For a business owner who may or may not have ever put up a single web site, jumping through the hoops necessary to set up the required components of a new or redesigned site can be a real headache. I’ve done it countless times, yet I still often find it unnecessarily complicated. If setting up a site’s various ‘parts’ is a challenge, forgetting and then subsequently tracking down the various services, organizations, and passwords long after setup adds another unnecessary hurdle.
Let’s walk through – on a high level – what components are needed to launch a site. Hopefully it’ll clear up some confusion. If not, let me know by leaving a comment below and I’ll try to make it simpler ; )
Domain Name & Registrar
One of the first things most people get excited about when launching a new web site project is the domain name, and registering one is pretty simple, even if you’re not technical. I recommend securing a domain name as soon as you’ve settled on it, provided it’s available. You don’t need to have a site ready before purchasing the name, but it’s a good idea to decide on a hosting provider beforehand.
It’s a minor headache to change your domain registrar, so pick one you think you’ll stick with. It’s simplest for most small business owners to register their domain name through the company they’ve decided to use for hosting, so this is why it’s a good idea to decide on your hosting provider first.
Even if you’re working with a developer you would like placed on the registration as a technical contact, always list yourself as the Registrant and provide your contact information. Most small business owners will also want to be listed as the Administrative Contact. Having your name on the registration empowers you to do whatever you need to with the domain. Keep all e-mails related to your registration in a safe place. You won’t need this information often, but losing it means unnecessary hassles and wasted time.
Hosting providers are companies that allow you to put your site on their server – which is really just a glorified, publicly-accessible computer – so that anyone can get to it via a web browser. The choice of hosting companies depends upon the requirements of the site and is outside the scope of this article, but in general I suggest choosing a company with good tech support and customer service, and whose site you find easy to use. Even with a good web developer, there are still things you personally may need to do. If you’ve got a hosting provider you can stick with you will simplify your site’s management because you’ll be able to obtain most or all of the services you need through your hosting provider. As with your domain name registration information, keep all hosting-related e-mails and login information handy, even if you are working with a web developer who is handling all the technical details for you. If something happens to him or her, not having the information ready for a new developer impedes the speed with which that person can assist you.
Domain Name System Record
Servers and networks use IP addresses – combinations of numbers and dots that look something like this: 22.214.171.124. Just like your home address is a combination of information that tells people where to find your house, the IP address tells web browsers where to go to find your web site. IP addresses, however, are not very memorable; this is why we use domain names to get people to a web site. But in order for your domain name to be connected with the server at the IP address where your web site is hosted, a Domain Name System – DNS, for short – database must be updated with the information. If you registered your domain name with the provider that will host the site, the association between your domain name and the DNS records is usually done for you. If you want to use a previously registered domain name to point people to files on a new server, you’ll need to have the DNS record updated with the new information.
Even if you’re only moving your domain from one host to another, any e-mail accounts you would like to use must be set up with your current provider. This setup varies, but e-mail for most sites is handled by the web host and accounts and passwords can be set up via the control panel area on the host’s web site. If you wish to download your e-mail to Apple Mail, Outlook or another e-mail application on your computer you will need to ask the host for the incoming and outgoing mail servers so that you can set up the account. Keep this information, as well as any e-mail user names and passwords, in a safe place.
The most commonly used method for transferring your web site files from your – or your developer’s – computer is FTP (File Transfer Protocol). While you can often access a site’s files via a file manager while logged in to your hosting company’s web site, this method is typically slow and is impractical for transferring all the files that make up a site. In order to allow access to a site via FTP, an FTP user and password must be set up separately. The method for doing this varies greatly according to your host, so you will want to check the help area of their site or call them for assistance. Again, once you have this set up – keep the login information in a safe place, even if you don’t think you will ever have to personally use FTP for your site.
Many web sites require the use of a database to store information. Even small sites like this one are powered by databases. It’s not something a non-technical site owner should set up, but you should be aware that your developer will likely need access to your hosting account to set it up. You should obtain the hostname, database user and database name (sometimes they are the same) and the password, and keep it in a safe place.
Content Management Systems
Content Management Systems, or CMSs, have become far more commonplace as they’ve grown in both power and affordability. CMSs are also the most likely reason you would use a database on your web site. With some up-front work from a web developer, your site can be set up professionally while allowing you the day-to-day control necessary to affordably maintain an updated site on your own. If your site uses a CMS you will have a separate login that will allow you to update it. I think you know where I’m going with this, but I’ll say it anyway: keep the login information in a safe place.
I realize we’ve covered the not-so-fun aspects of launching a new web site, but if you know the process it’ll go much more smoothly – you might even skip the headaches.