Website Elementary School: The Fun-da-mentals of Websites

What’s a web server? How do domain names work? How to pick a domain name. How does web hosting work? This week I answer these questions and more.

Show notes:

Sites mentioned:

Sound bite: The Office, Season 6 Episode 6, 2009

Full Transcription

Today we’re going to go over how websites and domains names work. I’ve noticed for a long time, that business owners still have some misconceptions of about their websites. It’s been that way for years, but I never thought to do anything about it until now. You’ve probably heard of things like web hosting, domain names, WordPress, perhaps you’re even paying for these things but have never been clear on what you’re paying for.

If that’s you then this episode is definitely for you. And if you think you know everything about domain names and websites, you might want to stick around, you may learn something new and interesting. Along the way I will be dropping some important tips.

Today I plan to cover…

  • What’s a web server?
  • How do domain names work?
  • How to pick a domain name.
  • How does web hosting work?

We’re going to answer these questions and more on this week’s show.

Before we get start Website Elementary School, I want to welcome a new client:

Teresa Capaldo is a Business Development and Strategy coach, who works with women business owners and entrepreneurs (and men too) one-on-one, helping them gain clarity in their marketing, product development and overall business strategy. She leads her clients out of confusion and overwhelm and into productivity and profitability.

She’s has a passion for business and more importantly, for helping people. Teresa hired me to help her with her website, but she ended up helping me! She pointed out a few areas in my business that could use improvement, which I’m implementing this month.

You can find out more about Teresa at her website: teresacapaldo.com That’s t-e-r-e-s-a-c-a-p-a-l-d-o dot com. I’ll have a link in the show notes.

OK, need to do a little housecleaning before we get into websites, domain names and all that good stuff.
The Supertype Show is my new podcast. Some of you might be confused by the new name. As some of you know, the original name of the show was “Techie Secrets.”

I no longer own that brand, I transitioned it to a new owner earlier this year. If you heard episode 6 from a few months ago, I mentioned an important announcement coming, and that was because I had some things in the works. To make a long story short, fast forward to now, I have a new brand, a new show and a new website.

My new home is supertype.tv, that’s where you’ll find my shows and show notes, articles I pen, videos and where you can ask me questions. So stop by and say “hi,” supertype.tv

I needed to do this show to prepare you for the next few podcasts, and make sure you understand some basics as for the few weeks we’re going to talk about how to work with web designers and developers and how to protect your online business.

And I need a reference point for the basics, so in future episodes I can say “listen to episode 7 for how web hosting works…”

We’re going to talk about 3 things: domain names, web hosting, and websites.

Let’s start with websites…

What is a website, really?

Websites may seem complex and expensive, but a website is basically just a group of documents that can be found at the same address on the World Wide Web.

A web page is just a document, like a Word document. In fact you can use Microsoft Word to create a web page.

And for the sake of this discussion, let’s say you created a web page using Word.

If you created a web page, for people to see and visit that page you would need to make that page publicly available on the web.

To make your webpage live on the web, some specialized software is needed.

Fortunately in this day and age, we don’t need to worry or even think about the details of what’s involved in that, thanks to companies that offer website hosting services or “web hosting” for short.

A “web hosting” company, will “host” your web pages on their computers, typically called “servers”, because these computers are serving web pages –get it?
The web host takes care of all the details of making sure your web pages are available on the World Wide Web—for a fee of course.

So to have a website online, you will need to sign up and pay for web hosting. It’s not hard to find a web host, there are dozens if not hundreds of companies that offer web hosting with prices that range from $4 a month on up to hundreds of dollars a month.

Web hosting pricing is usually based on computer and network usage. If you have a website that gets a lot of visitors, it will use more computing and network resources, thus will cost more to run.

Choosing a web hosting company for your website can be a confusing task, so I’ll do another episode later on dedicated to finding the right web host.

After you’ve signed up for web hosting, they will usually provide passwords to login and upload your webpages and manage your website.

As I said earlier, a web host provides, or really, rents out space on their servers, which are just specialized computers.

Basically you are paying for a little space on their computers for your website. So you will need to transfer, or upload, your web page from your computer, where no one but you can see it, to your web hosting account, where everyone on the web will be able to see it.

Once your web page has been uploaded to your web hosting account, people on the web should be able to see it.

Now you have a website, albeit one page, technically it’s still a website.

But how do people on the web find your website?

Every website has an address, but it may not be an easy to use or remember. The address may be a series of numbers like 108.201.000.111, or something similar.

Fortunately, we have domain names.

Domain names were created to make website address more human-friendly.

Imagine if you wanted baseball news and wanted to visit the Major League Baseball website at 209.102.213.14

Isn’t it much easier to go to MLB.com?

Of course, not only do domain names make it easier to remember websites, they’ve also become a huge branding component for a lot of companies and organizations.

Back in 90s, domain names were critical.

If you didn’t know the domain name for a site, with the exact spelling, chances are you wouldn’t be able to visit that site.

In the 90s before there was Google, search engines were terrible.

It would take forever for a new site to appear in the search engines, like Yahoo, Excite and others, and at that time new sites were popping up all the time.

And even when sites were indexed in a search engine, it may not show up depending on what you searched on.

There were some search engines that always showed the same sites no matter what you typed, which let everyone to speculate that some people were paying to appear in the search results.

Probably what was happening was that a few people figured out how to game the search engines in those early days of the web. It didn’t really matter what was going on, people, including myself,
didn’t trust search engines back then.

Back in 95 we’d surf the web by typing in words into the browser followed by .com. That was more effective than anything else.

If we wanted to read about mountain biking we’d type mountain biking .com and see if there was a site.

Computer hardware: computer hardware.com or computers.com or PC.com and so on.

Whatever we were interested in, that’s how we found good sites: movies.com, baseball.com, farts.com (hey, I was a lot younger in the 90s)

So we relied on domain names back then. But if you heard about a site and didn’t have the name exactly right you probably weren’t going to find it.

There was more than few times people told me about a new site and I when I got home and on the computer I couldn’t find it. That used to happen a lot actually.

I’d be at school and someone would say, ”Hey, the forty-niners got a website!”

And that would be exciting news back then. Websites were still new.

Then I’d get home and try typing in f-o-u-r-t-y-n-i-n-e-r-s.com, and that didn’t work then 4-9-e-r-s.com, then S-F-4-9-e-r-s.com and so on until I got it right or gave up.

One time I ran into a friend at a tech conference and he said he just designed a new site for a company. I wanted to see it so he told me the name but I didn’t write it down.

When I got home I typed the domain name, or what I thought the name was, into my browser but nothing came up. I tried different variations of the name, I tried searching in a few of the early
search engines.

Nothing. 10, 20, 30 minutes went by. Still Nothing.

I remember thinking to myself this shouldn’t be so hard!

So that’s the way it was back then. But there is a lesson here that I will talk about a little more later:

Try to have a simple, easy to remember domain name.

Even though, in this day and age Google will help us out if we don’t remember the name of a site, and sometimes autocorrect a misspelled domain name, still, a domain name that is easy to get right the first time might be appreciated by your customers.

Okay, back to the future and back to your website…

So your website should have a domain name.

You don’t really buy domain names, domain names must be registered for an annual fee.

This is completely separate from web hosting, though a lot of times your web host will offer to register a domain name for you, sometimes for free as an incentive to sign up for their services.

It’s still a separate deal. You can register your domain name with a different company than the one hosting your website.

It’s important to remember a domain name is not a website. It’s just a name you get to use as long as you pay the annual registration fee, which can start at $10 a year for a .com extension, and higher for more specialized extension like .tv.

Since I mentioned the domain extension, you might be wondering what it is. A domain extension, or TLD (for top-level domain), is what follows the dot after the domain name.

It was originally intended to categorize domain names. For example:

  • .com is for commercial and by far the most popular
  • .net is for network
  • .org is for organization, which commonly used for nonprofits

Then there are country specific extensions like .ca for Canada and many others.
When you have registered a domain name, you can connect it to your hosting account via the domain name settings. Often you will change the settings for what’s called the “name servers” settings according to instructions from your web host.

Once your domain name and web hosting are properly connected, people can visit your site by typing in your name in their web browser.

A quick note about changing names servers on your domain name. It can take anywhere from 24-72 hours to establish the connection. During that waiting time, people may not be able to visit your site using your domain name.

Now, in my experience it normally doesn’t take that long. I’ve seen it take effect immediately, sometimes an hour, and though rare, sometimes a day. Just don’t expect the change to happen immediately.

Okay, now something that trips up my clients from time to time is choosing the right domain name.

If your business already has a name, then it’s easy. If it’s available, you should try to get the name of your business.

Just remember that the purpose of domain names is to provide an easy to use and remember way to reach your website.
If your business name is “McGillicuddy and Sons Restaurant and Billiards,” that would make for a very long domain name. You might want to trim that down to McGillicuddyBillards.com or something similar.

It’s really completely up to you. But here’s some tips.

Think about your business and if it may change in the future. For example, if you are a yoga instructor and your business name is Sarah’s Yoga Studio you may be tempted to get sarahsyogastudio.com
But what if in the future you decide to stop working in a studio, and instead decide to work on location where needed? Or decide to turn your yoga studio into something else?

Your website could be popular and changing the name my cause you to lose website traffic. And keeping the old name may confuse new customers.

So think about the future when choosing your name.

If the name you want is taken, you need to come up with some ideas for alternatives.
Most registrars like Namecheap and Godaddy, have domain suggestions tools that will generate variations to the name you want to registers. These tools often provide name ideas you may not have considered.

When it comes to registering your domain name with a registrar, most people have heard of Godaddy. I still use them occasionally, mainly because I have clients who still use them.

But I like Name Cheap a whole lot more. Godaddy tries to sell you stuff when you login to do stuff, when you call them, when you renew a domain name. I know it’s just marketing but it gets really annoying when I need to get work done.

Namecheap doesn’t do that and I feel I get work done with them much faster. I feel like they respect my time, not because they don’t cram product down my throat, but I’ve had other experiences that I’ll share later on.

Try to avoid using more than one registrar. Having all your domain names in one place is convenient and can avoid confusion in the future. I’ve had client lose domain names because they had several accounts and forgot which names were at which account.

That’s one of the reasons I’m doing this episode, so you can avoid problems like this, which can cost you money or cause you to lose an important part of your branding. Keep it simple, pick a registrar, Godaddy, Namecheap or whatever, and stick with it!

So if you registered and domain name and connected to your web hosting account, and uploaded the web page you made in Microsoft Word…
Congratulations! You’ve graduated from Website Elementary School!

In the next episode we’re going to talk about website design and development. And in subsequent episodes we’re going to get into website security, WordPress and other fun stuff.
By the end of this podcast season you’ll have an MBA in websites!

That’s it for The Supertype Show this time around.

If you have questions about anything we talked about on the show, please find me on Twitter, simply search Twitter for @ tomlitchfield and you’ll find me.

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