Creative Business: Make the Most of Your Domain Name
When you get a domain name for your website, think bigger than the website itself. Your creative business is likely to expand its online presence with accounts on services such as blogging, portfolio, and e-commerce sites, which typically offer the option of associating a custom domain name with your account. That’s an opportunity for you to use your domain name in ways that can reinforce your brand online.
1. Domain names and hosting services are two different things.
Many people think that a domain name (such as mycreativeco.com) and a website are the same thing. In reality, the domain name is technically separate from the service that hosts your website. Companies sell domain names together with web hosting so that they can offer a convenient package of services that they can set up for you in one easy step, but there’s nothing stopping you from getting the domain name from one company (a domain name registrar) and web hosting from another.
A domain name is really just an easy-to-remember shortcut to the (normally invisible) numerical IP address that all websites have. If you become unhappy with your web hosting service and move your website files to a different company, changing the DNS records at the domain name registrar will send everyone who enters your URL to your new webhost instead of your old one. This shortcut concept gives your business great flexibility, because you can keep your domain name consistent while at any time switching the service that it points to. Your visitors can continue to type in the same domain name without having to know that anything has changed under the hood.
2. Reinforce your brand with subdomains of your domain name.
Let’s imagine that you have the domain name mycreativeco.com. After a while you set up a blog hosted by wordpress.com and a portfolio hosted by smugmug.com. (By the way, I’m using these services and fictional accounts as examples, not as recommendations.) When you join these services, visitors typically reach your content under a URL based on your account name and that service’s domain name. If you were to use “mycreativeco” as the account name, by default the Wordpress blog would be mycreativeco.wordpress.com, and the Smugmug portfolio would be mycreativeco.smugmug.com.
Many services offer the option to assign a custom domain name to your account. Some businesses register different domain names for each service, but having multiple unique domain names for your business is usually not the best option: Your clients must remember multiple URLs for your business, and each additional domain name registration costs you one more annual fee.
Instead, take advantage of subdomains. A subdomain is an optional part of a domain name that comes before the main (root) domain name, separated by a period (for example, subdomain.mycreativeco.com). Most online services that let you assign a custom domain name work fine with subdomains. The subdomain concept can be easier to understand if you see how it might work across multiple online accounts.
For example, instead of:
You can set up:
as well as connecting future services such as:
In the second set of examples, the custom subdomains make all of the online services appear to be part of a unified web presence centered around your domain name, not the domain names of your vendors. You pay for only one domain name (mycreativeco.com), because there is typically no charge for setting up any number of subdomains for a domain name you already own.
The setup example below is very simplified; actual instructions are more detailed and vary by service. If you don’t understand the technical details of DNS records, have your web developer make the changes you need.
Also, don’t confuse subdomains with subdirectories. A subdomain appears before the domain name separated by a period (blog.mycreativeco.com), but a subdirectory comes after the domain name and is separated by a slash (mycreativeco.com/blog). Subdirectories are said to be somewhat better for search engine optimization (SEO), but most hosted web services let you assign only a domain or subdomain, not a subdirectory, to your account.
3. Use your domain name for a more professional email address
Using an email address based on your business’s domain name looks much more professional than an email address ending in gmail.com, yahoo.com, or outlook.com. If your website hosting package includes email hosting based on your domain name, you can just use that. If you like, you can use a different email provider like Hushmail (hushmail.com) or Fastmail (fastmail.fm). Having your domain name’s email sent there simply involves changing DNS settings, similar to what we saw earlier. If you add Google Apps office services (google.com/apps) to your business, you can use your domain name as the basis for Gmail accounts. If you’re a big fan of Gmail, this is a great way to be able to use Gmail while having your clients see your business’s domain name in your email address.
You can also set up most email services so that your email is accessible as webmail (through a web browser) by logging in through a custom URL with a subdomain; for example, mail.mycreativeco.com.
By thinking ahead, you can use your domain name and subdomains to build up a unified online presence as you extend the reach of your creative business online.
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