Hosting vs Domain Registration

“Why am I getting billed a second time this year for hosting?”

I’ve been asked this question many times by clients. Some are concerned that their hosting company is double-billing them. Others have assumed that the second notice they received was spam and can be ignored. And others are just plain confused about which companies are involved in keeping their website online.

To keep your website online, you need to make ongoing payments for two types of services:

  1. Domain Registration
  2. Hosting

These services can be paid for monthly, yearly, or once every few years, but most of my clients choose to pay yearly. The two bills often come due at the same time of year – the time when your website was initially launched. It’s important that you pay for both these services in a timely fashion, or you website will be taken offline.

Let’s review these two services so you’ll understand the key role they each play.

Domain Registration

Your web site’s domain is the name people type into their browser to visit your website. For example, ours is usablewebdesigns.com. (The http://www. that goes in front of it is not, strictly speaking, part of the domain name.) You may have several domains that point to the same site. (For example, if we wanted to, we could also have usablewebdesigns.ca point to our site.)

A hierarchy of international organizations coordinate the use of domain names. At the bottom of the hierarchy are the domain registrars. A domain registrar is a company who can reserve a name for you so that you can use it for your web site. You must keep your payments with them up to date or they will put your domain name back on the market for someone else to buy. Your web site’s domain name is an important part of your branding; it’s your online address, where customers know they can find you. So this is one bill you don’t want to be late on.

Scam alert! However, you do need to watch for scams. Over the years we’ve received official-looking emails and paper scam letters for domain renewals. Some of them ask for as much as $500! You should make a record of the companies you have your domain registration and hosting accounts with and the time of year they come up for renewal and the yearly cost. A typical cost for domain registration is between $10 and $20 per year (not per month).

I’ve been recommending Netfirms.com as a domain registrar up till now, because they are inexpensive, but I’m currently seeking a new registrar that offers improved support and a friendlier ordering system. (Their ordering system tries to sneak extra products into your purchase.)

Paying to register a domain just gives you the right to use that domain. It does not give you place to put your website where people can see it. That’s where the hosting comes in.

Hosting

In day-to-day language, a “host” is someone who invites you into their home or business. They allow you to make use of their physical space. In the web world, a host is a company that lets your web site live on their disk space and lets visitors access that website from their computer.

When you pay for hosting, you are paying a company to keep a copy of your website on their server and to let you set up email accounts on that server (if you wish) and to keep copies of the emails you send and receive. It is their job to keep the computer operating and connected to the internet 24/7. You’ll want a company that has a good reputation for uptime and customer support. You definitely want a company that is big enough to have support staff available 24/7 in case there are hosting issues during the night or the weekend. HostJury.com is a good place to get peer reviews of web hosting companies.

I currently recommend ICDSoft.com for those who want hosting in the US. My favourite Canadian hosting company has recently been bought out by a US company which will move the servers to US soil, and I’m in process of trying out some other Canadian companies. I’ll post my recommendation here once I have it.

When you consider all that they do for you, hosting prices are a steal. There are reputable companies who will host your website for as little as $6 to $10 a month. Add in the cost of domain registration and you’re looking at $85 to $140 per year to keep your website online. Compare that to the price of putting a single business-card-sized ad in your local newspaper for just a week. Web sites are a bargain!

If you don’t pay your hosting on time, your host company will likely give you a warning or two and then take your site offline. If you’ve made a backup of the site (you do backup your site, right?), then you’ll need to repurchase the hosting, and possibly reinstall the site (unless they’ve kept a copy handy for you).

Combined Hosting and Domain Registration

Many companies offer both hosting and domain registration, so you can have both under one account with one bill a year. In the past I have recommended clients to buy the two items separately to save on the cost of domain registration; however seeing the confusion this causes many clients I am now revising my opinion. Buying a combined plan may cost an extra $20/year for your registration, but that could easily be worth it.

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