What’s the difference between a domain name and hosting?

8 min read
Jen Roney

The opportunity to launch your own website and join the ranks as an online business owner is an exciting new venture. But before you begin, you’ll need to understand the difference between a domain name and hosting.

Anyone who wants to have a website will need both a domain name and hosting.

If you’re not sure where to start, we can help guide you with the following info:

  • What is a domain name?
  • What is web hosting?
  • How do domain names and web hosting work together?
  • Best practices for managing domain names and web hosting

Learning about domain names and web hosting is necessary to get your new business online, but the good news is that it’s not that difficult once you dig into the details. Let’s look at what these terms mean, so you can learn more about the difference between a domain name and hosting.

What is a domain name?

Graphic with 5 well-known domain names
These are examples of domain names.

A domain name is critical to getting your business or idea online. It’s sort of like an address you choose to help people find your website on the internet. Without a domain name, people would have to memorize a different series of numbers for each website they want to visit, which would be impractical.

So instead, we have domain names to give people an easy way to remember the sites they want to visit again and how to find them.

How to choose a domain name

Most people choose a domain name that matches their company name or one that aligns closely with it.

Your domain needs to be memorable but different from any other domain owned on the internet. Check out this post (three-minute read) for 10 tips on choosing a great domain name.

Domain names are like snowflakes: no two are alike.

This means you may have to get creative if your company name is a common name or word someone else has already used. Once a particular domain is registered to a person or business, no one else can use it.

Tip: Most domain providers have a domain generator tool on their websites to help you come up with catchy ideas.

See if the domain you like is available now

What to do if your domain name is taken

You can find the domain owners details using the WHOIS lookup tool and contact them. You can also consider different endings to the domain names you’re thinking of with a domain extension.

Related: Check out this post on how to get the best web name.

For example, you may see many websites with .com at the end of the domain, but alternatives for these domain extensions exist such as:

There are many other extensions to consider adding to your domain name, which can help expand your options if the .com you had in mind is already taken.

Scroll through the complete list — including industry-specific extensions like .ag, realestate and financehere.

How your domain name impacts your business branding

A domain name also contributes to brand recognition simply by triggering a response in people when they read it.

When you see cbc.ca is there any doubt in your mind what you'll find on that website?

Imagine the difference between using your company name as a domain and opting for one that sounds more like “supercheapproducts.com.”

Which do you think would be more easily trusted by a customer? If e-commerce is your goal, would a customer want to purchase from your website? All these questions must be considered when choosing your domain name.

What is web hosting?

Web hosting is a service that allows you to rent space on a server.

Think of your website as a collection of digital files — information, photos, videos and design elements. You need space to store all those files so that people the world over can visit and browse your site any time of the day or night. Bonus: All annual Web Hosting plans from GoDaddy come with a custom free domain name.

Without web hosting, you are the only one who could ever see your website.

As long as you pay your hosting provider, your website will have a place to live online — along with your collection of files.

Related: What is web hosting? Complete guide for beginners

Tip: Many do-it-yourself website builders — including GoDaddy’s — come with hosting built in. You don’t even need to think about it.

What to look for in hosting

These are the hosting basics all websites need from the start:

  • Storage: For most small- to medium-sized business sites, a few gigabytes of storage is sufficient.
  • Bandwidth: People with large sites who expect to attract a large number of visitors require more bandwidth.
  • Scalability: The option of an automatic increase in storage/bandwidth in case of a large traffic spike on your site.
  • Reliability: Look for a 99.9% uptime guarantee or better. A website that’s down is useless.
  • Security: If the hosting provider doesn’t list malware/virus protection as a feature, ask about it.
  • Backups: Some providers run scheduled backups of your content and store them on the hosting plan for you.
  • 24/7 technical support, so you can call for help no matter what the hour.

Features you might need down the road include:

  • Speed tools for optimizing your site for mobile devices.
  • Analytics tools for gathering information about your marketing efforts and your users.
  • Tools that allow you to integrate your website with your social media pages.

You might be able to move your website over to a new hosting service later on, but it helps to have access to these features from the beginning.

How do domain names and web hosting work together?

Knowing the difference between domain names and hosting is where many people get confused, but it isn’t complicated.

  • Think of your domain as a street address, guiding people to where your website lives online.
  • Hosting is like the lot where the building they’re looking for sits.

Hosting allows you to store the files that make up your site at that location (aka your domain name), so visitors have something to see.

You can purchase both from the same company or separately from different providers. If you buy them individually, you’ll just need to be sure to point your domain name to your selected web host — you or your web company can do this by editing the Domain Name System (DNS) settings.

Best practices for managing domain names and web hosting

If there’s one thing to know about running a small business, it’s that change is expected. Once you get everything set up, you might still have questions about managing your domain name and hosting over time.

Let’s look at a few best practices to keep things running smoothly for your domain and hosting setup.

But first, always review the fine print.

You’ll need to abide by any waiting periods before moving or transferring any domains between domain or hosting providers.

Person writing on pink sticky note on top of a planner
Photo: Marten Bjork on Unsplash

It’s easier to get your domain name and web hosting through the same company

If you’re new to domains and hosting, consider purchasing them together for the easiest transition. Setting up with one provider can feel more streamlined, since everything is with one company.

As a bonus, you’ll only have one account to keep track of and one company to send payments to.

You can switch domain providers whenever you like

You can always move your domain name to another company if you choose to. If the domain is registered to you, you can do what you like with it.

Why would you want to move a domain? All kinds of reasons. One common motivator might be to move the domains you’ve purchased over time, so that all your domains are managed by one provider.

Can I change web hosts without changing my domain name?

You can change web hosts for any domains you own if you want to. You’d simply need to edit the DNS settings to point to the new hosting company.

Again, sometimes these changes happen over time as you organize your domains and work to streamline billing or renewal processes.

The difference between a domain name and hosting — final thoughts

Launching a new company website or online shop is important for promoting your company and reaching potential customers. If you’ve got a new idea for a business, setting up a website should be one of the first items on your list.

Editor's Note: New GoDaddy domains now come with GoDaddy Airo - our AI-powered solution that creates a free website, logo, email and more for your new online venture.

With small businesses making up 99.8% of businesses in the country, it’s worthwhile to dive in and get started now.

So now that you have a better understanding of how your domain name and hosting work together, you have the upper hand in online visibility. Use this knowledge to help potential customers find your online shop and enjoy the website you’ve created to promote your business.

Remember, both are important at helping you reach the audiences you’ll need to grow. Working with a trusted domain and hosting provider can help safeguard your business website, ensuring your customers can always find you online.

Paul Teitelman contributed to this article.

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