Many business owners with a web presence don’t really understand how their website works. While this subject can get technical, stick around for some basic advice to help you differentiate domain registration from web hosting — and a few tips to help you avoid a costly mistake.
There are 3 separate parts that make up a modern website:
- A domain name
- A web host
- The digital files that construct your website
Two of these — the domain name and the web host — often mistakenly get lumped together. To make matters even more confusing, your domain registrar and your web host can be the same company . . . or they can be different companies.
Let me explain the difference between domain registration and web hosting:
In order to have a website, you need to come up with a great domain name that no one else is already using. Once you do this, you can purchase the rights to use that domain name from an accredited domain registrar. Behind the scenes, your domain name is actually just a series of numbers, called an Internet Protocol (IP) address, that tells other computers where your website lives on the internet.
Think of your domain name as being like a street address
that a house is assigned.
Registering a domain name is a fairly easy and straightforward process. You simply look up and purchase the name you’d like from a domain registrar like Go Daddy or Name.com. An organization called Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (or ICANN for short) keeps records of all the domain registrations through accredited domain registrars and then translates the numerical IP address into your actual domain name. That’s the name someone keys in to visit your website. It’s much easier to tell someone, “Go check out my site at www.awesome.com” than telling someone to visit 376.948.019.652.
TIP #1: After you secure your domain name, your domain registrar will send you an important email with the login credentials you’ll need to access your domain’s control panel. Be sure to print, file, and save this initial email from your domain registrar. You may need this important login information down the road.
Once you’ve secured your website’s domain name, you need someone to host your website for you. That host (e.g., Bluehost) provides you with web servers, where you can park all of the digital files that comprise your website.
Think of a web host as someone who has acres of land you can rent to live on.
Your digital files are like the lumber and nails used to build your house (i.e., your website).
Since investing in your own web servers can be expensive, most people opt to simply rent server space from a web-hosting company. In addition to server space, web-hosting companies typically offer other services, like email and spam filtering. Once you’ve established your web-hosting account, you can point your domain name that you registered to your web-hosting company and — BAM! — you’re ready to upload your digital files to launch your website on the world wide web.
TIP #2: Your web-hosting company will typically send you an email containing File Transfer Protocol (FTP) and login credentials for you to access your control panel. Print, file, and save this initial email from your web-hosting company. The web-hosting control panel is where the bulk of the work and changes for your website takes place.
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So, about that whole “avoiding a costly mistake” thing I mentioned . . .
Please revisit Tips #1 and #2 above. The 2 minutes you spend on the front end to safeguard your login information for both your domain registrar and your web host can save you a lot of time, trouble, and expense in the future. If you lose this information and therefore don’t have the technical capacity to make updates to your website, you’ll be in a heap of trouble.
You don’t want to have to hire someone to track down your login credentials, and you don’t want one employee to have exclusive access to your important login information. If that person would ever leave the company on bad terms, he or she could wreak havoc on your business’s online presence while you scrambled to change the password, not having the proper login information to do so.
If someone set up all of your accounts and logins for you, talk to him or her TODAY to get a copy of all your domain and web-hosting login information. Then be sure to store it in a safe place in case you need to access or change it in the future. Want to help a fellow business owner out? Share this advice on LinkedIn:
For more tips about setting up a website for your business, see my colleague Nick’s post “Should You Use an Open Source or Proprietary Web Platform?”