I’ve been a webmaster for quite a while. I’ve provided consulting to various small businesses over the years. If you are building a site for the first time, please follow these cardinal rules on owning and managing your domain name.
Use a third-party domain registrar with a good reputation and without tasteless ads
Do everything you can to avoid registering your domain name with your web host. Especially the ones that have huge advertising budgets, sponsor NASCAR teams, promise unlimited everything including the sun and moon (they never deliver on that), or offer to build your website for free (then hit you up for service fees after the trial ends). A common tactic in the hosting industry is to use your domain as a carrot and stick to retain you as a customer. It could be as evil as completely owning your domain (read the fine print!) or partnering with a domain registrar (yeah, you Network Solutions) that has a highly bureaucratic domain transfer process which makes it next to impossible to move your domain. Your domain name is your online brand, own it! That means going directly going to the site of a domain registrar such as NameCheap, Gandi.net, Register4Less, or any that are frequently reviewed by LifeHacker.
I think Danica Patrick is smokin’ hawt and a talented race car driver but that doesn’t excuse her sponsor, GoDaddy. I’ve had a few situations where GoDaddy has given me the run around because my domain is close to expiration date and I wanted to transfer to another registrar with better pricing. They usually make you register at GoDaddy for another year before you transfer. So you pay twice! I’ve had a few domains go in to domain purgatory and ended up losing them. The last thing you need is losing your domain to an evil link farm website operator. Never a good search engine optimization best practice. I can’t stress enough reading up on the the registrar’s transfer out policies and procedures. The good ones let you transfer out with zero drama. Avoid any that makes moving your domain seem like quantum theory physics.
I personally use NameCheap for all my projects. Full disclosure: I’m not on their affiliate program. I do not gain financially by recommending NameCheap. They’re very fair to the customer, fully comply with ICANN’s regulations, offer free DNS hosting, protect your privacy, and donate money to the Electronic Frontier Foundation. They also advocate for Net Neutrality and fought some really bad bills in Congress that would put the hurt on small website operators. They go out of their way to put the interests of Internet community and their customers first.
Don’t use the DNS servers provided by your hosting provider, use a 3rd party
This is another tactic to ensnare you. DNS means Domain Name System. It’s the phone book of the Internet. When you type google.com, a network of servers look up google.com, find the numerical Internet address (IP address), and send you to Google. Same with your website. People type the address for your website, the DNS system matches your domain name to a numerical Internet Protocol address and directs visitors to your site. Typically your hosting provider will take care of the technical side of DNS for you. However if you want to move your site to a new web host, now you have to work your soon to be former web host. And it’s a mixed bag as to the extent that your web host wants to help you break up with them. Some will just be sad and ask to be friends. Some will go batshit possessive on you. Just avoid the drama by using a third-party DNS host or the DNS hosting provided by your domain registrar. Using a third-party DNS host makes moving your site easier. It also allows you keep copies of your site at other hosting companies in the event that your first hosting company has technical glitch or outage. Just log in to your DNS hosting provider, change the IP address of your site to your alternate webhost, and you’re back in business after a few hours. If your perma-pissed with your webhost and you want to kick them to the curb: sign up with a new hosting provider, restore your website from a backup kept on your computer, change the IP address for your website to the new company, wait a day or two to allow the world-wide DNS database to sync up, then fire that lame-ass hoster. You’re in control. You’ve taken the risk out of relying on web hosting companies. You’ve taken a major step towards having a contingency plan in the event that your web hosting provider goes out of business.
Hopefully my hard-earned experience helps your small business be a more savvy website operator. If you need some help, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.