Domainology: The Beginners Guide to Domain Names

The importance of domain names cannot be overlooked—it’s unlikely people would be able to find your website without them.

Every computer on the net has an Internet Protocol (IP) address, a unique string of four numbers divided by periods that identify them (e.g., 178.376.1.8). Imagine trying to remember the IPs of all your favorite websites! Thanks to the domain name system, which allows you to assign a unique name to the IP address of your site, you don’t have to.

But domain names are more than a technical shortcut. A short, memorable domain name could be the difference between your business becoming a known internet brand or being lost in cyberspace.

Registering domains requires thought and technical know-how, which can be overwhelming when you’re starting out. But it doesn’t have to be. Read this foolproof guide to learn the most important things you need to know about registering, switching, and adding new domains.

There are many things to consider when buying domain names. Below are the core steps you need to take.

1. Choose Your Domain Name

Before buying a domain name, you need to think of one. There are two main ways of doing this:

  • Create a Branded Domain: This is simply using your businesses name as the domain name. Most of the worlds biggest brands do this.
  • Use Keywords for Your Domain: This involves thinking of words that relate to your brand, then experimenting with combinations until you find something catchy (and potentially SEO-friendly). For example, home improvement store B&Q owns the domain[1].

While doing this, you’ll also want to consider what top-level domain extension you want your domain to have. This is what comes after the dot in your web address. Common ones are .com and .org, but you can also get country-code top-level domains (ccTLD) and generic top-level domains (gTLD). ccTLDs are great if you want to signify you’re a local organization, while gTLDs (especially more descriptive ones like .pro[2].lgbt[3], or .organic[4]) are great for being memorable or showing off a little more about your company. You can, of course, always buy a range and have them redirect to the same site. You can find a current list of every TLD that is live on the internet by visiting the IANA[5] website.

Whatever you decided, make sure it’s short and memorable. All the best domains are. Also, say your domain out loud. This can reveal problems you’d not previously considered. Does it sound ok? Is it difficult to spell if someone says it to you? Could it be hiding an embarrassing mispronunciation?

2. Check Your Domain Name

Now you’ve decided what you want, there are a series of checks you’ll need to go through before buying your domain name:

  • Make Sure It’s Available: Before you can own it, you need to know if the domain available for purchase and from who. Someone may already own it, or you may only be able to purchase it from certain domain registrars. You can easily find domain registrars or figure out if gTLD domains are available by visiting their required NIC site at nic.TLD (for example[6]).
  • Search Other Domain Names: If you’re buying a .pro extension, does anyone else already own the same second level name with a different TLD, like .com or .org? If so, this could create confusion for your customers. If not, now is a good time to purchase additional extensions. Even if you don’t need them now, this prevents cybersquatting[7] and allows for you to redirect users navigating to other extensions.
  • Search for Trademarks: Avoid troubles down the line by checking that your domain doesn’t contain trademarks. It’s easy to search for trademarks online[8].
  • Check Its Past Reputation: Someone may have used your domain before. If they haven’t treated it very well, this can affect your ability to appear in search engines, or send your emails directly into the spam folder. Check your future domain’s history using The Internet Archive[9] to uncover any possible issues.

3. Check the Registrar You’re Buying From

Now you’re ready to register the domain, you’ll need to choose the domain name registrar you’re going to purchase it from. A domain name registrar is a company that manages the registration of internet domain names. They must be accredited by a gTLD or ccTLD registry[10] and act in accordance with the guidelines of said registries. Here are some key things to consider when choosing a registrar:

  • Check That You Can Renew Automatically: This is fairly standard, but ensure you can automatically renew your domain name. Forgetting to do so could cause your website to go offline once the registration expires, or allow a competitor to jump in and purchase your domain.
  • Make Sure There is Flexibility: You may not immediately have the skills, but make sure you have the power to control your DNS settings. This will enable you to use domain services such as web hosting[11] and email from other suppliers.
  • See What Support is Included: Especially if you’re not tech savvy, choosing a supplier with good support can save you a headache down the line—even if it costs a little more.
  • Make Sure the Domain is Registered in Your Name: Particularly if you are using an outside web design agency; ensure your supplier registers you as the domain owner and you have access to the registrar account. If it’s registered in their name, they can seize control of it at any time and hold your business to ransom.

Whether you’ve decided to buy a descriptive new TLD[12] that better represents your business, or are completely re-branding, the process of switching domains takes a lot of planning and thought as it can significantly impact your search rankings (for better or worse). That being said, hundreds of thousands of brands have done this successfully, and there are tons of great guides and experts out there to support you in this journey.

1 2