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Web hosting services aren't all the same. — Getty Images/Natali_Mis

If you’re launching a website, there are two key services you need: web hosting and domain registration. Understanding the different features and identifying which vendors offer the features you need can help you create a solid, long-lasting foundation for your site.

In this guide, you will get an overview of services, features to consider, tips for assessing your needs and some points to ponder that will help you determine which vendors might best fit those needs.

What is a domain name?

The domain name for a site is its unique address. Ideally, you select a domain name for your site that is easy to communicate and remember. You must perform a search to be sure the name is not currently in use.

The next step is to register it with a registrar, who will manage your domain name. Registrars should be accredited by ICANN.

Once you register your domain name, no one else can use it as long as you are paying for it, even if your site is not up yet.

Keep in mind, however, that when you purchase your domain name, you are only purchasing it with one extension (e.g., .com, .net, .org, .eu), which means your site address is unique to that extension. Someone else can still purchase the name with another extension or you can choose to purchase multiple extensions that point to your website.

Domain name registration services

Domain name registration is fairly straightforward, but there are a few aspects you will want to consider before choosing your registrar:

  • Cost and commitment period: Most registrars will give you an option to register for one or multiple years — often with a discount for a multi-year commitment. Fees vary by domain extension. Know what your renewal fee will be as costs may increase substantially after the first year.
  • Add-ons: Know what is included and what is an add-on. For example, is WHOIS registration and privacy included or an additional cost? The WPBeginner blog article, "How to Choose the Best Domain Registrar in 2018" cautions that Some companies may even pre-check add ons on the online purchase form. Make sure you review your order before submitting it.
  • Transferability: While you hope to be happy with your registrar for a long time, it’s good to understand how or if you will be able to transfer your domain name to another registrar if you should so choose. Some allow this for free, while others have fees or restrictions.
  • Customer support: How can you get help when you need it? How responsive is the support team? Reviews from customers and business publications are good places to get a sense for how customers are treated.
  • Combined offerings: Some registrars offer additional services for added costs, such as hosting and website building tools. While it may seem easiest to consolidate your business, the Nuts & Bolts blog article, "Why You Shouldn’t Register Domains With Your Web Host" warns against registering and hosting a site through one vendor. If you want to change your host later, you may also need to transfer the site domain. This can be challenging and time consuming. The blog points out that, if your domain is registered separately, you have flexibility to move your site as you grow or if your host is not meeting expectations.
  • User experience: While there is not a lot to do to manage your domain name, understanding how easy it will be to affiliate your domain with your website, create email addresses and set up DNS servers is important.
  • Renewal policy: Unless you only need your domain name for a one-year period, you’ll want to be sure you don’t miss out on renewing it. If you do, it can be registered by someone else. Know when your registration expires and how to renew. Does the registrar send reminder emails? What happens if you lose track of the renewal date or the credit card on record expires by the time of auto-renewal? Some vendors offer a grace period, by holding on to a client’s domain name for a short period of time if the renewal date is missed. This provides more opportunity to renew before the domain name becomes available to others.

Where you host website files is a key determinant of the usability and potential growth of your website and online presence.

Website hosting services

Where you host website files is a key determinant of the usability and potential growth of your website and online presence. So, take time to assess your needs and evaluate hosting companies.

The following are several types of hosting services, each with its own pros and cons, and varying levels of expense.

  • Shared hosting is the best option for cost savings. Because the provider hosts multiple sites on a single server, the costs are shared. However, site performance can degrade if other sites on the server have a traffic spike. Also, you could end up with additional costs if you exceed the disk space and bandwidth allotted in your contract.
  • Virtual Private Servers (VPS) also involve shared servers, but there are fewer sites on a server and each site gets its own resources, so it is not impacted by the usage of the other sites. This option costs more than shared hosting. According to the article, “The Best Web Hosting Services for Small Businesses” from Inc., not all vendors allocate resources as well as others, so carefully assess your options.
  • Cloud hosting is shared hosting across a network of servers. According to Inc.’s review of hosting services, this option can deliver better uptimes and more safeguards against Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks. DDoS attacks involve a multitude of compromised computer systems all attempting to access your site at once and overwhelming it with fake traffic that shuts the site down.
  • WordPress hosting plans allow a site to be built on the WordPress content management system (CMS), which is a free open-source site building platform. The Inc. article explains that this option can be faster and more secure than shared services with better uptime. A caution is offered to those who have a site that will be very customized as not all hosts support all plug ins.
  • Dedicated hosting ensures that your site is the only one on the server. This is an expensive option for sites that need dedicated resources and a lot of power. It often also requires that you manage all of the backend, technical issues, according to PC Magazine’s "The Best Web Hosting Services of 2018."

In its hosting services review, PC Magazine suggests website owners understand their current hosting needs and the potential growth of those needs before committing to a host. If you think you’ll start small but grow, you may consider a hosting service that offers a variety of hosting types because switching vendors later can be challenging.

Assessing your needs

To assess vendors, you first must assess your hosting needs. Below is a list of features offered by web hosting vendors along with assessment tips and questions to consider as you determine which ones suit your needs.

While many vendors offer a variety of services, these can be limited with lower-cost packages. More comprehensive offerings likely carry a higher price tag.

Potential features include:

  • Website builder: Some hosts include a free site builder while others offer one as an add-on. Review their offering and asses how user friendly it is, the level of features it includes and what the associated costs are.
  • Customer support: Review the vendor’s website to find out how customer support is delivered and read customer and publication reviews to gauge the level of care and knowledge. If your site goes down, you’ll want someone looking into the issue as soon as possible. Outside of that occurrence, consider how much guidance you want.
  • Server operating system: Linux is the default, but some hosts also support Windows. Which will you need? According to TheSiteWizard, if your site relies on Windows-specific technologies, such as ASP, .NET or Microsoft Access, or Microsoft SQL Server (MSSQL), you’ll need a hosting package that can support it. Keep in mind that Windows support could increase your hosting costs.
  • Email accounts: Many hosts include email services, but some limit the number of accounts you can create. Some hosts do not offer email accounts or offer them as a separate service with the idea, according to PC Magazine, that keeping email and website hosting separate is a layer of protection in case a provider goes offline.
  • Uptime: Keeping your site online is the most important job for a web hosting company, so be sure to select one with a record of excellent uptime. Hostingfacts.com provides a list of the top 10 hosting companies updated monthly with uptime being one of the three metrics reviewed. You can view the current list here.
  • Additional features can include eCommerce, eMarketing tools, domain registration, and varying levels of security tools.

Before you commit to any vendor, have a clear purpose for your website (e.g., information, ecommerce, community engagement, etc.) and understand your marketing needs so that you can find the vendor that offers the features that best support you.

CO— does not review or recommend products or services. For more information on choosing the best web and cloud hosting services, visit our friends at business.com.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

Published February 25, 2019