Choosing your domain name carefully is crucial to the survival of your website or blog. Like a company name, your domain name is a major part of your brand and your online identity. A lot of times people get so caught up in the design process that they forget that their domain name will usually be the first thing people see and remember.
This article will get you started with domain names: I will cover the technical details about domain names, linguistic considerations when choosing your domain name, tools that help with your choice, and the actual domain name registration process.
What Is A Domain Name?
The internet is a network of computers which are connected and capable of communicating with each other using a network protocol called TCP/IP. In order for the machines to identify themselves, they are assigned a numeric value called an IP address (ex: 126.96.36.199). As it is not possible to remember all those numbers for all the different sites, the concept of domain names was introduced. A domain name is a human readable and memorable way to identify and locate computers and resources (IP Addresses) connected to the Internet.
No two organizations can have the same domain name. One domain name can be used to identify one or more IP addresses. For example, the domain name ehikioya.com CURRENTLY represents this IP address — 188.8.131.52. While the domain name microsoft.com represents multiple IP addresses. When someone types in a domain name like ehikioya.com, the browser communicates with a root domain name server that acts as a dictionary and provides the appropriate IP.
The Domain Name System, or DNS, is the most recognized system for assigning addresses to Internet web servers (aka “Internet hosts”). Somewhat like international phone numbers, the domain name system helps to give every Internet server a memorable and easy-to-spell address. Simultaneously, the domain names keep the really technical IP address invisible for most viewers.
What Is In A Domain Name?
Domain names are used in URLs to identify particular Web pages. URLs should not be confused with domain names. For example, in the URL https://ehikioya.com/choosing-registering-domain-name/, the domain name is ehikioya.com.
A domain name consists of two parts: a top-level domain (TLD) and a second-level domain (SLD). In the domain name ehikioya.com, the TLD is “.com” and the SLD is “ehikioya”. The “http” (and “www” in some cases) are not part of the domain name; rather, they are part of the entire web address (URL). So, when you choose your domain name, you are only concerned with the TLD and SLD.
.com is just one of many TLDs from which you can choose. Your choices include variations such as .net, .org, .biz, .us and many more you may have never seen. The major deciding factor when selecting a TLD is availability. For example, abc.com may be taken while abc.net may still be available. The second factor affecting your TLD choice may be price. A country code top level domain ccTLD is typically more expensive than a .com domain.
Domain Naming Rules
The SLD (second-level domain) is where your creativity and originality comes in.
You may choose any name you like, as long as it does not infringe upon someone else’s trademark.
You may only use alphanumeric characters and hyphens. Symbols and blank spaces are also not permitted in domain names.
What follows is a detailed outline of the general domain naming rules.
Only the following characters are acceptable in a domain name:
- Letters a through z (no accents of any kind will be accepted). Note that domain names are not case sensitive. So no distinction is made between upper case letters and lower case letters.
- The numbers 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and/or 9
- The hyphen character
When using hyphens, note that:
- A domain name CANNOT start or end with a hyphen
- Two or more hyphens cannot be in consecutive (adjacent) positions
- Domain names must be at least 2 or 3 characters long, dependent on the extension, but EXCLUDING the extension.
- Domain names must be no more than 63 characters EXCLUDING the extension.
Valid Domain Names
These domain names are valid:
- MY-STORE.com (Valid because domain names are case-insensitive. In other words, when you register “mystore.com” you also get “MYSTORE.COM”, “MyStore.Com”, “mySTore.coM” and any other variation where lowercase and uppercase letters are interchanged)
- yes.com (Short but valid since “yes” is at least 2 characters long)
Invalid Domain Names
These domain names are invalid:
- my_store.com (Illegal character)
- my--store.com (Consecutive hyphens)
- my store.com (Illegal character: space)
- It’s-1-Bad-Domain.com (Illegal character)
- -1-bad-domain.com (Begins with a hyphen)
- 1-bad-domain-.com (Ends with a hyphen)
- z.com (Invalid as the length of the domain without the extension “.com” is only 1 character)
Things To Consider When Choosing Your Domain Name
Some of these rules may not apply if your brand is based on your real name.
1. Keep It Short
Your domain name should be short, catchy, and memorable. It should be easy to spell and pronounce. Short domain names are usually easier to remember, or type, or tell others about. If your domain name is long and complex, you risk losing traffic due to customers mistyping or misspelling it.
2. Keep It Simple
You should also try to find a domain name that only has one possible spelling. Most people cannot spell so make it easy for your website visitors to remember by choosing a domain name without a confusing spelling. Even for people who know how to spell, if you use slang (u instead of you) or words with multiple spellings (express vs. xpress), it may be harder for customers to find your site. You may also want to avoid domain names like WordPressSetup.com because it confuses the user. Short and simple is the way to go.
A Note About Short Domain Names
Note however, that while short is cool, domain names can be of any length up to 67 characters. You don’t have to settle for an obscure domain name like avab.com when what you mean is AcmeVideosAndBooks.com.
Some people actually argue that longer domain names are easier on the human memory (most short and nice domain names have already been taken anyway). While this may be true in some cases, I would still go for a shorter domain name if I can get a meaningful one.
3. Avoid Copyright Infringement
Avoid choosing a domain name that is too similar to competing domain names and make sure not to violate someone else’s trademark. This is a mistake that isn’t made too often, but can kill a great domain and a great company if made. Be sure you’re not infringing on anyone’s copyright with your site’s name, before you buy.
Keywords play an important role in a domain. Try using keywords that describe your business and the services you offer. Good keywords in the domain also assist in ranking higher in the search engine (which increases traffic) and just makes more sense to your customers. But to get a good keyword name like webhosting.com is very hard these days without spending a hefty sum. But as new niche markets are coming out, the possibilities of keywords are increasing as well, so use your creativity to get a keyword in the domain.
When you begin your domain name search, you will probably have some terms or phrases in mind that best describe the domain you’re seeking. You can start to pair them or add prefixes & suffixes to create good domain ideas. For example, if you’re launching a mortgage related domain, you might start with words like mortgage, finance, home equity, interest rate, house payment, etc. These will be the kind of keywords that people enter when searching for your products or services. Then play around until you can find a good match.
In the quest for keywords don’t forget about branding. Sometimes the most unrelated and catchy domains do best. Take “Google” for example. The word has nothing to do with a search engine, but now it dominates the web. So keep in mind about branding while registering the domain name.
6. Your Domain Name Should Be Your Website Name
When people think of your website, they’ll think of it by name. If your website name is also your domain name, they’ll automatically know where to go. For example, when people think of Facebook, they don’t have to wonder what web address to type into their browser to get there.
If your domain name is different from your website name, people will not memorize your URL just because you want them to. The only people who’ll commit it to memory are your competitors who want to compare your prices.
What if you already have a solid brand name that you are known for and you intend to use it as your website name but cannot get the domain name? It really depends on how committed you are to that particular name. You’ll probably not want to ditch that name just because you couldn’t get the domain name. After all, it took you a lot of time and money to establish that name. If so, you might simply want to try to buy over the domain name from the current owner. Check up the “whois” information for the domain, and contact the person listed to see if they’re willing to sell it. They will likely charge a higher fee than you’ll normally get when buying new domains (assuming they want to sell it in the first place).
On the other hand, if you’re just starting out, you might prefer the cheaper alternative of trying to obtain a domain name first, and then naming your website (or business) after the domain that you’ve acquired. While this may seem a bit like putting the cart before the horse, it is the reality if you don’t want to lose out on the Internet.
7. Dot What?
There are many top level domain names available today including .com, .net, .org, and .biz. In most cases, the more unusual the top level domain, the more domain names are available. However, the .com top level domain is far and away the most commonly used domain on the internet, driven by the fact that it was the first domain extension put to use commercially and has received incredible media attention. If you cannot lay your hands on a .com domain name, look for a .net domain name, which is the second most commercially popular domain name extension.
It is also a good idea to never buy an alternative TLD if your first name pick is being used as a .com. Doing so increases the possibility of driving your own viewers to a competitor’s site as they will more than likely mistake it for a .com of a similar domain name.
8. Avoid Hyphens And Numbers
Both hyphens and numbers make it hard to tell people your domain name verbally because they are often misunderstood – people who hear your website address don’t know if you’re using a numeral “5” or a spelled out “five”. Or they can easily misplace or forget the dash. If you need these in your domain, register the different variations to be safe.
9. Consider Other Extensions And Alternatives
If you find the perfect domain name ending in .com, it’s a great idea to pick up other extensions (like .net, .org, .info, .us, etc.) and then redirect those other extensions to your domain name that ends in .com. This will help to pick up any visitors that just may happen to type in a different extension. It also helps protect your site in case you become the next big internet sensation and someone tries to purchase another extension of your domain.
Depending on the size of your business, and especially if your domain name is easily misspelled, you should think about alternate domain names to purchase. For example, if your site will be called “MikesTools.com”, you should also consider buying “MikeTools.com” and “MikeTool.com”. This prevents competitors from registering other versions and ensures your customers are directed to your website, even if they mistype it.
10. Singular, Plural, “The”, “My”
When choosing between the singular and plural of the words in your domain name, you should choose the version that makes the most sense. Avoid singular vs plural situations if possible. And if not possible, consider purchasing both versions. Keep in mind that for some domain names the singular will sound better than the plural while with others the plural will sound better than the singular.
Very often, if you can’t get the domain name you want, the domain name registrar will suggest alternate forms of the name you typed. For example, if you wanted website.com, and it was taken, it might suggest forms like thewebsite.com or mywebsite.com if they were not already taken as well. I wouldn’t recommend such “the…” and “my…” variations but if you must take them, always remember to promote your site with the full form of the name. Otherwise, people are likely to forget to affix the necessary “the” or “my”.
11. Use A Thesaurus
If you feel stuck when trying to choose your domain name you could use a thesaurus to look for alternative words if something you want is already taken. This is a great way to come up with a creative name. Thesaurus.com helps in this regard.
12. Industry Jargon Is Ok
While it is important to make sure that your domain name is easily understood by everyone who reads it, if you cannot find a domain to match your actual business name, you could use industry jargon specific to your website niche for your domain name. Using industry jargon can increase the credibility of your website in the eyes of your website visitors who are familiar with jargon in your websites niche.
13. Search Dropped Domains
Dropped domains are domains that have just recently changed from registered status to unregistered status. Many times a company will go out of business, someone is not able to afford the domain registration renewal fee, or someone will just forget to renew their domain name. When this happens a domain is dropped and available for anyone to snap up and register for themselves. You will find a number of tools online that help you search dropped domains.
Tools For Choosing Your Domain Name
Domainr allows you to explore the entire domain name space beyond the obvious .com, .net and .org, and discover new and interesting domain names.
It is responsible for helping popular websites like last.fm and del.icio.us stand out from the crowd.
NameBoy is a domain name generator and database allowing you to perform a keyword search with either one or two words, allowing for hyphens and rhyming words. When search results are returned, it color codes the results depending on the availability status of the domain name.
You enter the words that describe the domain name you’re looking for, and NameBoy generates a list of potential domain names, showing which ones are available to purchase.
DomainsBot is a domain search engine that shows available domain suggestions, alerts you of expired, expiring and for-sale domains, and provides a Whois search.
It also offers corresponding Twitter and Facebook identity suggestions. It even offers an iPhone app.
Dot-o-mator lets you create domain name suggestions by selecting a list of words that you might like as prefixes and/or suffixes to your domain name. They offer a Web 2.0 name generator too that generates names like Tanix, Wordlounge, Kaba, Fivedog, Jumppad, etc. It’s a helpful tool for obtaining inspiration for a site name.
Dot-o-Mator is also available as an iOS app for use on the go.
StuckDomains allows you to search through expired and dropped domains based on the keyword you enter. You just might find something you can quickly grab.
The really cool thing about Domize is speed. It uses Ajax to allow you see domain availability as you type. No need pressing submit buttons etc. Domize also checks whether a domain name has been previously registered, is due to expire or if it can be purchased. Domize has a widget that you can install on your website to provide a domain search engine to your visitors. They also have an iPhone app – because domain name inspiration can hit you at anytime 🙂
Domize has a Power Search feature which can search a large combination of terms by entering a comma-separated list of words, letters or numbers. As special functions, it can also list out synonyms or derivatives of a supplied word based on a misspelling. Other functions include listing out words that rhyme with the one you enter. In short, the Power Search feature set gives you many options to play around with a word and whatever can be derived from it.
7. Bust A Name
Bust A Name has lots of features. You can find the perfect domain name by using its word combiner, finding similar words and checking for available domains. It allows you to save and manage/organize your searches for later use. It has a “List of Words” feature that advise you of similar words to your search – which you can then organize inside folders. You can also create groups of words to craft domain names, use hyphens, plurals or even drop the last vowel.
Available domains that are returned can be sorted in a number of ways such as “by quality (readability)” or “by length” for easier viewing. Though the web tool is very intuitive, the creators have a couple of video tutorials on how to utilize the tool. The video tutorials are embedded below:
Formerly known as Domain Pigeon, Lean Domain Search‘s domain name generator specializes in showcasing unique and quirky domain names using prefixes and suffixes. It also checks the availability of the exact match domain for your search term.
You can easily sort and filter search results to quickly find a great domain name. You can also mark a search result as a favorite so you can keep track of it.
Lean Domain Search also lists Twitter names which you can register if they are available. You can apply some sorting options like dates and popularity. Lean Domain Search lists only .com names.
The domain name generator feature on NameStation allows you to combine keyword lists, add suffixes, generate phonetic names and alliterative names, and much more.
You can quickly check alternative name variations and receive keyword suggestions, look up definitions and semantically related words for more inspiration, and refine your search criteria to generate more targeted domain names.
DomainTyper is a fast, intuitive and easy-to-use domain tool. Simply enter your domain keywords and DomainTyper will show whether that domain name is available, while also generating random domain names.
If your first choice isn’t available, you can view a list of suggested domain hacks.
NXdom has indexed millions of DNS records of expired and unused domain names. You can search by prefix and suffix, and sort the results by length, readability, and popularity. The advanced options help you refine the results by giving you five more criteria to filter the results.
123finder gives you four variations of for domain name discovery. The applications are pretty self explanatory Simple Domain Search, Advanced Domain Search, Instant Domain Search, and Keywords from URL. The Keywords from URL tool extracts registered and available domain names from a given URL.
Wordoid has a unique way of generating name ideas. Firstly, it can make up words that sound natural, almost natural or hardly natural. Secondly, it can do that in five languages – English, Spanish, French, German and Italian. You can even mix and match languages to create a unique blend. You can also optionally put your own word somewhere in the Wordoid and limit the unique name to a set number of characters.
Wordoid allows you to change the quality level from low to high – the higher the quality, the more the word resembles the natural words of the selected languages.
PCNames has an AJAX based search engine that displays search results as you type.
The Tools link at the bottom currently offers the following:
- A Domain Generator that generates domain names using lists of words for word1 and word2.
- A Bulk Lookup tool that allows you to paste in an unlimited number of domains to be checked for availability.
- A Mobile App interface.
- Widgets that you can embed within your site.
Domain Tools is a collection of useful tools and domain related search engines that will help you find information behind certain domain names. They have a “Whois” search that reveals records about the party who registered the domain, a “Suggestions” search to help you find similar domain names, a “Domain Search” which shows you what TLDs of a domain name are available. You can also find domain names that are “For Sale” or “At Auction”.
Impossibility! is a domain name generator that takes your keyword and combines it with a carefully selected list of nouns, verbs and adjectives, before searching for unregistered domain names and showing you the results. It uses multiple servers to make the experience as quick as possible.
17. Name Mesh
Name Mesh uses synonyms and antonyms paired with real-world intelligence to help you brainstorm unique domain names – using over 20 generators. You can see common short top-level domains, mix words, preserve SEO, and check related and similar words.
If you use spaces between your keywords, you’ll receive improved results.
NameTumbler gives you domain names by combining a keyword you want with a word from the NameTumbler database. Once you combine words, you can choose your keyword placement (at the beginning or end of the domain). You can use hyphens to separate suggested terms, choose your extension and view the results.
NameStall offers a suite of domain tools, including a domain name generator using your preferred keywords and prefixes or suffixes from more than 180 word groups. The domain name suggestion tool recommends a combination of two or three words, as well as brandable names in five different domain categories.
Panabee provides a simple way to search for domain names, app names, and company or personal names. If your perfect name is taken, Panabee offers suggestions inspired by your original domain idea, derived from phonemes, syllables, abbreviations, suffixes, prefixes and popular trends.
21. Domain Puzzler
Domain Puzzler lets you search and discover domain names with “easy,” “advanced” and “magic” options. The “magic” option takes your keywords and combines them with popular words, while the “easy” option just lets you check for availability. The advanced option allows you to combine words and choose from your selected extensions.
Bulktopia provides domain name suggestions based on your keywords, along with research into potential domains, such as age, expiration, page rank, backlinks and social media account availability.
Once you have chosen a suggested domain name, you can click purchase and buy through a variety of domain registrars.
Registering A Domain Name
Once you’ve chosen your domain name, it’s time to register it on the world wide web. To do this, you need a Domain Registrar.
A Domain Registrar is a company that is in the business of registering domain names. They have to be an authorized registrar to perform this function.
The body that handles giving out authorization for selling domain names is ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers). Before starting the domain name registration process, check that the company you have selected is an authorized seller of domain names.
There are hundreds of domain registrars on the web that are offering you domain registration and more. But like many other scams on the web, there are scam domain registrars that disappear every three months, and you get left hanging. Here are five very popular and highly reputable ones:
GoDaddy is currently the world’s largest and most popular domain registrar. You can register your domains with them with full trust because you know they are not going anywhere.
GoDaddy has built a customer base by offering cheap package deals (combining domain registration and web hosting) as well as frequent specials on domain registration. GoDaddy registrations include what amounts to a free mini-hosting plan. You get a five-page web site based on one of their templates, a photo album, blogging tools, and an email account with 1GB of storage. Although GoDaddy doesn’t offer free private registration, if you register five or more domains, it’s free for all of them.
Namecheap‘s reputation rests on fantastic customer service and value-added packages.
You get solid customer service, free email and URL forwarding, free and customizable domain parking, free domain transfers, dynamic DNS services if you want to redirect a domain to your home server, and more.
1&1 is definitely a front-runner when it comes to low prices, but they’ve also got tons of added value bonuses that come with registration. Buy a one-year registration and you’ll get a five-page domain parking package, an email account with 2GB of storage, and free private domain registration to shield your personal info from prying eyes. They also offer free domain transfers if you’re looking to switch over from another registrar.
Name.com is a dead-simple domain registration site that boasts a few features that most others don’t have. When you search for a domain name of any kind, it goes beyond simply telling you if it’s available or not and will actually let you know if a domain is (or will be) up for auction. Name.com also has a service called Domain Grabber. If you really want a domain but it’s unavailable, you can pay Name.com (typically between $20-50) to pounce on the domain should it become available.
Gandi‘s motto is ‘no bullshit’, and it shows in their service 🙂
When you register a domain, you get a bunch of freebies too – three free BaseKit pages, one free DotClear 2.0 blog, free private domain registration, a free 1-year SSL certificate, and a personal email.
Domain Name Registration Process
After you have chosen a domain name and selected a domain name registrar, you will need to submit your domain name registration request to a registrar.
Typically, the information you will need to submit will include:
- Your desired domain name
- Your full name and contact information (including email address, physical address and contact phone number).
Note: By default, this information will be visible to anyone who searches for you online. If you want it hidden, then you should strongly consider buying Whois privacy from your domain registrar too.
With Whois privacy, basically, the domain registrar replaces your contact info in the WHOIS with the info of a forwarding service.
- Your desired domain registration term
- Your payment information
Once you have provided your registrar with all these information, they will then initiate the domain name registration process for you. The registrar will send your domain name request, and the contact and technical information of the domain name to the registry.
The registry files the contact information for the Whois. The registry also adds your domain zone files to the master servers. These master servers tell other servers on the Internet where your website is stored.
Your domain is considered registered and ready-to-use when all information has been updated.