The past two weeks we’ve discussed what an author site should do and your options for platform/format. This week, we’re going to discuss the steps required to secure your domain name and your hosting service. Most of these steps are geared towards the user who wants to self-host a WordPress installation for her author site. If you’ve decided to go with Blogger or WordPress.com, you can stop with registering your domain name. Simply follow Blogger/WordPress’s instructions for mapping a custom domain to your blog, and you’re good to go. If you’re going to hire a web designer, he or she most likely can help you with your web host selection and registration.
Registering Your Domain Name
What Domain Should You Choose?
Before you do anything else, you should register your domain name. As a matter of fact, if you’re even thinking about becoming a writer or launching a business that will require you to brand your name, you should do this first. The best option, of course, is to select a domain like www.yourname.com.
Most readers, when looking for your site, will navigate to that address rather than a perform a Google search. Avoid hyphens whenever possible (e.g. www.your-name.com). Additionally, it’s generally considered a better idea to use a variation on your name like www.yournamebooks.com rather than taking the less desirable www.yourname.net. Since .com addresses are still the gold standard for domain names, you’ll have confused visitors when they land on the site they thought was yours and instead find it to be a window-cleaning company (or worse yet, a site showing materials you don’t want linked to your name in any way.) You may also consider buying the .net address for any domain you select, just so someone else cannot come along later after you’re a New York Times Bestselling Author (hey, dream big!) and siphon away your web traffic.
Where Should You Register?
A lot of web experts recommend that you register your domain with a different company than the one that hosts your site. From my perspective, if you’re going with one of the bigger hosting companies, it probably doesn’t matter. I personally like to be able to renew my domain registrations and my web hosting at the same time through the same company, but if you feel better not putting all your eggs in one basket, go ahead and register your domain with a different company than the one hosting your website. There are hundreds of domain registrars. Some of the most popular include:
However, there are many others that are perfectly on the level. Whichever one you choose, make sure it clearly states that you own the domain and you’re not renting or leasing it from the company. I recommend that before using an unknown domain registrar that promises a low price that you check them out through the Better Business Bureau. I usually also Google something like “[company name] scams” and “[company name] complaints” to see what other users think, keeping in mind that there’s always a small portion of disgruntled users who like to take to the net to air their complaints. On average, it should cost about $8 to $12 per year to register a domain name. You will also be given the option to pay for domain privacy for another $10 or so. This means that if someone does a “whois” search to find out who owns the domain, they will see only the address of the domain registrar, not your personal home address. If you’re registering your domain to a business address or a PO box, this is largely unnecessary.
Choosing Your Hosting Service
Now that you have registered your domain names, it’s time to select a web hosting service. These days, most reputable hosting companies offer very similar packages. If you’re running Wordress, you just need the most basic ones. Dedicated servers and IP addresses are for high volume users or those who are running very resource-intensive scripts on their site. For the most part, WordPress set up correctly will put very few demands on the host server, so you don’t need to worry about this. When you hit the New York Times Bestseller list and are generating tens of thousands of views of your vlogs, you may want to consider upgrading. A good web host should offer you:
- 24/7 tech support
- Unlimited disk storage
- Unlimited add-on, parked, and sub-domains (allowing you to host multiple sites and domain names on a single account)
- Easy install for WordPress via SimpleScripts or similar one-click installation applications
- E-commerce integration
Prices for this type of service will range from $4 to $8 a month for your first year, and up to $10 to $12 a month when you renew. Any host that charges you more than this for these basic options is probably not giving you a good deal. Look elsewhere. A few of the more popular companies that offer reasonably priced hosting services:
*Of all these services, BlueHost is the only one I’ve used personally, and I’ve been very impressed with both their minimal downtime and their technical/customer support. HostGator.com and JustHost.com come recommended by friends of mine, but I can’t vouch for them personally. I would urge caution before using GoDaddy.com for hosting. They’re generally known for having longer and more frequent periods of site downtime and for overcrowding their host servers, which results in slower page load times. (Plus, I find their advertising offensive, but that’s a rant for another day.) Still, they offer competitive rates and hold a large share of the market.
Connecting Your Domain Name to Your Hosting Service
If you opted to register your domain through the company you host with, the process of hooking up your domain is usually as easy as navigating to a tab inside the Domain Services section of your control panel and choosing a primary domain. If you registered through another company, you’ll need to map your name servers to the address your web host provided.
Was that as clear as mud? Basically, inside the control panel of your domain registrar, there will be a space to put an address next to your domain name. Your hosting service should have given you a primary and a secondary name server that looks something like this: “xxx.bluehost.com” or “xxx.hostgator.com.” This just tells the domain registrar that when someone types in your domain name, it should send them to the server that hosts your site.
If that’s still a bit confusing, you can usually find step by step instructions in your host’s FAQ files. Or, check out this thorough list from HostGator. If all else fails, talk to your host’s tech support. (This is why I recommend 24/7 tech support… because we all know that we’ll be doing this at 11:27 pm rather than between the hours of 9 and 5.) It can take anywhere from 24 to 48 hours to map your domain to the new servers, but in my experience, it generally happens in under four. Once your domain and your host are linked up, you’re ready to install WordPress and move into your home on the web!