What is a Domain name?
Your domain name is basically whatever comes after the “www.” in your web address. It’s like the sign in front of your business telling people what parking lot to turn into. No two domain names can be the same, which can mean that the one you were looking for may already be taken and you have to get creative. Be careful when choosing your domain. You want it to be memorable and not too long. Technically 253 characters is the maximum length of a full domain name, including dots, but it is wise to keep it below around 20 characters. You are limited to letters, numbers, and dashes, and are not allowed any spaces. You can use capital letters when you display your domain, but domain names are not case-sensitive. Make sure to look at your potential domain name as it would appear in a web browser without capitals or spaces to make sure you don’t make any unintentional words or messages. For example, SpeedOfArt.com can look like SpeedoFart.com (capitalization for emphasis).
What is Web Hosting and Servers?
A website is made up of a collection of files, and often times a database (or multiple databases). The files and database(s) work together to create the website. However, if you create and save these files on your computer obviously no one will see them. You need a way to serve these files up for public viewing on the web. This is what a website host does. Picture your host like the location of your business. They store your website files on their server(s) and make them accessible on the web. Servers are actual physical computers that are storing and “serving up” your files. Even “cloud” storage is basically just data stored in a remote location that is accessible via the internet.
Putting it Together
This is where I come across the most confusion. You need BOTH a domain name AND a web host to have a functioning website, just as you would need a physical location to interact with customers and a way for people to find and identify that location to have a physical storefront. Most companies provide both services which keeps things pretty simple. But there are cases where they are two different companies. It’s actually quite common because changing hosting services is much easier than transferring a domain registration, and the cost of hosting is the majority of the expense of having a website. People often switch hosts to get a better deal on hosting expense but don’t bother transferring the Domain registration. Also, many web designers and developers require you to switch to their preferred host but don’t require a domain transfer.
How we handle it
Many graphic designers decide to “sub-host” websites for their clients. This means they have an account with a web host company and do all the background work for you. It’s kind of like sub-letting. This does make things seem less complicated for the client, however, there are some drawbacks to this approach. This means if you have an existing website it needs to be moved to their host and often time you end up needing to start from scratch. This also means your designer needs to bill you regularly for your hosting and at the very least needs to add some cost on for the time that takes them. Some will even add a significant amount. And lastly, if something were to go amiss with your relationship with your designer only they have access to your domain registration and website files. Often what we see is not malicious designers who won’t release the information, but rather just they drop off the map and we can’t get ahold of the previous designer and are therefore left starting from scratch.
We have decided to put the reins in our clients’ hands when it comes to their domain and host, though we are right there beside them to guide them through the process. This means they pay less for hosting because they are paying directly to the hosting company. This also means our clients can keep their existing hosting service and we will work with them. Lastly, at any time our clients have access to their domain and files if ever they need them.