I’ve been working on websites for a very long time and I still meat a lot of clients and friends who ask the above question. It is normal, we keep moving with the new trends, not thinking in detail what they mean or how they work until one day we have to or want to take advantage and in this case build a website.
Here are a few things you need to know to get started.
A domain name is the same as your own nickname. Instead of people calling you by your national insurance number (or IP address for the website), it is much easier and friendlier to have a meaningful name that others can remember. This is the same case with the domain names.
You buy a domain name for a minimum of a year, but you can buy it for a longer period as well.
www – the thing you see at the beginning of domain names is not part of them. In fact www is a sub-domain (ignore that for now).
The domain name is the text between www and the domain extension – www.domainname.com.
The extensions for domains are many, the most common people know are .com, .org, .co.uk (in the UK), etc. You can use most of the ones available – they are all just to add context to your name. For example, .com stands for “commercial”, .org stands for “organisation”, etc. This helps add more information about your domain so that people can understand what it is about. However, there are extensions that have changed over time and become generic such as .com domains which are used for many different purposes.
Hosting is simply the place where your website sits so that people can see it. The domain name is like the door to the house and the hosting is the house where your website is stored (hosted). Usually this simply means a computer connected to the internet 24/7, 365 days a year.
You can buy hosting per month, but generally you buy it with the domain name for the length of a year. Some providers give you the domain for free if you get a yearly hosting subscription.
There are many free website platforms that allow you to have a free presence online, some more advanced than others. I would argue that you don’t always need a custom built site and you should use some of these very good services.
Some but not all include:
http://www.wix.com/ – For personal websites
https://wordpress.com/ – For blogs
https://www.tumblr.com/ – For blogs
https://www.shopify.com/ – For e-commerce websites
These are a good start and can be very flexible. You don’t need to know coding or hire other people to do the work for you as the above are extremely user-friendly and there is a lot of information online on how to use them.
There are many, many possibilities and variations on how websites are set up, but the basics above never change. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask in the comments below and also check this guide from my friends at firstsiteguide.com which describes the process in more detail.
This is the First Site Guide guys’ homepage, make sure you have a look if you’re starting out: www.firstsiteguide.com
Another good source of information is this guide by Design the Way: http://www.designtheway.com/how-to-make-a-website-from-scratch/