Website Hosting – what it entails
Getting a website
Here’s a little guide to ‘everything’ you need to do to get a website up and running. To some extent this will be an overview, as some aspects are quite a large topic in themselves, but it will cover every topic that you need to be aware of.
It’s intended to be a checklist for you to use when you’re trying to get your site set up. It is aimed at beginners to the website publishing business, and is not a comprehensive guide to every aspect of web hosting.
First, we will covers the ‘things’ that you need, followed by what you need to ‘do’ with these things, and then finally a few other considerations to bear in mind.
Things you need
You need a Website! And by this I mean a collection of web-pages, or other content.
You need an Internet connected computer or ‘server’ to ‘host’ the website. This is usually based in a secure data centre, but could be a computer in your spare room.
You need a Domain Name. This is the ‘www.mysite.com’ bit that you type into your browser, to go to the site that you are interested in.
Finally, you need a DNS server. This is a computer that converts your domain name (see above) into the machine address (IP address) of your website’s server. It’s a bit like a telephone directory that converts a name into a number.
If you haven’t got a domain yet, then you need to register one. This is relatively cheap to do and usually costs less than £20 for a couple of years. You will need to renew it typically every year or two. Don’t forget to renew it, or you might lose it or have to pay a penalty fee. You will need to setup an account with a registrar and do it yourself, or get someone to do it for you. Some registrars will try to sell you all sorts of addons. You usually don’t need any of them.
Moorlands Hosting can do this for you. All domains are registered in the customer’s name. We will also monitor domain expiry dates in order to ensure that the domains remain active.
Next you need to setup a hosting contract with a hosting provider. There are a huge number of providers and costs vary from free to eye watering sums for advanced configurations. Most people have fairly basic needs that can be purchased economically by most providers.
Depending on your skills and inclination, you need to select a hosting plan based on the needs of the website and whether you’re going to do everything yourself, get a family member to do it or pay someone to do everything for you. If you are a novice as far as the Internet is concerned, you should take advice regarding what you need in the way of hosting.
Depending on how your website is constructed, you may need to choose between a Unix based server and a Windows based one. Again, you may need to take advice about this.
There are monthly plans and annual plans available. You need to take a view about the ‘bells and whistles’ that may be offered. Beware of ‘free’ things, as service levels may be lower in order to compensate. Beware of anything that is sold as ‘unlimited’. If you use unlimited amounts of the ‘unlimited’ resources, you almost certainly will fall foul of an acceptable use policy.
Most websites have modest needs for disk space and bandwidth. Disk space is necessary to store your website on the server, and bandwidth is a measure of the amount of data in the form of web pages that are transferred across the Internet when someone views your website.
Moorlands Hosting has a series of plans that are suited to all needs, whether it’s a simple static site, or a CMS. If you site becomes successful, then it is an easy matter to bolt on some extra bandwidth when you need it. Don’t pay for more than you need.
Now that you have a hosting server, you need to configure the DNS to make sure that your domain name points at the server. You hosting provider will provide you with the details.
Moorlands Hosting has access to reliable DNS hosting within our network, which is provided free of charge to our customers. Alternatively, if the registrar’s DNS is used we can configure that for you too.
You now need to either design and build your website, or get someone else to do it for you. There a huge number of free and paid for tools to help you do this yourself. It can take some time to make a site look nice. don’t underestimate the amount of time it will take.
Don’t think that getting someone else to do it will necessarily make it better of quicker to develop. It is quite difficult to explain to someone else how you want the site to look, and what features you need.
The initial phase should be to get the look and feel sorted out. There are shortcuts that you can take. It is possible to find free or paid for web templates that you can customise for your own use. Although customising can sometimes take longer than developing from scratch.
Once you are happy with the layout, you can work on the content itself.
Moorlands Hosting can help with the design of your site; whether it’s a complete design, or a few tweaks to an existing design.
Finally, you need to ‘publish’ the site. This usually simply means using an FTP tool to transfer the files to your server, using the login details provided by your hosting provider.
Your website is live. Congratulations!!
Other things to consider
If editing HTML files and uploading them via FTP isn’t your thing, then you might like to consider a CMS (Content Management System) such as WordPress or Joomla. There are other CMSs available.
A CMS will allow you to ‘log in’ to your website and make the changes to the site directly. These systems also typically have a lot of ‘plugins’ available that allow you to easily add extra functionality such as embedding YouTube video, Twitter feeds, forcing external links to open in another window etc etc. There are a huge number of plugins available of varying quality and compatability. A lot are free; others you have to pay for.
There are tools available to allow you to customise the ‘theme’ of your CMS to change how it looks, or you can download free or paid for themes and use them on your site.
Using a CMS will use more server resources than a ‘static’ HTML site, but it might better suit your way of working.
If you want to sell stuff, then you will need an e-commerce site. In other words, your website needs to be capable of advertising your goods or services, and processing purchases and all that goes with that.
This makes things quite complicated. E-commerce systems are complicated to set-up and maintain. You need to be wary of security issues and system performance. You will normally need a more powerful server to run an online shop.
If you just want to sell a few items, it is fairly simple to integrate with PayPal or Ebay.
There are some fairly sophisticated e-commerce systems that are available for free. But you almost certainly will have to customise and configure them (or get someone to do it for you).
If you use a CMS, you will need to update the software from time to time. This is quite easy to do. Some providers will put your blog / website in a shared environment, and take care of that for you. The downside is that you are at their mercy when it comes to when or even if the updates are applied.
At Moorlands Hosting, all the CMSs we setup are stand alone to give you flexibility, but we will help you with updates if necessary, free of charge.
Make sure that you own the copyright to all your content, or have the permission of the owner. If you are found to be in breach and a complaint is made, it is possible that the hosting company will simply take your site down.
You probably need email to be configured for use with your domain. This is sometime bundled with your domain registration, and it is a simple matter to forward all emails to your new domain to an existing personal email account.
It looks so much better to advertise your email address as firstname.lastname@example.org than email@example.com!
Do check whether email is virus scanned for you.
Things go wrong. It’s true, they do. Who is responsible for backing up your website’s data. You, your IT savvy friend, the hosting provider?
Ask about backups and how restores are carried out. If you have a CMS, you’ll need a backup of the files in the CMS and the corresponmding database that drives it.
How often are backups preformed, and at what time of day are they made?
Open Standards v. Clever tools
There are many tools and environments for creating websites. Some are free and others you have to pay for. If you use fancy propietary tools, you website might look nice and flashy, but will you become dependent on that tool, and have to continually pay for upgrades.
Advertising your site – SEO
Once you have your website up and running, how will people find it? You may need to consider an advertising campaign eg. Google Adwords, or even old-fashioned paper media.
There are things that you can do to your website for free to make it more likely to be found by prospective customers.
If you already have a website and you want (or have) to change hosting providers, it can be a dunting task if you are not familiar with the terminology of Registrars and DNS. It can take a matter of days to change host, but a good host will handle this for you and take steps to minimise any downtime.