With a self-hosted blog, you own your domain name and get to choose where your blog is hosted (i.e. where it “lives”). There are many more advantages as well, and I have written about the pros and cons of free and self hosted blogs in an earlier post.
Why is owning your domain name better? Well, if your business is called Healing Animals and you have a free WordPress blog, your URL would be healinganimals.wordpress.com (if that was available when you set your blog up). With this setup, there is nothing that stops anyone else from buying the domain name HealingAnimals.com and setting up a site called HealingAnimals.com. You can see how that would cause confusion, and your potential clients could easily end up on the wrong site.
Another reason for buying a domain name is that it can be a good investment. 10 years ago, it was fairly easy to find a .com domain that you wanted, and that fit perfectly with your business; these days, it’s a different story. So if you buy a domain name that you don’t end up using, you can always sell it later, usually for a profit.
Buying A Domain Name
I buy my domain names at GoDaddy and I have always been very happy with them. Their customer service is there 24 hours a day, and whenever I have had issues or questions that I needed their help to resolve, they were extremely helpful and kept checking in via email to let me know how it was going.
Once you get to the GoDaddy site, one of the first things you’ll see is a window where you can search for domain names. Type in the one you want to see if it is available and click Go. A new window opens up, and if the domain is available, you’ll see a green bar with the name and a green checkmark. If it is not available, you’ll get a list of suggested alternatives. If your ideal domain name is taken, try adding a pre- or suffix to it and see if that works. Or go with .net, etc. Although if you want to call your site HealingAnimals.com and it is taken, I probably wouldn’t go with HealingAnimals.net. It will be much more difficult for people to find your site when there is another one out there with the exact same name and a .com domain – people always try .com first. So instead, try figuring out something similar that works, like NaturallyHealingAnimals.com, or HealingAnimalsNYC.com, etc.
Once you find an available domain name you want to buy, click on Add. Then Continue to Checkout. You’ll get a bunch of other offers at this point (web hosting, email address, etc.) – if you want that, add it, if not, click on No Thanks to check out. Next, you choose the number of years you want to buy the domain for. From a search engine perspective, it’s better to buy several years at once – they like domains that have been around for a while and intend to stick around, and you also save a little bit by buying several years at once. If you want to add on the same domain with different TLDs (Top Level Domains) like .net, .co, .info, etc., you can do that here. I never add those, but if you are worried that someone will buy the exact same name you did with the .net TLD and compete with your business, then perhaps you want to add it to protect yourself.
You also have the option to make your domain private for an additional yearly fee (“private domain name registration”). What this means is that your personal information (name, email, address etc.) connected with the domain name, which would otherwise be publicly available in the WHOIS directory, will be hidden. It also helps prevent domain-related spam and domain hijacking. I think it’s a good idea to have this protection and usually get it for my domains.
Note: I have noticed that if you put a domain name in your cart and then decide you don’t want it after all and cancel the transaction and leave the site, but later change your mind and go back to search for it again and buy it, it’s usually not available, or available to buy for a much higher price. I don’t know why this is, but I will say that when you do find an available name you like, buy it!
Getting A Web Hosting Service
Once you have your domain name, it’s time to find a web host. A web host is a company that owns and maintains servers where your blog “lives”. There are thousands of web hosting companies, and almost as many opinions on which one is best, so how do you choose? I look at their customer support (are they available 24/7, 365 days/year?), read reviews, make sure they use cPanel (which makes it very easy to set things up, even if you’re a beginner), see if I can find uptime stats (reports on how much of the time their servers are up and running), and ask for recommendations.
I use HostGator, which was recommended to me by my blogging coach, and I have been very happy with them. They guarantee 99.9% uptime, they use cPanel, live customer service is available 24/7, and they have helped me out on several occasions, with situations like when I accidentally crashed an entire blog by changing a piece of code I should have left alone. They had it back up again in a matter of minutes (and stayed on the phone with me until I was sure everything was working properly again.
They have three different levels of hosting: Hatchling, Baby, and Business. If you plan on having only one site hosted with them, go with the Hatchling plan. It’s really inexpensive at less than $4/month (when you sign up for 3 years or longer) and includes all that you need. They usually have rebates and other offers too, so look around on their front page.
If you have more than one blog, go with Baby or Business. Why would you have more than one? Well, for example, you could have one for your business and another one for a hobby, or a personal blog (like I do).
Free Web Hosting
There are companies that offer free hosting, but that comes with limited options and support, and they often place ads on your site (which you have no control over). I personally prefer to pay what really is a very small monthly fee and get all the features and have complete control over my site.
Managed WordPress Hosting
And at the other end of the spectrum is something called Managed WordPress hosting. These are sites that focus solely on hosting WordPress sites, and provide things like backups every 24 hours, more extensive support and security, automated updates, faster load times, etc. These services are obviously a bit more expensive than “regular” hosting: prices for a single personal site range from $25 – $100/month, and more for business sites.
Do you need managed hosting? In my opinion, no, and definitely not when you first start out. If your site is only intended to provide information about your business and you don’t get millions of visitors every month, a regular hosting service is all you need. But if you are selling products online, have paid ads, get tons of hits every month, etc., then you might want to consider it.
In the next post, we are going to be talking about one of my favorite things when setting up a site: choosing a theme.
For a complete list of the blogging products I use and recommend, see the Recommended Blogging / Website Resources page.