver your website in the best way possible.
Dedicated/Managed hosting starts around $100 per year for one website, but you can more or less depending on support, speed, back up and security services.
Cloud hosting will distribute your website across multiple servers to make it faster and more resilient, is usually more expensive again. Exactly what it is your buying when you pay for a cloud hosting service is as well defined as ‘hey that cloud looks like a dragon’, but its still gonna be pretty awesome even if it doesn’t breathe fire.
As with shared hosting, search for ‘best wordpress (or your preferred platform) managed hosting’ on websites which aren’t blatant advertisements, add search terms which are important to you, and google for discount codes.
Self Managed Cloud Hosting, and building a rocketship in your garage
You could also want to customise your own server on a cloud service such as Amazon Web Server, pay some else more money to serve your website at lightning speeds, or build, break and repair your own beast of a machine in your bedroom. If you’re reading this beginners guide you most probably don’t, but if you’ve weighed up the time and/or money spent for the speed and scale-ability and its a good equation then go for it.
You now have all the groundwork in place to build a website, but you’re still going to need to build it. If you’re over it already, hopefully you’ve chosen a host that allows you to ‘1 click install’ the Content Management System of your choice and start posting information to your site, but you want install your website more securely and be in control of what you’re doing, read the next post to learn about how to set up the core components of your website.
* server management is an art an a science, which we know next to nothing about. This blog is designed to get your site online with the help of such artists who do know what they’re doing, know what it is you need to ask them for and give you a basic understanding of what it is you are paying them for.