This article looks at a domain name vs web hosting, and why they’re both vital. A domain name is the unique address of any website. It identifies your site in the address bar of a browser like Chrome. Hosting is different. It’s a powerful remote computer from where you upload, store, and manage your web content. And content refers to your site’s files, images, and media.
Your WordPress site could not exist without an address and somewhere to host its files. You should choose the name of your website and where you host it with utmost care.
Why You Need a Domain Name
The first half of this guide covers all the basics of domain names for the WordPress beginner.
- What is a domain name exactly?
- Common types of domain
- Best place to buy domains
- The cost of domain names.
What Is a Domain Name?
A domain is a series of numbers arranged into four sets separated by a dot, e.g., 184.108.40.206. We call this the IP address. It’s an unfriendly format and impossible to remember. That’s why those numbers are translated into readable text that anyone can understand.
Parts of a domain
There are two parts of a domain name that interest website owners. The first part is the second-level domain (SLD), which is the site’s name, e.g., MYSITE. The part after the dot is the top-level domain (TLD) or domain extension, e.g., .COM.
A domain name is not your website, but it’s an essential part of it. Other names used are URL (Uniform Resource Locator), and web address. Don’t worry; it all relates to roughly the same thing. Your domain is a unique web address, and your full web address is a URL.
www. (subdomain) + mysite (SLD) + .com (TLD) = the URL: www.mysite.com/
You can look at your domain name in much the same way as a physical house address. Without it, no one would be able to find your site, or even know where to look. People can type your web address directly into a browser’s address bar or by searching on websites like Google.com.
Types of Domain Names
There are many different kinds of domain extensions now. It wasn’t so long ago when the only public types available were .COM, .NET, .INFO, .BIZ, and .ORG. The internet has become much bigger in recent years, now offering over 1,500 types of TLDs.
Now there are 100’s of popular extensions to choose from and more coming onto the market all the time. That gives you a better chance of securing the preferred name for your website. Think of TLD categories in terms of classic, niche, and geographic.
To learn more on domain choices, read: How to Choose the Best Domain Name
Be careful what you choose
There are a couple of warnings to heed before you register a new domain name. One is that the initial cost can be considerably cheaper than the renewal charge, so be sure to check that.
The other issue relates to domain reputation. Some TLDs are notorious for the spam emails that originate from them. In other words, bad actors tend to abuse certain types. The current culprits on the badness index are .MEN, .TK, .FIT, .DATE, .GQ, .WORK, .WANG, .GA, AND .ML.
Best Place to Buy Domains
Domain registrars charge similar prices to each other, but they all have sales on occasion. Try not to let offers from unknown companies tempt you. The big names are those that have been around a while and earned a reputation for excellence. Especially opt for a reputable name if you plan to buy hosting from the same company.
Here are 3 of the better-known registrar providers that site owners use:
- Namecheap (founded in 2000)
- GoDaddy (founded in 1997)
- BuyDomains (founded in 1999)
Not all domain registrars offer web hosting or vice versa. Check first if you want everything under one roof. If not, you’ll need to redirect your domain name servers (DNS) to the hosting company. It’s a straightforward process for experienced webmasters, but less so for the novice.
If you want to see which registrar and host I recommend, as well as get step by step instructions for setting them up, please see my Recommended Web Hosting article. I actually recommend using a separate companies for the hosting and the registrar. However, you can buy them from the same company if you prefer.
Advantages of buying a domain and hosting together
It’s more convenient to buy your domain and hosting from the same place. You don’t have to troubleshoot with different companies if there’s a problem with one or the other. There are no complications when it comes to setting up the domain to work with the hosting, either. Billing is also straightforward and happens at the same time each year when you buy them together.
Why I recommend a separate web host & registrar
I have been building websites for over 15 years now, and during that time, I’ve heard a lot of horror stories about web hosts acting as registrars.
Let’s consider the main reason to use separate companies for these two services. I’ll walk you through a few examples of what can go wrong.
- You’ve signed up with a hosting company, and use them as registrar.
- Your web hosting company start having problems with their servers and you find the down time totally unacceptable.
- You decide to move your website to a new host.
In this scenario, you need to:
- Contact your host and tell them you want to move your domain to another registrar. Your host needs to “unlock” your domain and give you an authorization code.
- Contact your new registrar/host to tell them you are moving your domain to their services. Give them your domain name and authorization code.
- Assuming everything goes smoothly, and your current host doesn’t play hardball (and I’ve read stories of some that have), the domain transfer takes around 7 days. You then need to upload your site to the new hosting service.
Potential downtime for your site, if everything goes well, is around 7 days.
You have a problem with your existing host (maybe a dispute over late payment, or you’ve used up too much bandwidth), so they close down your site temporarily until the dispute is resolved. During the dispute, your host may refuse to allow you to transfer your domain from their service, depending on the nature of the dispute.
Your web host goes out of business. In this scenario, you may lose your site altogether since they are the registrar in charge of your domain name. With their website down, and therefore your access to your site, you may struggle to get a domain transfer to a different host or registrar.
The solution – a separate registrar
OK, we need to make one assumption about the registrar for this to be a real solution. That assumption is that the Registrar won’t go out of business. If you use a reputable registrar, the chances are negligible and not something I lose sleep over.
So, how can a separate registrar help in the above examples?
The relationship between registrar and host is like this:
QUICK DEFINITION: DNS stands for Domain Name System, and is a unique name for a computer connected to the internet. All web hosts use a unique DNS for each of their servers.
The registrar uses your web host’s DNS to point your domain at the correct server where your website is stored.
If you need to move your website to another host, for ANY reason, simply upload your website backup to the new host, and:
Switch DNS at your registrar. This is as easy as editing the DNS values at your registrar, and I’ll show you how to do that later in this course.
As soon as you switch the DNS at your registrar, the switchover begins. It can take several hours to fully propagate around the world, but after that time, anyone visiting your website will be directed (by your registrar) to the new host, effectively cutting the old host out of the loop. If your website is still working on the original host at the time of the transfer, then as the switch takes places, chances are you will not experience any downtime at all. This is because your site will be served from your old host, right up until the moment it starts being served from the new host.
If your site is not working on the old host, then the maximum potential downtime for your site is hours, rather than days.
This may all sound complicated, but as I said earlier, you can follow my step-by-step videos here to get this up and running.
The Cost of Domain Names
There’s a huge price variation between domain costs. The best value for first-time purchases and renewals are old favourites like .COM .NET, .INFO, and .ORG. Remember, renewal charges can be considerably higher than the initial purchase cost. Be sure to ask the registrar about renewal rates if they don’t list them.
Premium domains are the most expensive. Someone already owns these, but they will sell them at a price. Most registrars list premium domains in the alternative domains list of a search. The best premium options are short, text-only (no numbers or dashes), and keyword-rich.
Why You Need Web Hosting
The crux of your WordPress site depends on its domain name and a reliable web host. Hosting doesn’t have to cost much, but avoid bargain-basement offers by unknown companies.
This section covers the following hosting considerations:
- Types of web hosting available
- Creating a new account
- Which hosting is right for you?
- Where is your website hosted?
#1 What is shared hosting?
Shared web hosting is the cheapest and easiest to manage. It’s perfectly adequate for personal entry-level WordPress sites and even small businesses. However, not all shared hosting space is equal, so choose with care. It’s cost-effective because your site shares resources with others on the same computer or server.
Avoid bargain-basement hosting
Dirt-cheap shared hosting crams too many sites onto a remote webserver to keep costs down. That can cause performance issues like slow loading times and strains on resources. A well run shared service, though, supports its clients well and rarely runs into problems.
SHARED HOSTING PROS
- Cost-effective solution for WordPress
- Ideal long-term plans for smaller projects
- Companies help with technical problems
- Support for 365 days, 24/7
- Site owner doesn’t need technical know-how
- Includes MySQL and PHP support
SHARED HOSTING CONS
- Limited security features
- Appeals to hackers because of the above
- Restricted resources offered by the web host
- Potential slow loading on crowded accounts
- Troubleshooting requires user involvement
#2 What is cloud hosting?
All your site content sits in one place with Shared, Dedicated and VPS hosting. Virtual cloud hosting exploits resources from many servers in different locations. Let’s say you use up all the bandwidth on one server. In this case, you can tap straight into the resources from another machine with no or minimal site disruption.
Cloud hosting is a pay-as-you-go product in that you only pay for what you need or use. It allows you to buy more as your site grows or reduce services should it shrink. Also, it can work behind the scenes to adjust resources that meet the demands of your online project. It’s a perfect solution for fast-growing websites.
CLOUD HOSTING PROS
Doesn’t need on-site hardware
Extra resources available on-demand
Only pay for what you need as you need it
Backup and restore remotely from any device
Data backup intervals set by the user
CLOUD HOSTING CONS
No access if the internet goes down
Long data recovery time with some plans
Expensive option for some users
#3 What is VPS (virtual private server) hosting?
VPS hosting is the natural next step up from shared services. For example, your once small project has grown into a busy, resource-heavy website or store. Medium to large-scale sites have no place on shared hosting accounts. Indeed, a hosting company will ask you to upgrade or leave if you don’t beat them to it.
VPS HOSTING PROS
- No more competing and sharing of resources
- Freedom to make customized adjustments
- Faster site and page-loading speeds
- Higher uptime rates
- More cost-effective than dedicated hosting
VPS HOSTING CONS
Much higher cost than shared hosting
More complex to set up and manage
Limitations compared to dedicated hosting
#4 What is dedicated hosting?
Dedicated hosting is not cheap, and it’s nothing for the new site owner to worry about. Anyone who needs a dedicated server can more than likely justify the cost. You can do pretty much anything you want with it, and that’s the point. It’s a perfect choice for resource-heavy sites that get insane numbers of monthly visitors.
DEDICATED HOSTING PROS
100% control over the webserver
No sharing of resources
Highest security of all hosting
Optimal page load times and uptimes
DEDICATED HOSTING CONS
- Most expensive of all the hosting options
- Requires technical knowledge to manage
- No support; user takes full responsibility
Creating a New Account
A shared hosting account takes only minutes to create. New customers simply pick a plan based on their needs. Make sure you read the details of pricing plans carefully, though. Look for those that offer free automated WordPress migration if you have an old site you want to move. You may also want to choose a plan that provides free SSL certificates and anything else you need.
The rest of the process is a simple case of following the on-screen prompts. It’s a similar procedure with all hosting. However, you need more technical knowledge for advanced plans. Even so, the company will answer any questions you may have if you get stuck.
Which Hosting Is Right for You?
So, which type of hosting service is right for your WordPress site? It’s an easy question to answer with a little careful thought. This section summarises the above account descriptions.
Shared hosting is for small entry-level sites up to borderline medium-sized projects.
If you’re a new—or soon to be—website owner, then a shared hosting account is the way to go. Most of these plans work well for small to medium-sized projects. Try to stick with the familiar names as they offer the best support and options to upgrade if or when you’re ready.
Cloud hosting is for webmasters that need flexibility for rapid growth.
Cloud hosting is preferable to shared hosting if a site receives lots of daily traffic. Moreover, it offers a better level of security protection and overall reliability. Consider cloud hosting if your website looks as though it’s going to need more than a shared hosting plan can offer.
VPS hosting is for larger, resource-heavy personal sites and eCommerce.
VPS hosting offers a middle ground service that’s ideal for fast-growing websites. These plans give users more control and flexibility over resources. There are various VPS options to choose from based on a client’s technical level.
Dedicated hosting is for high traffic, resource-heavy enterprise type websites.
Those who need dedicated hosting already know why. These are the high-performing, high-traffic websites. They require access to all resources and the best possible security. Whatever your project needs to function, it’s all available with one of these advanced hosting accounts.
Where Is Your Website Hosted?
The US hosts close to half of all websites in the world. Behind the US are Germany, China, the United Kingdom, and the rest. Your website could be hosted anywhere in the world, but does that matter? Probably, yes. Your site content falls under the jurisdiction of the host country. You may be free to say and publish certain content in your motherland, but not that of your hosting.
Other considerations could be privacy concerns, security, and search engine optimization (SEO). That last point is worth noting if your target audience is country-specific. A website hosted in Britain is more likely to rank better in Google.co.uk than it is Google.fr (France), for example.
Summing up Domains and Hosting
The relationship between domains and hosting is that you need both to run a website. The hosting is a powerful computer (server) that acts as the base to build your website. Your WordPress site then needs an address, and that’s your domain. If we were talking about a home, the land would be the hosting, the house the website, and the domain its PO Box.