Understanding how to get online can be really confusing. There is a lot of web jargon out there and it can make your head spin. I find that the big name companies that sell you web services often don't do a great job of explaining it either. They use terms people don't know and often end up selling bundled packages that contain more than what you might even need. The illustration above and the explanation below has helped make this process a little easier for my clients to understand and eliminate their feelings of unease about how it all comes together.
1. Domain Name
This is simply your address on the web. It's the www.mybusinessname.com address that you'll need to tell customers where to find you online. Think of your domain like your virtual street address. For example. customers can't come to your bricks-and-mortar business without knowing your street address and it's the same thing for your website.
There are lots of places online to purchase a domain, and the annual costs really vary depending on who you get it from and how you might bundle in with other things. I personally like Google Domains. You can easily buy just the domain without it being bundled with things that you might not need.
This is what customers see when they go to your domain name address. The website files are what make up the design and it contains the navigation menu with all the pages that your website visitors can view and click on. Think of this as your virtual business building. When customers come to your physical place of business, they found you at your address (your domain name) and they walk into your store (your website) and the browse down each isle (the web pages).
Creating a website yourself these days is certainly possible and with all the D.I.Y. website builders available, many small business owners try to go this route to have more control and possibly save some money. Despite their best efforts, I have found that small business owners eventually end up reaching out to a professional to do it for them. They end up realizing they don't have the time or the skills to really make it function the they way they want. If you start down the D.I.Y. path and find yourself stuck and letting months go by without any progress, reach out to a pro to get it done. Reserve your time for doing what you do best in your business and leave the web design to someone who really understands how to complete it for you.
Just like your building needs land to sit on, so do your website files. Without the hosting (the land), your website files don't have a place to exist. Hosting is simply allocated space on a server that you purchase for your website files to reside.
Like the other two items mentioned above, pricing can vary greatly for hosting too. It really depends on what kind of website you need, where it's hosted and how long your hosting contract is. Be careful when purchasing hosting. The big name companies often like to give you a free domain name with the purchase of a hosting package, and that's great, but if you are buying a package that contains more than what you need, it would have saved you more money to buy these things separately. You don't need to purchase your hosting and your domain at the same place (and in some cases, it's better that you don't). Domain name settings can be changed to point wherever your website is hosted.
So what do you do with all this info?
If you know you need a new website or a refresh on the one you have, I suggest you purchase the domain name. That way, when you are ready to have your website created, you'll be comforted knowing that your domain is secured.
I would hold off on hosting packages until you either map out the plan for what kind of website you need and/or you speak to a professional to help you work through those details and possibly design and build the website for you.
Lastly, whether you work with a professional to set all this up for you, or you do it yourself, note where you purchased each of these three items and note the logins for each (or at least the contact info for the professional that has access and purchased it for you). You may want to change web designers in the future or take it over yourself. Having access to these three items is critical.
As a small business owner, having a website isn't optional anymore. A website is a must-have piece to establish credibility in your business and reach your customers. The good news is you don't need to do it alone. Need help to pull this all together? Let's Chat!