Last Updated on July 20, 2020

Whether you’re familiar with building websites or not, understanding the difference between domains and hosting services isn’t always easy. And that lack of understanding can lead to some confusing questions with even more confusing answers.

So, to help set things straight, this article covers:

  • What a domain name is (and isn’t)
  • What to do if your business name isn’t available
  • The basics of web hosting
  • How domains and web hosting work together
  • Where to buy a domain name
  • And what you need to start building your website

So, let’s get started!

What Is a Domain Name?

A domain name is a unique identifier (like a physical address) for your website. It’s how users find your business online and it’s also an easy way to quickly let visitors know they’re in the right place.

Furthermore, every domain name is unique and every website currently online has one.

So, if you go up to the top of your browser window, you’ll see a unique URL for the page you’re on. The domain name immediately lets you know what website you’re visiting and the rest of the URL tells you what page you’re on.

In this example, startingyourbusiness.com is the domain name. Everything that comes after that is the unique identifier for the specific page you’re visiting. In this case, it’s how-to-form-an-llc.

Every page, image, document, etc. hosted on your website has its own identifier that comes after your domain name which acts as that specific piece of content’s digital address.

Does Your Domain Have to Match Your Business Name?

Your domain name and business name don’t necessarily have to be the same. With that said, it can be confusing and slightly misleading for people trying to find your website if your domain name doesn’t match your business name. So, it’s best practice for them to match.

But oftentimes, new business owners settle on a business name before considering if that specific domain name is available. And with so many websites out there (1.72 billion to be exact), there’s a pretty decent chance your name may already be taken.

So if your business name isn’t available as a domain name, you have a few options to consider:

  1. Changing your business name
  2. Purchasing a different domain name but doing business under your original name
  3. Creating a “fictitious” business name and filing a DBA (“Doing Business As”)

Regardless of which option you choose, it’s important to make sure you’re in compliance with local, state, and federal laws. However, if your business name is available as a domain name, you have nothing to worry about.

READ: Do I Need a DBA for My Website?

What Is Website Hosting?

If you think of your domain name as your home address, consider web hosting the actual space your home occupies. And just like with your home, you have to rent the digital space your website occupies.

This digital space is known as website hosting because it hosts all the content (i.e. pages, blog posts, images, documents, etc.) of your website. This space actually lives inside a server that provides storage space for every single file that makes up the entirety of your website.

How a Domain Name and Web Hosting Work Together

Your web hosting server has its own IP address for the exact location of your website’s files.

So, rather than expecting people to remember this odd combination of numbers and periods, we use domain names that point to that location, instead. When someone visits your domain, they’re actually redirected to your server’s IP address.

And after that redirect happens (usually in an undetectable amount of time), users are able to see your website on their device.

Should You Buy a Domain from Your Web Hosting Company?

As with most things, there are pros and cons of buying your domain name from your web hosting company vs through a separate service provider. But at the end of the day, it’s up to you to decide which option is right for you and your business.

Pros of buying a domain through your web hosting provider:

  • Many hosting companies offer a free domain name for your initial registration period
  • Everything is centrally located under one platform so it’s easier to manage
  • You won’t have to manually point your domain to your hosting server
  • It’s convenient to buy everything at once

Cons of buying a domain through your web hosting provider:

  • If you want to switch hosting providers, it’s easier if the two are bought separately
  • Annual renewals can be more expensive after your initial registration period

In most situations, if you’ve never created a website before and only plan on buying one domain, buying through your web hosting provider is the best option. This is because it’s easier, less complicated, and quicker to get going.

However, if you plan on buying numerous domain names, you’re probably better off buying them through a separate domain name service provider.

What Do You Need to Build a Website?

Building a website is a lot easier than it sounds. And, you don’t have to know how to code thanks to the countless number of drag-and-drop website builders out there (like Squarespace and Shopify).

But, to help you get started, here’s a quick checklist of everything you need to get going:

  1. Business name
  2. A domain name
  3. Web hosting OR a website builder
  4. A logical link hierarchy (AKA a link tree)
  5. Logo and branding elements
  6. Website copy and images

Interested in learning more about the top drag-and-drop page builders (of 2020) that’ll help you get your business’s new website live as soon as possible? Check out our top website builder picks