Understanding Web Services
An effective “web presence” is essential for most businesses today. But a web presence isn’t free. It requires several services:
Domain Registration. Your domain name is the unique web address that identifies your business website, like yourbusiness.com. Under international laws, domains cannot be purchased or owned. Instead, they are registered and leased for a period ranging from one to ten years. You can also renew your domain registration when it expires, so a competitor can’t take you name. Domain registration is handled by companies called domain registrars. Leasing fees are paid to the registrar, usually by credit card.
Web Hosting. While the domain name is the “address” of your website, the host is its physical location. Hosting services provide the computer servers and disk space to actually store your website and allow you to manage it.
Email Services. Although some business used free services like Google gmail or Yahoo mail, it give a much more professional appearance to use your own domain name for your business email. That way, your clients and customer can send email to [email protected].
It’s possible to sign up with a single provider for all of these three services, or to use separate companies for each..
Managing Your Services
When you create a web presence for a new business, your web design firm will typically set up the necessary accounts for you. It’s possible to switch companies later, but it can be a little tricky, and may disrupt services for a day or two, so it’s wise to choose reliable, professional services with good support, rather than simply shopping for the cheapest. Some web design firms offer hosting services. We advise against using these “in-house” hosting services. A company that is hosting a few dozen websites cannot offer the same level of service and support as a company that hosts millions of sites and has hundreds of expert employees to support them.
Make sure that your web designer provides you with login instructions for all of your accounts. They are your services, and you should have complete control. Store this information in a safe place, just as you would important financial or legal information.
Be sure that you have access to the email address and telephone number used on the account. You’ll need this access to recover your account password if you lose it.
Renewing Your Services
Whether you work with one, two, or three companies, they will allow you to keep a credit card on file, and automatically renew your services when they expire. Your should not depend on automatic renewal.
Sometimes things go wrong. The credit card you have on file may have expired, and when the company tries to notify you by email, the message may end up in your spam folder. If that happens, your website or your email may suddenly stop working. Even worse, you could lose your domain name, and all the brand recognition and good will that you have built over the years. There is a grace period when domain registrations expire, but if you miss the grace period and someone else claims the name, there is nothing you can do to get it back!
There are unscrupulous people who grab domain names as they expire, and then ransom them back to the unlucky business.
To avoid losing your website and your domain, keep track of the expiration dates, and log in to your account before the expiration to make sure everything is up to date, or to renew the service online.
Domain registration, hosting, and email are the core services required for a web presence, but there are other components you should be aware of:
Security Certificate. It your website uses an “https” address, rather than an older “http” address, that means it uses a secure communication protocol. This requires sometime called a security certificate – a kind of key that allows communication between web browsers and websites to be encoded. Many years ago, businesses needs to lease security certificates. Now most web hosting companies automatically provide certificates for free, so this is something you’ll probably never need to know about.
Content Management Systems. Most websites today are built with special software called a Content Management System (CMS). The CMS allows you or your web designer to easilly update the content (the text and images) on your website. There are a few Content Management Systems that are designed for special purposes; you may need to pay an annual fee to use these systems. However, the most common CMS by far is WordPress, which accounts for over 65% of the CMS market. WordPress is free, and can be installed by your web designer on your web host.
Website Maintenance and Security. Just like a building, your website needs regular maintenance. Software may become outdated, hackers may attempt to break into your website, or standards may change requiring technical updates to your website. Web design firms often provide ongoing maintenance services, either on-demand or as a monthly service contract. If you’re. not comfortable managing the technical infrastructure of your website, talk with your web designer to understand what options are available.