As year 2012 approached toward its end, I began wondering what my new year resolutions would be. And one of the resolutions was that I would put my web house in order. Yes, I have been late to the party: several of my friends and peers have been having a personal domain name and Google App set up for years now. I am happy to report that I have completed that resolution :-) In case, you too have been lazy (oops, I meant busy) and late to the party, this post is for you. In this post, I discuss available options, their trade offs, and steps for setting up web presence.
First, you should list your inventory because you might want to consider effort vs. gain in moving those around while making some of the choices. Here is my list:
- A personal website, hosted on Google Sites
- A website for my Hindi poetry book, hosted on Google Sites
- Two blogs hosted on Google Blogger
As you can see, I have been opting for free and low-setup-overhead stuff, and I intend to remain that way. What I wanted most was to consolidate and host all those entities under a personal domain instead of having their current stand alone URLs: http://sites.google.com/site/ or http://.blogspot.com. Having clarity on what you really care about and what you consider nice to have is essential in making right choices. That brings me to the second step: list down what you want. Here is what I needed:
- A domain identity, say, www.mydomain.com
- A matching email address, say, [email protected]
- Setup my sites and blogs to have mydomain.com URLs
- Adhere to Keep It Simple, Stupid! rule: low maintenance overhead and minimum cost
It is important to note that your needs could be very different. For example, having a modern, cool website or personalized blog template is not important for me. I want to focus on usefulness and quality of content for my websites and blogs (my website content is static). For you, it could be very different. Especially if you are a small business, look of your website and a matching personalized template for your blog would be very important, and hence putting more time, effort and resources for that is justifiable and required.
If you are action-oriented person, and just want my distilled prescription, here it is:
- Buy domain name from one of the registrars (Namecheap seems good)
- Decide if you want to piggyback on free hosted services like Google Sites and Blogger or buy web hosting from one of the providers (Bluehost and DreamHost seem to be most popular)
- If you have opted for free services, then do DNS and Mail setup
- If you decided in favor of paid web hosting, then install WordPress.org, and configure DNS and Mail.
If you are detail-oriented person, then read on :-)
Domain name registration
We probably live in a time when a domain name should be bought as soon as a child is born :-). Branding yourself must include your own domain. There are several great examples of personal domain names in action. So, go, grab a domain name for yourself, your idea, your project, your business or whatever else you want to create a web presence for.
If domain name for your last/family name is available, it is no brainer, just buy it. It currently costs around $10/year. It can give each of your family members a nice http://firstname.lastname.com web address and [email protected] email address. Isn’t that cool?
If domain-name-you-want.com is not available, you can evaluate whether other generic Top Level Domains (TLDs) like .net, .biz, .org, or .info suit your purpose. You can also check out country specific TLD, for example .in or .co.in if you are located in India. You can try creative play on other country specific TLDs. For example, someone with my first name has chosen http://sati.sh/ domain name (.sh is TLD for Saint Helena). I have seen a number of such interesting domain hacks, (another example is popular site http://about.me that utilizes TLD .me for Montenegro). You can also try domain name bots: DomainsBot, NameStation, DomainTyper, Domainr.
Once you have found a domain name you like and is available, you have choice of buying it directly from a domain name registrar, or through your web hosting company. Many web hosting companies (such Yahoo! for small business) offer free or discount on domain name registration. However, you might want to consider how you would transfer the domain registration if you decide to move your we hosting to another company, and whether it will cause long interruption to your website access. Besides, as you will see later in this post, there are free web hosting alternatives you can start with, and depending upon need could upgrade to paid solutions.
Most importantly, in my opinion, domain name is such a crucial part of identity that I will pass free domain option as I would not like to cede control over it to my web hosting provider. I would rather buy it from the registrar and enjoy absolute control over it, and retain the freedom to move web hosting if needed. You might find this comparison useful. Last, but not the least, seek feedback your friends who own domain names, learn about their experiences before you decide.
Web hosting Services
Once you have acquired a domain name, you need to decide on where you are going to host your website and blogs. There are free (like Google Sites and Blogger) as well as paid services (around $5/month).
I decided to continue using Google Sites and Blogger for the time being instead of paid web hosting, as these are good enough solutions for me and offer a very simple way of mapping them to my personal domain name (covered later in this post). Bluehost and DreamHost seem to be among the most popular paid web hosting services.
I decided to stick with Google Sites as it is easy to use and good enough for my current needs. Also, I already have up and running sites using it. Most other free alternatives have much richer and modern templates / themes, though there could be irritants in their free version: running ads on your site, not allowing you to run your ads, not let you change favicon, or having a footer like that you might not like. You can overcome these by option for free service, but then you could very well buy web hosting for the same money and use WordPress.org installation.
In my opinion, you should buy a domain from a registrar, and decide which suits you best:
- Free blog at Blogger, and free website hosting service like Google Sites
- Paid hosting service with WordPress.org installation for website and blog
Once you make that choice (I have chosen the first option), only thing remaining is configuring DNS and email.
Steps describes here are for Google Sites and Blogger, but I guess similar help/support will be available for any other website/blog service you might have. Just for sake of clarity, let’s take following example of two sites and two blogs:
- sites.google.com/site/yourwebhome to be mapped to domain www.yourdomain.com
- sites.google.com/site/anothersite to be mapped to subdomain anothersite.yourdomain.com
- blog1.blogspot.com to be mapped to subdomain blog1.yourdomain.com
- blog2.blogspot.com to be mapped to subdomain blog2.yourdomain.com
First step is to verify your domain: Google needs to check that you really own the domain you claim to own. Google help has detailed instructions alternative ways for site verification. I did it by adding a TXT DNS record at my domain registrar. Your domain registrar might also provide instruction for the same (e.g. instruction for Namecheap).
Once you have verified your domain, you will need to add a CNAME DNS record for each of your domain and subdomain at your domain registrar. For our example, this is how your DNS records will look like:
|Host Name||URL||Record Type||TTL|
The first entry sets a redirect for your naked (also called bare or apex) domain http://yourdomain.com to the www subdomain, i.e., http://www.yourdomain.com. Next 4 entries CNAME entries declare that these subdomains are alias of the ghs google server. That results into any request for URL with these subdomains being redirected to ghs with Host: .yourdomain.com parameter; ghs looks up its database to map the request to your site or blog.
That brings us to the last part: instructing Google Sites and Blogger to map to custom URLs with corresponding subdomains. Follow instructions for Google Sites:
- go to each of your site
- click on More actions drop down menu in upper right corner
- select Manage site
- click on Web Address on the left
- enter your custom URL in Add a web address box, and
- click Add button at the top.
Similarly, follow the instructions for Blogger:
- go to dash board for each of your blog
- go to Settings > Publishing
- click the link to Add a custom domain
- click on Switch to advanced settings
- enter your custom URL, and click Save.
Note that while Blogger starts redirecting traffic at <blog>.blogspot.com to the custom URL <blog>.yourdomain.com, Google Sites remain accessible from both sites.google.com/site/<site> as well as the custom URL <site>.yourdomain.com.
Unfortunately, I missed the free Google Apps offer by couple of weeks, which allowed adding up to 10 free email address on your domain. However most domain registrars allow you to setup email forwarding for small number of email address: you can create a mapping from user name at your domain to, say, a Gmail or Outlook.com email address, as both of these allow setting up a different From address while sending emails.
You need to setup a send-only account using Gmail/Outlook.com SMTP server, as receiving is taken care of through forwarding from domain registrar. Follow instructions for Gmail and instructions for Outlook.com. For Outlook.com, it is pretty simple:
- click on Options icon on upper right corner
- click on More mail settings
- go to Managing your account
- click Your email accounts
- go to Add an email account
- click Add a send-only account
- enter your [email protected] address, and
- click Send verification email.
Both Gmail and Outlook.com will send a verification email. As you have already added forwarding address at the domain registrar, the verification email will actually land up to your Gmail/Outlook.com mailbox. Click the verification link in the email, you are all set. While sending email, select yourdomain.com address from the From drop down list.
There is a small irritant that some email clients may display From [email protected] on behalf of [email protected], and expose your other address. That is because email header has [email protected] in the From field, and [email protected] in the Sender field. But I guess, this is something most of us can live with.
In this post, I attempted to list basics of creating web presence (your personal domain name, web hosting, creating web sites and blogs, and an email on your domain) and various alternatives and resources available. It turned out to be unexpectedly long post, but hopefully you found it useful. So, what do you think? Useful? Better alternatives? Suggestion? Opinion? Please tell me trough comments.