Mastering Your Domain, Part II
This a continuation of “How to Be the Master of Your Domain” from four days back. In the prior post, I explained how to get a domain name and some of the basics about getting a web host. What I left unsaid was the features offered by web hosts.
Disk Space: This is the amount of disk space you may fill up with your web site. If you have a simple site with few graphics, maybe a primarily-text blog, for instance, then disk space is not a big issue. But if you plan to have a lot of photos or even video on your site, then a lower disk space allotment of 50MB, for example, can get filled up fast. For $5-$10 a month, you should get at least 200 MB of space.
Data Transfer / Bandwidth: This is how much data can be sent to your site and downloaded by visitors (the latter being the major drain, of course). For example, if you have a photo page that weighs in at 500 KB total, and 100 people view it, that would use up 50 MB of bandwidth–plus the 500 KB you used to put the photo page up in the first place. Bandwidth can be crucial if your site is popular or if you have photos and/or audio/video media that people download a lot. Perhaps you have heard about a site that has a great video on it, and you go there and the site is off-line, perhaps with a “Bandwidth Exceeded” note in place; that’s because too many people came to view, and the web site operator did not pay for extra bandwidth.
I myself am just grazing the ceiling with this blog–my current account has 5 GB of bandwidth alloted, and is going to end the month just under that amount, so I’m going to have to graduate the site from the $9/mo. “beginner” account to the $13/mo. “homestead” account (as my current web host titles them).
So more bandwidth is better, but people who run web sites often talk about how one must beware of web hosts who offer “unlimited” bandwidth. Such offers are usually scams, they report; when you start using up more bandwidth than they really want you to, they find a way to cut you back or cut you off.
Domain Pointing / Add-on Domains: let’s say you have many domains (as I do) but you would rather not pay, say, $10 a month for each one of them. Instead, you can put all of them into one web hosting account. Get the account with the web host for a primary domain (let’s say in my case, blogd.com), and then you can add new domains as subsets of that account (for example, I could add xpat.org and teach-japan.com).
Each added domain would be ‘hosted’ within something called a ‘subdirectory,’ which is a folder inside your main account. So in my main blogd.com account, I would create a folder called ‘xpat,’ and in that folder I would put all the files for xpat.org. I would then direct my site (through a control panel they give you) to point the domain ‘xpat.org’ to that folder. When you go to www.xpat.org in a browser, the folder acts as its own web site, with the correct URL and everything. Currently, I do this with teach-japan.com, which is the primary domain; another of my domains, lcjapan.com, is an added domain. You can see this by going to the address http://www.teach-japan.com/lcjapan/; it displays exactly the same as http://www.lcjapan.com.
This is a bit similar to something called ‘sub-domains,’ which are subdirectories just like the add-on domains, but do not have a completely different domain name associated with them. For example, in this site, I could create a folder called ‘luis,’ and by assigning that as a ‘subdomain,’ people could access it by going to http://luis.blogd.com. The subdomain name replaces the “www” you usually see in URLs. That’s how ‘blogger’ works, giving each person with a blog a distinct subdomain, e.g. http://blogd.blogger.com (if I did my blog with them).
Each web host offers a different number of add-on domains, but the number is often no less than 2 and no more than 5.
Email: When you have a hosted site, you get the works, including the ability to create your own email accounts as you see fit. Usually you would want POP3 accounts, email which you can access with programs like Eudora, Mail (on Mac OS X), or Outlook Express. These accounts can usually be accessed via ‘webmail’ as well–that is, through using a browser, in the same way you would with Hotmail or Yahoo Mail.
Some web hosts limit the number of email addresses to 5 or 20 or 50. Many give you an ‘unlimited’ number, though of course each account takes up hard disk space, so that is a real limit that must be dealt with–though you’d need to have a lot of accounts all loaded with email in order to really infringe on the disk space limit.
Email accounts you can make will of course end with you domain name (e.g., ‘@blogd.com’). Creating one is trivial: go to the control panel, select the email manager, click ‘add account,’ and then give the account a name and password. You can also set the space limit on the account to however many megabytes, or just leave the option blank for unlimited space.
Email is usually accompanied by auto-forwarding (forward email sent to address X to address Y), autoresponders (pre-written messages automatically sent out to anyone who sends email to a certain address), a catch-all account (any email with your domain name but without a correct account name will pile up here, usually spam), mailing lists (so you can send one email and have it go to multiple addresses), and filters (for filtering out spam before email gets to your screen).
Databases: This is important for running blogs or forums; each entity uses one database. I prefer MySQL databases, of which you are often alloted up to 5, maybe 10, or more if you pay more. However, you have to read the web hosts’ policies before planning to set up many blogs or forums–some hosts do not allow more than one of either or each because they create more work for the server’s CPU. Some hosts may even ban the use of some blog or forum software due to processor strain. So check that out before signing up for a hosting plan.
Scripting Languages: Usually cgi and php; these allow you to run simple programs on your web site. A very common example is the hit counter, which acts like a site odometer, adding a tick each time someone visits. Another is a clock or count-down for some event or another. One that I often use is formmail, which allows you to create a form (with pull-down menus, buttons, and text boxes) that visitors fill out; when they click on the ‘submit’ or ‘send’ button, it generates an email to be sent to you.
You have to be careful, though–some scripts can be hijacked by hackers. On more than one occasion I have noted my formmail script being accessed thousands of times, and it turned out a spammer had somehow access my script and used it to send truckloads of spam to people, using my domain as the point of origin. More reason to despise that scum.
Statistics: a boon to the vain, but also an extremely useful tool. AwStats is the best stat arranger. Webalizer is as common or more common, but is less attractively done and much less useful in how it adds numbers and displays things. For example, in listing sites and pages which send visitors to your site, Webalizer includes people who move from one of your pages to another, so outside link-ins are lost among a sea of ‘referrals’ from your own pages; AwStats handles it much better, omitting internal transfers.
AwStats also tells you the total number of unique IP Addresses that visited your site (also lacking in Webalizer), and gives totals for the hour, day, month and year; which country visitors came from, the ISPs that handled the requests, visits by spiders and bots, how long your visitors stayed (average for this site: 5.5 minutes), what file types they downloaded, what pages they visited and how many times, their browser and operating system versions, which search engines sent visitors your way and how many, and what searches they performed that led them to your site. Quite an impressive array of information that tells you not just how many people visit your site, but all kinds of information about them. The main drawback is that the stats are never a running tally; they get revised only once every 24 hours or so, which means that if you get a sudden spike, you won’t know it for another day.
From this I know that 74% of my visitors type in my address directly, or use a bookmark or have me on an RSS feed application; 23% come from search engines (fully half from Google), and 3% come from links from other web sites. I know that visitors wane during weekends and near midnight California time, that most people view my site with an RSS feeder; that fully three quarters of my visitors use Windows (17% Mac) and 70% use Explorer (when will people learn?!). If a web host does not offer AwStats, I usually look elsewhere.
Another useful stat utility is “Recent visitors,” which gives you a long list of the people who visited your site most recently. This is useful if your site is getting hotlinked–you would otherwise not be aware that your photos are being accessed (AwStats does not track specific image downloads). That’s how I caught the guy who copied my post and hotlinked to my photos.
Other features include hotlink protection, customized error pages, password-protected directories, pre-set blogs, forums, counters, guestbooks and the like, as well as a variety of professional tools which I have yet to understand.
Recently I stumbled upon a new plan at a web host I have long used. The company started as one called “Aletia,” which I used after I left the dreaded AIT debacle. Aletia ran OK for a while, but then started messing up big-time. Just as I was ready to move my primary domain away from there, they told me that because of the screw-ups, they would host my site indefinitely at no charge. So I figured, why not, and after that, their service was pretty good. Not too long after, they were bought out by JaguarPC, which was kind enough to carry the gratis account, which I still enjoy today. Jaguar had been too expensive for me so I did not do any paid hosting there, but recently I discovered that they are now offering a new deal: 1 GB of disk space, 45 GB bandwidth, 5 Domain pointers, 30 MySQL databases, unlimited POP3 email and email resources, and an otherwise fully-loaded package–including AwStats–for $10 a month, or $95 a year. Compare that to my present $9/mo. package, which gives me 200 MB hard disk space, 5 GB bandwidth, 10 MySQLs, and 2 Domain pointers. Not too shabby.
But the best thing is that I have used Jaguar with that gratis account for a few years, so I know I can trust these guys, and that their service is usually good–except for that hiccup last week, the first I experienced with them.
So I will probably get two accounts, one for my blogs and another for the rest of my domains (now hosted between 4 different accounts averaging $8 a month or so). But first I will get a single account, put my non-blog stuff there and do a lot of experimenting to make sure the account is all it is cracked up to be, then move this blog and The Expat to a second account when I’m more sure-footed.