What's a Website Domain & How to Protect Yours?
In our last blog post, we talked about how to prepare for a new website. We mentioned a critical item you need is domain access, which allows you to transfer your site over to a new server. After working with countless clients, we've discovered this is one of the biggest sticking points for two reasons. 1. Not everyone understands domain access and 2. Their agency or freelancer chooses to hold it hostage.
This article is designed to demystify the topic of domains and help you gain better control of your company's website once and for all. So, let's dig into the details and arm you with some truths.
What's a domain?
A domain is a company's online address that's typed into a search bar. For example, you are currently on our domain of matchstickstudio.co.
When selecting a domain, it's smart to go with one that's easy to remember and incorporates your business name in some form or fashion. Doing so will help people find you a lot easier online. Also, if someone just "googles" your business, it's more likely to show up in the top search results if the domain address includes your name. Because of this, your domain is perhaps the most critical component of your online presence.
Where do you get a domain?
A domain must be registered with an entity called a "registrar", which is a company that issues and manages domain names. Popular examples are GoDaddy, Google Domains, Bluehost, Domain.com, HostGator, and Dreamhost. Once you purchase a domain from one of these companies, you'll create login credentials for your account, which includes an email address.
Whether you assign someone in your company to set this up or you have an agency or freelancer handle this for you, it's VERY important to know this information and to keep it in a safe spot. Also, since there's an email tied to the account, it's in your best interest to have it be an email your company owns and will always be able to access.
Why is domain access such a big deal?
Many businesses will turn the control of their domain over to an agency simply because they don't understand how it works. Or if they need a new domain registered, they'll ask an agency to do it for them. The trouble is, if and when they decide to change agencies, things can get messy. When an agency holds the keys to the kingdom, it can choose to hold those keys hostage. And, unfortunately, many do.
As obvious as it sounds, your login credentials are how you access your domain. They control who can get to your website, your email, your blog, and any other online properties you own. It's also how you transfer your website to other servers. Something as sensitive and significant as your domain should be under your control.
Aside from that, it's really not difficult to manage. Most registrars have an easy-to-use dashboard that allows you to make updates and grant delegate access when needed.
What if I can't get this info?
If your agency has control over your domain, and they're not being cool about handing over access, you essentially have two options. You could wait until your domain registration is up for renewal and take it over from there (which could be months) or you could purchase a new domain (which would require you to update your web address on every piece of marketing, signage, business card, and more.) These are not ideal situations, but at least they're options.
As a best practice, we recommend you find out right away where your domain is registered and what email address is tied to the account. Even if you love your current agency and plan to keep your website with them as long as your business shall live, go ahead and get the deets and store them for safekeeping.
Speaking of safekeeping, and because we believe so strongly in having clients fully own their information, we recently added a feature on all of our websites called the Domain Keeper. It's a secure spot, accessible at any time, where you can store domain information directly on your website versus in an email or piece of paper that could easily get lost.
In addition to a domain, do you also need hosting?
Yes. In order to create a website, you need both a domain name and web hosting. A simple metaphor for this might be, if your website is a person, the web host is his home. It's where all of his files and "stuff" live. The domain is the street address that directs people to the house. So, you need both a home and an address.
It may also be helpful to know that these are two separate services. While many companies like GoDaddy and Bluehost offer full packages, you can buy a domain and web hosting from two different companies. So, owning a domain does not mean hosting is also included.
With this in mind, many agencies will offer web hosting as a service since they will be the ones creating the files that will go on the server. This is an area where it's perfectly fine to let an agency step in. You'll just want to watch out for how much they're charging you. It shouldn't be very much. In fact, since web hosting is such a minimal cost, we include it with all of our websites at no extra charge.
How much should you pay for a domain and hosting?
The price of a domain name typically runs between $15-25 per year. When it comes to hosting, it's common to share a server with other companies - like apartment living. Shared hosting typically costs between $5-20 per month. It's not a significant cost, so if you're paying much more than that, you should inquire about it right away.
It's also good to understand who you are paying and for what services. For example, if you're paying GoDaddy directly for your domain and hosting, you shouldn't also have to pay your agency for these services.
Shall we recap?
A domain is an essential part of having a website, and the management of your domain is a key element in protecting your brand. That includes knowing the name of your registrar and the email address that's associated with the account.
Also, your domain is just part of the equation. In order to launch a website, you'll need a hosting service to store your files so they can be accessed on the internet. You shouldn't be spending more than $25/month total on both your domain and hosting.
Finally, if you need a trusted partner to help review your invoices, assess the security of your site, or give you a fresh new look overall, call or text us at 479.755.3043. We're always on your side and on a mission to change our industry for the better.