So you have an idea for a great website name (a.k.a. “domain name”)? What do you do next? Well I’ll get to that soon enough. FIRST, I want to let you know a few things NOT to do. I want to help you avoid making some common, costly new website mistakes.
In this article I will share advice based on some real situations that I’ve encountered over and over again with my Web Development clients.
My goal is to help you go from .com idea to .com ownership without getting ripped off.
So let’s get to it!
Website Mistake #1 – Checking for Domain Name Availability in Dangerous Places
Here’s how it goes down for most people. You get struck by your great .com idea. Then you head to your web browser and type in the domain name to see if there’s a website already using that name.
Am I right so far?
But dangitt! That name is in use. So you begin trying variations and alternative (weird) spellings until you finally land on something that’s not taken.
So next (and for some people this is actually their first step), you head on over to that web hosting site that shall not be named by me (I refuse) and begin using their handy domain name availability search feature. If you don’t yet know who I’m referring to… it’s that company that’s really popular for their pretty clever Super Bowl commercials and really hard-to-resist 99-cent .com deals.
About them… Don’t go there! Literally! Don’t search for domain name availability there. Here’s why.
There’s something akin to an urban legend in the domain registration community that is known as domain name front-running. It is something that all domain registrars deny practicing BUT many .com owners continue to share their experiences and observations which suggest otherwise.
You can just google “what is domain name front-running” to learn more, but the short story is this: domain name front-running is when a registrar buys available names that you’ve searched for on their site so that the next time you come back to purchase that name (usually 24 hours or more after your initial search) it is now up for auction (or for sale at a much higher price).
It is not a sure thing that this will happen to your domain name though. Some names are just more valuable than others and registrars have their own way of determining a name’s value (and whether it’s worth it to front-run your searched domain name).
While I cannot prove that my least favorite domain registrar is guilty of this (and of course they deny it), I have worked with enough clients that have fallen victim to domain name front-running after visiting their site. Aaaaaaand that (plus a few other things that are off-topic right now) is enough for me to avoid them like the plague.
To be equally unfair, I must admit I’m an across-the-board skeptic and suspect that LOTS of domain registration websites may be practicing front-running without the consumer’s knowledge. It’s also believed that some Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are in on this racket too. This means that even typing a name you like in your browser’s address bar could put that .com at risk of front-running.
How to Avoid This Mistake
So here’s a couple of things I suggest to anyone that is considering buying a .com soon.
Option 1: Search at Internic
Search at a “neutral party” website – one that has no potential financial gain for your .com searches. My favorite way for checking domain name availability is by doing a WHOIS search at Internic. Simply visit the Internic link, enter your .com name in the text box, make sure the “Domain” radio button is selected, then submit. Done.
If the domain is available, you will see “No match for domain ‘your-domain-name-here.com’.” in the result. Now, you’re a bit closer to .com ownership.
Option 2: Be Ready to Buy (Immediately)
Another option to consider is this: don’t even start searching if you’re not a serious buyer. Even on sites that may be guilty of front-running, you can still win in the game if you purchase as soon as you find something available that you like. They can’t front-run if buy right away. So, for this option, it’s really irrelevant where you begin searching for domain name availability. Just be prepared to buy immediately if you searched on a registrar’s website.
Now, a few thoughts on what happens after you’re done with that domain name search…
Since most domain registration companies are also in the business of selling hosting, it’s kind of easy to miss the fact that domain registration and web hosting are two separate needs (you can buy a domain from one company and host the domain with another).
It’s usually easier to keep both these services with the same provider though, but every now and then you might find a cost-savings by getting a great deal on your .com registration with one provider and then another great deal on your hosting plan with another provider (rare, but possible… and doing this does require a little bit of next-level webmastery so you might wanna get your web developer involved if you go this route).
It’s common for providers to offer hard-to-resist deals by bundling both services (e.g. getting your .com registration for “FREE” when you buy at least 1 year of hosting). Pay attention to the fine print for this kind of deal. It usually means your second year of .com registration (yes, there’s an annual fee to maintain ownership of your .com) will jump back up to its normal price. This is not a horrible thing when you consider the normal annual fee is usually in the $10-20 price range, BUT it’s just something to be aware of. Another variation on this kind of bundle deal is to offer low-cost hosting AND low-cost domain registration – BUT only in the first year. Read the fine print for that second-year price of both these services.
Website Mistake #2 – Skipping (or not noticing) the Domain Registration ID Privacy Option
By now you have hopefully done a safe domain name search and avoided Mistake #1. Now you’re ready to purchase at a domain registrar’s site. So head on over to any registrar you like (even that one that I would prefer you not choose).
At this point, because you’re a serious buyer, just about any registrar will do (kinda… I’ll make a few suggestions in a bit… just hang in there and keep reading).
No matter your registrar choice, there will eventually be a step in the purchase process that asks you if you’d like to add-on Domain Privacy or ID Privacy or something similarly titled. Just say yes, check the box, whatever, just please…
DO NOT SKIP THE ID PRIVACY OPTION!
Now, you may be tempted to skip it because this add-on usually adds about $10 or more (annual fee) to the final price tag.
You may think to yourself: “I just purchased a 99-cents domain name and that’s a great deal! Why would I spend $10+ dollars for this extra thingy and ruin a good thing?”.
Let me tell you why. The contact information that is associated with any domain name purchase is considered public record and will be out in the open on the interwebs for anyone to use if you DON’T purchase the ID Privacy Option. Now, if that doesn’t bother you, then ignore this tip.
Another thing to consider if you choose to ignore this tip… be prepared to be contacted (by email or phone) almost immediately after your purchase by spammers and solicitors. This type of solicitation will happen right away and will continue on a pretty regular basis (sometimes daily, sometimes weekly, etc.).
How to Avoid This Mistake
Be on the lookout for the domain registration ID Privacy add-on. Sometimes it’s not so obvious. Don’t complete your purchase until you find it and select it. It’s a $10 investment in your privacy. I’d say that’s a bargain and an add-on that you should not skip (unlike most other up-sell attempts you’ll encounter during the checkout process).
Just in case you can’t find it or you do decide to skip the ID Privacy on day 1, it’s still possible to decide at a later date to add it to your account. Your registrar should have instructions in their support forum that can guide you through how to purchase ID Privacy at any time.
Website Mistake #3 – Buying a Bad Hosting Package
So, you’ve safely searched for your .com and purchased it (with ID Privacy of course!). Now, the next step to bringing your .com to life on the Web is buying a hosting plan for your new domain name. Since there really is no universally RIGHT hosting package for everyone, this mistake is more about knowing what to say NO to in your first hosting package purchase.
There’s a lot of trickery for you to dodge in the checkout process of your hosting package purchase, so here’s a few things I suggest you be aware of before you begin and just say NO to:
A la Carte Email Pricing (Paying $X/email address per month)
If you’re new in business or new in website ownership and you don’t have a whole lot of monthly revenue yet and you don’t have a team that you need to be in hyper-collaboration with, then skip this. This is usually an offering from Google (called Google Apps for Business) that your provider will prompt you to accept during the checkout process. Just opt out for now.
If per-email pricing is the only option for the provider you’re considering, I suggest you shop elsewhere. Eventually, paid email hosting upgrades like this will be worth it but it hardly ever is when you’re just starting out. IMO a sign of a good web hosting package is one that comes with at least 25 email addresses (sometimes you’ll even see Unlimited Email addresses offered).
Mid- or Upper-Tier Hosting Package
Most web hosting providers sell services in tiers, e.g. something like Basic, Premium, or Deluxe. Just go with Basic. Again… you’re new at this. So, in my experience, it’s a very rare new website owner that really NEEEEEDS anything beyond what the basic-tier package has to offer. Save your money. If you’re starting a website because you’re also starting a business, your money is better spent on other new business costs.
The way the math works out over time, it is “cheaper” to commit to 2+ years of your hosting package. However, the hidden cost (in my experience) is being stuck with a bad provider. Sometimes, after a year into a hosting package, I realize that I really don’t like the company I’m hosting with anymore. I like being able to pick up and leave (or not) when my first year is up.
Also, because I’m a small business owner, I’m usually way more interested in managing cashflow (and avoiding large up-front cash outlays) .
Bonus points to any web hosting provider that also offers month-to-month pricing. Yes, month-to-month is higher when compared to its annual cost, but I have the benefit of ending that expense whenever I want. I like to take advantage of month-to-month packages when I’m just shopping around – for myself or scouting on behalf of a current or future client.
Extra Monthly Fee for cPanel Administration
This is more a webmaster gripe. The average website owner will care less about this or won’t even know what this is. Suffice it to say, your web developer or webmaster will thank you later for having cPanel Administration since this is the main administrative tool used to manage all aspects of your website.
Since this type of admin panel is soooo common-place with soooo many providers, it really burns me when I encounter a web host that wants to charge an extra monthly fee for this when so many others don’t. Again, if you’re shopping with a provider that wants to charge you $2+/month for cPanel, look elsewhere.
Up-Charge for Legit Backups
There are backups that are truly helpful (done daily or at least weekly), easy to access, and easy to roll back to…. and then there’s all the other sucky backup options. There are some pretty popular web hosts that take advantage of the fact that most newbie website owners don’t realize that the backup option that’s included in their hosting package pretty much sucks – either because it’s only done monthly or because it’s hard to restore or some similarly frustrating non-sense.
A lot of web hosting providers will gladly charge you an extra fee for backups that don’t suck. And then there’s the good guys who include legit, pain-free backup features into even their Basic Tier package. I call that good business and something you shouldn’t have to pay extra for.
How to Avoid This Mistake
To summarize how to avoid everything mentioned in Mistake #3… simply choose the cheapest package for the shortest time-frame, i.e. choose the Basic package and a 1-year hosting term, skip almost ALL of the hosting extras/up-charges (unless you’re working with a developer who suggests certain extras that you definitely need). In other words, don’t buy anything unless you’re 100% sure it’s an immediate need. You can always add any of the skipped upgrades at a later time.
So, to save a long article from getting any longer, let me end by making a good on a promise I made earlier (web hosting provider picks!). If you’re about to embark on a new website journey, then let me suggest a few solid providers to check out for registering your domain name and hosting your website.
Consider this my “top picks of web hosting providers that don’t suck“:
A2 Hosting – This is my absolute FAVE!! I host all my sites and side-projects with them. They satisfy all of MY top criteria:
- great/responsive email support
- backups that don’t suck (aaaaaaand don’t cost extra for their non-suckageness)
- site migrations (from a previous host) included
Bluehost – I’ve had many a client host with them and if I weren’t already in love with another provider, I’d choose them. Here’s what I like about Bluehost:
- great phone and chat support
- good-enough backups (I wish they’d do a little better in this department, but oh well… they can’t all be winners)
WPEngine – My new FAVE for next-level website owners. They are a bit pricy compared to my other picks, but if you’ve owned a site for over a year and are doing real business, this is the level you want your web hosting to be on. What I like about WPEngine is:
- hosting that is optimized for WordPress sites
- support staff that is helpful and extremely knowledgable on all things WordPress
- awesome backups PLUS overall webmaster goodies & awesomeness (your future developer will thank you for this!)
- site migrations (from a previous host) included
- transferrable installs
- 1-click staging site setup
Disclaimer: This article may contain affiliate links (which earns me a modest commission if you click on them and make a purchase). I am not paid to share any particular opinions about the products or services that I mention. These are my honest, true, unprompted opinions based on my REAL experiences.