Domain Names and Web Hosting – What is the Difference?

Many people who are getting ready to start a website are confused about some of the basic terms and definitions that are involved with this. The most basic things you have to understand are domains and web hosting. These are two different things, although both are needed if you want to build a website.

In this article I’m going to be discussing the difference between a domain name and web hosting, and giving you some suggestions on how to acquire both.

Domain Names

What is domain name

I’ll talk about domains first, because you actually need one of these before you can even sign up for web hosting… although you can also sign up for both at the same time.

What are Domain Names?

A domain is your address on the web, signified by an URL. The biggest, as well as the smallest websites in the world all have domain names. The domain name for Google is Google.com.

Domain names consist of two parts – the actual domain name and the domain extension. The extension is the part that comes after the dot. The best known extensions are .com, .net and .org but there are many others. In fact, because so many people are buying new domains, new extensions keep getting created.

Many unfamiliar extensions are actually for various countries (for example .am, .ag, .cn and .ng). These are also know as country-level domain names. You are better off getting a well known extension (such as .com, .net and .org), as this gives your site more credibility. It’s also easier for people to remember.

Where do you get a Domain Name?

There are companies called domain name registrars where you can register domain names. Some of these companies also provide other services, such as web hosting.

  1. GoDaddy

    The best known place to register a domain is Godaddy. This company is big, experienced and provides a lot of other related services other than registering domain names.

  2. NameCheap

    Many people like NameCheap. Like Godaddy, they are a large and experienced domain registrar, but they are generally seen as more customer friendly. Searching for a domain name and registering one with NameCheap is more straight forward compared to when you do it through GoDaddy since the latter always tries to up-sale you with related services.

Important tips when buying a Domain Name

The first requirement of a domain name is that it has to be unique. This won’t be a problem, as you won’t be able to purchase a domain that someone else already owns. Domain registrars all have search boxes that let you type in possible names, and they will tell you if it’s available or not.

  • Whois and domain availability search

    Of course, you can also use our very own whois search which also tells you if your desired domain name is still available or not. Our tool will also tells you if the domain name you are searching is still available in other popular domain extensions or otherwise. Yes, this is a whois and domain availability tool! Check it out now!

  • Consider .info domain names

    The normal price for a domain is usually around $10 per year. Some extensions are more expensive, and some may be cheaper. .info domains are often sold at a discount. These can be a good buy as they are quite well known, though still less desirable than .com, .net or .org. Consider a .info only when your desired name is no longer available for .com, .net and .org.

  • Domain privacy

    When buying a domain, you may want to check the box for “domain privacy” which costs a few dollars extra. This is sort of like having an unlisted phone number, in that it prevents people from being able to look up your contact info. If you don’t choose this, you may get spam from people who look up domain owners’ data on the Whois directory.

Those are the basics about domain names. Now let’s look at web hosting.

What is Web Hosting?

What is web hosting

Once you have a domain name, you can build a website. To do this, however, you must have access to a server (from a web hosting company). In some cases you can get a free domain when you sign up for web hosting. You can also find companies that provide both of these services (domain name and web hosting).

There are many hundreds of web hosting companies to choose from. You have probably seen ads from some of the larger ones, such as GoDaddy, HostGator, Bluehost or SiteGround. These are all good companies, as they are large and very experienced.

Before choosing a web host, you should browse the sites of a few companies and get an idea of what they offer. Some of the points to look for are:

  • Basic features

    Bandwidth, disk space, how many domains can you host?

  • Support

    Do they offer 24/7 support? Do they offer live chat support? What about through email and phone?

  • Security

    Do they take measures to safeguard customers’ websites? Any automatic backup?

  • Site Builder

    Do they have a good site building tool for people without web design skills?

  • Money Back Guarantee

    Do they offer one? If so, what are the conditions?

These are some of the main things to look for in a web hosting provider. You can also do research beyond the company’s own website by looking up customer reviews on web hosting review sites or forums.

Keep in mind that any well known web host will have both fans and critics, so don’t let a few negative comments scare you away. Look for patterns and see if the majority of the reviews are positive or negative!

Choosing the Right Web Host

Selecting the best web host is an important decision, and one you have to make early on in your website’s lifespan. In fact, technically you have to decide this before even building your site. For this reason, you should take some time to pick a good one.

Many people choose web hosts because they see a low price, or because of a slick advertising campaign. You can sometimes get a good price from a great web host, but you have to look beyond this. Most newbies start off with shared web hosting, and this is not very expensive. The difference between the cheapest and costliest shared hosting is only a few dollars per month!

I mentioned that you can sometimes get a domain and web hosting packaged together. While this is convenient, it’s not always the best policy. Don’t choose a web host simply because they offer a free domain name, or because you can easily register a domain with them. It’s not very hard to register a domain at one company and then get web hosting somewhere else.

While I recommend looking at a good number of web hosts, there are a few that have proven themselves as outstanding over the years. These are HostGator, SiteGround and Bluehost. Looking at these will provide you with a good starting point!

  1. HostGator

  2. SiteGround

  3. Bluehost

Editor’s Advice

The above should give you a good basic idea of what domains and web hosting are, and the differences between the two. You need a domain before you can build a website. Some people buy domains for investment purposes and don’t even get to the point of building a website. You can also “park” domains and earn money from ads, but that’s another topic altogether.

Any “web host” that claims you don’t need a domain isn’t really a web host, but a site that hosts your blog or site for you. Examples of this are Blogger and Weebly (though they do let you build a site using your own domain as well).

Web hosting provides the basic hardware and services you need to get your site online and manage it. Once you do some shopping around for a domain registrar and web host (which could be the same company or two different ones), you’ll start to get an idea of which companies you like best. Start your research with the 3 that I have recommended above.