|Registering a Domain Name||
Choosing the best Domain Name
Your domain is like your phone number. Don't use someone else's phone to build your business. And get a memorable number!
If your web site has a commercial purpose, it is best to have your own .com domain name and email address. If you operate your business from a "free" web site, your visitors will wonder why you can't afford to at least have your own domain name (since it costs only US $35 or less per year - less than $3 per month). Or they may wonder if you really are a legitimate business, since most of the fly-by-night businesses and scam artists use a free hosting service and a free email address. When you register your own domain name like mydomain.com you also get your own email address like firstname.lastname@example.org.
And choosing a short and easy-to-remember URL that can easily be typed into a web browser or mail program without error helps make it easy for your potential customers to find you and contact you. With millions of web site URLs already registered, it is getting harder to find the name you want, so don't wait until somebody else registers that domain name which would be perfect for your site!
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Tips and Tools
Here's a place where you can find domain names that were already registered but are soon about to expire - ones you may not think you could get when you do the usual search for available names. When the expiry date comes up, often you can buy a good one for a small amount and have it transferred to yourself. See what's available at www.FreshDrop.com.
TIP: If you want to get extra exposure for your web site in the directories and search engines for a particular country, it may help (or be required) that you have a domain name from that country, such as a .uk domain name for England and the United Kingdom, or a .ca domain for Canada.
TIP: Free Web Sites are NOT free! Here's what it will COST you if you try to set up your own business on a "free" web site. These also apply to some extent if you host your business site on a "home page" account with your local Internet Service Provider (ISP).
TIP: Before you actually reserve your domain name (unless you are in a big hurry to lock it down), check with the web hosting service where your site is or will be hosted, to find out the details which you are going to have to enter when you register your new domain name, otherwise you may spend a lot of time filling in forms before you discover you cannot complete the registration until you can enter some detail you don't know and can't find quickly. One thing you will need to know is the IP address of the "Name Server" your domain will be listed on. Often there are two, or sometimes four URLs for these name servers.
If you don't know the required details (or don't have a web host yet) and you still want to reserve your preferred domain name, you can have a temporary web page hosted (called "parking" your domain) at the company which registered your domain until you are ready to direct traffic to your new site, but it may cost you extra, such as a small annual fee in addition to the usual registration fee. Have your credit card handy, since you will likely have to pay up-front by entering your credit card number.
Some hosting services which offer help in registering your domain name (and earn a commission for it) will also offer a temporary web page on their server (sometimes for free) which your new domain name can point to until you get your new web site set up with the new content.Other name registrars like EasyDNS may have a "DNS redirection" service available which lets you direct traffic from your new domain name to a web site you already have established (even if it has a different domain name), or lets you easily change the web host where it points at a later time, or lets you quickly redirect your visitors to your backup site if your original site goes down - similar to a "call forwarding" service for your telephone number. (For redirection service, I recommend EasyDNS, whose link is above, or else MyDomain.com.) Be aware that you may not be able to use DNS redirection when your site is hosted on a subdirectory of an ISP or free hosting service - one where there is a / after the root domain, like home.istar.ca/~starman. It may have to point to the root domain, such as www.mybusiness.com in order to work.
TIP: URLs are not case-sensitive, but you may want to use, OR in other cases, avoid capital letters in your advertising, so that your potential customers who try to type your company name into the address bar of their browser or into a search engine will be able to type it easily and spell it correctly - and actually find your web site! Sometimes adding a capital letter in a two-word name helps avoid typographical errors or make the name clearer (e.g. AstrologyZine.com), but since the general public usually sees .com addresses advertised in all small letters, it may be best to advertise your URL in small letters too.
For the same reasons, it is better to have a .com URL than .net or .org - because the public is more familiar with .com and will expect your URL to end in .com, and because browsers like Internet Explorer 5 will automatically assume a domain name typed into the address box ends with a .com extension and starts with the http:// prefix. Your potential customer might type in your company name correctly, but end up visiting the web site of a competitor who has registered the same name, but with a .com after it! If you can, you should try to register all three variations of your domain name, just to keep opportunistic competitors from registering a similar domain name and confusing your customers (i.e. stealing some of your potential traffic). The extra $10-$35 per year per additional domain name might prove to be cheap insurance in the long run.
TIP: You can use a hyphen in your domain name's URL (e.g. great-gadgets.com). If your domain name contains key words which help describe the nature of your business (and it should), it may help you get a higher ranking in the results of a search-engine topic search if you separate the words with hyphens, since most search engines treat them as a space and thus you can have two or more key words, which some engines give extra weight to when found in the domain name. In the example of great-gadgets.com a search which includes the key word "gadgets" may turn up your site near the top of the listing, while using a name like greatgadgets.com may not ("great" might show up in a search, because it shows up at the beginning of the name, but that won't do you any good).
Also, try to use the plural form of the word (with an s on the end), since it will usually get matched in a search for either of the plural AND singular forms, while the singular form may not get matched if the user enters the plural form. In other words, gadgets is better than gadget in your domain name.
Does Your Domain URL Work Without the www.?
TIP: Using www. or not, is a choice you may have to make. It is possible to have either http://www.yourname.com or just http://yourname.com work correctly to direct people to your Web site - but you should check with your Web hosting service to make sure they CAN set things up so that BOTH URLs work. It may take some programming changes in their system, so don't just assume both ways will work - check this out before you decide which way you are going to advertise your domain name URL! (Or which web hosting service you will choose to use. Choose one that can offer domain "aliases" so that either form will work.)
Wouldn't it be a shame to do all kinds of things to promote your new web site, and perhaps spend a lot of time and/or money doing it, only to find out later that all the people who wanted to visit your site by typing just the URL yourdomain into the address box of their web browser that automatically added www. at the front - or by typing the URL www.yourdomain.com - were getting a "page not found" error or "site not found" kind of error because the web servers that host your site were only configured to accept yourdomain.com (without the www.) as a valid URL for your site?
Remember that the InternetExplorer browser and some others may be automatically inserting the www. at the start and a .com at the end when someone only enters a single word (depending on how the browsers settings are configured). Don't forget to test this for yourself before you publicize your URL in one form or the other, and if possible, insist that your hosting service set things up so that BOTH versions of your URL direct visitors to your web pages - or some may not be able to find you! If your host can't do this, and you don't want to change hosting services, then at least be certain you are publicizing the one version which does work!
My new hosting service does let me use either www.AstrologyZine.com or just astrologyzine.com to find my site, but I had to set up this "alias" myself by using the hosting service's user interface. But just to check out what I was saying here, I thought I should test my IE5.5 browser with the URL for my mirror site, which I know does NOT accept the www. in front of its URL - which is horoscopes.hypermart.net. Now hypermart.net is a huge hosting service which hosts over a million business sites, and it ONLY hosts commercial (money-making) sites, yet their DNS servers are not presently set up to allow either the supplied domain name with or without the www. prefix to work. If I type in www.horoscopes.hypermart.net into my IE5.5 brower's address box (or type just the phrase horoscopes.hypermart without the .net at the end) then I get an error page saying the site cannot be found!
I think hypermart.net is a very good hosting service with reasonable fees and reliable service, yet when you don't register your own .com domain name and have it point to the name of your account on your hosting service ("horoscopes.hypermart.net" in this example), then your visitors may be subject to the kind of problems I just illustrated in getting to your site that only uses the host-supplied domain name - and some may not be able to find your site!
On my main hosting service for AstrologyZine.com, which is on a different hosting service, I tested MS IE5.5 and found that BOTH astrologzine.com and www.AstrologyZine.com get me to my home page. But when I type in just AstrologyZine I get taken to the MSN Search page, where it shows my "spelling" has been corrected to "Astrology Zone" and I am presented with a list of eleven web pages, none of which are mine. There is an option at the top for "Don't correct my spelling" and search again. When I click this, I am presented with a list of two "Web Directory Sites" pages which are both mine, and then under the title "Web Sites" is a longer list of pages, the first two of which are mine.
If a potential customer typed just AstrologyZine into the Microsoft IE 5.5 browser, they would NOT find my site listed - unless they happened to notice that MSN had changed the search term to "astrology zone" or they noticed and clicked on the "Do not correct my spelling" option. I wonder how many people are going to astrologyzone.com when they type "astrologyzine" into their IE browser. I tried clicking on the listing which said "Astrology Zone", which is a RealNames keyword (they are possibly out of business by now, since MSN ended their affiliation with them, but MSN is still showing the link today), and clicking it resulted in a "page not found" error. I then looked for the listing for "astrologyzone.com" and it was apparently a go.com paid listing which at this time also led to a "page not found" error.
This must be very frustrating for a potential customer who wanted to find my AstrologyZine site, but didn't type in the .com at the end, either because they expected the browser to add it automatically (which would work if it did) or because they weren't sure if my site's URL had a .com extension. Or is Microsoft just trying to hijack visitors who don't type in the URL fully and send them to other sites which pay them for listings? You decide. To be fair, when I typed www.astrologyzine into the IE5.5 browser, it gave me an error page which asked if I meant to look for www.AstrologyZine.com and below that it did list two URLs which were to pages on my site. But you would think that a good search engine would list www.AstrologyZine.com in its first page of results when the key word entered was "astrologyzine", wouldn't you? How many other sites would have that exact coined word in their URL? Wouldn't "astrologyzine.com" be the first logical choice?
Results may vary when YOU try this with YOUR web site URL, which is why you should test things like this thoroughly when you are setting up your domain on a new web hosting service. Make sure that your potential customers can find your site, or at least know what you need to do to minimize the chance that they will end up at a "Page Not Found" error page and assume you are out of business - or else end up at a site run by one of your competitors who paid for a listing on a certain search engine!
This is especially important when you are advertising in offline media or just saying the name of your site to people you meet, where the potential customer may be going by memory in searching for your web site, and might leave out the www. or the .com - or use .com when your site URL is .net or .org. It would help to have the .com version registered as your domain and pointing to your site, even if you want to use .net or .org or any country extension like .ca or .uk or .au or .de for your main site URL. And, most of all, it helps to have a simple and memorable domain name!
Now you know why I wanted "starsigns". Hey! I just tried entering only "starsigns" into the IE5.5 browser and found my OLDEST web site home.istar.ca/~starman listed in the number 3 position for "Web Directory Sites", but not in the "Sponsored Sites" section above it (good thing I still maintain the old site). Clicking on the "Internet Keyword" link for "Star Signs" in the "Featured Sites" section at the very top, listing number 1 for the words "star signs" which now mysteriously appear in the MSN search box instead of "starsigns", actually took me to a site in the UK which sells signed photographs of movie stars and celebrities. And it is listed as a "sponsored by RealNames" site (i.e. somebody paid a lot of money to buy this key word phrase). Who would have known that a search for a specific word like "starsigns" and modified by the MSN search engine to "Star Signs" would take you there - instead of to a site actually named "Star Signs Astrology Zine"? And you wonder why you aren't getting enough visitors to YOUR web site?
This demonstrates to me how is is far better to rely on the no-ambiguity, no-misdirection, clickable links from other web sites that are willing to exchange links with you (or will just recommend your site by linking to it because it's a useful resource for their users), than to rely mainly on search engines actually sending people to your site - even when they are looking specifically for your site but don't know how to enter the exact URL. But that's another subject...
Get Links From Other Web Sites To Your Domain URL
I would highly recommend that you do your submissions to the major search engines (by hand) but ALSO try to get as many other existing web sites as possible to link to your site. You can do this the hard way by searching for likely sites whose themes are a good match for yours (i.e. whose visitors could also be interested in your service or product) and then writing to the webmasters to ask that they place a your link on one of their web pages. You can do this the easy (and probably better) way by using the Zeus Internet Marketing Robot - Automatic Reciprocal Link Generator and Link Directory Creator. It is a highly useful and time-saving tool, and well worth the cost because it will automatically find the kinds of sites you tell it to search for, present you with a list of sites you can easily check out yourself, and send a customizable email letter to the web master of any sites you want to ask for a link. It also creates many co-ordinated and themed "Links" web page for you automatically - and much more.
UPDATE: the Zeus product is no longer available, sorry!You can try this tool for free, and will likely want to get the upgraded version once you see how valuable it can be to your business. Just the time it will save you is worth more than the price, but the value of having perfectly "themed" pages of links on your site is considerable, in terms of both how many "qualified" (i.e. "interested") prospects those incoming links can generate for you, and how well your site "ranks" in the major search engines (higher rankings mean more visitors). Just make sure you have links to your site's main pages at the top or side of those links pages your visitors may land on when they find them in the search engines. You want them to visit YOUR pages too!
Check out Zeus at this link, and you will at the very least learn a whole lot of things you may need to know about getting potential customers to your web site - including the real truth about some search-engine "myths" that you often hear on the Net. Read their "Webmaster Resources" pages which offer some valuable information you may not know right now. Quite frankly, I get more new visitors from other sites linking to AstrologyZine.com than I get from ALL the search engines. Getting many sites (and some influential sites) to link to you can be way BETTER than getting good listings in the search engines.
You really need to work on getting BOTH sources of traffic set up (links in search engines and link from related web sites) so they keep the customers coming. Using Zeus to set up incoming links will get new visitors coming within days or weeks, while submitting to the search engines for a free listing can take weeks or months before you actually get listed and see any traffic coming in.
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Searching for available Domain Names and Registering your Site URL
You can use the search box provided on the web sites of name registration companies whose banners appear above and below to enter the URL for any .com or .net or .org domain name you might want for your site (e.g. mybusiness.com) and find out if it is still available, then you can apply for registration while still online and reserve the name for yourself, even if you don't have your new web site ready to go online yet.
Below are banners for companies which can help you get your own domain name registered. ( For the Canadian .ca domain, I used EasyDNS and can recommend it as user-friendly and easy to use. They also register all the usual domain name extensions like .com and .net, and have an excellent DNS redirection service, which is something to consider before you choose to register your domain through a regular web hosting service.
If you become dissatisfied with your hosting service, or they go out of business, you can simply redirect your domain address to a new hosting site via EasyDNS with their online self-management system. (Or if a site goes down, you can use it to redirect traffic to an alternate site.) EasyDNS does not offer hosting service, so they can maintain neutrality when they provide this redirection to other hosting services.
EasyDNS is a DNS specialist, and recommends that you do NOT use your hosting service's domain name server because often they have no multiple links to the Net backbone, nor any redundant servers to take over the load in case their main DNS server goes down. EasyDNS has FOUR DNS servers in the USA, Canada, and Europe, which speeds up connections to your Web site. And they all act as backups to each other, in case one server goes offline. If your web host's single name server goes offline, so does your whole Web site! But what are the chances of all FOUR of those EasyDNS name servers going down at the same time?
If you are a prudent businessman, you should also consider the possibility that the company who provides the hosting service for your Web site might later change its fees or standard of service to the point where you would no longer want to deal with that host. It may have too much "down time" or even suddenly go out of business and leave your site inaccesible to your potential customers. If you DON'T have your own domain name, here is what happens if you get dissatisfied with increasing costs or decreasing service or reliability with a web hosting service:
But WHAT IF the old hosting service goes offline permanently? You may have been clever enough and careful enough to maintain a full back-up copy of every page on your site, so you can simply upload all the files to a new site at a new hosting company.
BUT HOW WILL ANYONE FIND YOUR SITE? You don't have the ability to change the links on your pages and upload them to the defunct site to direct visitors and search engines to your new site. Your old site just disappeared - and you will have to START ALL OVER AGAIN to build up your traffic and your search engine listings. You may have to live with ZERO INCOME for a while, until you can find a way to show potential paying customers how to find your site. "Out of sight, out of mind" - the old saying goes. Add, "Out of site, out of income".
You really don't want this to happen to you. I was lucky that my old "home-page" hosting service stayed in business even though it has been sold two or three times to new owners. I still maintain it, since some of my pages hosted at its URL still retain some very good rankings in popular search engines and bring in new customers. And I redirected all the internal URL links on each page to send people and search engine crawlers to the equvalent pages at my new domain-name, dot-com site. I didn't lose ALL my business - but I would have, if the hosting service had stopped providing service.
But I did lose about a third of my traffic when that home-page site went off-line for two straight days, and then again for two more days a week later, in November 1999. Just when my site was getting very popular and I was making a decent income, their incompetence and worn-out equipment cost me about a third of my traffic - and a third of my income. It took over six months to get the levels of traffic and income back to where it was before those disastrous, two-day down-times. That woke me up to how vulnerable my business was to factors beyond my control. So I took steps to gain more control over such situations by being able to re-direct visitors to a different hosting service whenever I needed to. That's why I am using DNS redirection services and "mirror" sites now. Even when your web hosting service is very reliable, they can go off-line due to electric power outages, or damage due to earthquakes, hurricanes, or flooding.
Call it "income insurance". The more money your site brings in per day, the more money you will LOSE if your site goes off-line for a day. So having a backup plan that lets you redirect your traffic to an alternate "mirror site" on a separate hosting service can save you from losing most of the sales you would have lost that day - and can also save you from losing new and old visitors who came that day and thought you had gone out of business because your web site was not accessible. Many of them may not try again the next day, and would be lost forever.
Don't put your valuable Web business into this precarious position. You would be better off avoiding those "free" hosting services that let you use THEIR domain name instead of your own. Don't build up your money-making business on the "free" home-page of an Internet Service Provider (ISP) such as AOL or Earthlink or Juno, and then find you have to keep paying forever to be able to redirect visitors to your new site on a commercial web hosting service when you find you really do need more than the ISP home page can offer.
Eventually, you will need options such as cgi-bin access to be able to run forms and scripts on your site, or a shopping cart. Most "free" or "home page" sites do NOT offer these options. To get them, you will have to move your site to a "commercial" hosting service.
It would be cheaper in the long run to put your efforts into promoting a web site whose URL you own yourself and can redirect to any other web hosting site whenever you feel the need to make a change - all without having to keep paying the host of the original web site to maintain your old site and keep the links pointed to your new location. All you have to do is change your DNS reference (which you can do quite easily online in a few minutes) so that people who enter your domain name into their browser will be directed to the new location. It may only take two or three hours before most of the name servers world-wide have updated their database to reflect your new address, although some may take 24 to 72 hours.
DNS redirection like having the phone company redirect phone calls to your new house while you keep the same phone number. You wouldn't want to keep paying for the old line and asking the owner of your old home to keep the line on call-forwarding to your new number. You would want to just keep your old number (your domain name) and have it send callers to the new home (your new web hosting service's server that holds your web page files). That's what you can do if you own your own domain URL, such as www.mybusinessname.com.
Speaking of "numbers", your domain is actually a series of numbers called an "IP address" and it looks something like 123.456.78.90 - always with four sets of numbers separated by periods. Your "domain name" relates to your domain IP address in a way which is similar to the way your real name relates to your telephone number, i.e. your "domain name" is matched to a certain IP number, just as your own name is matched to a certain phone number. You can use your IP address in a URL and it will work, but it is harder to remember than a name made of words. So "domain names" are used to represent those IP numbers, and a special computer called a "DNS server" is used to store and then match up requests for the IP address which matches a certain domain name. It's like calling Directory Assistance at the phone company to get the phone number for the person whose name you give to the operator. There are many DNS servers around the world, and they update each other when there is any change in how a domain name should match an IP address. They communicate automatically, on a schedule which is preset, so that if your domain name has been pointed to a different IP address (which happens when you change your hosting service), the new link will be updated in all the DNS servers in the world within about 2 to 72 hours.
I would strongly advise you to get your OWN domain name and point it to your web site which sits on a commercial-grade server at a web hosting service which has multiple high-speed connections to the Net backbone, and which has a secure location and back-up systems, and even an emergency generator. Better yet, get TWO hosting services and keep a "mirror" site (a clone of the main site) on servers located far from each other (such as east coast USA and west coast USA), or one in North America and one in Europe, so that if one is wiped out by an earthquake or flood or hurricane, the other will still be connected to the Net, so your customers can find you.
What if a problem with the Net backbone took out service to the entire east coast of the USA for a whole day? It has happened before. If you had a mirror site on the west coast or central USA, and you could still connect to the Net yourself, you might be able to use your DNS redirection service (see EasyDNS) to point your domain to the alternate site, and people in other parts of the world could still find your site there within 2-3 hours. (Of course, if the place your redirection service is located is also hit by a disaster, you might be out of luck in such a situation.)
Perhaps the most prudent approach is to have two separate domains and two separate web hosting services in different parts of the country (or the world), so that if one goes down for a day or a week, the other one can still be making you some money, and can be used as a base to build up your business again if the other site happens to lose most of its visitors because they kept getting a "site not available" message when they tried to access your site that was offline for a day or a week, and then assumed you were out of business for good.
Your Own Email Address
There is another good reason for ANYONE to register their own domain name, whether or not they intend to set up a business on the Web. If you connect to the internet through an Internet Service Provider (ISP) such as AOL or MSN or Earthlink, your personal EMAIL ADDRESS will likely have THEIR domain name in it - such as email@example.com. Your first web site (often called a "home page") will likely be hosted on that same service, which seems almost like getting your hosting service for "free" since you have to pay for your connection to the Internet anyway, and usually a modest web page hosting service is included in that fee.
You may not even be using your "free" disk space to host a web site there. But if you later change your ISP, then your email address will become non-functional - similar to the way you might move your residence and still have letters from many friends and customers going to the old address. Unless you keep paying to keep your old ISP account in working order, you will lose any email that still goes to the old address! Or you will have to email many people and ask them to waste time changing your email address so their email can reach you. Some won't bother to do this, and some will do it but may resent the inconvenience you are causing them. You could avoid all this by planning ahead.
What about all the incoming links to your Web site? Will you have to inconvenience any web site owners who were kind enough to place a link to your site on their site? They will not appreciate wasting their time to change your link URLs to the new one, and many might not do it very quickly, or some might not do it at all.
If your old URL does not work, they will suddenly have a "broken link" on their web page, which is something that makes them look bad, and which is something they do not want. A broken link can even affect their ranking in the search engines. They might remove your link entirely because you have caused them too much trouble, or because you didn't send the new link before they found the old link "broken" and removed it.
If you had your own domain name URL and simply changed hosting service without changing your domain name, all your incoming links from other web sites would be unaffected and would still work as before to point visitors to your site at its new location (like moving to a new house but keeping your old phone number).
All of the email hassles could be avoided entirely by registering your own domain name and having it point to a web hosting service that allows you to redirect email addressed to your domain name to any other email address (even your firstname.lastname@example.org mail address) which you may be using at the time for your POP mail account. The mail still gets to you as before, but YOU will own the domain name mail address.
Most web hosting services will allow multiple email addresses using the same domain name (e.g. email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org) and provide automatic redirection from each address to any other address you choose, anywhere. You can change the address to which your email is forwarded - easily and quickly and at any time, using the online site management tools of your web hosting service where your domain is parked.
If you register your domain at the outset and host it on a hosting service that provides email redirection, you can be giving out a domain name email address like email@example.com to everyone - and never have to change it, no matter where you later choose to host your web site, no matter what ISP you later use to connect to the Internet. You just redirect your email to the incoming mail server at the new ISP, or if you have to change web hosting services, you simply change your DNS server to point to the new host and its own email redirection service, which then points to your current ISP's mail server. It's like having a cell phone number that is yours to keep forever - and works anywhere in the world!
This may cost you more at the outset, since the fee to register a domain name is US $10-$35 per year, and to use a virtual Web hosting service with an email redirection service could cost US $100 per year or more (some are as little as US $6.95 per month, but reliable ones are typically $20 per month). But if you want to have your own "domain name" Web site now or later on, you will have to pay these costs anyway. Just keeping one or two potential customers who buy your product or service could help pay the cost of maintaining that email address, so it is a good idea in spite of the extra fees.
Your ISP may offer a "home page" kind of web hosting service with limited features and bandwidth, but it will not be suitable later for a successful commercial web site.
In 1996 I made the common mistake of starting "cheap" with five web pages hosted on my local ISP, using THEIR domain name for my Web URL (home.istar.ca/~starman) and THEIR name in my email address (firstname.lastname@example.org). This was a cool email address, and all worked fine for a while - until my site got larger and commercially profitable, and I needed to switch to a commercial web hosting service to be able to use forms and cgi scripts and other features not available on a cheap "home page" account.
That long URL with the squiggley ~ in it was hard to say to people verbally or even write down for them to remember later (no one seems to know what a "tilde" is, yet I had to tell them to use one in my "home-page" URL). Make sure your domain name is easy to say - and to spell!
The month I found that my 3000-visitors-per-day Web site was "down" and "offline" for two straight days because the ISP did not have redundant servers for its non-commercial "home page" accounts, I knew it was time to get my own domain name and host it on a hosting service that would offer the features I needed, and more reliable service.
Because of that extended down time, and a similar two-day down time later the same month, I lost a third of my daily visitors (i.e. "traffic") that took me two years to build up - all because I did not have a commercial-grade web host and my own domain name that I could redirect to a backup site within an hour or two (as I can do now).
As I understand it, it is also possible to use DNS redirection with a sub-domain like the one my original "home page" was hosted on, but it costs an extra fee you will have to keep paying every month or year. This might have saved my Web business if I had known about DNS redirection back then. You know about it now, and I suggest you look into it now before your home page is put into jeopardy by a change in fees or terms of service unilaterly imposed on you by your ISP, or is suddenly taken off-line because your ISP went out of business.
Should You Set Up a Backup Site or "Mirror Site"?
I now keep copies of my main web site on two additional commercial-grade servers which are on the opposite side of the USA from my main web site's servers - "just in case" something goes wrong with the main site. I am not paranoid, but I have the additional sites for other reasons besides the "mirror" and "backup" functions - such as having them available when I develop new sites for some other domains I have already registered, and to be able to use the other server to test new pages without interfering with my main web site's operation. Sometimes one server at the same hosting service will be offline or gets too slow because other sites are tying up the available bandwidth, while other servers are operating normally. It helps to have copies of your entire site's pages on two virtual servers so you can switch to the better working one, or use it to back up the other one if the files get trashed somehow.
It doesn't cost that much to maintain a minimum-traffic site as a backup. Your main site will be using all the expensive bandwidth (I pay US $25 per month per 5 extra Gigabytes), while the backup site gets minimal traffic until you point your domain name to it when necessessary. At that time, the trafffic on the "bad" server goes down to zero, and you end up paying less for bandwidth on that account. The extra cost is mainly the minimum monthly fee the hosting service charges just to have an account with them and have access to space on their virtual server (plus a basic amount of bandwidth, such as 5 Gigabytes per month).
Don't Forget to Set Your Email Forwarding Options!
By the way, if you have to point your domain to an alternate mirror site, don't forget to set the email redirection for that mirror site to the same setting as the main site, so any email to your domain (e.g. email@example.com) will still get forwarded from the mirror site to your regular POP3 mailbox (you should set this up in advance when you first open the account for the second site).
Another thing you can do to justify the cost of a backup site is to direct some of the URLs for images and spacers from your main site to the backup site, which reduces the bandwidth and the fees for extra bandwidth charged to the main site, yet still lets visitors see the images and spacers as before (although there may be a slightly slower loading of images since the visitor's browser has to connect to two sites instead of one - but if you have readable text at the start of each page they will not likely notice it anyway, especially if you only redirect the images which are NOT at the top of the page, such as your logo). When the main site's servers don't have to deliver all the image files, the bandwidth used is less, and your cost goes down.
Note that some ISPs do not allow you to use their servers to deliever images for another site. Read the terms of your agreement before you do this, or you may suddenly find your site has been closed down for breaching the terms. This is much more likely to be forbidden on a "free" web hosting service or one that offers "unlimited" bandwidth.
If you monitor the traffic to your mirror site and keep it below the maximum bandwith allocated to accounts paying the minimum fee, you don't pay any more for the mirror site and may still pay less for the main site. Even if you miscalculate next month's bandwidth or forget to monitor it, the extra fees for additional bandwidth on the mirror site may not be any more than they would have been on the main site (but check first). Since you are paying for this bandwidth in your minumum monthly fee, you might as well use it to the max.
One possible drawback to this method is that search engine crawlers who find your main site may follow the image links to your mirror site and crawl it too. This might get your mirror site's URL listed in the search engine - which might be a good thing and not a bad thing - but it will be not be listed under the same domain name you use for the main site, but under whatever name the mirror site's hosting service has given you (or a different domain of yours, if you have registered another domain name and pointed it to the mirror site, and are also using that domain URL in your image links).
Do be warned that some search engines might possibly consider a site with identical pages to be a bad thing (a form of "spamming" the search engine) and lower the rankings for your main site, but I have not found this to be the case, as far as I can tell so far. You would be more likely to be "found out" if both sites were hosted on the same host with the same range of IP addresses, but mine are not.
What has happened is that one of my backup sites did get listed in a major search engine and gets traffic from it - which is redirected to the main site as soon as anyone clicks on an internal link, just as they would if they clicked on an internal link on the main site. It looks like the backup site is generating EXTRA traffic to my main site, which tends to make me think the additional hosting service fees were well spent.
In 1999 I found a commercial-grade hosting service that only charged US $10 per month (and still does for low-traffic sites) and registered my own domain name www.AstrologyZine.com to point to my web site on that hosting service. Now I can use any email address that ends in @astrologyzine.com and have my email directed to any mail server anywhere, even if I change my web hosting service later on.
Should You Have Two POP Mail Accounts on Different ISPs?
I even have TWO copies of mail to certain important addresses (such as the Order Form's order@ address) forwarded to separate email addresses, one to each of my POP accounts on two different ISPs - just in case one copy of the order gets "lost in the mail" or in case one ISP's mail servers are offline for maintenance or repair, or suddenly goes out of business. If you don't want to pay for two ISP connections so you will have an alternate connection to the Web if one goes down, you can still have a backup email address by using one of the free web-based email services like yahoo.com or hotmail.com. Send an extra copy of all your orders to that backup account and you may save a "lost" order once in a while.
Keep Control of Your Web Business
The position YOU want to be in is not a captive of your original ISP, but a "free agent" who can go anywhere without losing your "identity" in the form of your email address or Web site URL. You want to have full control over how your potential customers and repeat customers can reach you, and you want to minimize your dependence on the continued existence and service quality of any one service provider. Many have suddenly gone out of business, and one day yours might too.
Most of all, you don't want to risk losing too much business because someone else's equipment or someone else's policy decisions or mistakes could cause YOUR web site or your email to become non-functional.
Even though I use another ISP now for high-speed Internet connection and higher bandwidth to handle the increased traffic, I have to keep paying for my old dial-up account at istar.ca so that all my email directed to firstname.lastname@example.org will still get to me. I do not want my old clients (and friends) to be unable to write to me, or to think that I am out of business! The same goes for any potential customer who still has my old business cards or flyers with that old address.
If I had just registered a domain name of my own in 1996 and used a web host to redirect email addressed to my domain over to my email@example.com address, I could be free to close my istar.ca account and still get mail from everyone I have dealt with over the years, without asking them to change my address or losing contact with them. So now I pay more per year for a non-used dial-up ISP account than I would have paid per year for a domain name and commercial web hosting service. I was lucky to get a domain name that had part of my original web site's name in it, but perhaps if I had registered two years earlier, I could have gotten the domain name which I really wanted, and which would probably be easier to remember - and which would probably get listed higher in the search engines for the key words I want to be found under.
Alas, I found that a printing company in England had already registered starsigns.com and a Chinese entertainer had registered michaelstar.com. I waited too long, and missed the chance to register my own name! (I did get starsigns.ca recently, though) Back then, I didn't think I could afford the US $70 per year it would take to register for the minimum two years with Network Solutions, who had the monopoly on .com domain names in the early days. Now I think that having those domains would be worth a lot more than $70 to me in terms of how it could help my now-much-larger business be more profitable.
Do It Right The First Time
You can avoid this situation by registering your domain name right now, and using it for your email address (like firstname.lastname@example.org), before you start giving out an email address like email@example.com and being stuck with that ISP and that email address you don't own, when you might later prefer to move to a different ISP for whatever reason.
It's like having your own 1-800 or 1-888 phone number that you can keep for life, rather than running your business on a "rented" local cell phone number that will be lost to you as soon as you change cell phone providers or move to another city. Even worse, one of your competitors might be able to start using your old number, and be first to respond to any enquiries from YOUR potential customers who still had your old number in an email or address book or business card.
If you are still hesitating to register your own domain name for your new Web business, please consider this. If you were starting up a business of your own, would you get your first set of business cards printed up with your friend's phone number on it - or the number of the pub down the street where they take your calls for you? Or would you use only a cell phone number that might be taken away if you switch carriers next year?
Or would you think it's a better idea to get your own business phone number BEFORE you start h&ing out cards and flyers, and placing ads in the newspaper? If you can't afford a phone, you probably can't afford to do the other things it takes to build your business - and potential customers will wonder if you can't afford your own phone. Why would they risk dealing with someone who looks like they might go out of business any day now? Your domain name and its associated DNS address IS your Internet business phone number. You'd be wise to make sure it looks like a professional operation to your potential customers.
You want your potential customers to be able to reach you at their convenience, and not have to make an extra effort in trying to find out the latest phone number you are using, or to have to keep changing it in their records whenever you see fit to change numbers again.
And you don't want your business and your income to depend on someone else keeping THEIR phone number paid for and working. Get your own, and get one that lets you switch "carriers" without changing your business number, just in case your carrier goes out of business or their service goes down in quality and up in costs.
Take your business seriously, and your customers will take you seriously. Get a domain name that says you really are in business, and in business to stay! Yes, you can use those cool free web sites and their tools which help a beginner get his web page up easily and quickly, but before you get ready to attract actual customers to your business by registering with the search engines or paying for advertising or printing business cards, register your own domain name and get your pages set up on a commercial web hosting service. Later on, you'll be glad you did it this way at the outset.
©2003 by Michael Star
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