Most articles that discuss the points to consider when hosting your own website only talk about the server itself and what a provider should offer. We are guilty of this, too, but the reality is although the word host refers to somewhere to store files to connect with a network, hosting encompasses many facets.
Consequently, this guide will include everything right from the beginning such as choosing a domain name, which is crucial to hosting, since you can’t upload your files without the domain, and right down to finally testing your test and promoting it. Everything in between will be tackled in the order in which you should complete the steps to get your site live.
What we hope to achieve with this discussion is to give you the proper tools to get going, and actually use this guide as a sort of checklist. We know firsthand that as you move through the stages of website development and subsequent hosting, that the little details are important and they often get overlooked through naiveté and inexperience. But that’s okay, because everyone has to start somewhere and this is the place to do that.
Choosing and Registering A Domain Name
Before you upload your files to any server, you need a domain name. This is the way the public at large finds your website. The real connection happens, though, through a number in this format 999.555.999.555. This is called the IP Address and is the only way computers in the network can find the website. People use words in a domain name and computers use numbers in an IP address. IP stands for Internet Protocol and the numbers will not be all nines and fives like in our example. We only used those numbers to show you the formatting and how the address might look. And one final point about the IP address is that you won’t need to know what it is, nor will you probably find out what it is. So don’t worry about that part.
#1 Where To Buy
A domain name is purchased through a registrar. Costs can range anywhere from ten dollars to hundreds of dollars depending on the TLD you choose. Quite often, the bigger registrars will offer coupon codes so that you can reduce the price for the first year. In other instances, when new TLDs come out, registrars speculate about the future popularity of the TLD and will offer them at crazy prices such as $0.88 or $0.99 in order to encourage buyers to purchase as many as possible in a short period of time.
By doing so, the registrar tries to guarantee themselves future sales. As the domains come up for renewal, they hope that customers will pay the full price in the second and subsequent years, thus, providing them revenue without having to promote their services. If the TLD ends up being a dud, that is the risk they take much like the stock market or futures market in commodities. A dud usually happens because the masses don’t take to the TLD or spammers latch on to it and the search engines ban the TLD or at the very least, do not favor domain names using that suffix.
#2 TLDs Explained
So, what is a TLD? That is the ending used to connect domain names to the internet. The .com is the oldest and was the first. Other older examples include:
.org, which was supposed to be for organizations and charities, basically non-profit entities,
.edu to be used by educational facilities such as schools, colleges and universities,
.gov, which was set up for government departments and agencies,
country TLDs like .us for United States, .ca for Canada, .co.uk for the United Kingdom, .au for Australia
.net which many people used to buy when the .com version was taken
Nowadays, many more suffixes have been approved to be used as legitimate TLDs. Those include .tv, .site, .xyz, .info, .club, .music, .pizza, .online, .global, .design, and .tech. This list is not exhaustive, as there are many more, as well as more countries that now have their own TLDs, too.
Prices of TLDs vary considerably. Not all have the standard fee as the older ones, so check before you actually choose a domain. Remember, too, that if you get a deal on the first year, be sure to find out what the renewal price will be next year. If you are not willing to pay a higher amount, then avoid that TLD.
That actually happened to us one year. We registered a bunch of domains at $0.48 each and thought we hit paydirt. But after we got them, we found out that the next year’s fee was $45.00. Big shock! There was no way we were going to pay forty-five dollars each for over a hundred domains. So basically, we wasted our money and the domains. Since we had no intention of paying that price next year, we had no use for the domains for one year. But if the TLD suits your purpose, and you only have to worry about renewing one domain, then the fee will be worth it.
#3 Choosing The Right Name or Phrase
When you choose a domain, not only do you need the right TLD, but think long and hard about the actual name. Factors that you want to consider include:
Is the name easy to remember and to say? Hopefully, the public can remember it if they see it on a billboard or other printed advertisement.
Can the name have vulgar or inappropriate connotations? This one can actually be quite funny, as users put the emphasis on the wrong word and come up with an entirely different phrase out of the same domain name. What happens is the domain can be broken down into smaller words, creating a phrase that you never meant. Many examples have come up where the meaning was derogatory. You certainly don’t want to find out later that you are running a children’s clothing site and you registered a p0rn0 name!
A name which is too long will be confusing and never spelled properly. It will be a deterrent for users.
Use a name that is descriptive of your business or your own name. Avoid vague or unknown phrases.
Don’t choose a name that is micro-descriptive, as it will be hard to promote something else. For example, if you develop a site on pet care, and you decide to sell leashes, mats, bowls, beds, and treats, what good would it be to have a domain called “greendogleashes.com”, as people won’t bother to come to read the interesting articles you have written.
Do a quick search and stay away from TLDs that are used by spammers. Unfortunately, .info got a bad wrap and many sites were deindexed, due to the junk out there.
Once you have a name, look for a reputable registrar. You’ll find the bigger companies quite quickly with either a search or by perusing forums. Others will also let you know about promotions. The one thing we do have to say here, however, is don’t buy your domain name from the same company that you buy hosting. It is a bad idea to let one company control both aspects of your website. In a dispute, you’ll lose, and your business depends on your domain name.
What Is the Difference Between DNS and Name Servers?
These two concepts are similar but hugely different, as they control how your site is connected to the network. Domain name servers have been referred to as an old fashioned telephone book. If you are old enough to remember, when people had landlines, they also got a great big new phone book every year, listing the names, phone numbers, and addresses of residents in a particular city. DNS is similar in that a domain name needs to point to a particular server at a hosting provider.
Before a website can be connected to any network, and display to the public, it needs to have the right DNS in the form of ns1.hostingprovide.com. There will always be two. The domain name will stay the same, but the first part will have another number. It doesn’t have to be ns1 and ns2. It doesn’t have to be in sequence. It is whatever is set up at the time. But to get your domain live, the host will provide you with two DNS. You take these and log into your domain registrar account. Find your domain management, then you switch from the registrar’s default DNS to custom DNS. You input the two you were given and save.
Now, you are not going to be able to see or access the website instantly. It takes time for the registrar to update the database, and then it takes time for each ISP, the company that gives you your internet service, to update their databases.
For this reason, some people may see the website a few hours later, while others may not see it for two days. Bigger internet service providers do update their databases quite often, so the delay is not as long. In either case, the delay is called propagation or waiting for the domain to resolve.
As you can see, DNS is for customers using a hosting account or in some instances a VPS and dedicated server, they will use the provider’s DNS to hook up their domain.
Nameservers are reserved for situations where the server needs its own connection. For example, if you own a dedicated server, you are going to want it to be associated with your own nameservers. You can make them anything you like as long as they follow the format of ns9.domainname.com. In fact, you don’t even have to call them ns9, you could use a word, such as dogtreat.domainname.com.
Once the domain is registered as a nameserver, then users can input the DNS to their own domains. Regardless of whether you are the only one using a dedicated server, all domains on that particular server connect with the two registered DNS.
To conclude, for users on a hosting account, the DNS will be one step (adding custom DNS to domain at registrar) and for clients on a dedicated server, there are two steps to the process (making a domain the nameserver and adding the DNS to other domains). Some VPS accounts also allow you to use private nameservers, so if you want to be real spiffy, that can become part of your brand!
What Are the Options Available for Website Design and Development?
Once you have your domain name sorted out and you are ready to get into the nitty gritty of building an actual site, there are many ways to create the pages or files to store and display your content. The simple HTM or HTML combined with CSS to style the pages, are still current, and for small websites with few pages, this is a perfect solution. Basically, use a text editor to make the files including graphics, and then upload to the public_html folder of your hosting account.
For bigger sites, though, both companies and individual users, a more robust solution using a database may be required. Previously, many sites were made with CGI scripts which stored the data in a CGI bin on the server, or simple PHP files that worked in tandem with MySQL. Today, we call the software that produces a website and displays the material inside, a content management system. Examples of more well know CMS that are free are Drupal, TextPattern, CMS Made Simple, and of course, WordPress.
They’re great because you don’t need to know any coding so you can get a site up rather quickly. Even the graphics are there if you are not able to do anything special yourself, as the software comes with themes and headers.
Some are so advanced that they change the color of links and the background for you. In fact, there is plenty of customization at the fingertips. Each has its own set of modules to do different things, such as make a contact us page, add maps to the site, set up security features, deter and stop spam, and add fancy fonts.
WordPress seems to be the go-to solution, simply because there is so much documentation, and you can customize pretty well anything with a plugin or hard code the changes in the templates, yourself. It has come a long way from its beginnings of being a simple blog with calendar and archives. Now, it is considered one of the most popular CMS out there. Developers continually upgrade the software and because it is open source, anyone can contribute something valuable for all to use.
Is It Better To Install WP Manually or With Automated Software?
#1 Manual Install
There are thousands, maybe millions, of diehard users that still install wordpress with FTP. To simplify, installing WP or any other software or script for that matter, means to get the files working on the server. These are not files that the general public see. They are typically PHP files which process the requests. In any case, without getting into too much theory and various technical aspects, plenty of old time web owners like to use the famous “5 minute install” which requires setting up a database, providing ownership through a user, and then connecting the uploaded files to the database. Installation simply means making all these pieces work together. Once the connection is confirmed and a password is set up for the new website, then content can be added and posts created.
#2 Automated Installation
Unfortunately, many people had difficulty understanding what they were supposed to do in an install or had trouble actually connecting the database with the files. Therefore, and probably, fortunately for them, companies developed automatic software that installed WP and other programs with the click of a mouse. They relied on the web hosting supplier to add the software to the servers, so that it was available for users. Thus, not all will be on every server. Here are some of the names of the more popular ones that you should look for. MoJo, QuickInstall, Fantastico, Softaculous.
When you log into your account or server, you will see icons and words showing what is available on your account. Look to see what software is there. If you can’t see any, ask your host and they will point you in the right direction. Also, if you use a CMS other than WP, there is the option to install other programs, too.
Now here is where the debate begins. A lot of developers feel that while these tools are handy and may help those with little experience, they do leave footprints and traces of junk in the files. Proprietary installers are particularly difficult to deal with because no-one knows what is being injecting into the files. So the thought is that users should learn how to manually install, but you do your research and make a decision on what you think is best.
One other point that we have not touched on is whether you should have a Windows or Linux operating server. With the exception of specialized services, Linux will be the system chosen. For companies that work in ASP, which is a windows database, they will need to host on a Windows server. The .net framework will be hosted here, as well. Just to clarify, .net in this instance is not a TLD, but rather a Microsoft application. As you can see, aside from special circumstances, which the average person would not encounter, a Linux server is the right choice.
#2 Focus On WP
Additionally, we should touch upon WordPress only hosting. We do know there are hosts out there that are experts in the intricacies of WP and host only websites created and managed with the software. We have on occasion used them ourselves. And while we have nothing negative to say about that, it is our opinion that they are not required. Over the years, we have tried out scores of hosting companies, using single hosting accounts, reseller accounts, VPS and dedicated servers, and WP works just fine on all of them.
#3 Server Control Panels
Finally, we do need to discuss the control panel used by the host. We haven’t given this much attention and it is an important part of setting up a server or choosing website hosts. For the majority of web owners, they are not able to work through “shell access” on the server. The technicians may complete functions and commands in this way, but outside of that specialized group, most people will connect through a control panel.
Once logged in, there will be many icons for functions such as data collection, log files, email management, add-on domains, database creation, traffic reports, file manager, automatic installers, and features you may never even use. But the most important point here is you see everything in an intuitive and easy visual way to work. Things are done by clicking on buttons and links that direct you what to do next, unlike root access where you need to understand programming.
Given the fact that millions of users need a control panel, various companies developed software for hosts to install to make life easier for everyone. Needless to say, if customers can use a control panel, there is less support required. Plus, if support is needed, there is plenty of documentation all around the internet to get answers fast.
Now, depending on the software, there may be licenses involved, which means someone has to pay to have the use of that software. In the case of single hosting accounts, the client does not pay. The host does and will install the control panel on the server and give access to all its customers. For dedicated servers, on the other hand, the client may be required to pay a monthly fee or one-time set up fee for the right to have the software on the server.
While there are several panels out there, cPanel has emerged as potentially the most used because lots of hosts install it on their servers. Plesk is very popular, as well, and when ordering a dedicated server, many companies give clients the option to choose between cPanel and Plesk. We did have a server with Plesk, but then what happened was the newer technicians were not as familiar with the software, so the company did not let new clients have it anymore, simply because they didn’t want problems. But one of our team liked it much better and was disappointed when we got rid of that server.
Learn How To Make Your Way Around cPanel:
Depending on what you want to do, there are other control panels out there, but they are for very advanced functions, and mostly for individuals and large corporations that would be willing to pay the fees to have them, and that require specialized access.
One thing you do not want to do, under any circumstances, is sign up with a host that uses a proprietary control panel. We are not exactly sure why providers do this, since it is not necessary to reinvent the wheel, but suffice it to say, that many companies have their own software developed. And while there may not be anything wrong them per se, they do pose problems.
First of all, the learning curve is probably higher because there will be little documentation on the subject.
Second, support will be minimal, in that you won’t necessarily be able to find the answers to your questions by doing a quick search.
Third, if you are going to learn to use a control panel, why not just learn the most widely used (cPanel), so that when you migrate your site or invest in other servers, you don’t have to relearn how to use the control panel.
Moving forward … Great, you have your hosting welcome email and are eager to unveil your work!
How Do You Upload the Files To The Server?
Now that you have built your website, added your knowledge by way of articles or posts, pictures, videos, sound recordings, and whatever else you wish to share, it is time to get those files on the server, so that they can display for everyone to see.
If you have purchased a single hosting account, the provider will have already set up the domain on the server. You will look for the public_html folder and upload your files there, or conversely, you can use the file manager in the backend of the server to get them up and running. In the case of reseller, VPS, and dedicated server, you need to add the accounts for the domain names.
As we have stated, there are two ways to upload those files.
#1 File Manager
You will find this on the server or in your account. Typically, the host will give you a link to the control panel of the server, which in turn, once logged in, you will find the file manager for the correct domain. You will notice different buttons for upload and download or import and export. There will also be a delete button. To upload files, you are importing to the server, and to download files back to your hard drive, you are exporting.
Although file manager is very handy for beginners, and is quite convenient because you do not need extra software, it can be cumbersome for a large number of files. You cannot send up folders of files, and some people just don’t like the interface when modifying files and repeatedly testing.
File transfer protocol is software that you install on your hard drive. It mimics the “explore” window of a computer when you are looking for files and folders. Once you have the files on your hard drive, you transfer them over to the server through FTP. The files stored on the hard drive will be on the left and as the files are loaded onto the server, they will display on the right.
Examples of free programs are Cute, Core FTP, and FileZilla, all of which we have used at one time or another. Right now, Core seems to be the standard with one team member. WS_FTP is a paid solution, and we have used it extensively because it has many other features that we use and like.
As an aside, it is a bit comical this debate between file manager and FTP. We have one team member that only works in file manager, while another team member feels that using file manager is a toy and prefers her FTP to anything else. But you can try and see what you are most comfortable with. The end goal is to get those files in the right place and live for users to come and see. So don’t be pushed into choosing one over the other.
What To Do Next?
Once your site is uploaded and looks the way it should, ping the domain, so that the search engine bots come along to see it and add it to the database. Even if you don’t ping a URL, announce it on social media or another site, and it will be found.
Start advertising your website through print media, social media, car banners, and as they say, from the rooftops. Enlist the town crier if you have to!
Search engine optimization deals with making sure the search engines display your site in the results pages when users complete a search query. This is different than indexing, as a site can have its pages indexed without being shown in the SERPS. And of course, when we talk about both on-site and off-site SEO, we are referring to white hat only, and best practices that will keep your site in good stead with the search engine rules.
Basically, we have come full circle now. You have bought a domain name, created a website, chosen a hosting provider, connected your domain to the internet, made your site active, and promoted your business to potential clients. It is time to expand your website, your services, your brand, and make your business even stronger.
Add more content, find more ways to promote, monitor your server for weaknesses, capitalize on the opportunities, and stay consistent by keeping at it. It will all be very rewarding in the end.
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