So you’re finally ready to get your own website for your business, author platform or whatever. And you want it to be “yourwebsite.com” not something with all kinds of additional junk in there. And you don’t want to spend a lot of money.
But you’re not really a tech person, or you never really got what all the internet jargon meant. Even more than that, there are so many options out there, how do you know if you’re getting ripped off?
There are two really important components to consider when starting a website and those are a domain name and a web host.
What Do You Really Need to Start a Website?
Domain = name
This is what most people think of when they think of building their own website. The domain name is your unique web address, it’s what you type into the bar at the top of the web browser to take you to a web page.
But that’s all it is – a name. You purchase the right to use this name, usually for a year at a time. Some places offer discounts if you purchase more than one year, so if you plan to be around for a while, it’s probably the best way to go.
What about free?
You see lots of places advertise for free domains, $.99, $.01… But what they really mean is that it’s free or discounted if you purchase a hosting package from them (more about that later). And even then, it’s usually only free for the first year, and after that the rates go up to, in some cases, around $30 a year. Where they get you is on the renewal fees.
Privacy means that your personal information you gave when registering for your website will not be listed in the domain registry where everyone can find it.
You need to look if the website where you are purchasing your domain name from offers privacy for free or if it is an additional charge. Usually the sites where they offer free or discounted domains do not offer privacy and will charge $9.99 or more a year to keep your information private.
Hosting = place to put name
So you get a domain name, now what do you do with it? Having a domain is only having the name, you need a host to put your website out there where people can find it.
Using a hosting service is like renting an apartment, or a storage unit. They are storing your website (domain name) somewhere where others are able to view it. So, of course, to do this, they have to charge you a monthly fee.
The fee for a web host can start around $2 a month or go as high as $100 or more. Why such a dramatic difference in price? Services they offer, I guess. Depending on what you need them for, the added services can be a benefit, but if you’re just starting out, most likely you don’t need any of them so then the $2-$10 per month price range is pretty standard.
You can usually find a discounted rate if you sign up for a long period of time and pay it all upfront, so from the right host that takes you to just below the $2 per month mark.
What about free?
There are free web hosts around, but free is never free. Most of them will offer you free hosting, but you get adds on your website, which can be really unprofessional and the whole reason your purchasing a domain name is to look more professional.
Buying Domain Name from a Web Host
Places like Weebly, WordPress and all those other big name sites will offer to host your custom domain, and they will even sell you a domain name, but they will usually charge quite a bit for it. They even sometimes have additional costs if you purchased you domain name somewhere else.
I did a lot of shopping around back in December and this is what I found to be the best deal:
I got a hosting package for under $2 a month when I paid for 3 years upfront.
They also offer a free domain name for life. This means that for as long as I host a website with them, I will never have to pay for a domain name, only for the hosting package.
However, they do charge an additional fee for privacy, which was $9.99. It said per year, but there was only one charge of that amount on my account. Maybe they will take out another next year, but still, I feel that is a great deal. It’s basically paying $10 a year for a domain name, which I think is a pretty good deal in itself.
For $80 I have a domain name and a place to put it for 3 years.
eHost also has some great features, especially if you are not familiar with websites. They have lots of custom templates and a drag-and-drop interface, similar to what you would find with Weebly or those other sites. I will post a review of my experiences soon.
The Free Hosting Option
Of course, I’m super cheap and always looking for the best deal, so I’ve got to try out some free options right? What’s the harm, it’s free!
I did still have to purchase a domain name, there really is no way to get around that. But I didn’t go with those super cheep $.99 godaddy.com or whatever it is you keep stumbling across when you look for domain names. I am cheap, but I want to get a good deal.
I purchased my domain name from Google Domains.
For $12 a year I have a custom domain name. Privacy is included for free. They give you the option to turn it off but… who the heck would want that? It is also (as far as I could tell) $12 to renew next year.
For free hosting, I am using Blogger.
Blogger offers to redirect its blogspot site to your custom domain. They even offer detailed walkthroughs to help you out:
The only downside is that you are a bit limited in customization. You have to use Blogger’s interface and it really treats your website as a blog. I am finding though, the more that I use it, that Blogger has a lot more options for customizing than I thought, but you have to know a little bit about html and css to make it happen. Check this post for my thoughts on Blogger.
UPDATE: I just discovered that there are lots of free templates that can be added into Blogger so you are not limited to the 5 styles they offer. And some of the templates are comparable to the WordPress designs, and maybe even more customizable if you know a little css. I got mine from Gooyaabi Templates.
There are other “free” hosting options as well, but they all seem rather sketchy and don’t really deliver on what they promise.
I tried freevar.com, and even though that looks like the sketchiest one out there, I was happy with it up until I tried to install WordPress, and I started getting all kinds of popup ads on my website. I blamed myself because I did do a little modifying of some files, changing permissions and such that would have just been asking to be hacked, but then I deleted that website and started over with everything. And again, as soon as I added WordPress, the popups were back. So maybe you’d be ok with it if you don’t want WordPress…?
Freevar is also not very developer-friendly. I tried it because I wanted complete control over my website, right down to making my own html pages, and with freevar you really have that option. It’s kind of the only option, actually, though they do say that they are working on a drag-and-drop website builder. So from a developer standpoint, it was a really exciting free option. But…disappointing.
Any better options that I missed? What budget-friendly options have you tried?