Website Development 101: Domains, Hosting, and SEO

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Alyssa Scavetta
10.25.16

Here’s a situation we come across often: you’re looking for a service in your area, like skydiving, and find the exact skydiving program that you’re looking for. It’s got great reviews, they send an instructor with you, parachutes are included in the cost, etc. Little things that don’t seem like a big deal at first can add up, after all. But their domain name looks like www.skydivingaustin1.com. Every time I see this, I have to ask myself, why?

I mean, it’s so obvious why. Someone else purchased their branded domain name before they could, and instead of finding an alternative (we use builtbymasonry.com rather than just masonry.com, after all!), they appended the number one, hoping it would be sufficient. It’s not great, but I get it.

Differences between your hosting provider & your domain name

To put it simply, hosting is like your house, and the domain is the address. So for example, the domain we use is builtbymasonry.com and the hosting service we use is ICDsoft -- it’s where the domain lives.

But let’s break it down: what you get when you pay for hosting is a company that will host your website on their server space. In most cases, your web data gets backed up to the cloud, and you get to keep your office free and clean of server racks. Not only that, but this means that by purchasing hosting, the company you purchase your hosting space from is kept in an environmentally-controlled, server-friendly space, under super high security and surveillance.

As far as your domain is concerned, it’s your web address, plain and simple. You can purchase as many of these as you’d like, and have all of them point to the same spot so everyone can get on the same (web) page.

Deciding on your domain & when to include misspells

First of all, domains typically cost around $10-$12 per year. The price is really only qualified by whether or not someone has already purchased it, and if they have, then the price goes up.

For example, remember the skydiving company domain URL? For situations like that one, research domain alternatives using the Google Domains tool. Then, by using tools like SemRush.com, you can see which misspells people use when looking for your site and factor those in as options for domain purchases. You’ll then point those misspelled domain names to your new primary domain, and be better equipped to capture visitors regardless of their spelling abilities.

For the record, including misspells isn’t always necessary -- misspells are really only purchased when your brand is something easily, well, misspelled.

To get (or not to get) an HTTPS or an HTTP site

Listen up. Google really does love it when you have an HTTPS domain vs an HTTP domain. To put it simply, they won’t disqualify you if your domain only uses HTTP, however, they will prioritize the HTTPS domain first.

The S in HTTPS actually stands for “secure”. What it means is that all of the data coming from your visitor’s computer is encrypted. That way, while you’re logging into, say, your bank’s website, and someone manages to steal that data, they won’t be able to read it. As such, it’s become a requirement for any e-Commerce site.

To secure your site with HTTPS you’ll have to purchase something called a “signed SSL certificate”, once per year (or every 3-5 years, depending on your agreement) for something like $100. Typically, you can purchase these through your web host provider. This signed certificate tells visitors and companies like Google that your site is secure and capable of handling visitors private information with care.

For those of you who aren’t in e-Commerce but are currently wondering whether or not you should get an SSL certificate, don’t stress. It’s not required unless your handling private customer information, and all the same, it’s also not an insane SEO boost either -- just enough to get listed slightly higher, but nothing that’s going to send a deluge of visitors to your site.

Always check for updates!

Most content management systems like Wordpress, Drupal, Craft CMS, Expression Engine and more, provide security updates, so it’s important to install them when they occur. Many are automated, (like Wordpress) but it’s still good to check at least once per month. This will help in case your CMS company is delivering on bug fixes or security updates and will help to better mitigate possible site security risk.

All the same, always make sure you have a backup of your website saved before you make system-wide updates, and then test everything afterward. Sometimes, an update might be incompatible with a module you’ve installed, so it’s always important to backup and then validate.

301’s & 404’s explained

When rebuilding your website, regardless of whether or not you have a new domain, you must include 301 redirects. This is a process that involves sending the old link to the new one so that your web content can retain the previous SEO value it held. It also helps if say, you have an old link on a press release that you can’t access or change, to still link to the correct place you want it to.

404’s, also known as, “Page Not Found” error codes, are what you get when you accidentally enter in the right domain but with the wrong suffix. Or worse, it’s when you go to a page that used to be there but is now gone.

Google isn’t in favor of dead-end content and will start to see a large amount of this activity as a red flag. If possible, devote a landing page for when visitors access a “page not found” -- that way you have the opportunity to hold their attention and decrease the rate of page bounces. Be sure to also redirect content as much as possible should you decide to delete a page from your site so you can retain that SEO value.

What people mean when they say, “Domain Authority”.

This might seem like a buzzwordy term, but it’s essentially is a 100-pt scale used to predict how well a site will rank on search engines. Our favorite platforms to grade sites include Semrush and Moz’s Open Site Explorer tool. You can enter your domain or any of your competitor’s domains and compare/contrast the domain authority score to see how you guys stack up.

How this works is these tools (plus Google) look at your total number of links, including links to your root domain, external links from other sites to your domain, and factor these points into your total score.

Unfortunately, your Domain Authority is fairly difficult to influence directly, but if you have a score you would like to improve on, our best advice according to the latest Google Algorithm update is content, content, content. You’ve probably heard many SEO professionals say this, but Google is constantly moving in a direction to put the user first. Just recently, they announced that they were going to start factoring in mobile search rankings on mobile sites before desktop sites as instances mobile browsing continues to increase across the board.

Setting up Google Search Console & Google Analytics

Setting up Google Webmaster Tools (or as they now officially call it, Google Search Console) is easier than it looks. By simply installing a short code snippet into your website’s HTML, you can monitor your domain authority, it’s backlinking / structured / highlighted content, as well as how it’s seen by Google Crawlers and make sure everything is functioning as it should be.

The web design and development process used to take a village. Now, it’s not just for the Designer / Developer / SEO Marketer types out there. There are more tools available than ever to better help you research the proper domains, discover how to best develop content for your site, and roll it out without out breaking too much of a sweat.


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