Ever wondered what a web domain is or what web hosting is? Here’s what you need to know

For the uninitiated, the difference between domain names and web hosting – two fundamental aspects of a website – can be confusing. Here we’ll cover all you need to know about these two distinct website components.

Domain name

In order to own and manage a website, you need a domain name. This is an identifying string formed under the rules of the Domain Name System (DNS). While a domain name can be almost any combination of letters and numbers, it is usually one or more words relevant to the website’s subject matter or reason for being. For example, shoreditchweddingcakes.co.uk is clearly a business selling wedding cakes. Other websites focus purely on the brand the site represents – like brainbroker.net. You might think of this as the address of your own home, but not the actual home itself. You can purchase a domain name from one of many thousands of companies on the Internet.

It’s also worth noting you can buy an existing domain if it’s for sale, although this could be expensive – depending on its desirability.

Web hosting

But buying a domain name does not mean you have a complete and functioning website. You need somewhere for your website to ‘live’ – a data storage space connected to your domain name; this is called web hosting. This is analogous to your actual physical home.

Web hosting packages are usually paid for by the month or year and are provided by many thousands of specialist firms around the world. Almost without exception, you can purchase a domain name and web hosting from the same firm, making management of your website simpler and more convenient. Some people have their domain names and web hosting with different providers. This may be for reasons of affordability, or perhaps because a domain name was purchased years ago and paid for up-front for a long period, and in the meantime, a better hosting deal was found.

Connecting your domain to your web hosting package

As mentioned, if you buy your domain and hosting with the same firm, managing your site will be simpler – since both services are accessible from the same interface. If your domain and hosting were purchased from different firms, you will need to update the domain name’s DNS settings to ‘point to’ the web hosting service’s IP address. This process can be confusing first time around, not least because changes to DNS settings do not always take effect immediately. If you have hired a web developer, they can do this for you.

domain names

Website creation and upload

Once you have your domain name and your web hosting organised, you have a website, right? Well, as you might have guessed, not quite. Now you have to actually build the website and upload the files to your web hosting service. The files that form a website can include HTML, CSS, PHP, images, and databases – among many others. These files are analogous to the contents of your home.

You may create a website yourself, or hire a web developer to do it for you. Part of creating the necessary files for a website involves producing content, such as text, images, infographics and videos.

It is now easier than ever to build your own website, particularly with free blog systems like Wordpress and Joomla, which are often available with ‘one-click-installs’ as part of hosting packages. While these were initially developed for bloggers, they are increasingly used in general website creation, largely due to improvements in functionality; a wide range of useful plug-ins; and some extremely professional looking ‘templates’ – the best of which must be paid for.

However, Wordpress and other systems have become so powerful – and by extension so complex – that specialists now offer development services on these platforms.

In addition, many hosting packages include one-click-installs of shopping carts, forums, image galleries and other website building tools.

Many professional web development companies prefer to build websites ‘from scratch’ because they can exercise full control over the code, potentially making for a faster and more efficient website. In terms of search engine rankings, a faster-loading site is likely to do better.

More on domain names

Choosing a domain name demands careful thought. A good domain name is memorable and distinctive. As of 2017, 330.6 million domain names had been registered, so you may well find your first choice is already taken!

If you are building a brand, it’s important to include it – or indeed use it by itself (e.g. brainbroker.net). In the past, websites have used ‘spammy’ domain names in order to rank better for certain terms – i.e. including target key terms in their domain. However, this approach is no longer effective and may be viewed as ‘gaming’ the search engine algorithms. Focussing on your brand is a better approach.


Your TLD (top level domain) is the suffix at the end of your domain (e.g. brainbroker.NET). You can choose from many different TLDs, including .com, .co.uk, .org, and .net. Debates abound about which is the best TLD for ranking well in Google, but success rests much more on content quality and other ranking factors like relevant backlinks. Arguably, for a UK firm, a .co.uk. .com. or .net TLD looks professional and familiar.

More on web hosting

There are many factors to consider when choosing a web hosting package. For instance, if most of your business is done in the UK, then choosing a UK-based hosting firm with a UK data centre will mean your site will load faster for UK visitors. Conversely, hosting your site in China or India could well result in slow load speeds – which could increase your bounce rate and even affect rankings.

When choosing a package you should also understand:

  1. Any limits on the amount of data you can use per month
  2. Any limits on the number of domains that can be hosted (many cheaper packages only permit a single domain)
  3. Any restrictions on content (e.g. adult sites are not allowed on some hosting services).
  4. How reliable the host is: do they have a high average ‘uptime’ (look for 99% or above).