Curl up, get a drink, get comfortable -- this is going to be a long but important blog post. Vital to understanding how websites work is having a solid knowledge of the three inter-related hosts that are required for potential clients to find and contact you. These three hosts are the accounts you have for:
your website itself -- the visual design and content that the public sees
the domain name -- the address people use to find your site
your email -- the way they can contact you online
Maybe think of it like this --
the website host (account) is like the house you live in
the domain host is like the street address people use to get to your party
the email host is like the phone number people use to say they are lost
Three separate functions are often provided to you by three different agencies or companies, but work together so that your party guests (i.e. clients) can find you.
To help you feel more acquainted with these 3 sisters, here are some typical hosts, divided into short lists for websites, domains and email.
Top Website Hosts
When DeWriteSites builds your website, your website host is Wix. I don't build on any other hosting platforms.
Top Domain Hosts
If you have a pre-existing domain name registered with one of the companies listed above or any other, you have three options.
You can (1) create a new domain name for your new website, or (2) leave the domain where it is and redirect it to Wix while remaining on the original domain host, or (3) you can transfer it so that the site and the domain are in the same place -- your Wix account.
If you have been using the existing domain name for a long time and have gotten good traffic (SEO response) for it from Google, changing to a new domain for a new website about the same service is not recommended. So the decision is whether to leave it or move it.
To leave it, you will need to change the domain name server (DNS) settings at your existing domain host. Normally this is an easy copy and paste operation with the new DNS settings that Wix gives you. The domain is left at and continues to be hosted at your existing domain registrar, and you continue to get your billing from them.
To move your domain -- the technical term is transfer -- it is wise to first do the DNS settings changes as described above because that process usually is completed within 24 hours, and often within 20 minutes. When a domain is transferred to any new domain host, it is a more complicated process that can take up to a week or two to complete. If you haven't already redirected the DNS settings, your old website will continue to show up when people use or click on your domain link.
And sometimes a fee is required to release the domain from the original host in order to transfer it. Not all domain registrars do that, but it is legal and many do.
To transfer your domain to Wix, after changing the DNS settings at the existing old domain host, start with contacting tech support at that host to initiate the transfer. You can also read this info from Wix on transferring a domain.
Transferring or redirecting your domain does not always transfer or redirect your email, however. This depends on whether you have an email address that is specific to your own domain (sometimes called a personalized mailbox), and where the email service is hosted.
Top Email Hosts
Wix does not provide email hosting. For that, they are happy to sell you a Google account where you can host your domain-specific email. Google's Gmail (considered an "app" or application in the GSuite range of services like Google calendar, Google docs, etc) then becomes your email host while the site itself and the domain are hosted at Wix.
Wix provides these instructions for setting up a domain specific email address.
A Common First Step
Many solo professionals just starting out are unaware of these three separate functions. So you might have a website built and hosted free at Wix, with the domain also being a Wix name and belonging to Wix -- something like DeahCurry.wixsite.com. And maybe you use a company like Yahoo for your email with an email address like Deah@Yahoo.com.
Or, you might have your site account at Wix, a domain hosted at GoDaddy but redirected to connect with the site, and a Gmail email address -- three separate hosts, patchworked together. This often happens as your business grows or ages, and you decide to change to a different website or domain or email provider.
Either approach can work temporarily to get you started, but it's not the best image to project that you are not investing in professional branding for your business.
Much confusion comes from the fact that some DIY-oriented companies serve all 3 functions. You might have your website, domain and email hosted all in one account somewhere, such as GoDaddy. The convenience is a good selling point, even though usually one or more of their services suffers from being out of date or hard for the tech-novice to use.
Many professional techies recommend against this bundling approach because it causes headaches if you ever want to switch the website to a new host. There are extra steps involved to reconnecting your pre-existing domain and/or email with the new website at a new host.
It can also create hassles if the whole bundling company is hacked or suffers a hardware breakdown. But if your 3 sisters are not bundled, you can more easily and quickly make changes to get around a domain and email problem.
Sometimes, as with the case at VistaPrint, the all-in-one company is really a re-seller for a domain host you have never heard of. (VistaPrint uses something called OpenSRS also known as / related to the brand called TuCows).
This adds layers of arrangements to getting your domain and email released to you because oddly enough, even if you have registered your personal name such as Deah.com and have email like Info@Deah.com, when it comes to domains and email addresses, they don't actually belong to you exclusively. They belong to the domain and/or email host.
And most likely the company you thought you had registered your domain with will charge a fee to release it to you if you wish to transfer it to a new host. VistaPrint does this, as do many others.
Details to Always Have on the Tip of Your Brain
Just like you know your health insurance carrier, or keep your driver's license and social security number readily available, if you are a business owner with a website you really need to know who your 3 sister hosts are. No tech support person can pull that info out of the blue for you (although a domain registrar is often searchable at WhoIs.net -- but this can show the one you've never heard of, thus creating more worry and confusion).
So, it's best to know your own 3 sisters. When problems arise, you will need to provide this info to any helper.
When I'm done with a website project, I send the client a document I call Keeper Info. It has hosting details and other vital info in it. A blog article on all the Keeper info can be found here, for those who had their sites done before I started doing this.
I encourage everyone to keep their Keeper Info where it is easily retrieved and remembered, and to update it as needed. If you have a question about your 3 sisters or the info in this article, contact me.