What you need to start a website

In Web Design by Rachel Di Martino

This post contains affiliate links

Aside from the obvious stuff, like text and images, there are three elements that make up your website.

  • Domain
  • Host Provider
  • Content Management System (CMS)

Domain

This is the URL someone types into their browser to get to your site. Like “yourbusiness.com”.

You can purchase a domain through accredited registrars for Canada .ca websites and worldwide registrars.

Be wary of web development agencies that say they are a registrar or offer to buy the domain for you, because they are often licencing domains in bulk from a real registrar and THEY will own the registration of your domain, not you. If they go tits up or have terrible customer service, you may lose access to your domain.

Owning your domain is one of four critical access points of your website that you should own. If you don’t own your domain, you can’t make changes. Like if you want to change hosting platforms or manage redirects or want to sell your website, you will not be able to.

Not owning your domain may result in having to buy a new domain name and set up a new website under that new name. All your clients will need to be notified of the domain name change and you will lose the backlink strength you’ve build over the years.

If that sounds doom and gloom, it’s just reality. I can’t count how many business owners I know that had to change domains because they didn’t own their registration.

Host Provider

In the simplest terms, your website is a collection of files and documents, which are accessed by programs that organize and deliver pages of your site to someone’s browser through the internet. The collection of documents is called the directory, and the programs to run it are called the operating system. They are both stored and set up on a computer called the server.

The server is managed and maintained by the host provider. Basically, it’s a company that has a computer connected to the internet, capable of hosting websites. Because you need a server, you need a host provider.

Examples of host providers are Bluehost, Websavers, Squarespace, and GoDaddy (Note, Bluehost and Websavers are affiliate links, but I also use their services for myself and clients). You want to choose a host provider that has servers in the same country as your business, has a 24/7 team to manage maintenance or troubleshooting, and is well known for customer support.

The main parts of the host provider are:

  • Your account portal, which includes billing and contact info
  • Website settings area or cPanel

If you’re on a self-hosted WordPress or Joomla site, you will likely have a cPanel. It allows you to adjust server settings, create FTP users to access your directory, and a plethora of other tasks. Although having one doesn’t mean that you need to go in and make changes, since the default settings are sufficient for most website owners.

Squarespace, Weebly, Wix, and Shopify and some other hosts like that do not use the traditional cPanel. They usually have a website settings area where you can make limited changes beyond their preset defaults.

Caution

The domain can often be purchased from the host provider or transferred to the host provider when signing up for hosting. But if you have the option, I recommend purchasing the domain from a different company than your host provider. This is so no one company has a monopoly over your entire website.

Content Management System (CMS)

The content management system, or CMS for short, is the overlay of your website that allows you to update and change your content. The CMS is the primary place you’ll go for the day-to-day management of your website.

CMS include WordPress, Joomla, Squarespace, Wix, Weebly, Shopify, Expression Engine, ShoutCMS, Kajabi, and thousands more. If you don’t have a website yet and wondering which CMS is right for you, check out this handy post on how to choose the right platform.

Sometimes the CMS and the host provider are one and the same. Like on Squarespace, Kajabi, Shopify, and agencies that custom-built their CMS. You can’t separate Squarespace the host provider from Squarespace the CMS.

In my opinion, the best CMS is one that is not attached to a specific host provider. That’s why WordPress is such a great option for most small business owners. It gives the ability to copy a site and move it to another host provider or take a break and then re-launch later without having to pay fees to keep the website files active. When the CMS is tied to the host provider, you’re stuck with that company and will need to start from scratch if you want to switch providers.

Caution

When you’re choosing a platform that is both the CMS and the host provider, like Squarespace, it is extra important not to purchase the domain there too. Then that one company will have exclusive control of all the elements of your online presence. If you fail to make a payment or get locked out for some reason, your website – which is arguably the most powerful marketing tool for your business – may be held hostage or deleted.

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About the Author

Rachel Di Martino

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Rachel is the owner of Geek Unicorn. She helps women-driven businesses elevate to a professional playing field by creating brands and websites that stand out online, like a Unicorn in a field of horses. On top of that, she's a shameless sharer of knowledge and loves to give away her best web design, branding, and SEO tips.