Here at the Patterned blog we’re pleased to announce a new series! “Ask Penny” is the place to come with all of your tech-related questions. Want to know how to tweak your web site without hiring professional help, or when is the right time to get that type of help? Bring your questions right here to the comments! Once a month Penny will be back to answer a few more.
Penny Shima Glanz is a computer scientist with a passion for information management and how we interact with technology. She started PennyWise Consulting, LLC to help solo and small businesses figure out how to make the most of their technology needs and budgets. When not wrangling technology she can be found knitting, snuggling with her cats and reading, or out on a muddy trail run at sunrise.
Today’s question: I’ve only used free sites and I’m thinking of getting my own site. Where do I start?
From Penny: Congratulations on wanting to take your website to the next level! While it’s a big step, it shouldn’t be a scary one. We’ll begin with two questions to help us identify if you’re ready for a site of your own.
1. Why do you want your own site?
2. Are you prepared to keep all the parts of your website not just today, but in the future?
First, why do you want your own site?
If the answer is just “I’m tired of having mysite.freesite.com!”, then you might be delighted to learn you don’t need to buy your own site. You can purchase just a domain name and have that *redirect* to your current site. I’ll discuss how in next month’s post.
If you want to do more with your site and you’ve discovered you can’t do that with a free site, then it’s likely that you need your own domain and hosting, but not necessarily the case. It depends what your free site is and what exactly you want to do. Do you want a unique and customized theme (site design), to display advertising, or have a full e-commerce solution?
Second, are you prepared to maintain your site, not just up to when you launch it but in the coming weeks, months, and years?
There are a few limited instances where upkeep wouldn’t be required, but I’ll make a very general assumption and expect that you want to use a web content management system such as WordPress. These systems are software and software requires maintenance. If you’re using a free hosted site, such as WordPress.com or Blogger, they do these maintenance updates for you.
It’s entirely possible to do the general upkeep yourself; in general it’s straightforward, though sometimes things go awry. I wrote some WordPress update tips on how to do it and what to do when things go wrong, but as you review the budget, please keep in mind the cost of your time if you choose to do it yourself.
One of the first things you’ll need is a domain name of your own.
If you determined you really only just want to have mysite.com on your business card and not mysite.freesite.com, then you need to purchase a domain name.
The .com part is known as the TLD or top level domain. There are other options such as .net, .org, .info, or many more options. The cost of your domain will be determined in part by your TLD. These newer TLDs are more expensive right now. For most domains, you can also add on “private registration;” however, that will slightly increase the annual cost.
After reviewing your needs, if you have determined that you need features and customization that isn’t covered by the free service, you’ll need to obtain a domain and a web-host.
While you can buy both in the same place, I recommend purchasing your domain name separately in case you want to change your web-host, it’s just better than to keep all your eggs in one basket.
Types of Hosting
When you are using a free site, they act as your web host. When you move to your own site, you also need hosting. There are many different versions. While the adage “you get what you pay for” is true, it is more helpful to understand the different types of hosting.
Shared hosting is one of the most common hosting environments. It is also the least expensive. You buy space on the computer and need to compete with other users for that server’s resources. It includes all server administration for features shared by all users (such as PHP, SQL, Apache). A significant drawback is that it is difficult to properly support SSL with these accounts.
Virtual Private Server (VPS) is like shared hosting but the user gains more control over the server and the resources. While the physical server is shared by many accounts, virtualization lets the accounts behave as if they were one their own servers.
Cloud Servers are a VPS server with the ability to change hardware resources at need. This allows for more (or less) RAM, Hard-drive Space, and CPU without the account needing to migrate to a different server. At the moment it’s also one of the more expensive options.
Management can occur as fully managed, semi-managed, and unmanaged. This refers to the assistance given to keeping the actual server software up-to-date. Unmanaged servers require the most administration by the end-user.
In addition to this you need to make a choice about the type of operating system that your web host runs. An operating system is the layer after the actual hardware. You are probably familiar with Windows and Mac as operating systems. There’s also another, Linux, and it’s a very popular choice for web hosting, and it is the one I recommend for 99% of clients. You’ll need to know what web content management system you’re planning to use, but a safe bet is to choose linux.
Do you have any tech questions for Penny? Leave them in the comments below!