Choosing the right domain name is crucial for building brand awareness and attracting visitors to your site. But what is a domain name, anyway? How does it relate to your website? And what should you consider when choosing one? In this article, we'll cover the 7 essential things every new website owner should know about domains.
Domain names are the unique names that help users find your website. They are combinations of letters, numbers, and hyphens that are easier to remember than the IP address that a website is hosted at. It's much easier to remember "example.com" than "192.168.1.1." In the same way that the street address of a physical store helps people find it in the real world, a domain name acts as your website’s online address.
When you type in a URL, or web address, into the address bar, you’ll see several components to the address. For example, in https://www.example.com/blog/allaboutdomains , “example.com” is the domain name. The other components of this URL include:
Some modern browsers hide the protocol and subdomain in the address bar to make the URL easier to read.
Websites are hosted on servers managed by your hosting company. Other computers locate and access these servers using their IP address, a string of numbers such as "192.168.1.1." While it’s easy for computers to use IP addresses, they’re difficult for us humans to remember.
Domain names provide a human-readable way for us to recognize and remember addresses. Typing the IP address “18.104.22.168” into your address bar will take you to Google. But it is much easier to remember, and type, “google.com.”
When you type a domain name into your web browser, it sends a request to a domain name server (DNS). The DNS searches for the IP address associated with the domain name you typed and returns the necessary information to your browser.
Your browser then sends a request, such as “www.example.com,” to the IP address that was provided by the DNS. The web server on the other end processes that request and returns the web page for www.example.com to your web browser.
You’ll need both a domain name and web hosting to build a website. The domain name is only the address that guides your audience to the correct location. Web hosting provides the storage space which contains your website’s files and data. It also includes the underlying software required to make your website accessible to the outside world.
If a domain name is similar to the street address of a store, we can see web hosting as providing the building and utilities necessary for you to house and run your store.
There are two parts to a domain name, the top-level domain (TLD) and the 2nd-level domain (SLD). The TLD is the extension at the end of the domain name, like ".com" or ".net". Countries have their own country-code top-level domain (ccTLD) like “.co.uk” for the United Kingdom or “.it” for Italy.
The SLD is the main part of the domain name, such as "example" in www.example.com . As both the TLD and SLD are needed to make a domain, it is worth remembering that “example.co.uk” and “example.com” could be different websites owned by different people.
Originally, the different types of TLDs had a specific purpose. For example, “.com” indicated commercial websites while “.org” was typically for non-profit organizations. Although these guidelines are no longer followed so strictly, some TLDs are restricted to specific groups. For instance, you can only register a “.edu” domain if you’re a post-secondary institution or organization in the United States that meets specific eligibility criteria.
Choosing a domain name for your website can be tricky. Short and popular domain names are often already taken. There are tools available on the web for generating domain names, and others for checking whether a domain name is still available.
Here are some common tips for choosing the right domain name:
When choosing a domain extension, consider the purpose of your website and the audience you're targeting. If you're running a commercial website, a ".com" domain is usually the best choice, but you might want to also register “.co.uk” if you’re also operating in the UK.
Once you've chosen your domain name, you'll need to register it. For this, you must use a domain registrar, which is a company that manages the registration of domain names.
Popular domain registrars include Bluehost, GoDaddy, and Namecheap. When registering your domain, you'll need to provide your personal information, such as your name, contact phone number, physical address, and email address.
When you buy the domain name, many of these companies will ask if you want to also purchase web hosting with them. Remember, you’ll need both the domain name and web hosting if you want to create a website. You don’t need to use the same company as your domain registrar and web host, but it can be more convenient to do so.
Once you’ve registered your domain name, it will be registered to you for a set period. This can usually be anything between 1 and 10 years. The domain name belongs to you for as long as it’s registered to you, but you’ll need to keep renewing the registration to maintain ownership of the domain.
Domain security is vitally important. Hackers can steal your domain name or redirect visitors to a malicious website. Once stolen, getting the domain recovered can be difficult and time-consuming. Here are some quick steps to reduce the risk of losing your domain:
There are also privacy considerations when purchasing a domain. When you register a domain, your personal information is stored in a public database called the WHOIS database. This means anyone can access your personal information, including your name, address, and phone number.
To protect your privacy, many domain registrars offer domain privacy services. This service replaces your personal information with the registrar's contact information in the WHOIS database.
Choosing the right domain is a crucial factor when looking to build a strong online presence. A domain name forms part of your brand's online identity, so you want to choose something that reflects your brand and is memorable for your audience.
Consider picking a domain name that is short, easy to spell, and doesn’t use hyphens or numbers. Depending on the purpose of your website, you might want to pick a specific type of TLD or ccTLD, such as .com or .co.uk.
Once you've chosen your domain name, register it with a domain registrar, and consider using domain privacy and security services to protect your personal information and domain. You’ll then need to choose a hosting service for your domain, which might be available through your domain registrar. Once you've completed these steps, you’re ready to start building your website.
Be sure to check out our lists comparing the best hosting services and domain registrars—we’ve tested and reviewed some of the top domain and hosting service providers to help you make an informed decision.