Choosing a Web Host – Avoid Your Domain Registrar

Using the same company for domain registration and for website hosting is potentially risky.  Problems with hosting are not uncommon. You may not like their service and want to switch to another host. Your host may think you’re using too many resources and want you to upgrade to a more expensive plan. They may claim that you’ve violated the terms of service (TOS) you agreed to when you signed up for hosting. Most TOS agreements make the host the final judge on whether you’ve violated the terms.

Basically, if your web host has control over your domain as well as your website content, they’re in a position to dictate terms to you. They can freeze your account until you pay more money, or they can close your account. Without control of your domain, you could find your domain, website, and business completely shut down.

On the other hand, If you register your domain using a different company, you can switch hosts by changing the nameservers that are set in your domain account. Not only will this protect your domain in case of a hosting dispute, you’ll probably get better service when you use a domain registrar for registration and a web host for hosting.

If you host with your domain registrar, the biggest threat to your domain and business will probably be honest misunderstandings or mistakes, not a disreputable company.  A client may do things with his website that unwittingly hurt other clients using the same server. If a client uses a $5/month shared hosting account to make a YouTube-like website, a host must take action to protect his other clients.  Hosts can make honest mistakes as well. They receive a complaint that you’re a spammer and take action against you before checking the complaint thoroughly. They may think you haven’t paid when you have.

In summary, pick a web host other than your domain registrar to give yourself the best service and the best protection for your domain.

Setting Up Your Business Email

Communicating with customers by email is a big part of doing business online. Your hosting plan gives you plenty of email addresses to use with your domain, so there’s no reason to associate your business with a personal Hotmail or AOL email address. The following example illustrates the steps and choices for setting up an email address for your business.

Suppose you’re planning to use the domain budgetingretirement.com for your business and you’d like to set up [email protected] as the primary email address for customers to contact you. For this example we’ll assume your hosting plan uses the cPanel interface to manage email and other aspects of your hosting. If your host doesn’t use cPanel, follow your host’s instructions for email setup, taking steps similar to those described below.

Visit http://cpanel.budgetingretirement.com to login to cPanel, and click on Mail – Email Accounts. Enter [email protected] as the email address.  For the amount of space allocated to this account, you can increase it or accept the default. For reasons explained below, the space allocation will not be a significant limitation on how much email you can receive. From the cPanel main menu, click on Mail – Default Address.  Have all unrouted email to budgetingretirement.com go to [email protected] (your “catchall” address) instead of bouncing back to the sender. You now have a basic web-based email account for [email protected]. You can read and send email by logging in at http://budgetingretirement.com/webmail or through cPanel Mail – Email Accounts.

However, you’ll probably prefer to forward copies of those emails to a location you would prefer – your desktop, Yahoo email, or Gmail, for example. Gmail is a good choice. Gmail can be accessed from anywhere, and it has features that are especially useful for business. If you don’t already have a Gmail account, create one.

From the cPanel main menu click on Mail – Forwarders. Have email forwarded to your Gmail address ([email protected] for example). If your business absolutely cannot afford email delivery to fail, consider adding another forwarder. That way, if the Gmail servers should go down, you have a backup means of receiving critical emails.

A powerful feature of Gmail is its capability of consolidating all of your email addresses in one Gmail account. In particular, not only can you receive email to [email protected], you can send email so that recipients will see [email protected], not [email protected], in the “From” field of the email.

Log in to Gmail. Make sure you’re using Standard View because some of the following doesn’t work in Basic HTML View. Go into Options (may look like a gear icon) – Mail Settings – Accounts and Import and select Send Mail from Another Address.  Enter your name and email address. Select Send through budgetingretirement.com SMTP servers.

The next settings may require a little experimentation or information from your web host:

SMTP Server: mail.budgetingretirement.com           Port 465
Username:    [email protected]

X Always use a secure connection (SSL) when sending mail

The SMTP server may be something like mail.primarydomain.com if primarydomain.com (rather than budgetingretirement.com) is the primary domain in your hosting account. Or the server and port could be different if your host has a different convention.

After you respond to a confirmation email you’ll be able to send emails from within Gmail and have them appear to be from [email protected].

While in Mail settings – Accounts and Import – When replying to a message:, select “Reply from the same address the message was sent to”. This helps ensure you do not reply with the wrong address, as could happen if you’re using Gmail to manage numerous email addresses.

Since you can now manage all your business email through Gmail, the only need to login to http://budgetingretirement.com/webmail is to periodically delete old emails to keep under the account space limit.

Use the same steps to set up additional addresses under the budgetingretirement.com domain. The only difference will be that these additional email addresses won’t be the default/catchall address.

Although there are a fair number of steps in this process, the good news is that the process is more tedious than complicated. Even better, once you’ve set up your email as recommended here, you’ll have a flexible and convenient way to manage all your business email.

13 Steps to Your First Business Website

1. Choose a domain registrar

Choose a reputable registrar with straightforward name management and consistent pricing. Dynadot and Moniker are both highly regarded registrars that offer good service and pricing. GoDaddy is the most popular registrar but be prepared for upsell and price increases at renewal time.

  • Recommendations:
    • Dynadot
    • Moniker (UPDATE: Contented Designs no longer recommends using Moniker, which after ownership changes has had problems with security and support.)
  • Alternative:

2. Choose and register a domain name

Use your registrar website to check the availability of the domain name you want. Be prepared to search for alternative names if your first choice isn’t available. Good domain names are in high demand so, if the right name is available, register it without delay. During registration, make sure your contact information is correct, and set the domain to auto-renew. This will help ensure you don’t accidentally lose your domain through administrative error or non-payment. The cost for registering a domain name is about $10/year.

3. Choose how to manage your website content

Content management systems like WordPress maintain your website in a database on the web server. Of the popular content management systems, WordPress is the easiest to use. WordPress is extremely flexible and powerful, however, and you can use it to create a business website that looks very professional. A content management system like WordPress should be your choice if you’ll be making frequent updates to your website.

You can also create a website by using a template. Copy the template to your PC, use the template and an editor to create your web pages, and upload the pages to the web server. A good template and quality content can provide your business with a professional web presence. The template approach is appropriate for small websites that don’t change frequently or for hosting plans that don’t support WordPress.

  • Recommendation:
  • Alternative:
    • template

4. Choose a web host

Select Linux shared hosting. Shared hosting, where your website shares a server with many other websites, is inexpensive and is sufficient for most business websites. Linux hosting is more reliable and is sometimes cheaper than Windows hosting. The cost for host a website using Linux shared hosting is about $75/year.

Arvixe and HostGator both offer reliable service at good prices, and have very high customer satisfaction. HostGator is one of the largest web hosts. Arvixe is a medium-sized company whose owner is actively involved in answering customer questions.

If your budget is tight, consider Dynadot or Google Sites. Dynadot offers a minimal hosting plan for only $12/year. Google Sites is free, but has limited features and takes some expertise to use it with your own domain name.

5. Point your domain to host nameservers

Login in to your registrar account, look for “DNS” or “nameserver”, and set the nameservers as instructed by your web host.

6. Choose your website design

Going with a clean and simple look lets visitors focus on your content, not on how flashy your website is.

7. Choose graphics for your website

Royalty-free stock images are an inexpensive way to add a professional look to your website. Upgrading the appearance of your website for a small one-time cost is a good investment.

8. Accept payment on your website

Adding a payment page to your website makes it easy for clients to pay you. PayPal lets you accept credit card payments without a merchant account.

9. Set up analytics for your website

Seeing information about your website visitors, such as how they found your website, which pages they visited, and how long they visited them, is valuable for assessing your content and marketing.

10. Upload your website content

To create or update content on your WordPress website, login into WordPress and make the changes using the WordPress interface. To create or update content on your template-based website, copy the web pages from your PC to the web server using an FTP client or the uploading interface in your hosting account.

11. Add your website URL to your marketing materialsAdding a link to your website on business cards, brochures, stationary, and email signatures makes your business more visible.

12. Advertise your website

Google Adwords lets you run pay-per-click (PPC) ads where you only pay when someone clicks on your ad and visits your website. Adwords lets you reach potential clients worldwide for as little as $0.05/click. If your business serves a local area, you can run a Craigslist ad for your business for free.

13. Repeat forever

  1. Evaluate your website analytics
  2. Evaluate and update your website advertising
  3. Backup your website content
  4. Evaluate and update your website content

 

Checklist for Domain Name Registration

Here’s a checklist to help you get the most value from the domain registration process with the fewest headaches.

1. Get as many domains as you need. One domain for one website sounds obvious but if you’re planning a business website you might benefit from having some extra domains.  For example, suppose your business is Joe’s Widgets. The domain joeswidget.com, if available, would be an obvious choice for your website. However, suppose you want some of your advertising to focus on just one of your services. You could also register widgetrepair.com and widgetconsulting.com, then use URL forwarding/redirection to point those domains to joeswidgets.com or one of its pages. Most registrars offer URL forwarding for free or for a small amount. URL forwarding can be done for free within your hosting account if the account supports multiple domains. (Web hosting options will be discussed in a later post.) Extra domains are only about $10/year so they can make a pretty good marketing investment.

2. Find good domain names that are available. After you’ve chosen some names, go to the website of the registrar you plan to use. There will be a mini-form that lets you check the availability of a domain name you type in. Most registrar websites also have a form to check the availability of multiple domains, although you might have to look around for it. If all the domains you want are available, you’re lucky. Although buying a domain already registered by someone else is possible, let’s assume you’d prefer to limit your domain hunt to names that are currently available. Pop open your favorite text editor and start typing in domain name candidates, one per line. Use the registrar website’s multiple-domain checking form to see which of them are available. You might also try NameBoy. It generates domain name candidates from 1 or 2 keywords you give it and tells you if they’re available.

3. Find available price discounts. During the registration process, many registrars will give you the opportunity to enter a discount code at the payment step. Go to Google and type in “discount”, “code”, and the name of the registrar you plan to use. Leave the web pages with applicable discount codes open as tabs so you can use them during registration.

4. Register the domains. On the registrar website enter the list of domains you want to register and follow the instructions. Look for the opportunity to enter a discount code before you submit payment for the registration fees. You may have to retry if a code has expired or is otherwise invalid.

5. Make sure your contact information is correct. During the registration process you set up your user account with the registrar. You’ve probably received one or more emails confirming the registration and account setup. Log in to your account and navigate to the part of the interface that allows you to edit your contact information. It will be in four sections, often containing identical contact information. The first section, for registrant, is the only section where it’s critical that the contact information is correct and up to date. That section identifies the domain’s owner (you), specifying who should be contacted for issues related to ownership of the domain(s). The contact information in all sections will probably be pre-populated with your billing name and address. If you wish, you can change the contact information. Just make sure it’s valid information that points to you. The registrar interface should have a checkbox that tells all sections to use the contact information specified in the registrant section. That’s common and simplest if you’re a one-person operation. The contact information should be default apply to all the domains in your account.

6. Set your domains to auto-renew. Log in to your account and find and set the option to have your domains auto-renew. This saves you the trouble of having to make a manual payment every year. It also gives you extra protection in case you somehow miss all the email warnings that your domains are in danger of expiring. You don’t want to build a killer website and have it go down the drain when the domain it sits on expires and gets registered by someone else.

7. Verify your information in the Whois database. Unless you specified Whois privacy during the registration process, your contact information should make its way into the master Whois database within 24 hours. Go to whois.domaintools.com and plug in your domain name(s) to see how you and your domains appear in the Whois database.

Choosing a Domain Registrar

Of the big three choices you have to make when starting a website — domain name, domain registrar, web host — choosing a registrar should come early, maybe even before you’ve thought of a domain name. The reason is the demand for good domain names.  If you find a good name that’s available, you’ll want to register it right away instead of starting your registrar research.

If your research time is limited, browse the reviews at Registrar Judge.  For the most part, the good registrars get the higher scores. The reviews aren’t a perfect sampling because most users don’t publish reviews unless they’ve had a fantastic or terrible experience. Also, some negative reviews come from user misunderstandings, fired off in the heat of the moment, that can’t be retracted after they were posted online.  However, Registrar Judge can at least suggest some good candidate registrars. To narrow the candidates further, search for more opinions at DNForum, Web Hosting Talk, or using Google.

$8-$10/year is a typical price for a .com domain registration. Extra features, such as URL forwarding and Whois privacy (both discussed in later posts), may cost a few dollars a year. If you look to pricing to differentiate between registrars, check for pricing consistency. Some registrars offer teaser rates at initial registration, then revert to a higher rate at renewal time. Instead of being distracted by minimal price discounts, look for the registrar you feel is most reliable and professional.

If you think you might have your registrar picked out but aren’t quite ready to commit, sign up for a free account.  You just need an email address. This lets you test drive their user interface from the inside. Ideally, you should be able to easily navigate your way to editing your contact (Whois) info, change nameservers (which point to your web host’s server where your files will reside), and setting auto-renew on/off. Realistically, though, you may have to do all these things just once.  Just put your domains on auto-renew and make sure your email is up to date so notifications of domain and credit card expirations reach you.

The following registrars get consistently high recommendations from their customers:

My top recommendation would go to Dynadot (simplest interface, extra features at no extra charge), followed closely by Moniker (large registrar, low base prices). (UPDATE: Contented Designs no longer recommends using Moniker, which after ownership changes has had problems with security and support.)

GoDaddy is the largest and best known registrar but customers are hit with an assortment of minor annoyances — confusing interface, outdated documentation, fluctuating prices, and constant upsell. On the other hand, they’re a reputable company with solid tech support, and the annoyances will mostly be in the background after you get your domain registered and put on auto-renew.