Understanding domains and services
Having your own dot-com and website for your business is pretty important these days. This is equally true whether your website is intended to generate first contact or is mainly informational -- e.g. You yourself refer a (potential) client to your web site for more info, like what I'm doing here with all these articles.
Regardless, there's a number of entities involved in creating and maintaining your online business presence for even the simplest of needs. Each of these entities have their fees -- some of them ongoing.
This article will explore the various entities, what they do, whether or not you need them, and maybe some costing info.
Where it all starts : Registering your domain
One of the first things is deciding on your domain name -- your dot-com. And yes, it should be a real .com. The other top level domains like .net, .org, or the newer ones like .biz and .info, etc. just don't have the same cachet or implied trust. Maybe one day they will, but not today.
You'll need to be creative here because lots of the best shorter (and more desirable) names are taken. If you can include your name and/or some geographical reference in the domain name then you'll have a much better chance of getting the name you want. In general, shorter domains look better than longer ones. Choose carefully. Changing it later can be costly in terms of SEO (more on this below) and broken links.
You can use GoDaddy (a popular registrar) to purchase your domain or you can have your website designer purchase it for you. Either way, the domain should be registered in your name. And you'll want to register for five years minimum. Shorter term registrations have lower SEO street cred.
Cost: Domains cost as low as $15 or so per year and can be bought for up to ten years at a time. You'll always have the first shot at renewal, so you can keep it indefinitely if you renew on time. This cost is only for holding the domain listing in your name. It does not include web hosting, SEO, email service, or anything thing else required to make the domain useful.
Do It Yourself (DIY) Website creation
So you've decided on a name. Now who's going to actually create the website? If you are adventurous and creative, you can build it yourself using one of the newer breed of DIY website development tools like Wix, Weebly, or Squarespace to name a few. My site right here is designed and hosted on Wix, for example. Drag and drop simple. No need to know web coding. Yes, I could have coded it in raw HTML or used WordPress, but my time is more valuable than that.
These new DIY site builders can do it all, including domain registration. But I prefer GoDaddy for domain registration because they have excellent tools for extensive DNS, redirection, and other mostly geeky needs.
Cost: DIY site builders can be as little as free for the most basic needs but most tend to cost in the low hundreds per year for the most useful features. These are usually billed annually.
Hiring a web designer
If a DIY solution doesn't appeal to you then you can hire a web designer, either an individual or company, to build your site for you. Some offer turnkey solutions where they'll register your domain, arrange the posting provider, email, and everything else.
If you opt for a complete turnkey solution, then you are delegating to them decisions on who to use for web hosting, email, SEO, etc. They'll likely choose companies they already have a relationship with and perhaps not the best choice for you.
Cost: This approach can be pretty expensive, easily hitting four figures. Much of this cost is one-time for the effort to create the site and populate it with your content. They may also have a monthly fee for making updates, depending on your contract terms.
This is the company on whose servers your website resides. The web hosting company likely maintains dozens, hundreds, or more servers in a data center that hold all of their clients' content. Without a web hosting company, you'd have to maintain a web server in your office which you most certainly do not want to do. DIY site builders usually run their own web hosting data centers or contract with huge data centers like Amazon, so nothing special you need to do there.
You might be wondering why I'm discussing Web Hosting companies here when I just finished discussing drag and drop DIY solutions like Weebly, Wix, Squarespace, etc. Let me clarify: Weebly, Wix, Squarespace, etc. have simplified design interfaces targeted to regular people -- not web designers. They include web hosting as part of their offer. Professional web designers don't use Weebly, Wix, etc. -- they use hosting companies that don't necessarily target non-designers. These cost less because they aren't providing a turnkey solution.
If you hire a web designer they more than likely have a relationship with a preferred web hosting provider. This is ok because web hosting companies are mostly invisible to you. But you should have control over choosing your email and SEO providers.
Cost: Varies a lot depending on needs. Impossible to estimate here except that the least expensive for modest needs should be no more than $100 or so per year.
SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is the practice of designing a website that search engines like Google will rank highly. As you can imagine, every business wants their website to be at the top of Google's search results whenever people search for things such businesses offer. And to help that along, SEOs are hired to tweak websites to be better ranked.
So-called "black hat" SEOs do so by gaming search engines, taking advantage of a temporary vulnerability in the ranking algorithm to give a boost to their client' websites. That's an unwise strategy because such subterfuge will be discovered and punished. Google is full of insanely smart engineers and their ranking protocols are top-secret. They will not be gamed for long.
White hat SEOs, on the other hand, use time-tested and recognized best-practices to make a website as search engine friendly as possible. These techniques change over time as well, but none of them are designed to cheat or game the system. A white hat SEO can make a big difference in your discoverability and ranking by ensuring your site is properly optimized.
Cost: Varies. Some SEOs work on annual contracts, others are strictly month-to-month. One of the better SEOs in Palm Beach County, Shockley Marketing, has proven and cost effective SEO plans with no contracts.
As you read above, there's a number of periodic fees you may incur to keep your online business presence humming along: The domain registration fee, Web hosting fee, SEO fee, email services like G-Suite (Gmail for business), and maybe a fee charged by your web designer to make updates to your web site. Lots of fees to keep track of. You need to be aware of all the legitimate fees so you aren't scammed with fraudulent fees.
Fraudulent fees? Companies sometimes receive mailings that look like invoices, indicating that payment related to your domain(s) is due. These scammers know that you are likely receiving multiple (legitimate) invoices from your various providers so they figure, often correctly, that you won't notice their sales pitch disguised as an invoice. This is no different than the office supply invoice scams. You must scrutinize and understand these mailings lest you be scammed. If in doubt, call your web site designer. If you have an I.T. consultant working for you (that should be me :-) then call them. S/he can decipher those "bills" and get to the truth.
I have contacts and providers in all these areas and can help you assemble your web presence by hooking you up with the appropriate providers for each component of your online presence.