“What’s in a domain name? That which we call a domain by any other name would smell as sweet.”
I bring this cheesy play on Shakespeare’s classic quote to the table because, whether you believe your family name matters or not, a website’s domain name absolutely matters. It’s your site’s identity; without the domain name, your beautiful website would just be floating in cyberspace with no way for a human to find it. Another computer, of course, could locate your website based on its IP address, but that’s a few steps ahead of my point.
Your website’s domain name is the human-readable address (e.g., HostingAdvice.com) at which people can visit your site. But for the site to be viewable by said visitors, it must be hosted on a server. That’s where website hosting comes in. Web hosting covers the storage of website files, including design assets, databases, and other software storage needs, on a computer, allowing your website to come to life online.
If the domain name is your website’s given name at birth, web hosting is the housing, food, and essential needs provided by its parents (i.e., the web hosting company).
Key Definitions: What’s the Difference Between a Domain and Hosting?
Web hosting and domain registration are so tightly tied that they’re often confused or mistakenly used interchangeably. The confusion likely stems from the fact that your domain name must be registered with a domain name registrar (which we’ll get to in a minute) before it can be pointed to a web hosting service.
It’s hard to imagine a hosted website without a domain name, so it’s assumed the two services are one and the same. However, domain registration and web hosting are two distinct services with separate costs.
A website domain name is the web address that visitors use to find your site. For example, HostingAdvice.com is our domain name. Anyone can pop HostingAdvice.com into a browser address bar and view our website.
A domain name is part of a larger web address, commonly known as a URL, which stands for uniform resource locator. Let’s take this URL as an example:
In the example above, .com is the top-level domain extension (TLD), and “hostingadvice” is the second-level domain (SLD). The two together are used colloquially to describe the domain name.
Other domain extensions, or the suite of letters following the final period in the URL, include .org, .net, and .biz. In recent years, the more quirky .live, .church, .ninja, and a slew of other fun options have taken the domain extension market by storm.
In our example, /blog/ is a subdirectory of HostingAdvice.com. However, if “blog” were appended before the “hostingadvice” SLD and separated with a period instead of a slash (e.g., www.blog.hostingadvice.com), it would be a subdomain of HostingAdvice.com.
Domain Name Registration & Domain Registrar
A domain name registration is the purchase or otherwise reservation of the domain within an extensive database of internet names and protocols. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is the nonprofit organization that oversees the domain name system (DNS) on the internet. The DNS is similar to a phone book for the internet. It matches domain names with the IP addresses of the servers where the websites are hosted.
A domain name registrar is an organization that manages the reservation of internet domain names. A domain name registrar must be accredited by a generic top-level domain (gTLD) registry or a country code top-level domain (ccTLD) registry. An ICANN-accredited domain registrar is a company that has been accredited by ICANN to register internet domain names.
Domain registrars are in the business of selling domain names. They are the middlemen between you and the registry operators. However, several hosting providers now offer a free domain name registration with the purchase of a hosting plan. Web hosts partner either become an ICANN-registered domain registrar or partner with an existing registrar to offer complimentary domain services as a value-add to their hosting packages.
Website hosting is a service that allows organizations and individuals to post a website or webpage online. A web host, or web hosting service provider, is a business that provides the technologies and services needed for the website or webpage to be accessed via web browsers such as Google, Bing, or DuckDuckGo.
Websites are hosted, or stored, on special computers called servers. When web users want to view your website, all they need to do is type your website address or domain into their browser. Their computer will then connect to your server and your webpages will be delivered to them through the browser.
When signing up for a web hosting service, one of the first questions you’ll be asked is “Do you have a domain name?” Hosts will often give you the option of transferring an existing website domain (domain transfer), acquiring a free domain as a sign-up perk, or purchasing a new domain through the hosting provider or one of its domain registrar partners.
While dedicated, virtual, and shared hosting are the primary genres of web hosting, several subgenres have emerged over the years. Managed hosting services, website builder platforms, and app-specific offerings, such as managed WordPress hosting or WooCommerce hosting, are each a spin-off of the classic website hosting, where a web server stores website files.
Domain vs. Web Hosting Costs
While these two services are almost inextricably linked, they come at significantly different price points.
- Domain names cost roughly $10 to $15 annually
- Shared web hosting averages $2.50 to $10 per month
- VPS hosting averages $15 to $45 per month
- Dedicated hosting averages $75 or more per month
The average .com domain costs $15 per year to register. Domain names range from $12 annually to a cool $49 million for highly sought-after domains such as CarInsurance.com.
In a similar, albeit less extreme, fashion, the cost of web hosting varies depending on the type of service and choice of hosting company. Shared hosting starts around $7 to $12 per month for annual plans; a VPS or cloud hosting plan may run for roughly $15 per month, and a dedicated server will boast a monthly price upward of $50.
Domain vs. Web Hosting Service Providers
While an increasing number of hosting companies now offer domain name services as an add-on feature, some providers have established more domain authority (pun intended) than others. For example, GoDaddy has held a surefire reputation in the domain hosting industry since seemingly the dawn of the World Wide Web. Meanwhile, Bluehost, SiteGround, and HostGator are household names in the hosting provider space, particularly shared web hosting.
Best Domain Hosting Providers
Your choices of domain registrar and web hosting company (or combination domain and hosting provider), will dramatically influence your web service experience. The service cost, setup time required, and additional support needed will vary based on the hosting package you select.
For example, InMotion Hosting plans start at $2.79 per month and include a one-year domain name registration. The web host has hosting packages fit for every personal and professional use case — from freelance portfolio sites to enterprise-grade domains seeing millions of monthly visitors. You get what you pay for: a premium quality service for an ultra-competitive, sustainable price.
Meanwhile, GoDaddy boasts more than 17 million domains under its registration purview and welcomes new site owners for a mere $2.99 per month; however, you get what you pay for here, too. First-time domain owners may find the GoDaddy experience to be unintuitive and frustrating. The customer support pales in comparison to the likes of InMotion, SiteGround, and other popular web hosts, and migrating away from GoDaddy is notoriously difficult.
Enjoy the peace of mind that comes with a solid shopping bundle with one of our expert-approved domain hosting providers below.
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- FREE domain registration and transfer
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For seasoned veterans or those who aren’t sure whether your current host will be your forever host, I use Google Domains to register and park my domain names. It’s very easy to connect one or more domains to a hosting account, and I enjoy the lack of vendor lock-in.
Should I Purchase a Domain and Hosting Separately or Together?
The tension between domain registrars and web hosting providers has been around as long as the internet itself. The primary conflict is over who should be responsible for managing the DNS entries that point to a website.
The domain registrar manages the DNS entries, which control the website address. If you switch hosting providers, your DNS entries need to be updated to point to the new server(s). This can be done by changing the DNS entries at the registrar or transferring the DNS management to the new hosting provider.
The web hosting provider manages the web server where the website files are hosted. If you switch domain registrars, the DNS entries need to be updated to point to the new domain registrar’s DNS servers. This can be done by changing the DNS entries at the domain registrar or transferring the DNS management to the new domain registrar.
The competitive nature of the web hosting and domain registration industries has led to the development of several tools to make the transfer process easier for website owners.
If this is your first domain and web hosting purchase, I highly recommend opting for a domain name and hosting bundle. Many of the most reputed and affordable web hosting companies offer domain name services as a standard feature, so why bother with managing multiple service providers?
Choose the Right Domain Name and Web Hosting Plan
As is the case with picking baby names and the home to which you’ll bring him or her back from the hospital, choosing a domain name and web host is personal. As the prospective website owner, you should consider:
- Brand recognition and keywords: Look up tips for crafting a great domain name.
- Budget: Compare prices of popular providers.
- Traffic needs: Choose the type of hosting plan based on the number of visitors you expect.
- Support needs: Determine whether unmanaged or managed hosting services makes the most sense for you.
Once you’ve thoroughly considered each of these factors, you’ll be well on your way to picking the right domain name and hosting plan — whether you land in the shared hosting, VPS, or dedicated server neighborhoods. The WordPress hosting subdivision looks great this time of year.