Web Hosting VS Domain Names (Differences Explained)
Every online business eventually needs it’s own website and to every website needs a web host and domain name to make it accessible to users. Web hosting is needed to store your website and a domain name is needed to act as your websites address and for your business email.
This guide will explain in detail the difference between a domain name, web hosting and a website itself.
What is a Domain Name?
In simple terms, a domain name is the address for a website. For example the domain name for the Google search engine is “google.com”. Every domain name ends in a domain extension such as .com, .net, .org or .io.
Domain names are unique and can only link to one website, however multiple domains can link to a website. For example:
The domain “mycoolwebsite.com” leads to your website, that is your primary domain and where your website “lives”.
If you also own the domain “coolwebsite.com” you can make that link redirect to “mycoolwebsite.com”, your primary domain, thus linking a second domain to your website.
If you want to create a website, (or you want someone to create one for you) you’ll need a domain name so people will be able to access it.
Below is a quick technical summary on why we have domain names
To understand domain names, you need to understand what a website is and how the internet works. A website is essentially just files stored on a web server. The web server “hosts” your website, making it visible on the internet while the domain name is the address to those files which make up the website.
The internet is a network of computers which are all connected together. To distinguish one computer from another, each computer is identified using a unique string of numbers called an “IP Address” (Internet Protocol address).
Google Support describes an IP address as working the way a return address would on a piece of mail. Essentially, an IP address is a unique identifier for networks of computers connected to the internet.
All of the online activity from a computer is signed with it’s IP address. This could be a number like 172.16.254.1 or 2001:db8:0:1234:0:567:8:1. As you can see those numbers would be difficult to remember and this is where domain names come in.
Why we use domain names
Imagine having to remember a string of numbers every time you wanted to access a website, that would be incredibly difficult. So, to make the internet more user friendly, domain names were created to be used in place of a websites IP address.
Now whenever you want to access a website, you just type in the websites domain name, like homegrownincome.com for example.
What is Web Hosting?
Web hosting is the storage and delivery of the files that make up a website. Website files are hosted on a server, which enables the website to be displayed on the internet. Think of web hosting as your websites home and the domain name as the address to get there.
Since web hosting services actually host your website, it is the first thing, along with a domain name that a website needs before it can be built. Every website on the internet needs web hosting.
To get your website hosted online you need to use a web hosting company, these are companies that specialize in storing and hosting websites. For a monthly fee web hosting companies will serve your website to visitors.
There are different kinds of web hosting services available:
Shared Hosting – The cheapest web hosting available, with shared hosting you share a single server space with other websites. This is best for small websites or blogs that don’t have a lot of traffic.
VPS Hosting – Short for Virtual Private Server, this creates a virtual dedicated server and allocates this server space to fewer websites than shared hosting.
WordPress Hosting – Web hosting that has been optimized to meet WordPress’s performance and security needs, including a simple one click WordPress install feature. You can get Shared WordPress Hosting or Managed WordPress Hosting.
Dedicated Server Hosting – You rent an entire server that you can manage and customize. Whilst good for high traffic giving you more control, you need to manage the server yourself.
Managed Hosting – You rent a dedicated server but your web host manages the server themselves. Your web host controls and maintains your server, backs up your website regularly, takes care of software updates for you, provides security, provides hardware maintenance and monitors activity. This website uses managed WordPress hosting from Kinsta.
When choosing a web hosting service take into account your needs and current resources, I typically recommend Managed WordPress Hosting for any serious online business but you can use Shared WordPress Hosting if you are building a small brochure site.
I personally use Managed WordPress Hosting from Kinsta to power HomeGrown Income, it’s affordable whilst giving me the speed and security I need to run my site. I also get regular site backups and software updates are taken care of by the support team.
Kinsta even emailed me about a security vulnerability related to a plugin and advised me to update the plugin to avoid the issue affecting my site.
If you want a detailed breakdown on which web hosting service to choose, I have written it out further down this post.
How Domain Names & Web Hosting work together
To put things very simply, you can look at the internet, websites, domain names and web hosting this way:
A bunch of files that need a place to stay, these files include webpages, web applications, text files, image files and any media you upload.
Your website cannot exist online without a home (web hosting) and your website cannot be accessed online without an address (domain name).
The home where your website lives. When you buy a web hosting plan you are renting a home for your website, the hosting plan you choose will determine how many files (pages, images, videos, text etc.) can be stored and how many people can visit your website.
Typically, the more resources you need for your website, the more you will pay. However there are benefits to choosing more expensive plans if you plan on building a big website.
For example, higher priced hosting plans come with larger storage space, allowing you to build larger websites with more pages, images and videos. These plans also come with more bandwidth, increasing your websites capacity to handle a larger number of visitors per month.
Web hosting plans can be upgraded at anytime to increase the amount of resources allocated to your website.
The address of your websites home. Your domain name is what people will type or click on to reach your website. You can also use a domain to host your email accounts.
G Suite is a full suite of business, productivity and collaboration tools which include a calendar, cloud storage, Google docs, hangouts for chat, video messaging and more.
When you create an email account through G Suite, you get a special Gmail account that lets you use your own domain name in your email address instead of “@gmail.com”.
Office 365 is a range of business apps and services which include Outlook, Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access and cloud services like OneDrive, Exchange, Teams and SharePoint.
When you create an email account through Office 365, you can use Outlook to access all emails coming to your business email, it’s essentially a professional Outlook account, allowing you to have your domain name on your email instead of “@outlook.com”.
When you add your domain name to your email account, your email address could look like this for example: “firstname.lastname@example.org”.
Having a professional email address improves your brands image and improves trust between you, your customers and anyone else you communicate with through email.
Just having your professional email address on your social media profiles looks better than a generic outlook, hotmail or gmail address, so I really recommend using a business email for your brand.
The world that your website lives in. When you purchase a web hosting plan your website is hosted online via your hosting providers web servers.
Once you have connected a domain name to your website, people can now find and visit your website.
Buy a Domain Name & Web Hosting separately
You can choose to buy your domain name and web hosting separately, reasons for this include:
- You want to buy your domain name now and the hosting later
- You want to setup a business email account using your domain
Doing it this way, you register your domain at a domain registrar of your choice and your hosting at a hosting company. You’ll then log into your account at the domain company and “point” your domain to your hosting account.
You can read about pointing your domain to your hosting account here.
Domain Name Provider Examples:
Namecheap – Simple and affordable with included domain privacy so your personal details don’t show up on a WhoIs domain name search.
Google Domains – Google’s domain registration platform, focused on integrating with Google products.
Web Hosting Provider Examples:
Kinsta – Managed WordPress Hosting only, very high security, unlimited daily backups & fastest page loading speed. Free SSL & Global CDN, 24/7 support, Google Cloud integration, hacking and malware removal. Easy to use & Free website transfers plus a 30 Day money back guarantee.
Siteground – Cheap hosting plans, hosting split into categories based on regular Web Hosting, WordPress Hosting, WooCommerce Hosting and Managed Cloud Hosting. Free email accounts, Free SSL and a free website builder.
Bluehost – Generous website space and bandwidth. User friendly interface. Multiple cheap hosting plans, from Shared Hosting & VPS to Managed Hosting. Free SSL and email accounts.
Namecheap – Less features available on hosting plans but generous storage. Multiple hosting plans, from Shared hosting, email hosting, VPS and dedicated hosting.
Advantages of Buying Domains & Hosting Separately
- You can setup your email accounts now and build your website later.
- You can buy and secure your domain name months before committing to a website.
Disadvantages of Buying Domains & Hosting Separately
- When you buy the hosting, if the hosting company is different from the domain company, you’ll have to transfer your domain over to the hosting company via the DNS settings. Namecheap has a good article on connecting domain names to new hosts.
Buy a Domain Name & Web Hosting together
With this method you buy your domain name and web hosting from the same company. This is very common for people who want a quick startup for their website due to it’s convenience.
You may want to use this method if:
- You want to buy your domain and hosting at the same time.
- You don’t need any specialized hosting needs at the moment.
- You wan’t your domain and hosting to be handled by the same company without transferring your domain name.
A good advantage to this method is that some hosting companies offer free domain names for the first year.
Domain & Hosting Provider Examples:
Siteground – Simple web hosting packages and competitive domain pricing. Loads of web hosting extras including a free website builder, Free SSL, Free email accounts and daily website backups. Recommended by WordPress and WooCommerce.
Bluehost – Get a free domain for your first year, user friendly with many web hosting options. Free SSL and email accounts.
Namecheap – Cheap domain names and multiple hosting plans. Hosting plans have generous website storage but less features than other web hosts.
Advantages of Buying Domains & Hosting Together
- Your domain names and web hosting are handled by the same company, so you don’t need to transfer your domain name to your hosting account.
- Very convenient and simple to get started with building a website.
Disadvantages of Buying Domains & HostingTogether
- Domain renewal prices tend to be pricier than just buying the domain separately from a domain company.
- Less specialized services, if the company mainly deals with hosting, the domain side will be less specialized, if the company mainly deals with domains, the hosting side will be less specialized.
Recommendation? If you want a free domain name for the first year and a user friendly interface, choose Bluehost. If you want a free website builder and daily backups, plus a WordPress recommended host, choose Siteground.
Buy a Domain, Website & Web Hosting together
With this method, you buy your domain name, web hosting and website bundled together through one company. This usually comes packaged through a website builder platform, hosted by the company, with the ability to buy a domain name.
This is a simple option for non-technical people who want to build their own website. You get less control due to using a bundled, in-house platform, but you are trading this control for increased convenience.
This is also a good option for people and companies with large budgets, you can choose an Enterprise level plan to gain more powerful, custom features, for a high price.
Squarespace – All-in-one website builder. You can create your own website using its many themes and its drag and drop creation features. Your website is hosted by their platform and you can easily buy a domain name through their service.
WordPress.com – Not to be confused with WordPress.org. This version of WordPress is hosted for you, so you do not need to buy a separate hosting plan. Comes with an easy to use site builder but is limited compared to WordPress.org which is compatible with tonnes of plugins and themes.
Note: WordPress.org is the free, open source WordPress software that needs to be installed on your website with your own web hosting plan and domain. For example HomeGrown Income is built on WordPress.org software, installed on Kinsta’s web servers.
WordPress.com on the other hand is a paid, hosted solution, however you can start with a free plan with limited features.
Unlike the highly customizable WordPress.org, you cannot use plugins or custom themes, instead you are limited to the free themes available of their premium themes on the “Premium” plans or higher..
Advantages of Buying a Domain, Website & Hosting Together
- One of the most convenient options to building a website
- Your domain name, website and hosting support are all integrated into one platform
- Enterprise options are available, allowing you to scale your website to more powerful versions when ready.
- No technical expertise needed
Disadvantages of Buying a Domain, Website & Hosting Together
- Hard to migrate your website to a different platform since you are using in-house, purpose built platforms instead of global, open source platforms like WordPress.org or fully coded websites.
- Less flexibility with website customizations and custom features.
To get started, just choose a plan from your chosen company and follow the instructions.
Recommendation? If you want to start an online store choose Shopify.
If you want to start any type of website quickly, want a free domain for one year, a free professional logo and social media logos then choose Wix.
Overall recommendation from all domain & hosting options? For the most flexibility, buy a domain name from Namecheap, use Kinsta’s managed hosting, install WordPress.org and buy a theme from ThemeForest or Template Monster.
Can I move my Domain to another company?
Yes you can. Once you register a domain name you can transfer it to another domain company or even a web hosting company. Reasons you might want to do this could be:
- You want to manage your Domain Name System (DNS) settings through your web host, I do this with Kinsta for example. You can learn more about DNS here.
- You want to manage your DNS settings and web hosting in one place
- You want to manage your domains through a domain company with a more simple DNS settings page
If you decide to move your domain name to another company, you can find detailed guides from your domain and hosting providers. Additionally Namecheap has a detailed article on how to transfer a domain name.
Can I move my Website & keep my Domain Name?
Yes, you can change your web hosting company and still use the same domain name. Once you register a domain, you can point it to any web hosting company you wish.
All you have to do is go to your DNS settings and point your nameservers to the new web host.
For example, lets say you wanted to move your web hosting to a managed hosting plan at Kinsta. After signing up for your new web hosting plan, you move your website to Kinsta then you point your domain or DNS to their servers.
Domain names and web hosting can seem complicated at first but they are simple to understand once you know how they work.
I hope you found this guide helpful. If you know anybody who doesn’t fully understand domain names and web hosting, feel free to share this guide with them.
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