There are some basic questions about how websites work that I’m often asked. So, I’m putting all those answers together here. There’s nothing mind-blowing about it, but you need to know this stuff to make smart decisions about your own website.
A website basically has three components. There’s the domain name, the server and the content. Users type in your domain name and a server sends them your content. Let’s look at each of these in more detail.
A domain name is just that, a name. It’s your www-dot-com. It can include letters, numbers and hyphens. The domain name points to your server by use of Domain Name Servers or DNS. Your name is just an easy to remember shortcut for your server’s internet address.
You can pick what suffix you’d like from the usual options, .com, .org, .net, etc. That suffix is called the Top Level Domain or TLD. There are new TLDs coming out regularly, but I suggest sticking to the three just mentioned. Those have the most recognition. Just like it’s better to have a 1-800 number than a 1-866 number, a dot com address is easiest for people to remember.
Domain names are available from lots of places at lots of prices. I’d say you shouldn’t pay much more than $10 per year. There are places that charge as much as $40 per year, but there’s absolutely no difference. It’s just your name.
Web Servers or Hosting
A web server is a computer that’s accessible over a network, in this case over the internet. It handles requests from people who have typed in your domain name or clicked on a link to your site and sends them your content.
You could use your own computer, but then you’d have to worry about all the configuration and such. Instead, you can get a web hosting company to do all the dirty work for you. They’ll keep an eye on things and make backups regularly so you don’t have to worry about that stuff.
Web hosting comes in a wide range of prices, from $2.99 per month to $999 per month and more. For most websites, you don’t need to spend more than $10 per month. I use Dreamhost at $8.95 per month and recommend them to all my clients. If you’re paying much more than that, you should probably be shopping for new web hosting. (I’m assuming you run a small business website.) For less than that you might not get very reliable service.
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Content is where you should be investing your effort and money. This is what visitors will see and interact with when they come to your website. When visitors come to your domain name, the server will send them your content. The better your content, the more visitors will engage with you.
The Bottom Line
So, that’s what you need to get a website up and running. You’ll need a name so people can find you. You’ll need web hosting so your name can lead to something. And, you’ll need content to give visitors the info they’re looking for.
For your domain name and hosting, don’t spend more than $150 per year. If you’re getting tens of thousands of visits per month you might need more, but 90% of websites don’t need to spend more than that. Save your money for making great content, as that’s what will make the most difference on your bottom line.