If you are looking at creating a website for your business or even for leisure you have probably heard the term ‘domain name’. But what is a domain name?
What is a domain name?
A domain name is the address you type into an internet browser to get to a website. It often starts with www. and ends in .com, .co.uk or similar.
A domain name can simply be referred to as your web address or a url.
Lots of people get confused and think a domain name is the same thing as hosting or it is their actual website.
So let’s break it down.
The easiest way to understand what a domain name is, is to think of a house. If your website is your house then the domain name is your street address.
Your house needs a street address but you can’t just have a street address or you would be living out in the cold with no house over your head! So you build a house (that’s your website).
If you are inviting someone to come and visit you, you need to give them the street address so they can find your house. It’s the same with a website. Your future customers need to know your address to be able to visit your website!
Let’s touch quickly on hosting, as that comes into play here too. So far we know that you need a domain name (street address), a website (the house) but you also need the ground the house sits on (hosting).
If you had a street address but didn’t have a piece of land that the address is registered to then that address does nothing and goes nowhere.
When you purchase a domain name, it needs to be registered to a hosting address as that’s the place (plot of land) where you’ll build your website.
If we stick with the same metaphor, hosting is like leasehold arrangements with houses. You don’t buy the hosting, you rent hosting space on someone’s server. It usually comes with an annual cost, anywhere from upwards of a few pounds a month.
Where do you get a domain name?
There are a range of domain name sellers, they are called registries. The easiest way to find one is to google ‘domain names’, if you are in the UK for example you’ll get a list from companies such as 123-reg, GoDaddy and Names.co.uk.
They all do and sell the same thing, so the choice is yours. Do your research as there are mixed reviews about some of the companies. Most will offer you a very good deal for the first year with renewals being anywhere between £10-£25 a year.
Be wary of buying your domain name through a platform that is offering you hosting built in. Check first that you can take your domain name if you choose to move away from the platform.
What is the right domain name for you?
What you buy as your domain name is really a personal choice but the obvious one being whatever your company name is.
It’s good to do your research, you want to buy the right domain name and stick with it. Once your customers have got used to the name you don’t want to change it. That’s like moving house with no forwarding address! If you do need to change the name, then make sure you keep the old domain name registered for a while and redirect the old one to the new name for at least a year.
If you are building a new company then it’s a good idea to take a look at what domains are available before you go ahead and brand your company with a name that’s already taken by another company.
Most customers will google a company name to try and find the website, so it’s good to be as obvious as possible with your domain name.
When looking into how you name your business, jump online and go to one of the domain seller sites. All of them will have a search facility so you can quickly check if someone owns the name you want.
Here’s the quick do’s and don’ts:
- Do your research before you buy the domain name
- If possible (and affordable) buy all the versions that relate to you. ie .com, .co.uk, .uk, etc.
- Do check out the big domain sellers, a lot will offer a free domain name with hosting (but check if there are any tie-ins before buying!)
- Keep the name short (I ignored this one! So it’s a personal choice really)
- Avoid using hyphens, they can be seen as spammy
- Try not to have double letters as it’s easy to type those incorrectly ie. mybusinesssite.com
- Avoid words that are really hard to spell, pronounce or remember, or have multiple ways of being spelt
- Don’t use unique (made up) spellings for generic words, spell the word as it is pronounced
What TLD should you buy?
By this I mean the .com (end) bit. These are called TLDs (Top Level Domains). I’m not going to delve too far into TLDs as they can get a bit complex! If you are interested then check out Wikipedia’s list of TLDs.
Around 50% of the internet uses .com, mostly English speaking countries. The UK uses .co.uk as it’s been around for a long time and for those with a UK focussed business it will be familiar to most customers.
The general rule of thumb is you purchase the TLD that works best depending on where you live. Country code TLDs (ccTLDs), are two digits. In the UK, ours is .uk (though it’s nowhere near as common as .co.uk ). in the US it’s actually .us though most Americans use .com. It’s more common for other countries to use their ccTLDs eg .fr (France), .de (Germany) or .se (Sweden).
In the early days of the internet there were only a few TLDs and which is why .com and .co.uk became popular and are still widely used.
In recent years, due to the growth of the internet the range of TLDs has increased. All these new additions are called gTLDs (Generic Top Level Domains). I use one for this website, if you look at my domain name it finishes with .design. That’s my gTLD and was a choice I made when starting my web design company. I went with the .design in the website address because it was in my business name and made sense to me.
There is no right nor wrong when choosing what you want to have as a domain name or the TLD at the end.
Personally I purchased the .com and the .co.uk. version of my business name. I wanted to know that no-one else would be able to come in and register those after I had built my website at the .design version.
To wrap up what is a domain name? choose your domain name using the most obvious strategy and pick the TLD that works for where you live and who your target audience is.