How to host your own website (the simple version)

I’ve been around this internet thing for a long time, and I’ve set up probably far more than my share of websites (both for myself and my clients). After a while, setting up websites becomes largely a by-rote-memory thing and you don’t have to put a lot of effort into it.

But that belittles the reality: it’s not really that easy to set up a website if you have no idea how it’s done. And let’s be honest, here, I’m not talking about MySpace. I’m talking about using your own domain name (e.g. mytotallyawesomewebsite.com)  as a way of branding yourself, your message, and hopefully standing out from the crowd.

One thing I can assure you, though: it’s also not that hard. Really.

Okay, let’s first define a few terms. This will help things be easier to understand:

  • DNS
    The Domain Name System is the equivalent of a phonebook for the internet. But in this case, it’s your computer’s fingers that do the walking. The average person doesn’t ever really need to know it exists, other than DNS’s behaviour will impact the launch of your website. You’ll see requests for DNS servers, which is usually a name like “ns1.hostingvendor.com” or a number like “215.12.5.84”.
  • Domain name
    Think of your domain name as the name you see next to the phone number in the phonebook. But it’s not your name — it’s the name of your website, something like “mywebsite.com”.
  • Registrar
    A registrar is the one who puts your domain name in the phonebook. Sadly, you have to pay the registrar (potentially a lot of) money to do that. Welcome to joys of websites, folks.
  • Hosting vendor
    Your website needs to live somewhere. This is either a company you pay to run your website, or it could be where your current blog already lives. More on this in a moment…

Okay, first thing’s first … you need a website. HA! I bet you thought you needed a domain name first, right? Well, you kinda do, but you can wait on that for now. (And let’s not talk about domain squatting and whatnot, that just confuses things.)

No, I’m not going to tell you how to build a website. Why? No point. There’s hundreds of thousands of pages of content out there telling you how. And as many of my clients have (uninformedly) told me before, your 10 year-old niece/nephew/neighbour can probably help you with this if you get stuck. We’re just going to assume for the moment that this is a step you can handle on your own.

Now for the hardest part of this process: your hosting vendor. There’s a huge list of hosting vendors out there, ranging from the free to the extremely expensive. And they all have their uses (trust me, I can tell you in painful detail why extremely expensive is warranted). Do you research, and don’t choose just the first one you come across. Some have … shall we say, less-than-ideal behaviour for a hosting company. There are ones you should avoid, too — read around, you’ll figure out who they are.

How do you choose one? I suggest looking at three things:

  1. Your budget. (How much are you willing to spend?)
  2. Your needs. (Do you need something not included in most packages, need a lot of email addresses, or need a lot of space for storage?)
  3. Your technical comfort. (Do you need a user interface that looks like your computer’s desktop?)

Just troll through the list. It shouldn’t take long. We’ll wait.

Got it?

Good.

Now there’s one thing you’re probably going to have to do as part of your hosting vendor setup. Most vendors ask for this up-front, so don’t be frightened when you see it: your domain name. If you don’t have one yet, don’t panic. This is mostly so your hosting vendor has a unique way of identifying your account. But it’s a good a time as any to get your domain name. And many hosting vendors include a free domain when you sign up.

We should also quicky discuss the possibility of a free website implementation, such as a blog (with Blogger or WordPress), or Google Sites. Your address will look like myblog.blogger.com or sites.google.com/site/mysite. In these cases (and these are only examples), you might not have the same level of control as with a regular web hosting vendor.

In the event you don’t get a free domain, you’ll have to go with a registrar. There’s lots of domain registrars, and there are lots of good domain names still left. You just might need to get a bit creative with the one you want. Again, some of the registrars will over suggestions if the one you’re hunting for has already been taken by someone else.

If you have to use a registrar, there is one step you’ll have to do: tell the domain where it’s supposed to go. Remember, your registrar only puts your name in the phonebook. You still need a phone number. We can ignore the issue of which phone number, as some of you will no doubt pick on.

In the case of the hosting vendor, it’s the number or the name of the DNS server. But if you’re going with a free service (i.e. Blogger), you can also “forward” a domain. It’s just like forwarding a phone call — anyone hitting the domain will still get your website. That way, you can publicise your domain name, and not worry about what it’s pointing to (which is handy, should your business drive you to something more formal down the road).

Guess what? You’re almost done. (And if you’re using a free service, you’re probably already good to go.) The only thing you have left to do is upload your website to your hosting provider. They’ll usually provide instructions on how to do this, and the process is usually fairly easy.

Hopefully, all of this makes some sense and you’re off and running. (And if not, leave a comment and I’ll get back to you!)

Of course, some of you might be asking: Well, what about if I need to move my website?

That, my friends, is another story…

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