Last Fall we started the WriterStrong series to delve deeply into the strengths writers must have for strong careers.
Social media and internet savvy is part of the job requirement for today's authors. Today's post gets to the nitty-gritty on one important aspect of your author website or blog.
Jami's two-part series of how-to tips will help make you "TechStrong" (plus we've got a great deal for WITS readers at the bottom of this post!). Part 1 is here today, Part 2 is at her place tomorrow.
Tech Talk: What’s a Hosting Company and Why Are They Important?
by Jami Gold
“Writers should have a website and blog.” If you’ve been around agents, editors, or other writers online, you’ve probably heard that advice. We need to have an online home, get our name out there, and start building a marketing platform. Great, but where do we start?
Many writers start with blogging platforms they’ve heard of from others: Google’s Blogger (also known as Blogspot) or WordPress.com. Both are free and relatively easy to set up.
They also come with strings, as any free service does. (Note the recent announcement that Google Reader is going away July 1st.) When a service is free, you’re the product, not the customer.
Author, Meet Hosting Company
Some writers decide they’d rather have more control over their site. They want to “own” their site, they want to use plugins for more functionality, they want to sell things, or they want more customization. In those cases, I recommend using the WordPress.org platform (as opposed to the free WordPress.com platform—.org versus .com—yes, it’s confusing *sigh*) on a self-hosted site.
Self-hosted? Does that mean we’re running our site from a server in the corner of our office? Nope. This is where hosting companies come in.
Unlike the basic Blogger or WordPress.com options, self-hosted sites aren’t free because we have to pay a hosting company to store the data for our site.
The hosting company keeps their servers in an internet data center, hopefully with heavy-duty air conditioning, power, and internet connectivity, so our site won’t go down every time someone sneezes.
Think of the Blogger and WordPress.com sites as renting an apartment where you have to follow the landlord’s rules. In contrast, self-hosted sites are like owning a home, with all the freedom and responsibility that comes with that situation.
It’s Our Responsibility to Pick a Good Hosting Company
The freedom of the self-hosted route means we can run into all kinds of trouble. Unlike Blogger or WordPress.com, where they don’t allow any customizations that could threaten security, self-hosted sites have no limits.
A bad plugin could crash our site. Hackers can look for vulnerabilities because the WordPress.org software is not only free but “open source”—that is, freely available to anyone.
As with anything, freedom comes with responsibility.
- We should check the ratings and comments of plugins before we install them.
- We should use strong passwords.
- And perhaps most importantly, we should choose a hosting company that’s worthy of our business.
Remember, this post is Part One of my explanation about hosting companies.
Part Two will be on my blog tomorrow (Thursday, March 28th), where my tech guy will share a list of things hosting companies can (and probably should) do to keep their servers—and thus your site—secure.
My tech guy is a certified “white hat hacker,” and part of his job is to think the way bad guys do so he can fix server-wide problems before they occur. That expertise is just one of the reasons I chose TechSurgeons.com as my hosting company.
Note: Super-duper Tech Guy is also teaching a class on Internet Privacy and Security for Authors tomorrow night that I think every writer would benefit from. Details here.
How Do I Know What to Look for in a Hosting Company?
Other things we can look for include:
- Do they install the WordPress software for you? This is the difference between your hosting company emailing you with a link to your site along with your user ID and temporary password versus having to download the software, unzip the file, create a database, rename files, edit files, upload files, and run the installation script yourself. Um, yeah, I’ll take option number one, thanks.
- Do they do at least daily backups? Backups of your site are essential. They keep hacking attempts, us accidentally blowing up our site (*raises hand* been there, done that), or any hosting company server issues from becoming a major problem.
- Can they help you register your domain (the yourname.com web address) with “Whois shielding”? All information you provide when registering your domain name—including your home address—becomes public information unless you have Whois (i.e., who is) shielding.
- Do they offer URL forwarding? If you want to forward visitors from an old domain name to a new domain name, your hosting company might be able to help.
- Do they offer email accounts? Want your email to be firstname.lastname@example.org? If your hosting company offers email, this is easy.
- Can they help you move your site from Blogger or WordPress.com? Depending on the hosting company and the situation, they might be able to move the old database for you, give you tips or support on the move, and/or help with URL forwarding so your old blog now points to your new one. Every situation is different, so no hosting company can guarantee a certain level of service for every customer.
In addition to tomorrow’s post about security at hosting companies, stop by my blog over the next couple of weeks for insight into when we should stick with the free WordPress.com option or when we should invest the money for a WordPress.org self-hosted site.
If you’re considering setting up a website or blog for the first time, I’m offering two workshops at the end of April. Registration is currently open for these two workshops designed for those with no knowledge of WordPress, websites, or blogs. Interested?
Writers In The Storm readers can use Promo Code “jamisave” to save $5 on registration. Here are the details about each of the workshops:
- For a free website/blog (WordPress.com): “Develop a Free Author Website in 60 Minutes (or Less!)”
- To set up a website/blog you own (WordPress.org): “A Newbie’s Guide to Building a Self-Hosted Blog or Website.”
Did you learn something new about hosting companies? Do you use one? If so, have you had any issues you'd like to share? Does your hosting company offer other services not listed above? Were you aware of issues (like your personal information being visible) when you register a domain?
Jami will be hanging out in the comments section to answer your questions, and she might be able to convince Jay Donovan, her tech guy, to stop by too. 🙂
After triggering the vampire/werewolf feud with an errant typo, Jami Gold moved to Arizona and decided to become a writer, where she could put her talent for making up stuff to good use. Fortunately, her muse, an arrogant male who delights in making her sound as insane as possible, rewards her with unique and rich story ideas.
Fueled by chocolate, she writes paranormal romance and urban fantasy tales that range from dark to humorous, but one thing remains the same: Normal need not apply. Just ask her family—and zombie cat.