The Nuts and Bolts of Running a Website: Domain Names and Web Hosting

Marni MacLeod

Keep a copy of your Logins

Login screen

To run a website you need a domain name (sometimes referred to as a URL*) and web hosting. They are not the same thing although the same company can take care of both elements for you. There are some administrative efficiencies to be gained if you register your domain name and host your website with the same company.

Golden Rule Number 1: ALWAYS make sure you keep a record of the login details (usernames and passwords) for both your domain name registration and your website hosting.

When you (and I do mean you and not your website developer) register your domain name and sign up for hosting you will get an email back from the registrar or hosting company with your login information. This typically consists of a username and a password. I can’t stress enough how important it is that you keep a copy of this information at the firm. Do NOT leave it to your web developer to set up your accounts and store this information. There are two reasons for this. First, these are firm assets and as such should be purchased directly by the firm not a third party supplier. Second, you want to make sure that you don’t have to go through a third party to get help with your domain name or your website. If your developer (or agency) disappears (people do win the lottery and bugger off to the Canary Islands…or so I’m told) or you decide to change suppliers you may end up being stuck. Things move fast in cyberspace. Companies act as resellers for other companies that get bought up, go out of business or merge and it is not always easy to figure out where your information has gone after two, three or four years have passed.

We’ve spent many an hour trying to track down this critical information for clients and while we’ve never come across a situation we couldn’t resolve, we have had to charge for the time it took us to retrieve the information and sometimes at premium rates if the situation is an emergency (think website hack or downed email). The point is…your login information is crucial for the running and maintenance of your key marketing asset and, if email is involved, your firm.  Therefore, you need to make sure you have a copy of it … somewhere accessible.

Domain Names

Think of your domain name as your online address. Domain Name registration costs vary but you can expect to pay around $15 / year for a decent Registrar. We define decent as a company that also offers website hosting and is responsive if something goes off the rails and you need help (e.g., 24/7 live technical support or as close to it as you can get).

Cheap is not necessarily good in the world of websites. You get what you pay for especially when it comes to customer service. If you have ever had your website hacked or simply go down you already know that response time is important.

Website Hosting

Website hosting is typically the lease of space on a server maintained by a third party supplier. It is the “place” where the design files and databases for your website live. Your domain name must be connected to your web hosting in order for people to access your website pages. Hosting costs also vary but again, in our experience, you get what you pay for. $1/year for hosting is not such a good deal when your website or your email hosting goes down and you can’t locate a real person to help you. Ask anyone who’s productivity has come to a screeching halt when email goes pffft (not to mention the potential liability issues that arise).

Expect to pay between $20 to $30 / month for quality hosting ($240 to $360 / year). This is not the place to pinch pennies. You want to be sure you are with a reputable host with good (preferably live) technical support. Shared grid hosting is usually sufficient but be aware that if you happen to be sharing a server with a company that has poor security practices and they get hacked continually there is a good chance that your website will go down too while the hosting company takes steps to fix the problem.

It’s also useful to sign up with a hosting company that caters to the website platform you are planning to use. We recommend hosting companies that have a good track record with WordPress sites because that is the platform we prefer to use.

There is no perfect web hosting solution but we have historically had a good experience with Media Temple so you may want to check them out. I do hasten to add that Media Temple has been bought out by GoDaddy recently so it remains to be seen whether that will have any impact on the quality of their service offerings (I hope not).

Email Hosting

A note on email. Email is critical to the running of a law firm. Consequently, you may want to consult your in-house IT people (or an IT firm that caters to law firms or professional services firms e.g., BMC Networks) about keeping your email and your website separate. You can operate without a website, operating without email is a much tougher proposition. You can still use your domain name as your email suffix e.g., I use marni@skunkworks.ca but our website is hosted in one location while our email is elsewhere.

Further, when you are dealing with a website developer you should confirm that they will collaborate with your in-house IT or whoever you have looking after your email, whenever they are doing anything that may affect the firm’s email. Often there is no potential for impact but it’s a) a courtesy and b) a bit of insurance policy to have a second set of eyes monitoring the situation when you are making changes.

*This is technically incorrect as URL stands for Universal Resource Locator and is actually how your computer finds individual web pages that you are trying to locate. For example, in the URL: http://skunkworks.ca/people/marni-macleod, skunkworks.ca is the domain name and “/people/marni-macleod” refers to the specific page. In this case it’s the page on the Skunkworks website that contains my bio.

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