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When you’re searching for a WordPress Host, most of the services you’ll find offer both domain registration and web hosting together. You don’t have to purchase your domain name with your hosting account, but it will make the entire setup process easier.
It’s like having a party, and you buy your drinks from one store and snacks from another. Maybe those snacks are exclusive to that store or they offer you a better deal. Either way, you’ve got snack options.
Domain names vs. Hosting
Before deciding, you’ll want to understand the difference between your domain name and your hosting.
Your domain name is the “.com” that your register, like “your-business.com”. You don’t actually buy and own it forever, you register it in yearly increments. The actual domain name is simply a shortcut your users can type in to get to your WordPress hosting account. Your hosting account is where your WordPress files and database live, on a server, and your domain name is a shortcut to them.
It’s like Main Street. There’s a sign that says “Main Street” which tells people what the name of the actual street is. This is like your domain. Then there’s the actual Main Street, the asphalt road that is the street itself. This is like your hosting account.
In terms of pricing, you’ll generally pay around $15 per year for your domain registration. Hosting account prices vary wildly based on your needs, but could range between $50 – $100 per year, or even more.
This image shows a screenshot of the current (February 2021) pricing for domain names at DreamHost:
How to point your domain to your hosting
A domain name “points” to the hosting account. More specifically, the domain name points to nameservers, which hold the IP address of the server for that domain. If someone types in your-business.com, the user’s browser looks up the IP address your-business.com points to and then asks that IP address for the web page.
If you buy your WordPress hosting account together with your domain, your host will take care of this pointing for you.
If you purchase your domain name separately, you’ll need to point your domain to your host. This is most commonly done by updating your domain’s nameservers. Your host will give you the appropriate nameservers, which you’ll then need to contact your domain registrar and ask that they point your domain there. Your registar usually has an online dashboard where you can update the nameservers yourself.
Here’s an old video, but it’s still very relevant today: Introduction to DNS and Nameservers
Nameservers are a part of the DNS system. When you make nameserver changes, these DNS changes can take up to 24 hours until everyone in the world will see them. DNS is cached, and so the cache needs to get cleared before everyone else will see the changes. You don’t need to clear the cache yourself, it’s done automatically. So, your users may not see your WordPress site immediately following any nameserver changes – this is normal.
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