You’re not stupid, and it’s really not that complicated.

Take away your web designer’s jargon, and launching a new website is simple.

Toward the end of a long website redesign project, I met with my client. We were all excited. Their old website was ancient, we had poured a lot of time and talent into developing the new one – and it looked great.

As the conversation turned to taking the website live, the marketing director’s mood changed. This normally talkative, confident guy who had championed the new website became quiet and noticeably withdrawn.

Our final step would be changing the settings for their domain name so that it pointed to the new website. But instead of saying that, I said something along the lines of “we need to change your DNS settings at your registrar from your old web host to us.”

When I said this, the marketing director threw up his hands, clearly frustrated. “Stop,” he said. “This is moving too fast. I don’t understand a word you just said. I think we need to wait a few more days to make sure we get this right.”

I was completely thrown off-guard. My client is relatively young, and seems very comfortable with technology. And so I assumed, wrongly, that he understood the process behind moving a website. (Why did I assume that? Writing this now, I have no good answer.)

It turns out that they had experienced a ‘bad’ website move years ago, which left them without email for days. And I made the process much, much worse by throwing around jargon that could have come straight out of a Computer Science textbook.

But launching a website is not complicated, especially once you get past the jargon. Anyone who oversees a company website should understand the basics of how the world gets to your website. It should be on us, the web developers, to use easy to understand language. But, in case you have a web designer like (the former) me, here’s a primer.

Taking it to the elementary school level, there are a few vocabulary words you need to know: domain name, registrar, domain name server/DNS, Central Registry, and web host.

You already know that a domain name is the address for your website; it’s the URL someone types into their browser to reach your website. It gives the world an easy(ish) to remember way to find your website. Your domain name works like a forwarding telephone number – it points people to your website files.

That’s all your domain name does. It doesn’t store your files, and has nothing to do with the way they are presented to the world. That’s the job of your web host. Your web host is the computer(s) where the files for your website actually live, available to the Internet 99.9% of the time. (That’s the ‘uptime’ guarantee most reputable web hosting companies offer.)

Each web host’s computer system has hundreds, if not thousands, of websites on it. How does the “Internet” know where your files are? Domain name servers are the Internet’s phone directory. When someone looking for your website types in your domain name, the domain name server for your web host points them to your files.

But how does a website visitor get to YOUR domain name server?

Information about every domain name on the Internet is stored at a place called the Central Registry. Internet service providers – your cable or fiber optic company – pull updated information from the Central Registry daily and sometimes hourly. When someone types in your domain name, their Internet service provider uses this information from the Central Registry to send them to the domain name server for your website host, and from there to the place where your website files can be seen.

The Central Registry gets the information about your domain name from your registrar. This includes the domain name server (DNS) attached to the web host you’ve chosen for your domain name, along with information about you, the owner, the date you registered the domain name, and the date your registration expires. Your registrar and your website host might be the same company, but not always. (I prefer to keep them separate.)

In short: your domain’s registrar tells the Central Registry which domain name server has information about your website’s location. And using your domain name, the domain name server will point your website visitors to the computer address where your website files live.

Websites really aren’t complicated, if you understand the terms behind the processes. My clients aren’t stupid – I wouldn’t work with them if they were – and I’ve learned my lesson about choosing words that turn simple processes into frustratingly difficult endeavors.

If you need help turning your website into a ‘simple process,’ get in touch with me – use the buttons on the left to connect on LinkedIn or Facebook, or email me at [email protected]
– Leslie Smith

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