What Is a Domain Name: A Comprehensive Guide for Beginners?

What does domain mean?

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The root address for a website or web page. The domain is the element of a DNS (domain name system) that indicates the IP address of a website or a computer. When more than one computer shares a common part of the same IP address they are said to be in the same domain.

While numbers are great for computers and software, people aren’t so great with numbers, which is why the domain name system was created. It translates the long numerical IP addresses into alphanumeric strings that can be more easily remembered by people.

To understand the meaning of the domain name system, you can think of a tree that has several branches. The domain would be a limb of the tree that incorporates all the branches of the tree that originate from it.

When people think of domains they often think of just the second level domain, but the fact is every website has both a second level domain and a top level domain. For example, the site you are on now is ecommerce-platforms.com. The part you probably recognize as the domain is “ecommerce-platforms”, but this is only the second level domain. The other part, “com” is known as the top-level domain, or TLD. You may have seen other top level domains, such as .net, .org or even .pizza! While .com is the original top level domain for commercial ventures, such as ecommerce websites, there are literally hundreds of different top level domains available these days.

I think you’ll agree with me when I say:

It’s quite tricky to run a website without a good idea of what it entails.

Or is it?

I’ll be honest with you!

It’s usually tough for most first-time online business owners—especially when it comes to getting a domain name—which is one of the most important aspects of starting up a website.

Well, the good news is:

There’s a way to make the whole domain name process 10 times easier, even as a newbie.

Really? Yes, by the end of the post, you’ll know how.

Also, you’ll be getting more detailed information on what is a domain name, how it works, and how to make the best choice.

Let’s get the ball rolling.

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What Is a Domain Name?

Let’s face it:

The internet would be a different place without domain names.

Why?

It’s clear—without a domain name, people can’t visit your website.

What does that imply?

It merely means that a domain name is an address to your website that you input in your browser’s URL to visit your site.

It also means that whatever domain name you choose will be unique to your website. And it can’t be shared between different sites.

Good examples of a domain name are http://www.bing.com, http://www.google.com, and http://ecommerce-platforms.com.

Now you have a good idea of what a domain name is, it’s time to know why it’s so essential for your website.

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Domain Name: Is It so Important for Your Website?

Why do people emphasize on the importance of domain names?

Are they so IMPORTANT?

The simple answer is YES! I mean, how will people access your website in the first place when your URL doesn’t exist.

The right domain name is practically your first impression to visitors that visit your website.

That said, a good domain name automatically makes a positive and lasting impression. A bad one does the exact opposite (send visitors running).

A domain name also affects your SEO (Search Engine Optimization).

The screenshot above shows how a great domain name can help your website’s SEO by bringing it to the first page when a web user searches on Google like in this case, “Pizza in TheColony Texas.”

How?

Simple! Since there’re keywords in your domain name, it can help your SEO ranking.

The dream of most business owners is to increase brand recognition. And getting a good domain is a great way to start.

Must I say that your domain name is one way to increase your brand recognition? I think you already know the answer!

But, before we go deeper into domain names, let’s have a clear picture of where it all started and who controls them.

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What’s the Origin of a Domain Name and Who Controls Them?

A non-profit organization called ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) manages the domain names system.

The governing authority also creates and implements the policies for domain names.

The picture above shows the home page of the ICANN website.

The organization came into existence in 1998. And it focuses on the operation of the root name servers, the global DNS, operation of IP spaces, creation of new TLDs, and assignment of IP blocks to regional internet.

But there’re certain things that the ICANN doesn’t do, like helping in policing the internet for spam, registering domain names, and controlling access to the internet itself.

Does the organization sell domain names?

No, it doesn’t. But ICANN permits Domain Name Registrars (companies that sell domain names).

That’s not all.

Domain Registrars carry out other functions. Some of those functions include: making changes to your domain names registered on your behalf, selling domain names, transferring it to other registrars, and managing its records.

What role do you play in all of this?

Your role as a domain name owner is to renew your domain registration and tell the registrar where to send your requests.

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How Do Domain Names Work?

The best way to understand how domain names work is to know the channels it passes through. The process starts when you input your domain name in your web browser.

Once you do that, it sends a request to a global network of servers.

The global network of servers, in this case, is what makes up the Domain Name System (DNS)—which refers to a system of organizing information associated with domain names.

Then, the servers proceed to search for the name servers associated with the domain. Afterward, the servers forward the request to those name servers.

For instance, if you host your website on HostGator, its name server information will look like this:

ns1.hostgator.com

ns2.hostgator.com

Screenshot showing the name servers on the Hostgator platform.

The name servers are computers. And your hosting company helps you manage them.

What is a hosting company?

A hosting company is an organization that provides space on a server to make your website accessible via the World Wide Web.

Your hosting company also forwards every of your request to the computer that stored your website.

The computer that stores your website is called a web server, and it usually comes with a special preinstalled software.

The web server helps to fetch the web page with some information associated with it.

In the end, the webserver sends the data back to the browser.

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What’s the Difference Between Domain Names and Websites?

Is there a difference between domain names and websites?

Yes! There is.

Let’s start with a website. We can define a website as a collection of web pages on the World Wide Web. Let’s say it’s like a living entity that relies on the relationship of the web host, site files, and domain name.

So, it’s impossible to run a website if the domain name, site files, or web host isn’t set correctly or gets corrupted.

In contrast, a domain name usually functions as the communication between your device (laptop, PC, or any other system) and the website you want to access.

Hence, it’s safe to conclude that the website is a combination of web pages, while the domain name provides security and makes the communication between the system and the website.

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Which Should I Go For; Free or Paid Domain Names

Before you opt for free or paid domain names, it’s crucial to weigh the benefits and snags of each—then, choose the one that best suits your business.

You can get free domain names from different website builders like Weebly, Wix, WordPress.com, etc. Since it’s a free domain name, the website builders give you a sub-domain.

For example, if your domain name is brownsite, the sub-domain will look like:

  • brownsite.weebly.com
  • brownsite.wix.com
  • brownsite.wordpress.com

The screenshot of the page above shows a clear example of how a subdomain page looks.

One of the apparent advantages of a free domain is the fact that it costs nothing. It’s also great if you’re new to websites and your site offers seamless paid upgrades.

So, you can start with a free domain until you’re ready to scale up.

Are there snags with free domains?

Of course!

They don’t offer many features—they won’t fully meet your preferences. Plus, if you have a thing for “.com,” the site usually leaves a portion of their domain in your URL.

Free domain names restrict you to a specific number of pages for your site. Also, it offers you less bandwidth and storage space. And you may not have access to 24/7 customer support.

That’s not all.

The company may place their branding on your site. Finally, websites with free domain names perform poorly in search engines.

Why?

It’s because there’ll be a high bounce rate from your site—thanks to your unappealing domain. The bounce rate sends a signal to search engines—which hurts your rankings in search results.

Now let’s talk about paid domain names.

Paid domains are more reliable—which is no surprise, considering they charge a fee to keep their servers in good condition.

You’ll also enjoy 24/7 customer service. A paid domain is 100% yours—so you’ll have your logo and name on your website (no ads).

There’s more.

The paid domain name has no restrictions or guidelines. Plus, it helps you rank higher in the SERPS for high-traffic SEO keywords—when your competition is second-level subdomains.

A paid domain name comes with a full-featured DNS manager that allows you to handle everything you need.

Does it have drawbacks?

Well, for starters, a paid domain comes at a price. And it may have complicated DNS managers—which some beginners find hard to configure.

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What Is the Cost of a Domain Name?

The cost of a domain name usually depends on the registrar's pricing.

So how should your budget look?

Well, you should have a budget of about $10 to $20 per year for a domain name.

Image showing the average cost of a regular domain name.

Before you get so excited, there’s something else.

What could that be?

You may find some domain names that cost thousands to millions of dollars.

Why?

Not so common, though, but it happens when the domain name is in high demand. But the annual renewal fee should go back to the $10-$20 budget.

If you’re in such a hurry to grab one immediately, here’s a list of some registrars and their costing for a domain name per year.

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Where Should I Buy a Domain Name: Website Builder or Registrar

Before you decide where to buy your domain name, you have to consider the benefits and snags of each—then go for the one that best suits you.

Buying a domain name from a registrar offers you cheap annual fees. Also, if you decide to switch website builders at any time, you can connect with the new website builder and keep the domain name with the domain name registrar.

The disadvantage of this option is that connecting to your domain name may be a bit more technical because the domain name registrar is outside the web builder.

As for website builders, you could get a free domain name for one year after subscribing to an annual plan. It also means that you get to save a year’s worth of domain name fees.

Since website builders streamline their connection process with a few clicks, connecting your domain name to your website is quite easy.

But, using website builders means paying slightly more in subsequent years after the first free year—which excludes privacy registration for your domain name.

If you decide to change website builders, it’s necessary to transfer your domain name out of your old website builder.

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What Are the Most Popular Domain Name Registrars?

There’re many popular domain name registrars out there.

But you asked for the most popular, right?

Here’re a few you can check out:

  • HostGator.com
  • Bluehost.com
  • Namecheap.com
  • GoDaddy.com
  • Domain.com
  1. HostGator started in 2002. Then, the Endurance International Group bought it in 2012—and they still own it till today.

A screenshot of Hostgator’s home page.

The company is a web hosting provider that offers options like Windows hosting, VPS cloud, web, WordPress, dedicated, and application.

HostGator comes with great pricing, uptime, and loading speeds. And it will cost you $12.95 per year if you want to register a .com, .biz, .co, .org, .net, or .info website with the company.

  1. Bluehost is another famous company that started in 2003. Interestingly, the same Endurance International Group owns it.

A screenshot of Bluehost’s home page.

Bluehost hosts over 2 million websites, and they offer reseller hosting, WordPress, shared, dedicated, and VPS. They also give you access to phone support, 24/7 live chat, and email ticketing.

You can expect to pay $11.99 per year for a domain. And the domain comes free with each hosting package.

The Domain Privacy Protection goes for an additional $11.88 per annum—which amounts to $23.87 per year—for your domain and privacy protection.

  1. Namecheap started in 2000. ICANN recognized the Phoenix-based company as an accredited registrar.

The Namecheap’s home page

The company has about 3 million customers and manages over 7 million domains.

In 2010, the company got recognition from Lifehacker as the “Best Domain Name Registrar.” In 2012 it was also named “Most Popular Name Registrar.”

Namecheap offers app integration, email, domain transfers, SSL certificates, etc. The web hosting provider also provides private email hosting, reseller, shared, WordPress, and VPS.

If you have questions, they have a live chat and email ticketing customer support. Registering a .com website through Namecheap goes for $8.88 per year.

There’s more.

The company also provides other affordable top-level domains like—.online, .info, .xyz, etc. Plus, the privacy protection is free if you register a new domain or transfer over an existing one.

  1. GoDaddy is a great company that has been around for over 20 years, and more than 17 million people around the world use their services. GoDaddy manages over 73 million domain names—which makes them the largest domain name registrar in the world.

The image above showing Godaddy’s home page.

GoDaddy offers domain registration, web hosting, domain transfers, online marketing tools, web security, professional email powered by Microsoft, domain value approval, etc.

They provide 24/7 global customer support via phone and live chat. A .com website with the company goes for$9.99 for the first year. After that, you’ll pay $17.99 each year.

If you want other top-level domains like .co, .tech, or .net, you will need to pay more annually. The WHOIS privacy protection with the company goes for $9.99 per year per domain for personal protection.

But, adding privacy protection for your business, as well, will cost you $14.99 per year per domain.

  1. Domain.com started 20years ago, and it specializes in VPS hosting, web design, online marketing services, domain names, email, and SSL certificates.

Currently, they provide shared hosting plans, WordPress hosting, and VPS hosting.

The homepage of Domain.com

Regardless of the hosting plan you choose, you’ll get at least one free domain name with unlimited disk space, marketing tools, eCommerce solutions, and SSL certificates.

Domain.com has customer service options that include a Frequently Asked Question Area, and 24/7 phone support.

To register a domain, you’ll pay $12.99 for a .net website per year and $9.99 for a .com per annum. An additional cost of $8.99 goes for your domain privacy protection per year per domain. So you can expect to pay a total of $18.98 for a .com domain and WHOIS privacy protection.

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9 Awesome Tips on How to Choose the Perfect Domain Name

Now, you know what it costs to get a domain name. The next question should be: how do you begin your quest to get the perfect domain name that represents your business online?

In this section, I’ll take you through nine tips that will ease the whole process.

1. Always Go for the Ideal Name Extensions (.Org, .Com, .Net)

There’s a good reason why we see .com on most websites—it’s the best. And statistics from DomainNameStat shows that over 40% of all domains have the “.com” extension.

Is that the only reason?

No. it’s also the most familiar and easiest to remember. Even though the .com extension is about the safest bet, you can still consider other successful ones like .org, or .net.

What if they are all taken?

Then, you’ve to think of a domain name that resonates perfectly with your business and avoid weird extensions like “.space,” or “.club.”

2. Pick Brandable Over Generic

Since your domain name tells a lot about your business online, it’s always best to choose creative and brandable over generic—after all, it’s the foundation of your brand.

So, what’s the difference between both?

A generic domain looks like example.com, newexample.net, or pureexample.com—it doesn’t stand out from the competition (it only has keywords stuffed in them).

A brandable domain name is the opposite of generic—it stands out from the competition because it’s unique. It looks like airbnb.com, google.com.

A good tip here is that you can also use descriptive names that point to your services like goldpalace.com.

How do you find a brandable domain name?

You can get brandable domain names with any of these three methods:

  • create catchy new words,
  • use a thesaurus to get inspiring words that fit your brand,
  • use tools like the domain name generators to create a unique name with your initial ideas and keywords.

3. Embrace Short Over Long

While you’re busy getting the perfect domain, it’s crucial always to remember to keep it short.

Why?

Shorter names are generally better and easier to remember.

DataGenetics fetched us some statistics that showed that the most common name length is approximately 12 characters long. And the average length of a domain name is 13.539 characters long.

What does all this data mean?

It means that you should work towards a concise domain name. Ideally, you should aim for 6-14 characters.

What if you can’t find something short?

Stick to the advice in the second tip (make it brandable).

4. It Should Be Easy to Type

What do you think popular websites in the world like Instagram, Facebook, Google, Bing, Yahoo, and the likes have in common?

Yes! You got that right—they are all easy to spell.

When you come up with a name, ensure it’s easy to spell—if you don’t want your visitors cruising on a website that isn’t yours.

You can test your domain name by telling people about it. If you find yourself doing so much explaining with the spelling, it’s a red flag. And it also means that your domain name is too complicated.

So, the best thing to do is simplify it.

5. Make It Easy to Pronounce

Once you’ve crossed the first bridge (the ease of typing the name), the next thing you should check for is the ease of pronunciation.

Is it that important?

Look at it like this: how do you want people to refer your business to others? With word of mouth, right?

Well, if that’s the case—how possible do you think it is when people find it hard to pronounce—they won’t even bother saying it. And that may hurt your business.

So, the rule here is to ensure that your domain name is easy to pronounce as it is to spell. You can run a test by asking a few people to write your domain name and say it.

If the results come back positive—you’re on track. But if it doesn’t, do two things: review and simplify.

6. Stay Away From Hyphens and Numbers

You’re probably wondering why you should avoid hyphens and numbers.

Here’s the simple logic: remember how you’re supposed to make your domain name short, easy to spell and pronounce?

If you start adding hyphens and numbers, what do you think will happen?

Yes! It complicates the name. Imagine if Instagram was Insta-gram03458 (it may not be as popular as it is today).

So, it’s always safer to weed your domain names of hyphens and numbers—that way, your domain name will stay smooth and punchy.

7. Long-Term Over Short-Term

If you plan to stay in business for a long time, your domain name should define your business and brand for years.

What if you make a mistake, change your mind, or want something different in the long run?

It’s always a huge pain considering that it will cost you money, branding, and SEO rankings.

That’s why I always advice that you think long-term before you choose your domain.

What if you plan to expand your business to a broader spectrum in the future?

It’s best to reconsider your domain name—so you don’t end up pinning yourself to a specific niche when you want to expand.

In summary, always have your long-term vision in mind before you pick a domain name—to help you expand with ease in the future.

8. Check for its Availability

After the whole process of getting the perfect domain name, you need to check if there’re trademarks registered to the name or if it exists on social media sites.

Why?

Because when you build your brand, it’s good to have the same name across social networks. And it also builds familiarity and makes it easy for your customers to find you around the web.

If you go ahead with names that have trademarks, you’re calling for some serious legal issues. So, always check current trademarks to be on the safe side of the law.

What if your potential name isn’t available?

Tweak it—so you can create original social media profiles.

9. If You’re Stuck, Stick to Domain Name Generators

You’ve done all your magic, but it doesn’t seem to fit. What if some of the words are trademarked or taken?

Not to worry, there’s a solution: domain name generators. They help you convert your ideas to new, available domains.

You can start with domain name generators like Shopify's Domain Name Generator.

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Is There Need to Protect My Personal Information with Private Registration?

Between January 2017 and March 2018, data attackers and external hackers compromised almost 1.9 billion records of personal data. The record translates to about 75% of data breaches.

Sadly, the average cost of a single data breach can go for $3.62 million.

With how damaging data breaches can be, don’t you think it’s vital to take domain privacy protection seriously?

Yes! And this is how it works:

When you register your domain name, a database called WHOIS saves your details publicly.

Domain privacy protection is an add on service—that helps you keep your data hidden from the rest of the world.

What if you don’t want the add on service?

It means that anyone can have access to your personal information like your name, email address, phone number, mailing address, and other information you used to register your domain name legally.

It’s possible to trace the ownership of any domain on the internet with the WHOIS lookup feature.

The screenshot below shows the perfect example of what you see when you search the domain registrant details for ‘Adidas.com.’

In the screenshot above, you can see information on the domain registrar, when the registration expires, when it was last updated, and registrant contact.

For a big company like Adidas, it’s not an issue to go public with this kind of information. But for a small business owner, you have to be careful with accessibility to the information about your business.

Why?

It poses a huge risk—especially if you’re working on a new project for your website in stealth mode. What do you think will happen if anyone accesses your private information?

Your guess is as good as mine.

Could it get any worse?

Yes, it could. And here are other things that could happen:

Since your personal information is out there, it’s quite easy for pushy marketers to get hold of it and get to work.

So, you may be bombarded with all sorts of unwanted calls or even get scammed in the process.

Also, it could put your website and other online assets at risk of getting hacked—which means that anyone could break your domain control panel and transfer your site to their names without your consent.

Data hackers could collect your data and sell it to third parties—which is a trivial issue you shouldn’t overlook.

There’s more.

Exposing your data could result in getting a lot of spam mails.

It’s the dream of most spammers to obtain personal information on public directories—and use the most accessible channel (emails) to target small business owners.

Your competition can easily stalk you if your personal information is accessible. In a case where you’re offering something unique to the marketplace, leaking out information to your competitors can prove to be very expensive—especially if you’re working with limited resources.

Is there a way you can register a domain with fake data?

Unfortunately, you can’t register a domain without authentic information.

Why?

Simple! Every piece of information you provide to your domain registrar is verified. And authenticity is compulsory for any small business owner to earn respect and trust of your audience from the beginning.

Or can you afford to look fake in front of your audience?

So, what options do you have?

First off, you have to call your hosting provider’s or domain registrar’s customer support to confirm if you have domain privacy protection.

Sometimes, small business owners have no clue about these things—because they rush through the process of domain registration.

If you have it already, good. But if you don’t have it, here’re some options you can use:

Get the domain privacy protection when you’re registering a new domain name. Or you can add the domain privacy to an existing domain name—it’s an easy and inexpensive add on that can save you a lot of trouble.

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FAQs on Domain Names

Most beginners always have questions they ask about domain names. Here’re some of the most commonly asked questions:

What is a top-level domain name?

The top-level domain refers to the part of a domain that comes after the dot—for instance, org, com, net, etc.

What happens when a domain name expires?

The moment a domain name expires, it becomes inactive. And all the services that are attached to it won’t function. It also implies that you won’t be able to make any updates to the domain.

What is a domain name system (DNS)?

The DNS or domain name system is a naming database that helps to translate domain names to IP addresses—to allow browsers to load internet resources.

What is domain name parking?

Domain name parking comes in play when you buy a domain name without associating it with web services like web hosting or email. So, you can park your domain name with a holding or landing page till you’re ready to use it.

Can I buy a domain name forever?

It’s possible to buy a domain name forever as long as you get a supplier that auto-renews your domain due date.

Is it possible to cancel my registration of a domain name?

Yes, it’s possible. Some domain registrars allow you to do it at any time. But you have to note that once you cancel your registration, it will be available to others to register.

Can I sell a domain name?

Of course, you can. There’s usually a high demand for good custom domain names. Plus, there are many marketplace websites where you can list your domain name for sale.

Can I purchase more than one domain name?

Yes, you can decide to buy as many domain names as you like.

What is WHOIS?

WHOIS is a query and response protocol. It provides you with information about the availability of a domain name, the domain holder, the date of registration and expiration, etc.

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It’s up to You Now…

I hope this guide was able to give you a clear picture of the topic: what is a domain name?

At this point, I’d like to turn it over to you:

What tip in this post stood out for you?

Do you plan to take the bold step to buy a domain name for your website? Or you want to give it more time to sink in.

Perhaps you have a question about something you read.

Either way, you can let me know by leaving a comment below now, and I’ll do my best to respond.