Setup one thing Microsoft 365 can’t do, web site hosting

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Microsoft 365 hosting plans are great and do most things a small business or organization needs except one thing … a public web site. Here’s how to setup a simple web site within Microsoft 365 hosted systems.

For an organization or small business, Microsoft 365 hosting has most tech needs covered.  Email, calendar, contacts, cloud storage, shared documents, collaboration tools like Teams and Sharepoint.

The important missing element is a public web page or site.

This article explains some simple, cheap options for making a good-looking web site or page.  How to link it to your domain name (hosted by Microsoft 365 or not). Plus, an alternative if you already have a good social media presence.

We know many small businesses, families and even individuals who use Microsoft 365 hosting services for email, calendar and contacts (i.e Exchange Server) . A ‘Business’ plan gives them most of the online services they need. (Families and individuals use a cheap Basic plan combined with a Microsoft 365 Family or Personal ‘subscription’ for the Office software)

You need your own domain name for the business, organization, family or person.  That has other advantages beyond a web site, like a permanent email address.

Where’s your web site?

Most organizations, however small, at least need a simple web page or two. In the 21st Century nothing truly exists unless it has a web site.  Something that confirms to the world that you’re ‘real’, tells people what you do and gives contact details.  The web pages can appear in searches for your business in Google, Bing and other search engines.

Web site hosts

We’re looking for simple web hosting for a site with just one or a few pages only.   In other words, a basic online presence.

  • Online tools that don’t need experts in either design or HTML.
  • Secure web site (SSL) is essential for anything that involves user input (contact form, online shop etc).  Google’s search downgrades site that doesn’t have SSL support, so it’s a good idea for all web sites.
  • Mobile device or responsive support (i.e automatically displaying the same site on the small, narrow smartphone screens).
  • Options for regular posts (blogging) and a contact form for customers to message you.

The first place to look is wherever you’ve bought/registered the domain name.  Most domain registrars offer extra services like web hosting, though sometimes their pricing is higher than elsewhere. 

Ignore packages that include email or other services already included with Microsoft 365 hosting.

Microsoft recommends GoDaddy, Wix and WordPress but they aren’t the only options, not by a long way.

GoDaddy has a bewildering array of products and we say that as a long-standing customer!  If you already have domains registered via GoDaddy, you might want to see if they have any of their many special offers available.

Wix seems like a simple way to setup a few web pages. Good for ‘DIY’ site creation with no expert help needed.  Their Connect or Combo plans would be enough for most small organizations.

WordPress is a widely used web publishing system for simple web sites and really complex ones too. Office-Watch.com runs on WordPress.  WordPress.com is a hosting service for the WordPress system.  A good choice if you want a simple site now but think the site might grow in the future. WordPress has the features and plug-ins to handle almost everything.

SquareSpace is another well-known hosting service. Other possibilities include Strikingly (good prices), Weebly and Site123 .

Many of these services offer a free trial or just buy a month while you do the setup.  If you’re happy with the result, buy a cheaper, annual plan.

While you’re creating the site, there’ll be a temporary domain name available so you can see how the pages looks on different devices (desktop, tablet and smartphone).

Make the web site available to the world

Once you have a web page or site ready, it’s time to link your web domain name to that site.  That lets people access your web site through your domain name.

That needs a change in DNS settings.   The web site host will tell you the settings you need to change – usually an IP address for the A record (we’ll explain in a moment).

Make sure you follow their settings exactly, preferably copy/paste the values.  A simple typing mistake can mess up DNS settings.  Don’t change any other DNS settings, especially not MX or any other settings recommended by Microsoft.

The DNS settings changed or added are A and CNAME

Many web site hosts offer domain/ DNS hosting (aka Transfer).  We’ll be focusing on keeping the current domain hosting and just changing (aka Pointing) to the public web site.

Pointing Microsoft 365 hosting to a public facing web site

If Microsoft 365 is the domain host or nameserver for your domain (Microsoft’s recommendation). Go to Admin | Settings | Domain, choose the domain name then Custom Settings.

If the domain settings are hosted elsewhere (e.g the domain registrar) , go to the DNS management pages to edit or add the web page settings.

Check there aren’t existing A and CNAME settings for the ones you need, if there are, edit them.

A record

Type:  A (Address)

Host Name or Alias:  @   (yes, just the single character, just like in an email)

IP address:  an IP address copied exactly from the web site host – it looks like 172.161.14.7

CNAME

Type: CNAME (Alias)

Host Name or Alias:  www   (just the three letters)

Points to:  the domain name only e.g.  office-watch.com  – no http prefix.

As you might have guessed, the CNAME covers people who type www. then the domain name.

Click Save then …

Wait ….

Anyone who has worked with DNS changes knows that you have to wait.  Changes you make take time to pass through the Internet, sometimes that only takes a few minutes but it can take hours or, rarely, days.  Techies know about the TTL (Time to Live) values.

In your browser, go to your web site using your custom domain name – just like a member of the public.   It might take a little while, but eventually your web site will appear. 

If not, carefully check your DNS settings and make sure they exactly match the web site hosts recommendations.

The forwarding or redirect alternative

If you already have a good social media presence on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, it’s possible to direct web site visitors to that page.  This saves extra web design work and duplication.

A web site can be redirected or forwarded to another web site or a social media page.  Anyone who tries to reach your www.<domain> in a browser will see the Facebook etc page instead.

Forwarding/Redirect to a specific web page isn’t possible just by DNS settings (only domain to another domain).   It’s usually handled with features available by your domain host. 

GoDaddy hosted domains have a Forwarding option.  NameCheap calls the same thing a Redirect.  Check with your domain host.  Microsoft 365 domain hosting does not include web forwarding (pity that).

If that’s not possible, you’ll need a very basic web hosting with a home page that’s just a redirection to the social media or other page.  That puts you in the world of HTTP redirections either a Temporary redirect (302) or more likely a Permanent redirect (301).

Or use CloudFlare’s free plan includes three ‘Page Rules’ which can be used to redirect a domain name to another web page.

It’s not that scary …

If it all sounds too much, don’t panic. 

The web site creation is very simple using one of the modern services like Wix or SquareSpace.

Changing the DNS entries might seem scary.  You might like to befriend a local nerd to hold your hand through the process.

The big takeaway …

There are simple and cheap ways to setup a simple web site for your personal or business domain name.

There’s no need to spend a lot of money for a basic page or two. 

Your current domain setup (managed by Microsoft or other) can be tweaked to work with the web site host of your choice.

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