There are essentially two parts to a website: The website itself (often built using something like WordPress), and the domain name. The domain name is your address for the digital world. It is how people pull up and find your website. The guide below is all about how to register a domain name, whether you’re a first-time website owner or an experienced webmaster.
How to register a domain name
If you’ve decided that you want to start a new website, one of the first steps is to purchase a domain name. Here’s a brief overview of the steps you should take (followed by a detailed description of each individual step).
- Decide on a top level domain/TLD (.com, .net, .org, etc.)
- Search for your desired name
- Consider a premium domain
- Choose a domain registrar
- Register the domain and pay the registration fee
- Set up DNS to point to your hosting plan
There’s a bit more to it than just that, however, so we’ll go over each step in more detail.
Step 1: Decide on a top-level domain/TLD
Top-level domains (TLDs) are essentially the end of a domain name. .com is the most common, followed by .net and .org. The TLD is an important component of your web address.
.com (which stands for “commercial”) is the gold standard top-level domain. It’s what most businesses, and even most individuals, would want for their website. Of all the websites globally, .com domains account for more than half.
The problem is that most .com domains are taken. It is quite difficult to find a quality .com domain that is still available to register.
Even so, most businesses should still try to find a .com domain. .com is the gold standard and always will be. It’s the most trusted domain extension, and the most well-known.
There are actually over 1,500 TLDs in total, and the number grows frequently. Many have a specific meaning or purpose:
- .Com originally meant “commercial”, and is the most popular for businesses
- .Org is typically meant for organizations/nonprofits, but it is also used by some informational websites
- .Net refers to “network”, and is a popular choice making up around 3% of the global total
- .ca, .co.uk, .com.au, etc. are “country code TLDs”, which are used for specific countries (Canada, the UK and Australia, respectively). These are very popular in their domestic markets, but less so outside of that specific country
- .game, .marketing, etc. are newer category-specific TLDs that have niche uses for specific industries
Most of the time you will choose a TLD and register a single domain. However, it may be worth registering multiple domains with different extensions, in order to prevent someone else from registering a similar sounding domain. If you go this route, you can simply redirect the “extra” domains to point to your primary one. For instance, you could use example.com as your primary website, and register example.co, example.net, and others, while redirecting them to the primary example.com.
Step 2: Search for a name
Next, it’s time to start searching for an actual domain name. Chances are, you will have to get creative here as your first pick will likely not be available.
Start by brainstorming a list of potential ideas. Here are some things to consider:
- Start with your “ideal” names
- Come up with alternatives by switching the wording around
- Consider using hyphens (-) in between words
- Use a thesaurus to look up alternatives to words you are using
- Use a domain name generator tool like Namechk to help
You will want to set aside a good amount of time for this task, as you don’t want to rush into a name that is not a good fit for your needs.
As you come across names, make note of what is available, and start a list of domains you are considering. You may also want to consider premium domains (see below).
Finally, keep in mind that you may want to reconsider your choice of TLDs (see above). In the first step, you may have decided that you want a .com – but you may find in step two that all the good .com’s for your topic are taken. In this case, it’s worthwhile to start considering other domain extensions.
Step 3: Consider a premium domain name
A “Premium” domain name is any domain name that is already registered, but still available for sale. When you purchase a premium domain, you will be buying it from an individual or company that already owns it, rather than directly registering it yourself. You can think of a premium domain like buying a house, rather than building it yourself.
Premium domain names will cost more than the standard registration cost. The costs can vary significantly, from as little as $50 to $100,000 or more.
The reason that you may wish to consider a premium domain is simple: most good domain names are already taken. If you want a great name for your website, you may have to shell out some extra cash to get it.
When you purchase a premium domain, you will purchase from the current owner for whatever price they have set. The domain will then be transferred to your account at a domain name registrar. At this point, you simply need to renew it every year for the standard domain renewal cost ($10-$50 in most cases). The “premium” cost is paid upfront and does not affect renewal cost.
Step 4: Choose a domain registrar
Once you have found a name that you wish to purchase, you will need to select a company to actually register the domain through. There are many good options out there, so we put together a dedicated guide of the best domain name registrars.
Step 5: Register the domain and pay the registration fee
Proceed with the registration process at the domain registrar you have chosen. Generally, this process is simple; you’ll just need to fill out a few details, including your name, address, and payment information.
The domain name registrar will walk you through the steps necessary to complete this step. But there are a few things to be aware of:
Fees vary depending on the type of domain name you are purchasing, and where you register it. Standard domains like .com, .net, and .org will usually be between $10 and $20 per year. Specialty TLDs can be quite a bit more – although some are even cheaper. Premium domains (see step #3 above) will consist of two costs: the standard registration fee, and the “premium” fee which goes to the current domain owner.
Domain name privacy
By default, the information of the domain name owner (you) will be publicly available through the Whois directory. This information includes your name, email, and other contact information. To protect your privacy and reduce spam, it’s a good idea to purchase domain privacy (also called Whois privacy) from your domain name registrar. Privacy protection may cost extra but is well worth the expense.
Most registrars will offer a suite of services that are beneficial for website owners. This includes web hosting, email services, SSL certificates, and more. Some of these may be quite helpful for you, but it really depends on your plans for the domain name.
Step 6: Set up domain name system (DNS)
Once you have registered your domain name, the final step is to set up DNS so that you can attach your domain to your hosting package. If you don’t plan to build a website any time soon, you can skip this step.
The Domain Name System, or DNS, is like the phonebook of the internet. It allows users to connect to a website via a domain name, rather than an IP address.
In order to set up your new domain, you will essentially need to “point” your new domain at your hosting plan’s DNS servers.
If you have hosting with the same company you registered your domain with, this may be done automatically for you.
If you have hosting at another service, you will need to manually assign DNS settings from your domain registrar. The specifics on how to do this vary depending on the registrar. You can check their support documents for details (and you will need to find the proper DNS details on your host’s end, as well).
Tips & tricks when registering a domain name
The steps above lay out the basic process that you will want to follow to register a domain name. But to make the most of your experience, consider these helpful tips and tricks for your domain name search.
Think outside the box
Finding the perfect domain name is tough. You might have to get creative. If keywords related to your business are all taken, consider going a more unique/brandable route. That might just be your business name itself, or perhaps your business name + the city you operate in.
Keep it short
Ideally, you want a domain name that is fairly short. Try to avoid using more than 2 or 3 words max. Consider the total number of characters, as well. Really, the shorter the better!
Leave room to expand
Think about your plans for this new website, and how they might evolve over time. You don’t want to box yourself in too much with your website name, particularly if you plan to expand your business or venture. For example, instead of registering a domain name with “dog walking” in it, consider using a broader term like “pet services”. That way, if you expand into pet sitting or other services, your domain name will still be relevant.
Avoid registered trademarks
To avoid future legal trouble, be sure to avoid the use of any registered trademarks within your domain name. For example, you shouldn’t use another company’s name in your domain, or any trademarked or copyrighted phrases.
Get an SSL certificate
SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer. It’s an internet security protocol that is very important for modern websites. It’s not technically required to have an SSL certificate, however, sites that don’t have one will run into more issues with security. Plus, many modern browsers now warn visitors that a site is “not secure” if the site does not have an SSL certificate. SSL certificates are inexpensive and can be purchased along with your domain name.
Don’t overthink SEO
SEO, or search engine optimization, is an important part of running a website or online business. And the domain name you choose can have an effect on SEO performance. However, it’s wise to not overthink it. Focus on finding a good domain name that suits your business, and don’t worry about now-outdated advice like including keywords in your domain name.
Domain names are renewed every year, and so you must pay the standard registration fee each year. But if you know that you will be using this domain name for several years, it can be worthwhile to prepay for a few years in advance. Some domain name registrars provide discounts on pricing when you prepay for a few years on a new domain.
Bundle with other services
Most registrars also offer compatible services like web hosting service or professional email ([email protected]), alongside domain names. In many cases, it pays to bundle these services together in order to earn a discount. For instance, some registrars offer a free domain name registration when you purchase a hosting plan. Others may have a website builder, which can help you actually build a site for your small business or project.
Take advantage of first year promos
Many domain name registrars have “first year” promos, where you can get a discount on the first year of registration. Be sure to note the renewal rate, however, as this can vary.
Consider multiple TLDs
Generally, you will register one domain name and call it good. However, it may be worth registering multiple domains with different TLDs. For instance, you may wish to register yourbusinessname.com, yourbusinessname.net, and yourbusinessname.co. By doing this, you have more flexibility for future projects – and you also prevent someone else from registering a similar-sounding domain name to yours.
What is a domain name?
A domain name is essentially the name of your website. It will usually look something like:
Your website will technically “live” at a static IP address, which is simply a bunch of numbers and looks something like: 126.96.36.199. The web host’s domain name servers (DNS) essentially “point” to this IP address when someone tries to access your website.
Because nobody will remember a string of random numbers, domain names serve as a memorable moniker that your customers or visitors will (hopefully) remember.
A domain name will always end in a “top-level domain” (TLD), otherwise known as a domain name extension. There are now hundreds of TLDs, but the most common are .com, .net, .org, .biz, .info, etc.
TLDs are issued by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), which is managed by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). However, most individuals will never interact with these organizations. Instead, they will likely use a domain name registrar to actually register the domain.
What is a domain name registrar?
A domain name registrar, often simply called a registrar, is a company that specializes in helping individuals register new domains. They often offer other compatible services, such as web hosting, as well.
Registrars are public-facing, meaning everyone can use them. They are basically middlemen between you and ICANN and IANA, the two organizations responsible for the “behind-the-scenes” of web domains.
A domain name registrar lets you sign up for an account, then register any domain that is available. The domain will be held at that registrar, and you’ll need to renew it every year (or prepay in advance).
The domain belongs to you; however, it’s “held” by the registrar. You can transfer the domain to a different registrar if you want, or to another individual’s registrar account, should you ever sell the website.
Why is a good domain name important?
Domain names are very important in this day and age. This is particularly true for small businesses. The domain you use is almost as important as the name of your business itself.
A good domain name is important because:
- It boosts the credibility of your business or project
- It improves recognition and brand awareness
- It is easy for clients/customers to remember
A good domain name will be memorable and easy for your customers to find and type in. Think about your future plans for the website – will you be advertising? Will you need to say the URL out loud, for instance in a radio advertisement?
A domain name should be short, memorable, and relevant to your industry or project. It should be easy to spell, and easily searchable.
Owning your own domain is a bit like owning real estate – on the internet!
How much does it cost to register a domain name?
Domain name registration is an annual expense, meaning you will need to renew it every year. The specific cost varies depending on the domain extension, and where you register it.
In general, you can expect most standard domains to cost between $10 and $20 per year. Some specialty domains may cost more or less than this guideline. There may also be first-year promos or other discounts that can reduce the cost of domain registration.
Premium domains are another matter entirely. Premium domains are domains on the secondary market – meaning that are already registered, and are offered for sale by their owner. The price on these domains may be as little as $50 or as much as several million. In fact, Voice.com sold for a record $30 million, while Cars.com was valued at approximately $872 million!
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