All campaigns need good websites - to tell voters your positions on the issues, to let them sign up to help your campaign, and even to collect contributions. Beyond creating great content for the site, there are several technical pieces that need to come together. Here's how domain name registration, website development, and web hosting work together to build your web presence.
Domain name registration
Registering a domain means deciding on a web address (also known as a URL) like voteforjanedoe.com, and then paying a provider (also known as a domain name registrar) to register that domain to you. Some popular domain name registrars are NameCheap.com, domains.google.com, or www.gandi.net.
When you register a domain, you’re buying the right to decide what should happen when someone types that web address into their browser. For instance, Google owns the domain gmail.com, and they’ve decided it leads to mail.google.com/. As the owner of the domain, Google controls where it “points”.
You are in control of where your URL leads. If you don’t have a campaign website, but you've registered a domain, you could point the domain to your Facebook page. Your domain name registrar should have good online help to tell you how to set that up. Once your domain is registered, you’re ready to build a site.
This is the creative part, where your website gets built with images, text, and maybe even video. Your site will probably also include a way for people to sign up for your mailing list and to donate to your campaign.
Popular tools for creating websites include Squarespace and WordPress. Ragtag uses Squarespace for candidate sites because we’ve found that Squarespace is easy to learn, even without experience.
Once the site is created, the final step is setting up hosting.
Think of website hosting as renting space on someone else’s computer. In that rented space, you store all the website images, video, text, etc. Some services, like Squarespace, include both website development tools and hosting, which is very convenient. WordPress.org doesn't include hosting, so you'd need to find (and pay) a hosting service to have a place to store your content.
A website hosting service will provide you with a web address (aka URL), but that URL probably isn’t very memorable. You want a great URL, which brings us back to the domain name that you registered at the beginning.
Remember that when you registered your domain, you were buying the right to decide what happens when someone types that domain name into their browser. Once you have a website hosted at, say, mumbo-jumbo-12345.squarespace.com, you can go to your domain registrar’s website and set your domain name - the nice one (voteforjanedoe.com, which is much nicer than the mumbo jumbo) - to point to it. This means that when someone types your domain name into their browser, PRESTO, they’ll see your wonderful website.
Some companies that offer website hosting can also be domain name registrars. Though it’s a convenient option, things can get sticky if you want to change to different website development tools or hosting. If you consider this option, be absolutely sure you won’t change hosting between now and the election.
This world can be confusing. If you still have questions, Ragtag volunteers can help!