A Beginner’s Guide to Domain Names

Are you wondering how to choose and buy a domain name?

Maybe you’re wondering how the registration process works, or how you link a domain name to a website.

If you are, this article will help you out. We’ll be looking at everything you need to know to research, register and manage domain names.

Let’s start by answering a few basic questions.

What is a domain name?

You probably know this already, but as this is a beginner’s guide to choosing a domain name, I’m saying it anyway – a domain name denotes where your website or blog lives on the internet.

It makes it easy for people to find you. All they have to do is type in your web address, which contains your domain name, and they’re on your website.

Web address (aka URL) – https://stephenduckworth.com
Domain name – stephenduckworth.com

Check out this guide on How to Build a Self-Hosted WordPress Website.

How much does a domain name cost?

Prices vary greatly from company to company and country to country. It also depends upon the domain extension you want to buy.

The most widely used TLD (top-level domain extension) is .com. If you shop around, you can buy them for as little as $1.00.

What you must be wary of are the renewal costs. These can also vary greatly from company to company. If your website is doing well and earning money, the cost of renewing the domain is negligible. Somewhere between $10 and $20 would be about right.

Why are new domain names so cheap?

Domain registrars and web hosting companies are desperate for business. Especially if you’re a newbie.

Once you’re onboard with them, unless you have a terrible experience, you very likely become a customer for life because the perception of switching to another hosting company is just too confusing or downright scary.

This is why they offer starter packages at such low prices.

What about the new domain extensions, they’re not cheap!

The newest domain extensions are more expensive than the ones we’re typically used to. You very rarely see any of the new domain extensions offered as cheap as .com, .net or any of the ones we’re used to.

Here’s a list of some of the newest domain extensions to give you an idea of what’s out there.

.academy
.agency
.bargains
.bike
.blog
.boutique
.build
.builders
.buzz
.cab
.camera
.camp
.careers
.center
.cheap
.clothing
.club
.codes
.coffee
.company
.computer
.condos
.construction
.contractors
.cool
.cruises
.dance
.democrat
.diamonds
.directory
.domains
.education
.email
.enterprises
.equipment
.estate
.expert
.exposed
.farm
.flights
.florist
.foundation
.gallery
.glass
.graphics
.guru
.holdings
.holiday
.house
.institute
.international
.kitchen
.kiwi
.land
.lighting
.limo
.management
.marketing
.menu
.ninja
.photography
.photos
.plumbing
.properties
.recipes
.rentals
.repair
.reviews
.shoes
.singles
.social
.solar
.solutions
.support
.systems
.technology
.tips
.today
.training
.uno
.vacations
.ventures
.villas
.voyage
.watch
.wiki
.works
.zone

How long is the registration period of a domain name?

The typical minimum registration period is one year and the maximum period is 10 years.

What happens when your domain name needs renewing?

Most registrars offer an automatic renewal option (which can happen 30 days BEFORE the renewal date). This is great if you’re serious about your website and don’t want to let the registration lapse.

If you’re testing the water or experimenting with different websites, you might like to switch off the automatic renewal option (I learned this the hard way!) and instead choose to renew manually.

Beware! If you switch off the automatic renewal feature and forget to renew it manually, your website and email will eventually stop working.

When you create an account with a registrar or a hosting company, be sure to manage it through your main email account. The company will contact you from time to time, so be sure to pick up those emails as they may contain important information (such as renewal dates, downtime or problems with your payment method).

What’s the best format for a domain name?

First, let’s look at a typical domain name and the options available to you:

  • Niche keywordskeepingfit.tld
  • Keyword rich (for SEO)businesscity.tld (joinermanchester, plumbersandiego, solicitorsysdney – this type of domain also works the other way around: sysdneysolicitor, sandiegoplumber, manchesterjoiner)
  • Your real namejoebloggs.tld
  • What the blog/site is aboutmountainbikingblog.tld
  • A made up wordchumittzel.tld
  • Words/letters and numbers123abc.tld
  • Numbers – 54321.tld

The ‘tld‘ part in the list refers to ‘top-level domain‘. The most popular extensions are .com, .net and .org. After that, there are loads of country and trade specific options – .co.uk, .ca, .fr, .photography, .blog and .coffee to name just a few.

The most popular extensions are .com, .net and .org.

After that, there are loads of country and trade specific options – .co.uk, .ca, .fr, .photography, .blog and .coffee to name just a few.

Let’s look at country specific domain extensions

Every country has it’s own domain extension. Even the US.

Contrary to popular belief, the US extension is not .com, it’s actually .us.

One important factor to consider when researching domain names is your target audience.

If you’re targeting the world, you definitely want a .com, .net or .org domain.

If you’re setting up a website for a UK audience, the domain at the top of your list should end .co.uk. Not .com.

You probably should buy .com if it is available (and redirect it to the .co.uk address), but don’t worry too much if somebody already owns it, especially if it doesn’t have an active website attached to it.

The reasons you want a country specific extension are search engine rankings and perception.

Google, other search engines and people, know a website with a .co.uk extension contains content (and perhaps Amazon or other affiliate links) primarily aimed at people living in the UK, even if the content has global relevance. Using the .co.uk extension helps Google understand this, and searchers seeing a site listed in the results with a .co.uk extension may favour it over a .com, .net or .org.

Choosing and buying a domain name – what are the options?

In an ideal world choosing a domain name should be a lot of fun. In the real world, it’s a pain in the arse.

The reason it’s such a pain is the lack of availability.

If you’re looking for a one or two word .com domain that makes sense, it’s highly likely it’s already been snapped up by somebody else.

Either somebody who’s had the same idea as you or a speculating domainer.

I have bought a load of domains over the years and I’ve often had to add a third word to allow me to get something close to what I wanted. If you’re in this situation, think of words that add further meaning without compromising the rest of the domain – blog, guide, book, online.

What are the alternatives to .com?

A domain name with a .com extension is what most people looking for global reach search for first.

If the .com option is unavailable, the next best option is .net. This extension doesn’t have the same kudos as .com, but .net and other top-level domains are no less effective when it comes to search rankings.

If you can’t get an exact match, try adding further words to the start or the end. I’ve already given you some suggestions, here are a few more:

  • my
  • go
  • pro
  • your
  • new
  • i

Strange, made up or misspelt domain names

No doubt you will have noticed the internet is full of websites that have strange, made up or misspelt domain names – Google and Digg (remember it?) spring to mind without thinking too hard.

And although the meaning isn’t immediately clear, once you know what the sites are about, the meanings behind the domain names become very obvious.

Let’s look at Google. It comes from the word ‘googol’, which was originally coined in 1938 by Milton Sirotta and means ‘the number 1 followed by 100 zeros‘.

Digg has two meanings for me. The first is to dig something as in like, and the second is to dig something as in find through the act of digging. Digg is probably the perfect name for a site like Digg.

Here are a few more for you:

  • Fiverr
  • Triberr
  • Shopify
  • Contently

If you want your site to stand out from the crowd, making up a word is a good place to start.

Creative companies are particularly fond of this type of domain name and they work very well for sites with global aspirations.

If you’re a local Bob the builder or Joe the plumber, you might prefer to think about a more practical domain that describes what you do and perhaps where you do it.

Do you really need keywords in your domain name?

In September 2012, Google updated its algorithm to target low-quality but high-ranking websites that relied far too heavily on what’s known as an ‘exact match domain‘ – think weightlosstips.tld, buy-cheap-domain-names.tld and makemoneyfast.tld – to boost rankings and bring in traffic.

Google’s result pages were littered with thin sites offering little or no value to visitors. The sites, typically loaded with AdSense or affiliate ads, generated lots of cash for site owners but left searchers unsatisfied.

The EMD update wiped out a lot of the dross and deterred people from buying and using exact match domains.

However, there’s nothing wrong with using an exact match domain, as long as the site has ‘quality content’ (read: is useful and satisfies the searcher).

Looking at it from a user’s perspective, the domain name ‘treesurgeonliverpool.tld’ makes more sense than ‘mkdservices.tld’, and you will be more tempted to click on the keyword rich domain over the branded domain.

So, don’t discount an exact match domain if you can deliver on user expectations.

Despite all the Google updates it still seems keywords in a domain name can improve search engine rankings. They won’t work on their own, pages still need optimising and Google must trust the site/page for it to rank, but overall, using a keyword rich domain isn’t harmful as long as the site is useful.

Should you use hyphens in your domain name?

As most of the best domain names have already been snapped up, the next best option could be the hyphenated alternative (blue-widgets.com).

Whilst these domain names can serve a purpose with search engines, the long, hyphenated name can also look unpleasant and suggest a lack of quality.

They are often used on websites created to rank well in search engines for the words within the domain name (see the exact match domain paragraph above).

For example www.pick-a-trade-and-location.com (www.locksmith-new-york.com).

You have to decide whether you like the idea of hyphens in your domain name. Personally, I used to prefer the idea of choosing a .net instead, but now I’m not so sure.

Also, it hasn’t done digital-photography-school.com any harm.

Should you use numbers in your domain name?

Some people have issues with numbers in domain names. Again, personally, I’m not very keen on them, but I do understand why people use them.

As it becomes harder to buy good quality domain names, the likelihood of domains including numbers becoming popular, increases.

Choose a domain name that is easy to remember

Try to choose a domain name that is easy to remember. The reasons for this are obvious.

Not everyone will find your website through a link and you will have to tell people you meet in the offline world what your domain name is.

If you want those people to visit your website, they will have to remember the domain.

Avoid trademarks in your domain name

If you don’t want to have dealings with company lawyers, you should check if your potential domain name will infringe any registered trademarks.

Some companies are heavy-handed when it comes to using trademarks in domain names. I suggest you steer well clear from doing so whenever possible.

A company happy to have their trademarks used in a domain today may not have the same outlook in a couple of years.

If you are not sure if the name is trademarked, check with your local trademark office. Here are two links for you : UK and USA.

If I haven’t convinced you about this, try performing a search for something like “domain name trademark infringement” to see what others have to say.

Check the availability of your desired domain name

My favorite company for buying domain names is Namecheap. To check the availability of a domain, enter it into the search tool on the homepage.

If the domain is available, you’ll see a message like this.

From here, click on the Add to Cart button and follow the checkout process.

Tools for researching domain names

Lean Domain Search is the site I use when looking for domain ideas. All you do is enter one or two words, then review the suggestions LDS throws back.

You can change the order of the results based upon popularity, length and alphabetical order, you can also switch it so the domain suggestions start or finish with the keyword you entered.

The only downside to this tool is that it only suggests .com domains. Even so, it’s still a great way to find inspiration when your ideas hit a brick wall.

How to buy and manage a domain name

It sounds easy, and it is, but there are options and processes to get your head around so you don’t make any mistakes that later cost you time or money.

You typically have two options when it comes to registering a domain name for your website:

  • Buying a domain name as a single entity and attaching it to a hosting package
  • Buying a domain name as part of a hosting package when you set up your website

When I first started building websites back in the early 2000s, I bought the domain along with the hosting package. Simply because I didn’t know what I was doing and it was easy to set up.

Registering a domain

Each registrar has its own process so I can’t give you a step-by-step guide for each one. But generally it goes something like this:

  1. Use a research tool to see if the domain is available
  2. If it is, click on a button that says something like ‘register’ or ‘buy now’
  3. Select additional options such as domain privacy, hosting and variant domains you also want to buy (.com, .net etc)
  4. Enter your personal details (remember to choose the privacy option if you want it)
  5. Enter your payment details
  6. Complete the order
  7. Connect the domain name with hosting (if bought separately)

If you buy the domain and hosting from one place, you’ll receive an email containing all the information you need to setup your website. There won’t be any need for you to link them together as this is already done for you.

Your personal information

When registering a domain name, you might notice an option to hide your name and address from the public WHOIS record.

There is usually an extra charge for this, but it’s worth paying if you don’t want your name and address to appear on a publicly accessible database, which is sometimes mined by scammers to retrieve personal information.

If you’re in the UK and use a domain for business, you should make your business information available on the public database. This includes your business name, business address or registered office and telephone number. Rules may differ around the world, so please check the law for your country.

Scams

This post outlines some of the popular scams pulled by businesses in the domain name selling niche. It’s actually quite scary and could put you off moving forward. In my experience, as long as you use a reputable company and avoid the cheapest options, you should be safe.

Which company should you use to register a domain?

I keep most of my domain names with a registrar and my hosting with a hosting company. I connect the two by changing the nameservers.

(The process for doing this changes from registrar to registrar, but you should find instructions within the help areas of your host’s site. Failing that, contact the support team.)

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with buying a domain as part of a hosting package, and I recommend you do it if you plan on running only one or a small number of websites or blogs.

Many hosting packages allow you to host multiple sites through one account by way of “Add-On Domains.”

GoDaddy provided the worst experience – they upsell at every opportunity. You could end up buying stuff you don’t need and paying way more than you expect (I don’t use GoDaddy anymore), and many years ago, I had a few problems shifting domains from iPower to Fasthosts, but the rest of the providers mentioned here all provided me with good service.

Here’s a list of companies worth looking at:

UK

US

There are loads of others too.

Why do I keep my domains and hosting separate?

It’s just the way things worked out. I use Fasthosts to register domains (my account dates back to around 2002), and frankly, in my experience, when I tried their hosting way back in the day, it wasn’t the best. So I looked for and found better alternatives.

I kept my Fasthosts account open to handle buying domains because it’s easy to manage and I know how their system works.

Over the years, I’ve bought domains and hosting through lots of companies: iPower, Lunarpages, GoDaddy, HostGator, KnownHost, Bluehost, Namecheap, Vidahost, TolraNet and TSOhost.

Important information about domain renewals

When you register a domain name, you do so for a period of time. When that time expires, you must renew the registration otherwise your website will stop working and you could lose the domain.

This means two things (are you ready for this?):

  1. You don’t own your domain name. You only rent it.
  2. If it expires and you forget to renew it, you could lose your domain name forever.

It’s a scary thought, isn’t it? One day you could wake up to find your website’s fallen off the internet and somebody else owns the domain because they bought it when it became available again.

Let me just say this to put your mind at ease – the chances of this happening are very slim, and I don’t want you to worry about it, just be aware.

Digging deeper

Let’s dig a little deeper into what all this really means.

We’ll start by talking about your domain and this idea of ‘renting’ it.

It’s kind of true, and yet, at the same time, it isn’t.

You see, you do own any domain registered in your name (you can sell it), but if you allow the registration to lapse, somebody else can come along and whip that domain right from under your nose.

Even if you’ve owned it for a gazillion years.

After they’ve done that, they can upload a site and take control of your territory.

They won’t have your website and its contents (unless they’ve copied it), but they will have the authority attached to your domain.

What are the chances of this happening?

Very slim.

In fact, if you’re working on your website every day, there’s no chance of it happening at all.

Why?

Because, when your domain expires, your site stops working. You’d look into why it’s not working and discover the domain expired. You’d then whip out your credit/debit card and renew it before you have time to catch your breath.

A little while later (I’m talking hours, if you’re very lucky, under 60 minutes), your website emerges looking the same as always.

Now, if you’re traveling or otherwise engaged (you may be sick in hospital) and your domain expires, you have a problem. It’s not an end-of-the-world problem, but it is a problem.

When the domain expires you have some time to renew the domain at the standard price before it becomes available for anyone to buy.

If you don’t renew the domain during the allowed time, your registrar will likely charge you a hefty redemption fee on top of the standard renewal charge.

For example, a domain in an EXPIRED state can usually be renewed for the standard renewal price.

After it leaves the EXPIRED state, expect to pay more. Namecheap charges $200.

This comes from the FatCow page on expired domains and talks about its own deletion cycle:

EXPIRED: A domain name that has expired can stay in the Expired status from 1 to 45 days. 45 days is the maximum. Most Registrars use between 28 and 45 days for their Expired status. A domain name in the EXPIRED status can still be renewed quickly and inexpensively for the cost of a one year registration.

REDEMPTION GRACE PERIOD (RGP): After a domain name has been through the EXPIRED status it falls into RGP where is remains for 30 days. This period is ICANN mandated and cannot be shortened. Once a domain name falls into RGP it becomes much more expensive to retrieve and renew. Expect to spend upwards of $160US and as much as a week to “redeem” a domain name that has fallen into RGP.

PENDING DELETE: After the RGP a domain enters the PENDING DELETE status and cannot be renewed or redeemed. Domain names are PENDING DELETE for 5 days. After five days the domain name will be released to the public and anyone can register the name. You may be able to wait and register it upon release. Be aware that if your domain name is popular it may be snapped up by one of the many “back-order” companies like SnapNames.com. You are free to use such services to attempt to recapture your domain name as well.

Please bear in mind – the company you’re with, the registrar, might operate under different timings. Be sure to check out their FAQs, check in the settings area, or ask the question via the support systems.

How to prevent your domain expiring

After reading all this, I’m sure you’ll be pleased to know there’s something you can do to stop your domain from expiring.

Actually, there are two things.

One: Renew your domain name for longer than the minimum period. Try five years. Or ten.

Two: Use the automatic renewal option provided by many registrars. This is the perfect solution if you don’t want to register your domains for a longer time. The biggest issue comes from renewing domains you don’t want or need.

You might have tried launching a blog about a new hobby, which ultimately failed or you’re no longer interested in. Automatically renewing, in this case, is stupid.

For your main business domain, you should definitely set up the automatic renewal feature. It will put your mind at ease and ensure your website and blog is always online.

For extra security, register with a site like Uptime Robot. It sends you an email when your site goes does down. When you get a “your website is down” message and don’t get a “your website is up” message a few minutes later, it could be because your domain expired.

Check your renewal date

If you don’t know the renewal date, go check it now. The information you need is inside your registrar/hosting account.

Make a note of the date and set a reminder on your calendar.

While you’re checking, and if you like the automatic renewal idea, see if it’s available and activate it.

Wrapping up

If you’re new to buying domains, I hope this article helps you understand the process and makes you realize how simple it is. You’ll probably find the hardest part is finding a domain you really like that’s available!