When you’re about to launch your first website, it’s hard to know what you really need and what’s just an unnecessary expense.
There are a lot of platforms, both free and paid, that allow you to build a blog with the push of a button, such as Weebly, Wix, SquareSpace, Blogger, and many others. Those can be useful if your site is for a hobby. But if you’re launching a real business, you’ll want to self-host your website. Self-hosting means your website is totally under your control.
Self-hosting sounds technical and confusing, but it’s actually really easy.
All you need to get started is a domain name and hosting. You can purchase those pretty reasonably at SiteGround, InMotion or GoDaddy.
Your domain name is the web address of your site, like bloggingbadass.com or gotprint.net. Hosting is the space you’re renting on the internet that hosts your web files. When you’re just starting out, the basic package is perfectly acceptable. You can upgrade at any time. If you’re not happy with your provider, you can switch to another, so don’t feel like you are stuck with this choice for life.
Inevitably, once you decide to launch a website, you’ll be offered all kinds of additional products. What are all those extra choices? What do you need and what’s just an upsell by the hosting company?
Here are some common items hosting companies will try to upsell:
When you register a domain, your name, address, email address and phone number are automatically published for the world to see. It’s required by law that the hosting companies collect this information. But many people don’t realize that this information becomes public in an international database called the WhoIs database. If you’re a big company with a physical location, like a grocery store chain or a school, this might not matter to you but if you’re a solo entrepreneur, you may not want all your contact information out there. If that’s the case, you can protect yourself from spam and scams with private domain registration.
Some domain registrars and hosting companies want to see you a type of premium domain registration or business registration. This adds very little value to your website and is not worth the price. Don’t bother signing up for it.
Site Lock or malware scanner service
Depending in the price and features, this could be helpful to you. Security is important: No one wants their site hacked! If you don’t want to handle it yourself, ask your hosting company what they offer. The most important question is: Do they merely scan, or will they actually clean your site and put everything back the way it was if you’ve been infected? If you don’t like their answer or prices, I highly recommend installing Sucuri on your new site.
Speaking of security, having a backup system is imperative. If you’re using WordPress to build your website, look into UpdraftPlus or BackupBuddy, two of my favorite backup plugins. If you want your host to handle it, be sure to ask them:
– How often do they back up your site?
– How many backups do they keep?
– Where are the backups stored?
– If something happens, will they help you restore your site, otherwise are you on your own?
At the very least, everyone with a website should download screenshots and copies of the photos and text that appears on their site. I go through my sites about twice a year and make sure I have manual copies of everything. Just in case.
An SSL certificate is used to secure any website that transmits personal information. They are indicated by a green symbol or padlock by the domain name in your browser. Banks, retail stores, hospitals, schools, and many other companies that deal with sensitive data use SSL certificates. Some hosts provide SSL certificates for free. If so, take advantage. They are nice to have. If you’re taking payments on your site using PayPal or Stripe (or another payment gateway), they already have SSL built in. If you’re not certain if you need one, you can always purchase one down the road. You can typically buy them in 1-year, 2-year, 5-year, or 10-year terms.
Dedicated Servers and Virtual Private Servers (VPS)
If you’re a beginner, don’t let an enthusiastic salesperson talk you into purchasing one of these. If you’ve outgrown your economy or basic plan, just move up to the next level that provides the adequate amount of space and bandwidth. A VPS is a monster of a system that requires an extremely tech-savvy individual to manage and is most likely way more than you need. Not everyone needs to have a fully dedicated web server. In fact, most people don’t. The majority of websites start out on shared hosting. That means you and 25 other people like you share a server machine in a giant building that’s connected to the internet. A VPS is a virtual server that is dedicated to you only. Hence the hefty price tag. Down the road, if you’re ready for a dedicated server or VPS, you may want to hire someone to assist you in managing it.
Domain email is custom email setup with your domain name. For example, if I owned whitehouse.gov, I could set up the email address firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. Most domain registrars and hosting companies offer this service. You can choose whoever you want to set up your custom domain email. I’m a huge fan of Google. It’s like Gmail for your company email. A domain email will amp up the professional appearance of your business and is usually worth the price, which can range from $50/year to $100/year, depending on what service you use.
Number One Piece of Advice for Your Website
Don’t hesitate to ask questions. One thing to keep in mind is that the web is very flexible. If you want to change your domain name to something else, you can do that. Don’t like the look of your site? Learn how to install a new theme or hire a web developer to do it for you. Want to switch hosting companies? No problem. Everything is changeable, so don’t be afraid to take the leap and crush it online.
Perri Collins is the Magical Unicorn of Creativity at Collins Digital Media. She specialized in web development, online digital marketing and social media. She started building websites in 1999 and has continued to help small business owners and individuals take their first steps on the web. She has worked with organizations both large and small, from Arizona State University to freelance writers, restaurant owners, TV news anchors, healthcare professionals, bloggers and comedians.