What’s the Difference Between a Domain Name and a Hosting Plan?

What’s the Difference Between a Domain Name and a Hosting Plan?

Many bloggers will create their blogs using a free blogging platform such as Blogger or WordPress but over time they may decide to get their own domain name. Very often the term domain name is confused with the term hosting plan and, to be honest, it can be confusing. Because we receive many questions along these lines, here’s a brief guide which should help new bloggers as well as a few of us “old timers.”

What is a domain name?

A domain name is a location or address on the Internet that directs users towards a website. It is sometimes preceded with www (World Wide Web) and always ends with an extension such as .com or .org or a variety of others. The domain name for GeneaBloggers is geneabloggers.com.

What is a hosting plan or hosting service?

A hosting plan is a service provided to host or store your various files and programs needed to run a website or a blog. In most cases you must pay a monthly or yearly fee for hosting services. Free hosting exists if you are willing to let your visitors be bombarded with ads over which you have little or no control. A popular hosting service provider is GoDaddy which is where the GeneaBloggers site is hosted.

Do I need my own domain name to start blogging?

A common misperception is the need to secure and purchase your own domain name before you create a blog. Not true. The most popular blogging platforms such as Blogger and WordPress will provide a domain name for you. However, you are limited in how you can name your blog if you let these blogging platforms run your blog at no charge. The domain names for Blogger all end in blogspot.com (as in http://calgensoc.blogspot.com) and they end in wordpress.com (as in http://wyklekin.wordpress.com) for WordPress.

Can I use a domain name for my blog without paying for a hosting plan?

Yes. Another common area of confusion is that you must purchase a hosting plan if you purchase a domain name. The fact is that you can purchase a domain name (which costs much less than a hosting plan) and either use domain name forwarding (see below) to direct visitors to your blog or you can have the blogging platforms like Blogger and WordPress use your customized domain name.

For Blogger the steps are:

  • Login at Blogger, locate your blog and click Settings.
  • Click the Publishing Tab.
  • At the top, click Custom Domain.
  • If you have already purchased your domain name click Switch to advanced settings.
  • Follow the instructions on switching from the blogspot.com domain name to your own domain name.

For WordPress, using your own domain name will incur a fee. See http://support.wordpress.com/domain-mapping/map-existing-domain/ for more information.

How much do domain names and hosting plans cost?

Domain names can range anywhere from about $3.99 a year on up depending upon certain factors. First, you must determine if the domain name is available. If it isn’t, you may need to pay a hefty premium if the current owner is willing to sell the domain name to you. You can search for available domain names at domain name registrars such as WHOIS, Network Solutions or Register.com.

New domain names that are not yet secured can range be as much as $19.99 a year and higher depending upon the extension secured. For example, .com domains are more expensive than .info domains. Some domain name registrars will offer discounts if you register more than one extension on a domain or register the domain for 2, 3 or even 10 years.

Hosting plans also vary in price depending upon the hosting service but more importantly price is in direct relation to how many visitors you expect and how much data will be accessed. The more visitors usually means they access more data and the more data means more bandwidth which uses more of the servers and other resources at the hosting service.

Prices of hosting plans start at $0 for “free” sites which usually require your websites and blogs to carry advertising – and the types of ads usually can’t be controlled. Most hosting services such as GoDaddy start at around $4.95 per month for basic service and discounts are built in for bundled services and commitments of more than one year.

What technical skills do I need to manage a domain name or a hosting account?

You should be familiar with how to set up a domain name, how to renew it when your account expires (you will be notified ahead of time via e-mail) and how to transfer a domain to another registrar. Many of the domain name registrars and hosting sites provide extensive help pages with easy-to-follow instructions.

Managing a hosting plan requires more technical skills especially if you are going to host your own blog or website. If you simply want a place to store files, you might be better off with one of the many free data storage sites currently available.

Why do some people want a domain name or pay a fee to host their own blog?

Customized domain names are often used as a form of branding – reinforcing a brand name and associating it with a product or a service. An example is RootsMagic which uses blog.rootsmagic.com. There are some personalities such as Dear Myrtle (www.dearmyrtle.com) and footnoteMaven (www.footnotemaven.com) who utilize this method as well.

In addition, domain names are secured to prevent others from utilizing them (sometimes for nefarious purposes which is the case with spammers and others). Example: for geneabloggers.com, the domain names geneablogger.com, genea-blogger.com and genea-bloggers.com were also registered.

What is domain name forwarding?

In most cases, when you register a domain name, you can forward it to another domain (that you already own) for free. This is the case with the other domain names for GeneaBloggers: if a user enters www.genea-blogger.com their web browser is automatically transported to www.geneabloggers.com. Domain name forwarding is an easy way to secure variations on a domain name and have all the traffic channeled to one website or blog.

Next Steps

  • Research. Many sites such as WHOIS or Register.com will let you research domain name availablity. While you are there they will try to entice you to register your domain with them.
  • Plan. Before you make any purchase, make sure that your blog or website goals are in line with your domain name registration or hosting plan. Don’t commit to a 5-year hosting plan if you fear you might lose interest in blogging or maintaining a site. Forego the tempting discounts and register for a year – you can always renew to a longer plan later on.
  • More Research.  Look at different hosting services and compare prices, plans and features.  A good resource is Web Hosting Geeks which reviews the most popluar hosting services.
  • Purchase. If you intend to purchase a hosting plan as well as a domain name, it makes sense to do both with the same vendor at one site. In addition, there will be discounts to do purchase everything at one site.

I know I’ve mentioned GoDaddy many times in this post but I have had success with their services over the past two years. If you do use GoDaddy, check out these coupons and discount codes before you purchase.

© 2009, copyright Thomas MacEntee

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