A beginner’s guide to confusing website terms: domain names, web hosting, plugins, and more

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Building your own website is both easier and more complicated than ever before.

On one hand, website builders like Wix and Squarespace have made things more accessible with templates and “no coding knowledge required” (mostly 😐).

But on the other hand, as web tech and standards continue to evolve, there’s now more to consider: SEO, content management, branding, mobile-optimization, user-experience, analytics, plugins…

…it can get really overwhelming!

When I first started working with WordPress, the decision fatigue and imposter syndrome set in quickly. How do I know what combination of hosting, theme, plugin, and coding to use? Is everyone else just winging it??

(For the record, yes, a lot of the time we’re all just winging it 🥲. But after a while you’ll develop a repeatable process that gets better with practice!)

My goal with this inaugural blog post is to help you break down some common terminology so that you can better understand how to build your own website.

Domain names vs web hosting:
What’s the difference?

Your domain name is the address of your website. For example, my domain name is luckykaya.com.

It is NOT your website — it’s just the address.

Web hosting is how your website actually exists. It’s the place where your website lives. You pay a web host company to store and publish your website files, images, and content.

You need both a domain name and web hosting in order to have an actual website. A domain name without web hosting is just a name.

Some companies offer both in one package. You can also buy them separately from different companies.

Domain name companies include: Google Domains, NameCheap
Web host companies include: SiteGround, Cloudways

Note: Some website builders like Squarespace are a one-stop shop. They take care of the domain name, web hosting, CMS, and design (more on that below).

What is a CMS and do I need one?

Now that we’ve got a domain name and web hosting, it’s time to pick a CMS (content management system).

You could code your entire website by hand or… you could use a CMS 🙂 It’s your behind-the-scenes tool that takes care of the code stuff for you. Your CMS helps you upload and manage your website content.

You might think of your website as your house and the CMS as the structure of your house.

Examples of CMS: WordPress, Squarespace, Shopify, Webflow

Your CMS might need to be downloaded and installed on your web hosting (such as with WordPress), or it might already be included as part of a one-stop shop (Squarespace). If you’re worried about installation, it’s quite common for web hosts to offer easy one-click WordPress installation.

Special note: WordPress.org and WordPress.com are NOT the same thing. WordPress.org is a free CMS that you install on your web hosting. WordPress.com is more like premade blogs with little flexibility. Generally you can assume that when someone says WordPress, they mean .org.

The design part: website builders, templates, themes, and plugins

Whew, that was a lot! Hopefully you’re still with me. Things can get a little confusing here, just because different CMS’s use different terminology.

Following the earlier metaphor, the tools below are like the design of your house. They’re what you use to design the pages that users will see.

Website Builders

Website builders are like the photoshop of the web. They are the main tool you use to design your pages. Most of them have a powerful drag-and-drop feature that helps you design without using any code (again, mostly… 🥲).

A website builder can be a CMS, theme, or plugin (more on themes and plugins below). Yes this is confusing 🤢. It just depends on what CMS’s you go with.

For WordPress, you could install a website builder theme like Divi or, instead, a website builder plugin like Elementor Pro.

Squarespace is both a CMS and website builder, so no extra installation necessary.

Themes and Templates

A theme or template is essentially the overall look and feel for your website. It determines the color palette, fonts, and layout of a page.

For WordPress users, you must install a theme (free or paid) in order to begin building your website. You can use an extremely minimal theme to build upon as your own, or you can use a theme that’s already pre-designed and just swap out the text.

For Squarespace users, your equivalent is the template. You can install a template and customize the colors and fonts to your liking.

Plugins and Integrations

WordPress users also have tools called plugins. You can think of them as enhancements to your theme. Examples include SEO tools, ecommerce tools, and design tools.

Similarly, Squarespace officially offers integrations, though third-parties might call them plugins or extensions.

If you’re wondering what combination of themes and plugins I use, it’s WordPress + Hello Theme + Elementor Pro.

Well that’s great and all, but how do I know what’s the best option for me?

A common complaint from my clients is just the sheer overwhelm of all the options out there. Squarespace? WordPressShopify? Webflow? How do you know which platform to choose?

Maybe I’ll do a blog post about that in the future, but for now…

If you’re building your own website, my general advice is to do a little research and try a few of them out (free trial of course). All platforms will have good points and bad points, so it’s more a matter of picking one and sticking with it. Pick one that feels good and get really good at it.

But if you still want my two cents… ☕

Squarespace

Typically I’ll recommend Squarespace to people who want to DIY. Their templates look great out of the box and there’s an ecommerce component that isn’t a huge investment. You can get away with no coding, but might find some of the premade designs to be a bit restrictive without it.

WordPress

WordPress is what I use. If you’re going with WordPress, I highly recommend the Elementor Pro plugin. Admittedly the WordPress backend can be pretty clunky, but the design flexibility from Elementor Pro more than makes up for it. In comparison, I felt that Squarespace was more restrictive but had an easier learning curve.

Note: If you hire a designer (like me!) to set up your WordPress website for you, the most you will have to worry about is swapping text or images. Your designer will handle setting up all the rest of that good stuff we talked about here today 🙂

TLDR

So in summary, you need the following to build your own website:

1. A domain name
2. Web hosting
3. A CMS
4. A website builder and/or themes and plugins

You can mix and match with different providers for greater flexibility (ex. SiteGround + WordPress + Hello Theme + Elementor Pro) or you can use a one-stop shop (ex. Squarespace).

I know this might seem like a lot, but once you find a good rhythm, website setup and creation becomes a breeze (and dare I say, even fun??). It’s the kind of project that makes more sense once you get started.

Until next time… wishing you the best of luck on your next website project! ✌️

Stamp Lucky Kaya Creative Studio

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