Domain and hosting seem to always go together when new bloggers want to turn professional and start shopping for such site essentials. This is, however, a wrong perception, pretty much enforced by hosting providers who have an interest in making you buy a whole package of their services.
A very good example of such a policy is One.com that doesn’t at all allow you to buy a domain as a stand-alone service:
Others, as the very popular hosting provider GoDaddy.com are less persistent but do try to make it seem as if you should choose a hosting plan to go with your new domain:
Another very popular practice, which is also evident from GoDaddy’s screenshot above, is that hosting providers offer you a free domain, for a year or for the period of your hosting contract with them – all to make you a package-bound customer.
The reason is simple – it’s much harder to leave when all your assets are bound to the same provider.
Downsides of Bundling Hosting and Domain
When you buy hosting you’re usually bound for a certain period – 1, 2, or 3 years for the most popular plans. You are then sort of forced to use the hosting you paid for – especially if you don’t have the cash to throw on new hosting.
One of the problems is that the quality hosting providers offer can vary a lot and what you believed to be a great service can turn out to be a bad one with lots of downtimes or horrible customer service.
When you run a business website or one that depends on all visits it can get, you know that downtime is not an option. So what do you do? You find a new hosting provider – either right away or when your current contract lapses.
While changing your hosting provider usually goes trouble-free – most offer to help you move your site or blog for free, things can go really wrong with your domain name.
If you try to move your domain name together with your site to the new hosting provider, you can expect up to 1-2 weeks of downtime or in the worst case losing your domain name.
The reason is that when you transfer your domain name it gets re-registered by (possibly) another domain registrar which literally takes the domain offline during the transition period. How long such a period can last, depends on the specific registrars involved.
When you have registered a domain name as a free addon to your hosting account or in connection to it, you risk to end up losing it, if your current hosting provider refuses to grant you access to your domain control panel. This is possible because, when transferring domain names you have to provide the EPP code available from your domain registrar.
It’s important to understand that your domain registrar and your hosting provider aren’t the same. Your hosting provider uses (hopefully) one of the accredited domain registrars to register your domain name.
If you don’t get access to the EPP code, which can be legally done by adding hidden clauses to your hosting contract for example, your domain name is bound to your current hosting provider who purchased it via their account with the registrar.
You can, of course choose to leave your domain with your current hosting provider and only point it to the new servers. This, however, requires again that you’re granted access to your domain’s DNS records. Going through customer service is for the most of it unavoidable and doesn’t always end happily.
So what do you do?
Moving your domain name is rarely the best choice – as it always leads to downtimes and sometimes to the problems mentioned above – or to hours fighting for your rights with customer service.
To make sure that you own the right to do whatever you want with your domain name, you have two choices: register directly with an accredited domain registrar or register your domain separately from a hosting account with a hosting provider of your choice.
While the first option gives you as strong control with your domain as possible, it’s usually more expensive to do business directly with the registrars.
The second option is therefore the better one for anybody who’s looking to save some cash. If choosing it though, you must pay attention to the following in order to ensure that your rights are protected:
- The domain is registered in your name. Some hosting providers – especially when you combine your domain purchase with domain privacy – tend to simply register the domain in their own name, meaning that you pay for something they end up owning.
- You have access to the DNS control panel. It’s a widely spread misconception that you have to move your domain in order to enable hosting of your site via another hosting provider. In fact, all you have to do is change the DNS records in order to point your domain to the new servers.
- Check prices! Prices for the same top level domains, for example the most popular .com, vary a lot. You can end up paying double or more for the same service that is available elsewhere at a much lower price. As long as you choose one of the classic top domains, you shouldn’t be paying more than 10-14 USD.
Your domain isn’t connected to your databases or website in some static way meaning that you must move your domain name from one provider to another just because you moved your site to a new server.
The way it works is that your domain points to your site’s name servers (DNS) and connects to your content this way. When opening a new hosting account or moving to a different server, you can always get to know which name servers you’ll be using.
Then you can – or are asked to – log into your domain’s DNS records and change the values for the name servers.
If you haven’t got access to your domain’s control panel at purchase, you should ask your provider for it as soon as possible to make sure that you’re actually in control of your domain.
When you’re logged in you can change your password – and you should do that to make sure that only you have access to your domain controls.
To point your domain to your site, you have to fill out the information about domain name servers (DNS) provided by your hosting provider. If you at some point change hosting providers, you don’t need to do anything more than simply log into your domain control panel and change your DNS again.
The best thing about managing your domain this way is that there aren’t any downtimes connected to the redirection. Traffic glides smoothly from one server to the other without site visitors noticing a change.
The first clear recommendation is to never bind a domain name with the purchase of hosting to avoid losing it at the end of the contract or experiencing downtimes due to transfers. If you do it anyways, make sure that you can freely control your domain.
The second recommendation is to always make sure that the domain is registered in your name and that you have full free access to domain management without involving customer service. Of course, involving customer service isn’t the end of the world but it could mean a fee or delays.
The third recommendation is to always check prices before purchasing domain names – and check whether there are fees in connection to simple actions as DNS redirections or transfers. There shouldn’t be any.