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The difference between domain names and web hosting

One of the most common misconceptions when it comes to websites revolves around a domain and web hosting.

It’s very easy to think that they are the same thing. In fact, a number of web hosts (looking at you GoDaddy and Bluehost) offer domains and web hosting in the same package. And don’t worry, I made the same mistake when I was starting out as well.

But they are, in fact, two separate things. Domains do one thing, and web hosting does another. They do work together as the domain name will point to your web host where your website sits on a server. But it’s important to know the difference between what domains and web hosting do for your website.

So let’s take a deeper dive into that difference.

What is a domain name?

So first off, what exactly is a domain name?

Well, the simple answer is that a domain name is essentially a string of characters that tell your browser where to go to find a website. You already use domain names in your online life, like when you type in facebook.com or youtube.com.

On the technical side of things, it’s really a pointer to the specific IP address for the server where your website is located. An IP address is a series of numbers and periods. For example, the IP address for your localhost (i.e. you want to look up something on your computer from your computer) is

Remembering a host of numbers like that for every single website would be a nightmare. So domains basically act like aliases where we humans type in something we can remember and the browser looks up where that domain points to and then goes to that website.

When you get a domain name, you can point it to whatever IP address you want, particularly your website. And you can also point multiple domains to the same website.

What is web hosting?

On the other side, what exactly is web hosting?

To put it simply, web hosting is the server where your files and database for your website are located.

I would argue that this is the most important part of the two things we’re talking about here. The web host will be the thing that keeps your website running.

A good web host will help you keep your website secure and keep it running if you suddenly have a large number of people on your website and/or trying to buy products on your website. But on the other hand, a bad website will see your website going up and down faster than a roller coaster. I’ve dealt with a web host like that before, and it was an absolute pain to deal with.

So you’ll want to take time to make sure you select the best web host for your website.

Why are they two different things?

So why are domains and web hosting different things and not a bundled package?

Well the simple answer is that they do two separate things.

A web host hosts everything to do with your website, from the files to the database and everything in between. It’s what people are going to see when they load up your website.

Domains are basically how they get there simply the human address to that server so that people can easily find your website.

Simple as that.

As for why they aren’t generally bundled together, well, we’re about to get to that.

Don’t get a domain and web hosting from the same place

So I do have a word of caution about purchasing a domain name and web hosting in the same place.

While it might seem like a good idea to get your domain and web hosting in the same place right now, it can be a headache down the road.

A lot of the places that advertise as a get both in one spot place aren’t the best web host — and you might know which particular web host I’m talking about.

And if you decide later on that you want to move your website to a different host as well as the domain, transferring that domain is going to be a bit complicated. You have to purchase the domain again in a different place and then work to transfer control of the domain to your new registrar.

Basically, it just makes things a mess and takes longer if you start by getting the domain name at the same place as your web hosting.

So my recommendation is to first purchase your desired domain name from one of the places listed in the next section and then get your web hosting squared away. You’ll be much happier down the line.

How to get started with a domain and web hosting

If you’re ready to purchase a domain and web hosting for your new website, I recommend getting the domain name first.

Securing your preferred domain name is the most important piece at the moment. Only one person can have a specific domain name, so if you wait and someone takes your domain, you’re out of luck.

So to get started on that part, you’ll want to create a list of preferred domain names you want for your website and then check out places like Name.com, Namecheap and Hover to purchase the domain name you want.

You can take a deeper dive into domain names in this blog post I wrote that gives you a complete guide to domains.

Once you’ve purchased the domain name, it’s time to purchase your web hosting.

With this step, you’ll want to take your time to pick the right web host for your website. You want something that’s going to keep your website up 24/7, keeps your site secure and can give you features like automated daily backups and a free SSL certificate.

A good web host will keep your site running and really help your website and your business. But a bad web host will be an absolute nightmare to deal with.

So take your time and do your research to make the right decision.

You can check out this blog post I wrote earlier this year that takes a deeper dive into the world of web hosts to help you make the right decision for your website.

Get started on your new website today!

Are you looking to create a new website for yourself or your business? Worried about the time it takes or the cost of a new site?

Don’t worry. The Small Business Website Starter Kit can help you out with that. You’ll get a great new website built for you with your chosen domain name on a great web host with WordPress backing and a design to match what you want. And you’ll get SEO, analytics, accessibility, security and more built into your website.

It’s the perfect way to build your digital foundation in today’s world!

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The Small Business Websites Newsletter helps you answer each of these questions. The biweekly newsletter will take a deep dive into some website-related topic, like SEO, WordPress, how to plan a website and more, to help you learn more about websites. I’ll also include some website news that you should know about as well as add inspiration I’ve found that might help you. And you’ll even get discounts for various products I offer. And all of this is for free.

So if you want to be better at building or managing your small business website (or any website for that matter), then you’ll want to sign up today!

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