You started small, when you created your first website you did it at blogger or wordpress.com. You are thinking of now getting your own site, but aren’t totally sure what that means or how to go about it. While it’s a big step, it shouldn’t be a scary one.
First, I suggest working through these two questions to help 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 updated not just today, but also 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. If you’d like specific details how to do that, please ask.
If you want to do more with your site and you’ve discovered you can’t do that with what you already have, then it’s likely that you need your own domain and hosting. The ultimate decision depends on what your free site is and what exactly you want to do in the future. For example, 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 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 built around software and software requires maintenance. If you’re using a free hosted site, such as WordPress.com or Blogger, they will do these maintenance updates for you. Shopify is a paid hosted option if you are looking primarily to do e-commerce and don’t want the added burden of maintaining the software and the store. The folks at Elegant Themes wrote up a nice comparison between Shopify and WooCommerce/WordPress.
It’s entirely possible to do the general upkeep on WordPress 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 your budget, please keep in mind the cost of your time if you choose to do it yourself.
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 of your own.
The .com part is known as the TLD or top level domain. There are other options such as .net, .org, .info, and many newer options such as .tv and .shoes. The cost of your domain will be determined in part by your TLD. Newer TLDs are more expensive (at least for now). Expect to pay about $13 a year for a .com domain and pricing is still being determined for many of the new TLDs, but about $50 a year seems to be a starting point.
If you have determined that your site needs need features and customization that isn’t covered by the free service, you’ll need to obtain a web-host in addition to the domain name.
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. While the adage “you get what you pay for” is true, it is more helpful to understand the different types of hosting plans that are available. (There are often price breaks if you pay for an annual hosting package.)
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. Expect to pay about $4 to $10/month for this type of service.
Virtual Private Server (VPS) is very similar to 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. Expect to pay about $15 to $60/month for this type of service.
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. While plans start at $15/month, expect to pay about $20 to $100/month for this type of service.
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 the hosting plan 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 my clients. You’ll need to know what web content management system you’re planning to use, but a safe bet is to choose linux.
There are lots of things to think about when making this step including additional real costs.
A prior version of this post appeared on the Patterned Blog.