This was written as a reply to one of the most frequently asked questions I get when people find out how long I’ve been online. I’ve tried to make it as user-friendly and jargon free as possible, but if you have trouble understanding any of it, please write back and let me know so I can fix it.
First, you need to decide whether you want a web page, or a specific web address, like www.thisismyname.com. The process is different for both.
If you just want a web page, there are lots of free services out there that will let you put one up for nothing, and make it very simple to create the look you want without having to learn any special programming or the like. Some of them you’ve probably heard of, and they work fine for sending people to as your own web page. For someone looking to connect with people, try www.facebook.com. If you’re looking to do something like professional networking, your best bet is www.linkedin.com. Both of these are free, and talk you through the process.
Wanting your own web address, called a ‘domain name’ (or domain for short) is a slightly different process. First you need to buy the name, then you need to point it to somewhere that will store your website – called your web host.
Most places will let you do both together, but it’s really not a good idea to give that much control of your website to one organisation. If, for example, the place you buy your domain name from decides you’ve been sending out junk mail, they can shut you down and it can take you months to get your website back. If the place that stores your site has technical problems or decides to put your prices up way too high, it can be a nightmare wrestling it away from them. These are worst case scenarios, admittedly, but I think it’s always better to be safe than sorry, and leave your options open for later.
Now, where to buy your domain name. There are plenty, you can find them by doing a search for “domain name registration” online. Personally I use two – www.godaddy.com (although lately they’ve been getting some bad press about shutting down sites based on only one complaint, and they try to sell you mail and other services that you’ll automatically get with your web hosting, so I get JUST the domain from them) and recently another lot called http://domainsite.com. I know a lot of marketers have shifted to http://namecheap.com as well, and I’ve bought one or two through them with no problems.
You’ll have to check if the name you want is available, but most places that sell domain names have the ability to do that for you. If you’re wondering about the difference between .com, .net and .org addresses (the most common) there really is none, except originally they were intended to be for commercial addresses (.com), community or similar type groups (.net) and non-profit organisations (.org). These days it’s pretty much a free for all, but most people will automatically search for a .com address first, so if you can get one with a name you like and that matches what you’re going to be offering on your website that’s definitely your best option.
Finally, web hosting. Having the name is a bit like owning a telephone number but not having a telephone. People can dial it, but it won’t connect. You need the website to be out there for people to connect to, and that’s the job of your web host – they store your site for you and tell the internet where to find it. There are a whole lot of web hosts around, some of which have really basic drag and drop services to create your website, through to really complicated techno-geek services, but the one I use and highly recommend (their tech service is fantastic) is called host-gator. (I’ve put their ad underneath or you can click that link to go straight there) What I love most is that they cover a whole range of options so they’re great for beginners, but have plenty there as you learn and grow that you can use too – plus their cheapest option still gives you tons more than a lot of other more expensive services – including the ability to have a whole heap of domain names all stored there without having to buy more accounts. When your website grows big enough, you can upgrade to more powerful services and you’re still ahead of what a lot of other places charge.
Once you’ve signed up to your web host, they’ll send you an email with at least two weird looking addresses on it, usually something like dns1.myhosting.com or ns294.anotherhost.com – these are what your domain name needs to point to in order to work. Go back to where you ordered your name from and look for something like “name servers” – then you enter these addresses in, tell it to update and your site will start working, usually within 24-48 hrs although it can take as long as 72hrs.
The final step, of course, is to design your website. You should have instructions on using the website design features somewhere on your web host welcome email, or on their website. If not, just contact their tech support or alternatively, post a job for someone else to design & upload it for you at an online freelance job board like www.elance.com or www.rentacoder.com.
Enjoy your new site!
PS As at 22 Oct 09, the current Hostgator coupon code is “AUTUMN” to get 20% off your first payment. Valid til 1 Nov.