Domain, web hosting and email basics
One of the most important pieces of real estate for a new business is their digital footprint. Making sure your proposed business name is available on the web is critical when getting your suite of digital tools set up, and there are a few steps to this process, which if you are new to it, can seem a little daunting. A Google search of domain names sites may leave you completely overwhelmed, and then there is the DNS and email and hosting to choose, as well as what to do if you aren’t going to use it right away. This factsheet will help you understand what is needed in what sequence, and a few tips and tricks to make it nice and simple.
Key terms to know
A domain name is like title or deed to your online business real estate. It signals you own the name and its place online, but isn’t the actual site itself.
To build the shop or presence or whatever your website is going to be, you need to have the domain hosted. It’s the equivalent to paying rent for a virtual space you are going to use for your business.
If the domain is your title deed, and the site hosting your rent for that space, the website is what you do to fit out your virtual space and make it yours. But it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Your website needs to physically sit on a computer somewhere in the world so that people can view it. So when you’re paying for hosting, you’re actually paying rent for a computer somewhere in the world and for security to prevent hackers from getting to the computer, the network that it runs on, and some level of customer support.
Now you have the three elements of your website defined – the name, the rent and the setup, you need the capacity for your customers to be able to get in touch with you, and this is of course best if it is done under your website’s domain name and brand. Hotmail is SO 2001. Here’s a tip – make sure you use a domain provider that also provides email, as you don’t want to have those two elements separate.
The Domain Name System (DNS) underpins the web. It works transparently in the background, converting human-readable website names into computer-readable numerical IP addresses. DNS does this by looking up that information on a system of linked DNS servers across the Internet. This is also true for an email address. When you press send on your email, your computer talks to DNS and asks “where is the computer that handles emails for [insert name of email recipient.]” DNS then tells your computer where it is. Your computer then sends that email to that computer. DNS is often also referred to as a ‘name server’, and you will need the DNS or name server details when you go to set up your website after purchasing your domain name.
Purchasing your domain name
Purchasing a domain name is the first step to getting your business established digitally. In the majority of cases, you need a website as part of your broader suite of digital tools which will work strategically together. To learn more about creating a digital strategy for your business click here. The idea of purchasing is a bit of a misnomer, as what you are actually doing is leasing or renting the name for a period of years, and as long as you have paid your rent, you have the right to use it. You will need a credit card or Paypal to do this, and if you don’t want your name to be publicly registered as the owner of the site, you can pay an additional amount to keep it private, this mainly keeps you from being spammed mercilessly by salespeople wanting to flog you hosting services.
Choosing the right domain name/s
Choosing the right name is a pretty big deal, and it’s hard to unravel once your business gets up and running. If you are going to operate solely in Australia, then it makes sense to have a .com.au domain name. (If purchasing a .com.au name you will need to have your ABN handy to register.) If you are going to operate globally in the future, you may as well pick up a .com version too.
There are lots of different endings for domains now, .org, .io, .net, .company, .ai, .live and so forth. Do you need to grab all of them? The answer is probably no, just the ones that make the most sense, especially the .com and your local region. When you go to purchase your name, have a few different options in case your preferred name is taken, be creative, but most importantly ensure that where possible you have what you do and where in the domain name you choose.
As an example, hobartcatsitters.com.au is much better than purrdeluxe.com.au. This comes in handy for SEO later on. Keep the domain name as short as possible. A shorter domain name has two advantages. It’s easier for people to type in and it works better when using Google Adwords for advertising. Google Adwords has a limit on how many characters you can use in a website address.
Where do you get it?
There are lots of different sellers of domain names, some better than others, and many hosted web services such as Weebly and Squarespace also enable you to buy a domain name when you sign up for web hosting.
Netregistry.com.au is a reputable Australian business, and namecheap.com has a reputation for great customer service. Crazydomains.com.au offer cheap sites too, but may try and push a lot of additional services that you probably don’t need.
Once you have purchased your domain name you can just let it sit until you are ready to use it, better to have the name you want than to miss out, so if it is available grab it, they don’t last long. When you are ready to set up your hosted site and email, the DNS or name server info will be available for your site in the documents you would have received when you bought it or from the documentation on your web host's site. If you have no idea where to get the information, contact your web host and ask them for the "DNS servers" or "name servers" to use for your domain. All domains usually have at least two DNS servers which can be checked via Whois lookup tool.
The list of name servers will often look like ns1.example.com, ns2.example.com, and so on, using the domain name used by your web host for their servers rather than example.com.
Your web host may give you 2 or more name server addresses. Note down all these names. Better still, keep the email or web page containing these names open on your computer so that you can cut and paste them later. You'll need to enter these names, exactly as given, into your registrar's system. Once they are entered, it takes up to 32 hours and your domain is registered and active and ready to be built into an awesome website.
Hosting for a website
Now you have your domain purchased, its time to get your hosting organized. As mentioned before, on some web hosting sites you can purchase your domain and email at the same time, and use their template sites for building your website. This offers quite the level of convenience, so if those template sites are where you were thinking of building your website anyway, that could be an excellent option. Wix, Weebly, Squarespace and Shopify are all examples of simple, consumer friendly site builders that are designed to get small business looking beautiful and operational.
If you are going to build your site using Wordpress or through a third party designer, get a hosting provider that offers local support. If you want to do your research, simply call a hosting company’s tech support number and see how long you’re in the queue for and see who answers the phone. A few other handy tips are to host with a company that offers “cPanel” access to your website. This usually means that you will be able to give access to a web person to setup your website properly and to setup emails properly. Get hosting that is fast. Google takes note of websites that are slow to load and pushes them down the search results list. You need to pay for management services. Include this in your budget. This means someone needs to take ownership of backups, security and updates.
The last thing to do once you have your domain, your hosting and your website build options sorted is to set up your email. Again, this is mostly done with either Google or Microsoft as the backend, so if you have set up hobartcatsitters.com.au and purchase an email account through Google at the same time, you can set up an email like firstname.lastname@example.org that is driven by the Google suite of products. This approach is strategic as it means that you will get a super reliable email provider, based in the Cloud and already on Google’s radar for SEO. Google offers email accounts from $5 per month through their GSuite service. This also gives you access to all of their google products as well as cloud file storage. Microsoft offers email accounts from $15 per month through their Office 365 service. This includes the latest version of Microsoft Office.
Getting your website, domains and email set up right might seem complex at first, but as such a critical part of your business identity online, it is worth getting it right the first time. Focus on holistic value and customer service from any provider you use rather than it just being cheap. And make sure you own the domain registration, there have been issues with shady operators registering domains in their own name and then holding business owners to ransom when its time to renew. If you need support, reach out to your Digital Ready coach who can help you with the process and give you wise advice along the way.