happy little biz

Help, I need a website! Part 2: Domains, Hosting and Naming

Part one of this series

When starting to build a website, one of the key things you need to think about right from the start is what the domain name (web address or URL) will be and where you will have it hosted.

On the technical side, this is a pretty simple process: most places you would host a website also provide domain registration services, meaning it takes only a few minutes to get up and running.

But in terms of the thought process, it's not so simple. There are dozens of web hosts out there, how do you choose one? Lots of domain names are taken, so how do you pick one that will represent your business but still be memorable?

Website I don't recommend going with just 'Company Name'. It's not very original.

Choosing a Web Host

Shared vs dedicated? Linux vs Windows? And what's a VPN? There are a lot of options for web hosting!

For most people staring with a small website, you just need a basic, shared hosting package that gives you some storage space, access to a few key features, and allows you to register your domain name.

A few things I recommend looking for:

1) A reasonable price, but not necessarily the cheapest price. Price alone should not be your major deciding factor.

2) A good customer service system - 24/7 support, multiple methods of contact (phone and email at least), and friendly staff. This is important should something happen with your site and you need to talk to someone to get it running again.

3) Access to a control panel - so you can make basic changes to your site without having to contact support.

4) A host that has been around for at least a few years, so they have a proven track record. Do a google search for reviews and read a bunch for each web host you're looking at.

5) Flexible packages and billing. You may start with one type of hosting package but find after a few months you needs have changed. You don't want to be stuck in a contract for something you don't need.

6) Honesty about bandwidth. Bandwidth is the rate of data transfer - in other words, how quickly things on your website will load for your customers or clients. Many web hosts will claim they give unlimited bandwidth for a super low price, and then put a lot of websites on the same server. If lots of people are trying to access the websites located on that server at the same time, all of the websites will find they are slower to load. Honest web hosts will tell you up front how much bandwidth you will get, because they've calculated how much they can provide and still have your website load quickly. With most small businesses you don't need a lot of bandwidth anyhow.

If the host you're looking at offers both Linux and Windows hosting, don't bother paying extra for Windows - you very likely don't need it and will never notice what operating system your website's server is running. And Virtual Private Servers, or VPSs, are intended for people who have strong technical abilities for managing their own server - from the operating system up. Not something the vast majority of small business owners need to do.

The hosting company I recommend to clients is A Small Orange*. They have all of the above requirements, plus great, friendly customer service and a commitment to green/renewable energy.

Choosing a Domain Name

If you're lucky, your business name will be fairly short and the obvious domain name for it will not already be taken. For example, my online name has been nyxie for over 10 years now, and so I wanted to use that as part of my business name. But I also wanted to have my blog and portfolio on separate domains. Lucky for me, nyxie.ca was available, and I'd already owned nyxie.org for many years. Score!

But for lots of businesses, the domain name they want isn't available. Here are a few things you can do to find something that works:

  • Try other domain extensions. The .com isn't available, but what about the .net? Maybe the .ca (if you're Canadian)? Depending on your business, .info, .biz or .org can work.
  • Try adding your location and/or what you do to the name. For example, if your business is named 3D Visual Arts and you're in Halifax, you could try 3dhalifax.ca. For a Toronto Naturopath, you could try torontonaturopath.net.
  • Keep it short. You might like the sound of BestDarnMassageTherapistInToronto.com, but it's long and not-so-easy to type.
  • Avoid numbers, unless they're in your actual business name. See the above example for when it does work.
  • Research the name to make sure there are no copyright or trademark issues. The last thing you want is to buy a domain name that is actually the name of another company - you may end up in a legal battle and will almost certainly lose the domain.

Once you've chosen a host and a domain name, you're all set to purchase your account and get started building your website! On my next post in this series, I'll talk a bit about WordPress, why it's so popular for websites, and when you might want to have someone else build the website for you.

*Full disclosure: the A Small Orange link is an affiliate link - I get a bit of cash if you sign up with that link. If you'd rather not do that, that's cool! Just go directly to their website: asmallorange.com. Affiliate or not, I still highly recommend them, and use them for some of my own hosting.