New Threads: Untangling the Web

For the novice setting up a new website sounds easy. But there's a bit more to it than you might think. This short guide will give you some insight into two vital considerations in your web quest: your domain name and your web host.

Registering your domain

You must pay for the rights to use a given domain. The initial registration fee will register your domain (and thus give you rights to it) for a period of one or two years, depending on the registrar that you use. This should be pretty straightforward but it rarely is. Among other choices, you must:

  • Decide which registrar to use. There are plenty — plenty! — out there all trying to get your business, and a huge price difference in those offerings. Google "domain register" and go with one whose price and image ticks the right boxes. You should be looking at about $20–25 annually for a .com domain, and $50–60 bi-annually for a .com.au domain.

  • Decide what kind of domain you want: .com, .net, .biz, or .com.au, .net.au, .biz.au, among others.

    .com is the most common and is generally used to designate companies, businesses and commercial entities;
    .org is used to identify clubs, associations and not-for-profit organisations;
    .edu is reserved for educational institutions;
    .gov is for government organisations; and
    .net has come to identify computer networks or tech businesses.

    There are now dozens of lesser used domain designations such as .biz, .info and .mobi.

  • The .au suffix (for instance in .com.au) identifies the given domain as being Australian. This is much more tightly controlled, and to register a .au domain space you must be able to prove your business or organisation operates in Australia. Further, in the case of .com.au domains, you must have a company or registered business name that significantly matches, or is an accepted abbreviation for, the domain you are trying to register.

This last point can make things frustratingly circular. Unless your business name is unique, chances are your most suitable domain name has already been registered. If, for instance, your company name or registered business name is "Widgets'R'Us", there's an extremely good chance that the domain "widgetsrus.com.au" is already in use.

So what do you do?

Well, you could try to find a variation on your business name that is acceptable (and available) such as "wearewidgets.com.au" or "widgetsareus.com.au". Or you could try to register another trading name that suits your business and for which a domain is available.

It's tricky, no doubt about it. Indeed, if you're just starting up your business or you're thinking of a trading name to diversify your business interests, the availability of a domain may be part of your business-name strategy and deliberations.

You can do a search for a given domain name at the official Australian namespace registry, Ausregistry.

Your Web Host

Your web host is where your website lives. It is located on a physical computer, in a room, in a building, on a street, somewhere in the country (or overseas). In essence, it's just a folder on a computer, same as you have folders on your computer. But there's a whole lotta techno gismofication that goes along with running a hosting company, which is why you and I can't just set up our own computers to play at being a web host. (Although lots of people try.)

Again, there's a huge variation in web host pricing and what you get for that pricing. We don't recommend a particular web host because, for most people's budget, their web host is going to let them down at some stage — it's inevitable — and that reflects badly on us if you've followed our recommendation.

So use your head: do a thorough web search and compare pricing and plans. If something sounds too cheap, steer clear.

For most individuals and small businesses, a 'Starter' or 'Small Business' package should be all you need for about $15–30 a month. This should get you:

  • Between two and ten gigabytes of storage. For most people, that's plenty.

  • No excess data charges: i.e. it's all inclusive in your monthly fee.

  • No setup fees.

  • Unlimited email accounts. So you can set up all your staff with their own emails along the lines of jane@widgets.com.au, leornardo@widgets.com.au, and so on. Or sales@widgets.com.au and feedback@widgets.com.au.

  • Unlimited "Parked" and "Addon" domains: not critical, but can be handy.

  • And of course, good support.

If you Google something along the lines of "value web host" you are bound to get a load of responses, and a lot of those will end up being based in the United States and will typically be a fair bit cheaper than web hosts that are based in, and their offices and equipment reside in, Australia.

There's also a lot of 'Australian' web hosts who use these very same US-based services, and simply resell them under their own banner, with, of course, a cut of pie on top for themselves.

Nothing wrong with either of those two scenarios. Just be sure that you know what you're buying. Technically, a web host that is based in the US (or any other country of that matter) will be a smidgen slower serving web pages than a locally-based equivalent, simply because the digital information travelling along the wires or via satellite has farther to go. But we're talking seconds, if not microseconds.

The inevitability of downtime

If you go with a Starter or Small Business package or similar — basically, if you're paying less than $50/month — it's inevitable that at some time your web host is going to go down. You won't be able to access your website and nor will anyone else. You also won't be able to access your email.

Sorry, but it's inevitable. A lot of web hosts in this price range will brag about "99.9% up time", but those figures are fudged or an outright falsehood. And such figures are meaningless anyway, because the only thing you really care about is that 0.1% when it is down.

For most people and businesses, this is an irritation, but not much more. However, if you're an online retailer, or have lots of time-critical information and services, then you're going to want a better service guarantee than what you're going to get in this price bracket.

What you'll need is a Business or Enterprise hosting package, with guaranteed uptime, guaranteed continuity and disaster recover. And it's going to cost you some big bucks.

In brief

  • So you're ready for a website

    So you want a website? Well, before you jump in, you need somewhere to jump to. Like a post office box or a street address, a website needs a physical location and directions on how to get there. These two fundamentals are known as your webhost and your domain name.

    Your webhost is, typically, a third party that rents out space on their computers (called web servers). Your website resides on one of these servers.

    Your domain name is your address on the internet. On a simplistic level, it's equivalent to a phone number, street address or PO box. It's unique to your website, and it's how people find you.

    Sound simple? It is. Or it should be. But there a few issues you need to be aware of to avoid some common pitfalls.

Need help untangling it all?

Try this:

Think of the domain name you would like to own.

Check its availability on the AusRegistry website

Available? No? Think of a variant on your preferred domain name.

Check its availability on the AusRegistry website.

Available? No? Think of a variant of the variant of your preferred domain name.

And so on …

Got better things to do on a Saturday night? Let us handle it. There a lots of webhosts and domain registrars out there, and they all want a bit of you money; consequently, some are better than others. We can hook you up with a webhost and research and purchase your domain name using companies we know and trust.

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