So, you want a Website. Whether your looking to set up a site for your small business, farm, hobby, or pet project you need to stop and think before you put your money down.
A Website has two main elements: your domain name and Web hosting. The address that people type to reach your Website, the URL, is your domain name. A Web host manages the server space where you place your Website. Many Web hosts offer free or include one domain registration in their packages. I’m not suggesting that those Web hosts who offer free domain registration are not good or are dishonest. To the contrary, some of the best hosts offer this feature. The temptation is to make use of this convenience and buy the all-in-one solution. It seems the perfect answer, making it easy, dealing with only one company. Or is it?
Anyone who has ever talked with me about setting up a Website knows that I advocate separating the domain registration from the hosting. In fact, I go a step further with my own domains in that I use a third entity to manage my eMail. It is my belief that it is a bad practice to have all of the eggs in one basket.
Your domain name IS your Web identity. It is important to have control over all facets of your Web presence at all times. Using an independent registrar ensures that you maintain complete control over your domain.
There are several fundamental reasons that your Web host should not be your domain registrar.
Moving your Website — let’s say your Web host is having serious server problems. They are down often or very slow, they have been hacked and hosted sites are being compromised, whatever your reasons you want to move your site.
Moving a site is a two-step process; first, you find a new hosting company and then you upload your Website to the new host’s server. Second, you change your Domain Name Servers (DNS) pointing them to your new Web host’s domain name servers. Provided you have backed up your site to your computer, step one can be done without any interaction with your old Web host. If your old Web host is also your domain registrar, you may have to involve them in the re-pointing process.
This is when things can get sticky. If your old Web host is also your registrar, they can delay the process, sometimes for days, causing your site to be down or causing error pages. If your domain had been registered with a separate company, then all you must do is to point the DNS to your new host and within a few hours everything will be directed to your new site.
Transferring your domain name — Sometimes there can be problems when you want to transfer your domain name to a new registrar. Your host/registrar has to give permission for the move to take place. Unfortunately, with some hosts it can take weeks.
Domain not registered in your name — there are unscrupulous Web hosts who register the domain in their name and/or make themselves the administrative contact on the domain. This is the worst-case scenario because THEY legally own the domain name, it does not matter that you paid for it. You can attempt to purchase the domain from them or redirect traffic from the old domain to a new domain, inevitably causing lost traffic and often lost income. Look for terms that limit domain ownership. Or better yet, always use an independent registrar.
Without doubt, you are at the mercy of your host — all of the above issues can cause you to lose your domain name to the hosting company, if you want to move your domain to a new registrar or change your hosting. Often the only choice, if you do not want to give up your domain name, is to continue with your present host, against your better judgment, on their terms and conditions.
Most Web hosts offer excellent service and with whom moving a domain registration is quick and easy. But there is always the chance that you will choose the wrong host and be in one of the above situations. All can be avoided by simply separating the two, entrusting the domain registration with a domain registrar.
Should you find the free domain offer irresistible then don’t use it for a business critical site. There are times that it is not possible to purchase hosting without registering a domain. In those cases, I recommend that you use your domain name with a second choice extension (e.g. .net, .org, or .biz). Then you can choose to renew the domain after a year or let it go. The search engines will index only the extension you prefer when the redirects have been done properly.
Redirects, a discussion for another time.