Dec 192008
 

This article is by by Jon Norwood

Web hosting can be confusing for people just starting a new site for the first time, and even the pros need to read up now and again. Here we will discuss the basics of web hosting, as well as what to look for when setting up an account.

Web Hosting Basics

A web host has the server in which your website’s files, pages, and various documents are stored. When your site has a visitor, all data the visitor sees is being pulled from your web host. This means if your web host’s server is down, no data is being served.

The speed of the server may also be important depending on what is being hosted. If it’s a personal site that is for entertainment purposes only, then a slow server might not be so bad, but this could greatly impact a business.

The first decision to be made is what type of server to use. While this may look confusing while shopping around, there is really only two choices to make; Windows Web Hosting or Linux.

Linux is almost always the less expensive choice due to licensing and operational costs that inflate the price of Windows servers. Many times Linux servers also have the very popular Cpanel installed making server administration easy. Linux also makes the use of MYSQL database and PHP possible. For these reasons Linux tends to be the more popular choice.

Windows hosting allows users to take advantage of several technologies Linux cannot. These include Active Server Pages (ASP), COM development technology, and the growing .NET infrastructure. Although fewer users require these technologies, if they are needed there is no way around it; you need a Windows host. Although Cpanel is not available for a Windows host, comparable interfaces are available for administration purposes.

Of course price is always a concern, but it should probably not be the first. A solid web host can be found for between $7 and 25$ USD (per month.) It is possible to pay more, or even get free web hosting, but this is the range that someone who wants good service will shop in. Other than price, the following items should be considered:

1. Web Stats – Being able to track numbers like how many visitors you have, where they are coming from and where they are going can be very important. For a business it might be very important. Be certain this information is available (many times it’s free).

2. Web Storage – Make sure the host you choose is providing enough space to contain your site. Most often this isn’t an issue at all, but if large music or movie files need to be uploaded a user can run out of space.

3. Tech Support – For new and experienced users, eventually everyone will need tech support. Not surprisingly the more a web host costs, the more support is offered. 24 hour email support is standard, but a newer user might feel more comfortable with actually speaking with a technician.

About the Author

Jon Norwood is founder and managing partner of AccessHosts, a site dedicated to providing information on Windows Hosting, as well as guides on how to best choose a service.

Dec 192008
 

Web hosting goes by several names:  Hosting, domain hosting, webhosting, web site hosting, web domain hosting, and probably others.  They are all the same thing. What you are doing here is renting space on a Hosting Service’s computer(s,) and that space is where your site will live. You then upload your files to that site, or create them with a utility like Fantastico, and you’re good to go.

There are thousands of web hosts these days. Some tiny, some in the garage (or bedroom,) some pretty big (GoDaddy ,LiquidWeb, etc.) Some actually rent servers and or space from bigger companies and resell it, others have their own hardware.

They all have hosting packages that contain various features, usually ranging from a an inexpensive starter packages to expensive dedicated servers. Which one you pick will depend on your needs, but the starter package is a good first stop for most people. Skip the expensive packages for now, you can always move up later.

Ordering is really pretty simple, but let me cover a couple of definitions first:

  • Domain Names: The name of your site. Most hosting services will let you register a domain name when you sign up for their service, which is convenient. I prefer to use a third party which leaves me in control of the domain name. Can’t think of name for your site? Here are some tips on creating a domain name.
  • Web space: This is the amount of space on their computers that you can use for your stuff. While 100 megs will cover all the web pages you’re ever likely to put up there are other things that use that space. The two biggies are email and your web statistics logs. Unless you’re running some massive picture gallery or a site with a zillion pages you won’t have huge space requirements. 500 megs of space will cover everything you will do for awhile. Disk space on srvers grows cheaper year by year, so the amount of available space will keep increasing.
  • Bandwidth: This is a measure of how much data/stuff your server can send over a month and is usually measured in gigabtes. Every page or image on your site takes a certain amount of space. Someone comes to your site and looks at four pages. You’ve served them four pages of data. If each page is 100 kilobytes in size then you’ve served 400 kilobytes of data. 10,000 megs (10 gigs) of bandwith is a minimum, but if you start getting lots of traffic you’ll want to upgrade. We have three sites that greatly exceed the 10 gigs mark.
  • Cpanel: Cpanel is the interface that you use to manage your site. There are a lot of different user interfaces out there, but Cpanel is pretty common and we like it a lot.
  • Fantastico: is a nifty little device. It will let you install software (scripts,) such as a WordPress blog, into your webspace with a couple of clicks. It can save a lot of work. I believe it only comes with cpanel setups, other systems might have something similar. Anyone care to comment on that?
  • Shared Hosting: this is hosting where several accounts share one computer/server and all of its total resources. This is perfectly fine for most websites. Big sites with a lot of traffic will want to move up to a ….
  • Dedicated Server: This baby is all yours. One account, one computer, and the hosting company handles all the hardware issues. A dedicated server costs a lot more and is far beyond what most sites need. Build that big site that gets lots of traffic and you might want one, though.
  • Cloud Server: Computing services are spread over many machine, the “cloud.” Resources are shared transparently. The sweet thing about this is that is you have a busy site with predictable spikes in traffic then you can upgrade your server on demand and then resize it back down when the spike is over. Resources can be shifted on the fly which means that changes are quick and easy. Doing a massive upgrade to your site? Need a new server? You can do it in a couple of minutes, instead of hours. Pretty slick. Not for the new guy, but if you’re going to be the next Engadget, you might want to think about it. This little site is on Storm’s cloud server, not because I gets that much traffic here, but because my other site does.

There are other alternatives, depending on the host. A Virtual Private Server is one. It’s a cross between shared and dedicated. Meaning that you get more control and more resources, but you don’t get the whole machine to yourself.

Ok, Here we go…

Most hosting services will be very similar in how you buy hosting. It’s pretty straightforward and is much like buying anything else off the web.

  1. Figure your your needs and pick a package that works for you. Usually the starter shared hosting package will be fine, and you can usually get it for a few bucks a month, but if you need more then go for it. If it’s me, I want…
    1. Real customer service that isn’t outsourced to India (nothing against india, but their people aren’t located in the server room. :) )
    2. A cpanel interface for the flexibility and because that’s what I’m used to.
    3. Fantastico comes with most cpanel hosts, make sure yours has it. This gadget makes installing blogs, forums, and a lot of other stuff almost trivial.
    4. At least three databases. You’ll want one for your blog, maybe one for a fourm, another for a link tracking script…
    5. As much bandwidth as I can afford. 10 gigs is a good start, more is better. If you start getting withing shouting distance of the limit they’ll force you to upgrade, so get it now.
    6. Disc space.. 500 megs gives you lots of room for your blogs, logs, misc files, and so on. It’s not as important as bandwidth, but it’s nice if you’re going to be uploading big files, like video.
  2. Look for the section on their site which says, web hosting or shared hosting. You will generally see three or more package choices. Pick the one that fits your needs. There will be a button or link that says “add to cart” or something similar. Click that.
  3. You may hit a page which asks you to create an account. Make sure all the contact info you enter is real and that your email is one you will check on occasion.
  4. Most likely the next page is where you finalize your package choice and enter your payment info. Keep in mind that this will be a monthly payment. You’re renting space on the system, not buying it. If it’s me and it’s a new host (for me) then I want a short term package to make sure that I’ll like their system. If I do then I might sign up for the longer term package, which should be cheaper overall. I’ll be with Storm until they kick me off, their service rules.
  5. Once payment is made the host will get to work setting up your account. Sometimes it’s not instant, but it should be live in a few hours, tops. A cloud server should be up in minutes.

When the account is live you’ll get an email with complete instructions for accessing that account. That’s why you need to give them a real email address. You will need to make a note of:

  • their nameservers
  • the url to get to your cpanel (or other admin section.)
  • their support url or email
  • your username and password
  • any other details you feel you need.

Store that in a safe place.

Most hosting services are pretty similar to the above. Pick your package and order. Some will offer some added bells and whistles and some will give you a free, or greatly discounted, domain name if you order that domain name through their service. I prefer to order my domains elsewhere, then point them at the new host. Use whichever method works best for you. Sites like BlogSuccess will, among many other things, do 100% of your blog set up for you (if you’re a member.) All you do is tell them your domain name, fill out a short form, follow any instructions, and you’re good.

Dec 192008
 

In the wild and wooly days of the early internet people would occasionally find their domain names in the “hands” of another owner. The process is called hijacking and is as illegal as any other form of theft. The problem is that it was (and is) very hard to prove.

These days registrars take a few more precautions and have greatly updated security. If your domain lands in someone else’s hands today it’s likely because the domain expired and you just lost the rights to it. Make sure you keep your registration up to date and that won’t be a problem.

Still, hijacking is, in theory, possible and the following article goes into the problem and the solution in more detail.

The following article is by Subhash Kumar

Domain hijacking is the process by which internet domains are basically stolen. Many people confuse domain hijacking with the “reuse” of an expired domain. One is a legal process and one is not. Domain hijacking is theft, reuse of an expired domain is “opportunity usage”.

Domain theft is an aggressive form of that usually involves an illegal act. In most cases, identity theft is used to trick the domain registrar into allowing the hijacker to change the registration information to steal control of an unexpired domain from the legitimate owner.

In domain hijacking, or domain slamming, for some reason, you can’t get into your own domain, you’re not receiving email from that domain, and you discover that it’s now registered to someone else. Needless to say, to a small online business this can be devastating.

It could happen for a number of reasons. Maybe you have a particularly valuable domain name that someone wants to sell. In fact, .com domains are supposedly more likely to be stolen than any others. It’s also possible, though unlikely, that whoever stole your domain did it as an attack on your business or you personally.

This is also done by sending a forged fax to the domain registrar, impersonating you (the registrant.) Other attacks are more subtle: the email that tells you your domain name is about to expire, and that you need to renew. Are you sure that email is actually from your registrar? That last form of attack is called domain slamming, after a similar and now illegal practice formerly engaged in by certain phone companies, which switched user’s long distance phone companies without their knowledge or consent.

Domains can also be hijacked when registrars don’t follow all the procedures. The gaining registrar (to whom the domain is transferred) is supposed to get the approval of the domain name registrant or administrative contact before going forward with the transfer.

Likewise, the losing registrar (from whom the domain is being transferred) is supposed to notify the registrant of the transfer during the five-day grace period before the transfer is completed. Either way, that’s YOU if it’s your business. You can deny approval of the transfer, but only if you know about it.

Protection from Domain Hijacking

All it takes is one easy step to protect yourself from potentially losing your domain name in this manner. You can place a ‘lock ‘ on your domain name. Your domain name registrar should allow you to lock your domain name either by phone, fax, email, or online domain manager using your login and password . Your domain registrar will let you know which method they require. Once a lock is placed on your domain name, a transfer of registrar cannot be completed unless the lock is removed by you.

To check if your domain is locked or not, visit www.NetSol.com, click on the ‘Who-Is’ section of the site, then enter your domain name. Scroll down below the registration information and look for the section that says, ‘Lock Status’. If this says, ‘REGISTRAR-LOCK ‘ then your name is protected. If this says, ‘ACTIVE’ then your domain name is not locked and your domain name is not protected.

Most, if not all, registrars provide domain locking functionality. They may or may not charge for it and they may or may not activate it by default. Make sure that you verify for yourself that all your domains are locked.

End of Mr. Kumar’s article.

Losing your domain to a hijacker is, at best, annoying. At worst it can kill your business, or at least one of the sites connected to that biz.

A far more likely problem than theft is if you let your domain expire. You might face similar problems as it the name were hijacked, but at least it’s not an theft issue. Heck, even Microsoft has been known to forget to renew their various domains (check this out.)

So keep your domain contact info current, keep it locked (at least until you sell it,) and make sure the email address you have with your registrar is current. If they can’t contact you when your renewal is due, well, someone else will have your name.

Dec 172008
 

Ok, you’ve bought your domain name and you’ve bought your hosting and now you have to connect the two into a happy union. How you do this depends on exactly what you want to do.

  1. If you bought your domain name at a 3rd party registrar, meaning you didn’t buy it from the hosting company, and you want to point that name to the host. Or…
  2. You actually want to transfer the domain from whichever registrar you happen to have to your hosting service. The hosting service then becomes the new registrar of the domain.

Pointing the Way

I’m going to assume that you want to connect your domain and your web host, but you want to keep your and your host separate. Which I think is a good idea since you get a lot more control over your domain doing it this way.

I’ll cover the other option later.

All web hosts have something called a nameserver. This is the magic that connects your domain to the computer that you’re renting space on. The tech’s will guffaw at this definition of mine, but it works for this discussion.

What you want to do is grab the nameserver domains from your host and enter them into your domain name administration panel. The nameservers probably came in the email that you received when you signed up for your new hosting service. They look something like this:

  • ns1.YourHostingService.com and
  • ns2.YourHostingService.com.

If they aren’t in the emails or you can’t find them in your host’s documentation then contact customer service.

Ok, You’ve Got Your Nameservers

Log into your domain administration account and look for a button or link that says something like: edit nameservers, change nameservers, assign nameservers, etc. If your registrar is GoDaddy then you log in and look for the tiny Manage Domains link, on the left side, under the My Products bar.

  • Click that link and you’ll hit the page with a list of your domain name(s.)
  • Click the domain name you want to point to your new host.
  • You’ll hit a page with all kinds of domain details. There’s a line of icons above that. Click the one that says Nameservers.
  • Enter the first nameserver name, for example: ns1.YourHostingService.com, into the first box. Enter the other, eg: ns2.YourHostingService.com, into the second box. I suggest using the ol’ copy and paste method. Fewer typos that way.
  • Hit the OK button (down and to the right.)
  • Give it a minute or three to think about it.
  • You will get the “finished” screen and you’re done.

Other registrars will be similar. Log in, find the place to modify your domains, then hit the link to edit/change nameservers. Plug in the new names, hit ok, and you’re done.

Note: Your domain will not connect to your new site immediately. It will take a few hours to a day or two for your new domain to properly resolve to your site. All registrars are pretty much the same in this. It just has to do with the way the internet works. Give it time, it’ll hook up, and you’re good.

You Want to Transfer Your Domain Name?

Why would you want to do that? If you’re not selling that domain name? The only advantage to having your domain registered with the same place that hosts your site is that you may get the domain for free as part of your hosting package and you won’t have to deal with nameservers.

If you have to fire your host then you may find that a third party registrar was a good idea after all, but here we go with the transfer:

The Process of Transferring

Transferring a name from Registrar A to Registrar B is not the same thing as pointing it to your host. When you transfer the name to another registrar you’re transfering the actual listing of the name from A to B.

You’re doing the same thing if you sell the name, it’s just that you have to coordinate money and registrar with the buyer.

So here’s what you need to do:

Log into the admin panel of the registrar listing your domain and unlock that domain. Domains are locked to prevent transfers. In the past scammers could hijack domains and locking prevents this. So you’re going to need to unlock it.

At the new registrar find the link that says Transfer Domain.

Enter the name of the domain that you wish to transfer and take careful note of any instructions on the page. You must have access to the email address that you used when you first registered the domain.

The transfer isn’t free. You will be paying for at least a year with your new registrar.

The transfer isn’t fast. It will take around 7 days to complete.

Once you’ve requested the transfer and paid your money you will get emails from both the new registrar and the old. Each one will want you to verify the transfer. Read those emails very carefully because they will contain instructions to on how to deny the transfer, as well as to approve it. YOU want to make sure you’re giving them the right instruction.

If you replied yes to the emails you might receive another email, from one or both registrars, acknowledging and verifying that the transfer will take place.

Then you wait a few days and the name will settle nicely into it’s new home.

Buying and Selling Domains

The process of buying and selling doman names is similar. The domain has to be unlocked and both the old and new registrars with send their emails requesting approval.

The buyer will, depending on the negotiations, pay the transfer fees.

Of course, there are a few potential pitfalls here. You might want to look into an escrow service to facilitate the transfer of both the name and the payment. AfterNic.com is one such service.

Do you want to play the buy/sell domain name game? Smart players make some pretty good money doing just this, but there are pitfalls. A good start might be to check out the domain appraisals at GoDaddy.com for any domains that you might have or want to buy. Start by looking for names that are easy to say out loud and that aren’t trademarked. A lack of numbers and hyphens is also good. GoDaddy.com, for example, hits nicely on all but the trademarked part. 😉

Good luck!

Summing Up

Once all the “paperwork” is done the domain name officially transfers to the new registrar and that part is done. If the new registrar is your hosting company then you are probably all done, if it’s not then you still need to set your nameservers.

Then you’re done.

Dec 172008
 

It time to actually buy your domain name. It’s really pretty easy, the hardest thing being to say no to all the addons that you might see.

Here’s how to go through it with GoDaddy, but most registrars will be similar, and frequently a lot simpler (fewer addons.) GoDaddy is the big name in the park, so that’s why I’m using them.

Buying and Registering

Buying and registering a domain name are exactly the same thing. Acutally registering is a better term since you’re not buying it as such. It’s more like you’re leasing it.

What’s this? You don’t have permanent ownership of your new domain name. When you go to a domain name registrar and “buy” your new domain name you’ll notice a part of the form that asks you how many years you want it for, usually it’s for 1 to 10 years.

After that time is up the domain name expires and you have a choice: you can either renew the name (and pay for another 1 to 10 years) or let it go.

This allows domains to go back into the pool when the owner is done with them which allows us to get a shot at them. Many of them are junk, but there are some pretty good names out there that expire and go up for grabs.

So anyway, if you’ve made up your list of 10 domains (see: how to create your domain name) hop on over to a domain name registrar and check on their availability.

I’ll use www.GoDaddy.com, because it’s pretty popular, but there are a lot of registrars out there. Do a google search for domain name registrar or register domain name and you’ll find them.

Note: the GoDaddy procedure is more complicated than most other registrars. They offer a lot of goodies along with just the name. If you don’t want them then just keep clicking to the next page. Eventually you’ll hit the checkout page.

Is Your Domain Name Available?

Ok, so you’re at Godaddy.com. You’ll see a box at the very top of the page and another in the middle. Each box is labeled Domain Name Search. Just type in one of your prospective domains and hit the “Go” button. Note that you are not limited to .com names. You can pick from a whole list of domain name extensions.

In just a moment GoDaddy will let you know whether or not someone else has taken the name (how dare they!) I’ll use the 43dogs.com name, which I mentioned on the creating domains post. As of this writing the name is available. I can’t guarantee that it’ll still be there when you read this.

GoDaddy will also offer some alternative names. Check them over, you might see something you like. Here are some that came up for 43dogs.com, with GoDaddy’s prices.

  • 43DOGS.INFO for 99 cents,
  • 43DOGS.BIZ Just $14.99*/yr,
  • 43DOGS.US Just $12.99/yr,
  • DogsPets.com $1,900.00 (this is a premium name, hence the price)
  • YOUR43DOGS.COM $9.99*/yr,
  • EASY43DOGS.COM $9.99*/yr,
  • 43DOGSLIVE.COM $9.99*/yr

Generally premium names were bought by someone else, probably not GoDaddy, and are being resold at a premium price. Some people make quite a nice living at that game, others lose their shorts.

Ok, so let’s say you’ve checked your domain and it’s available. Give the page a quick look over and make sure that only the domains you want are checked. It’s easy to sign up for 13 variations of your name, so make sure you’re only getting what you want.

If you’re done then find the button that says something like Proceed to Checkout, or Buy Your Domain Now. For GoDaddy there is a big orange button at the bottom of the checklist which says, Proceed to Checkout.

Do You Want Fries With That Domain Name?

The next page depends on the registrar. GoDaddy will probably offer up a great deal on additional, related, names. If you don’t want them, hit the “No thanks. Continue to checkout…” link that’s under the big green YES! button. Otherwise hit that YES! button and the other names will be added to your order.

Other registrars may or may not have that upsell, but the general process will be similar. Add the name to whatever shopping cart system they have and proceed to the next page.

So I’ll hit “no thanks” on the GoDaddy page and continue. On most registrars you’ll now hit a page which asks for your contact info.

Name and Address Please

Email note: When filling out the forms use an email address that you will still have when the domain name expires. This email is used if the registrar needs to contact you for any reason, such as to tell you that your name needs to be renewed. Don’t use your primary personal email for this, don’t use a free email account (such as HotMail,) do use one that you’re going to keep.

After entering your contact info you’ll hit the continue/next button. In GoDaddy’s case they’ll suggest various services to help protect your new domain name(s.) Others registrars may, or may not, do this.

Double check to make sure that only the services you want, if any, are checked. There are two more buttons right above the big orange continue button.

  • Customize my order.
  • No thanks. I’m ready to checkout.

Pick the first one if you want the extras, pick the second if you don’t. Then hit that continue button.

Would You Like to Supersize Your Order?

With most registrars you’ll have hit the enter your payment info page. GoDaddy will offer you various hosting, email, and ecommerce plans. Skip all of them and go to the bottom of the page and hit the “No thanks. Continue to checkout…” link that’s under the continue button.

Double Checking, Make Sure It’s Right

You’re now at the check your order page. Make sure that everything is cool, that you understand what you’re paying for, and how much you’re paying. Verify that only the correct boxes and buttons are clicked. Make sure the two boxes in step 3 are checked (verifying that you read a couple of really long legal documents.)

Did you read them? I didn’t. Might be a good idea to do so at some point.

Finally you’re at the enter your payment info page.

  • Make sure all the contact info is accurate
  • Make sure the total price is correct
  • Enter your credit card info and double check it. GoDaddy, like the other registrars, uses a secure payment processing system. Your card info is safer being entered here than it is being given to a waitress at a restaurant. Much safer.

Hit the checkout now button. Your card will be processed and you’ll have the rights to your new domain name. Keep all the emails that GoDaddy (or the other registrars) send to you. They’ll contain your receipt, account info, etc. I use a special folder in my email program for those emails.

About That Account…

Account info?

Yes. Once you have your domain you’ll have an account (with GoDaddy or whoever.) This account is where you’ll log in to administer your domain name(s.) This is where you’ll go when you want to point your domain name to your new host. Keep your login info (it will be in one of those emails) in a safe place.

Dec 172008
 

Ok, you’ve decided to build a site of our own and now you have to come up with a name for the thing. You head over to some domain name registrar and realize that a lot of names are taken. loans.com is long gone, as is VeryCool.com, and so on.

Don’t give up though, it just takes a few moments of thought and you will have a great domain name for that killer site of yours.

What is a domain name?

A domain name is simply the primary name of a website.  UnixTools.com is the domain name, of this site, for example. The .com part of the domain name is the extension. Since practically any word or phrase can be a domain and since there are literally dozens of extentions there are billions of possible domain name combinations. Change one letter, add a number, add a hyphen, use .ws instead of .com and you have a different domain name.

Then there are subdomains. This blog is on a subdomain of UnixTools.com: websites.unixtools.com. I’ll write about subdomains in a later post, for now we’ll stick with the primary domains.

Aren’t all the good domains taken?

As you may know pretty much any one word that you can come up with has already been taken by someone else, but this doesn’t mean that all the good names have been taken. Pretty much all the short names are gone, but a longer one may be better anyway, for you.

Actually, not all the short ones are gone. We just grabbed wotkk.com. That’s for the cookbook that my wife is writing, Wrath of the Kitchen King.

There’s also a market in expired domain names. These are the domains that were owned by someone, but for whatever reason their lease ran out and now they’re up for grabs. There are a number of brokers dealing in these expired domains and you can expect to pay a premium over a new domain.

Another option is to make a cash offer to the owner of a domain. He may just be willing to listen.

Just because the perfect name isn’t available doesn’t mean that you can’t come up with one that isn’t good enough.

How to create a domain name:

It really helps if you already have an idea of what your website is going to be about. Are you going to have a site about dogs? Fruit? Fishing? Sports? Writing? Politics? A particular model of Sony TV?

So let’s take dogs and see what we can come up with. Obviously dogs.com is taken as are dogs.net and dogs.org. If we stick a number on it though we might find something interesting. Checking with www.GoDaddy.com , as of this writing, dogs365.com is taken, but dogs365.org and dogs365.net, and a few others, are available. GoDaddy will also make additional suggestions.

.com is the way to go if you can get it, but only because .com is what everyone first thinks of with domain names. If someone is clicking a link to your site then it certainly doesn’t matter if you’re .com or .co.uk. By the way, GoDaddy frequently has .info names at a fraction of the cost of .com names.

Add a suffix or a prefix: mydogs, yourdogs, herdogs, dogsrock, bigblackdogsrule, unixdogs… Hmmm… I’ll bet that last one is available.

Let me check:  Oops, nogo. But it IS for sale (as of this writing) by the owner. The other extensions are available. Actually, so is BigBlackDogsRule.com. Since we really do have two big black dogs that one’s kinda interesting. Hmmm, I just checked (3/19/11) and UnixDogs.com is actually available.

So here’s your homework. Grab a notepad, real or computer, and jot down a few words that fit what your site might be about. Add a suffix and/or a prefix and/or a number. Combine a couple of words, mix them up, play with it a bit, and come up with a list of 10 names that will work for you. For example (feel free to use something other than .com:)

  1. blackdogs.com,
  2. bigblackdogs.com,
  3. dogsrulecatsdrool.com,
  4. dogsneedhugstoo.com, (ok, I’ll use some caps)
  5. My3bigDogs.com,
  6. DogsAroundTheWorld.com
  7. DogsAtWork.com
  8. 43dogs.com
  9. NothingButDogs.com
  10. DogsAreIt.com

Ok, that took a whole minute. Now lets see if any of those names are available (no, I’m not going to buy them.) We have (checking with GoDaddy:) dogsneedhugstoo.com, My3bigDogs.com, DogsAtWork.com (for the low low price of $2,688.00,) and 43dogs.com are all available. Four out of ten isn’t bad these days. Ok, three out of ten if you toss the expensive one.

Why’s that one so much? Someone probably grabbed it with the intent of reselling it at a nice profit. There are people who make a nice living at that game, by the way.

With a little brainstorming you should be able to come up with a good domain name for your site. Heck, you could even do like these newfangled Web 2.0 sites do and get a really weird name, such as Weebly.com. What the heck is a Weebly??? Qassia? Squidoo? At least HubPages makes some sense… How about Del.icio.us?

The point is, find a name you like and go for it.

3/19/11 – tweaked for spelling and such.

Dec 162008
 

We all love free.

No costs out of pocket and we get what we want. It’s a beautiful thing. Why pay for it if you can get everything that you want, free?

Web hosting, for example. Web Hosting is just the service that lets you put your stuff online. You get the most flexibility as you go up in price, but there are some very nice free solutions that are available, especially if you’re just getting started or want a secondary site for whatever reason.

As far as your site goes, do you just want to write an article or two? Have a long, continuous conversation with your fans? Put up an e-commerce store or just an online brochure? Just slap something up to provide links back to your main site?

One thing to keep in mind: Web hosting is very expensive for the hosting provider. They cannot afford to buy all those computers, all the software, the internet connections, hire all those people, and maintain them while providing 100% free services.

So they have to get their money somehow, even though you might pay nothing at all. How is this possible? Upsells, emails, and ads, basically.

The Free Hosting:

Tripod.com is a 100% free hosting service. You can sign up and be putting up a site within an hour. As you go through the signup process they will encourage you to sign up for their paid hosting service, buy a domain name, and sign up for various offers. None of which you have to do. They provide lots of templates to pick from and their website builder isn’t at all hard to use.

Once your site is up you’ll notice Tripod ads all over your site. For example, this Warcraft Rogue tips site I threw together. The two ad blocks at the top and the bottom of the page are Tripod’s. Since Tripod has been around for a long time with the same model I have to assume that their model works.

It’s not a bad way to get started, really. Most free hosts are similar. When the time comes for you to get more serious with your site you’ll want to move up to a paid solution. The most obvious issue, to me, is that if you’re trying to make a site with a professional look, well, you won’t get it from Tripod’s free service.

DotEasy.com also offers free hosting but you’ll make a payment for a domain name or to transfer a domain name to their service. The upside is that you don’t get any of their ads on your site. This works out to about $3 a month which is about as cheap as hosting gets.

Better Free Stuff

Blogs. One of the killer things about blogging services is that you get a consistent look to your site that’s clean and pretty clear. Once youi get it set up all you have to do is post your stuff. You don’t have to worry about HTML, CSS, or any of the coding stuff.

The best way to go, by far, if you really want to be free is something like WordPress.com or Blogger.com. Blogger is owned by the mighty Google, which means a few things: 1) You’re not limited in how much stuff you add to your site and 2) it’s going to be around for awhile.

The only thing that Blogger adds to your site is a bar at the top of the page giving access to other blogger blogs. Here’s an example of one of their blogs. Yet another warcraft tips blog. The only thing that Blogger adds is the bar at the top. Everything else is yours. WordPress.com puts a link on the bottom of your site and, if you’re logged in, there will be a bar at the top which is similar to Blogger’s.

So how does Blogger pay the bills? Google has the adsense program which allows you to put their adds on your site and you split the revenue.

You’ll never be able to run a high traffic site on the free hosts such as Tripod. Once you exceed a certain amount of traffic they’ll turn off your site until the bandwidth meter resets, next month.

The exception? You can have a high traffic site with blogger or WordPress. Some pretty popular blogs are on both systems, ranging from little Warcraft sites to very popular political sites and a vast assortment of other topics.  If you can send insane amounts of traffic to a typical free host, well, it won’t work. Neither Blogger or WordPress cares how much traffic you send. If you’re interested in getting started with wordpress.com, check out: How to Build Your WordPress.com Site

Other Possibilities

Squidoo – Squidoo.com isn’t really a hosting service, but it’s a pretty nifty system. Absolutely 100% free and they do a revenue sharing system with the ads placed on your site. More about Squidoo.com.

Hubpages – Very similar to squidoo, 100% free, but a little stricter in what they allow. More on HubPages.

Weebly and WetPaint.com are two more free hosts that pretty much let you do your own thing with some pretty decent site builders, provide options for grabbing your own domain name, and so on.

If you just want to write articles, either because you don’t really want a site or you want to build some name recognition and send some traffic to your site, then look at article sites, such as: EzineArticles.com and StreetArticles.com

Summing up… With Free you get…

  • At least some ads or links back to the service provider.
  • No costs, at all, leave your credit card(s) in your wallet. Upsells to sites that are ad-free, have their own domains, and so on are generally available, but they aren’t required.
  • You get to get your feet wet in the online world and can practice ideas, your writing, and so on. Upgrade later if you need to.

The Paid Hosting

The big advantage of paid hosting is that you have complete control over your site. No ads that aren’t yours, no bars at the top or bottom of your site, no hoops to jumps through in order to present your stuff.

Subject to the limitations of your host’s terms and conditions you have no limits to what you put on your site. Go crazy with the design, size, and content. You’ll also generally get a lot more in the way of features with paid hosting than with free hosting.

Design – you have a lot more flexibility with design, too. If you install WordPress on your site you will have access to far more in the way of templates, addons (plugins,) and other tweaks than you will with the free WordPress.

I gave up on regular free hosting a long time ago, with the exception of that Tripod site, but that’s just  there as a demo anyway. I do use Squidoo and HubPages a lot, though, as well as Blogger and WordPress.

Getting a lot of traffic? Free hosts, as I mentioned above, will shut you down fast. Paid hosts will too, but you will be getting a lot more traffic than the freebies will put up with. The big sites pay a little, or a lot more, and can handle vast amounts of traffic. Also, if you’re gettin so much traffic that it’s an issue with your host they should have an upgrade path available.

If you plan on building a somewhat professional site that gets a nice level of traffic and will maybe make you a few bucks then you want to go with the paid hosting. I’m using StormOnDemand (a LiquidWeb company,) after firing my last few hosts, but there are a lot of hosting services out there and some may suit you better. Storm’s a cloud server and they have killer service.

So why else to use paid hosting instead of Blogger, Squidoo, Hubpages, etc.? You’re less at the mercy of the system. For example: Google has been known to kill certain Blogger blogs. Usually these were junk or spam blogs, with garbage content, but some good blogs have been accidentally (?) hit.

You are more free to do your own thing, limited only by your skill at building a site.

Also, sites like Squidoo and Hubpages occasionally change how their systems work. If you like the changes, great, if you don’t, well, you can always go elsewhere. With your own host you’re the one who’s always in charge.

Take a close look at what you want to do and choose accordingly. Some people stay entirely with Squidoo, others use several systems.

If you want to set up an online store, with your own merchant account, sales system, etc., then there is no free solution that will cover you. You’ll need to get a paid system and you’ll need some extras, such as secure transaction capability, a heavy duty database setup, backups, and so on.

If you’re in a business that has massive seasonal spikes, such as Halloween Costumes, you might want to look into a cloud server system. You can adjust the capacity of that system in minutes. Anticipating a major traffic spike that will only last a week? Get a basic system, ramp it up for that week, then scale it back down when the traffic dies back.

Summing up the paid hosting:

  • Flexibility to do your own thing, primarily. There are a ton of 3rd party things (free and paid) that you can plug into these sites, giving you more fexibility than with any free system.
  • If you want to move your site from Host A to Host B it can be as easy as packing up your site and uploading it to the new host.
  • If you have an online store (for example, selling your line of 500 fly rods and reels) you’ll have to go with the paid solution.
  • If you want to be the next Amazon.com, well… :)

Now, About Getting That Site Built…

One of the things that throws people, regardless of whether they go free or paid is actually getting the site put together. One option is the system that BlogSuccess has put together. You buy the domain name, fill in a couple of blanks, and they will set up your entire WordPress blog on their system and even make all the right settings to give you the best start. Pretty much all you will have to do is to start writing, and they teach you how to do that, as well. Definitely worth a look.