What’s the difference between domains and hosting?

Wait, don’t stop reading yet! We promise…we’re breaking it down!

difference between domains and hosting for wordpress

We get it. Domain names and hosting plans are some of the most boring (and intimidating) parts of running a website, especially if you’re new to WordPress and haven’t had to deal with them before. Today, we’re going to break down the difference between domains and hosting, so whether you’ve been on WordPress for years or are thinking about making the move, these words will never again strike fear in your entrepreneurial heart!

First, a quick primer: if you blog on WordPress.org, you may come across the term “self-hosted.” All this means is that you’re providing a place for your web files to live. From your theme, to your blog post images, to the words you write, all of that has to be stored somewhere on the Internet. Many other blog platforms provide this storage for you, but the tradeoff is that you may not have complete ownership of your site (for example, while it’s unlikely, Google could do away with the Blogger platform tomorrow). When you’re self-hosted, you also need a domain name, which leads us to…


Our favorite analogy to explain domains vs. hosting.

Think of hosting as your house, and your domain as your street address. The first is housing (or hosting!) all your web stuff. Meanwhile, your domain is like a physical address that tells people where you live online. Just as you type in an address to determine a location in Google Maps, your domain is serving a similar function when people type it in to their web browsers.

That’s it. Seriously! It’s not so hard, right? Another way we sometimes explain it is to think of hosting as your Internet office space. You have to pay rent for that office space, and that’s all a hosting plan is.

Many hosting companies will bundle domain names and hosting packages together, but this isn’t always guaranteed. One of the most common things we run across is people who bought a domain name (i.e., yourblogname.com) and mistakenly think owning the domain means they purchased hosting with it as well. One big tell is to see if the package you purchased offers a 1-click WordPress install. If it does, you bought BOTH hosting and a domain. If it doesn’t, you likely need to buy hosting separately.

While a lot of bloggers like to purchase their domain and hosting from the same vendor, know that this isn’t required nor does it really impact how your site runs. If you bought a domain from somewhere like GoDaddy a long time ago, you’re under no obligation to buy hosting from them too!

Here are some of our fave vendors for both hosting and domains:

DOMAINS
NameCheap
GoDaddy

HOSTING
Flywheel (pricier, but their customer service is the best around)
SiteGround
MediaTemple (especially for sites with traffic between 150-250k pageviews/month)

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So, what do you think? Are domains and hosting a lot easier than you realized? We hope this helped you feel less intimidated about getting started on WordPress! If you have any questions about domains or hosting, just comment below! And stay tuned…later this week, our co-founder Lisa will be stopping by to share the 7 things you need to get started on WordPress. Spoiler alert: since you already know about domains and hosting plans, you’re 2/7 of the way there!

 

Images: Averie Woodard, Jared Rice (with graphics by <em>press), both via Unsplash

2 Comments

  1. Erica wrote:

    How difficult is it to switch hosting companies? I am currently with GoDaddy since I purchased my domain from them, but would like to price out a change. I’ve been hesitant to do so because I don’t know how messy it is to switch hosting. Thank you!

    Posted on 1.23.18 · Reply to comment
    • Victoria McGinley wrote:

      Hey Erica! The bottom line is “not difficult,” but as you can imagine, it’s dependent on your technical savvy and also the company you plan on migrating to.

      For example, many hosts offer migration as a service, so you can pay to have someone do it for you (or, in Flywheel’s case, migrating to their servers is free and they will take care of it for you!). If you’re not experienced with the backend of your server on GoDaddy, I would recommend picking a host that offers migration services, so you don’t run into any headaches. MediaTemple, which we also recommend, offers a migration service, but does charge a one time fee for it.

      One thing to note is that even with your content migrated, you will likely need to take care of pointing your domain to the correct place once the migration is complete (we find most hosts won’t do this for you). While it sounds daunting, you can kind of think of it as filing a change of address form with the post office…basically, you just have to tell the Internet that you’ve moved houses. For example, if you bought your domain through GoDaddy, the domain’s name servers (DNS) are also pointed to GoDaddy, your host. If you moved hosts to, say, Flywheel, you’d simply want to update your DNS to reflect that the domain should be sending people to the Flywheel “house,” not the GoDaddy one. I have yet to come across a hosting company that doesn’t have a help article that’ll show you how to do this, and as scary as it sounds, I promise it’s really easy (usually just a matter of logging in, finding the spot where that DNS info is listed, and copying a URL into two fields. That’s it!).

      If you feel comfortable sharing a target budget for a hosting plan, we’re happy to share our best recs with you, and any migration packages that those companies offer! Let us know! — V

      Posted on 1.23.18 · Reply to comment

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