What is A Domain Name?

In simple terms, a domain name is the address of a website. It is the string you type in your browser’s address bar when you want to visit a website like google.com. If your website was a house, the domain name is the address that directs visitors to the exact location of your house.

The Domain Name System

In computer networking, machines do not recognize each other by names; rather, every computer has a means of identification called an IP (Internet Protocol) address. An IP address is a unique address that computers use to identify and communicate with each other on the internet or a local network.

For instance, getting access to files saved on a server would normally require you to type an IPV4 address that looks like this 192.0. 2.146 or an IPV6 address like 2001:0db8:85a3:0000:0000:8a2e:0370:7334.

However, it’s not hard to see how memorizing these number sequences would be a considerable burden; some people don’t even know their parent’s phone numbers. Domain names are a substitute for the task of having to memorize various IP addresses; instead of memorizing numbers, you only need to memorize names.

Domain names are also important because many websites on the internet cannot afford a dedicated server and use shared hosting. In such cases, using an IP address is a complicated process that would involve you making some adjustments to the request header. Using domain names makes it easy to access these websites hosted on shared servers.

Structure Of A Domain Name

Below are some of the basic things to know about the structure of every valid domain name:

  • A domain name has various parts called labels.
  • Each domain name label can contain letters, digits, and hyphens (-); however, they cannot start or end with a hyphen.
  • Each label on a domain name is separated using periods (.).
  • Labels have a maximum character length of 63 characters.
  • The maximum length of a domain name– including its labels and periods– cannot exceed 254 characters.
  • Each label is also called a domain.

Types of Domain

1. Top-Level Domain

The top-level domain is the label that comes after the last period; examples are .com, .org, .tv, and .net. You cannot use a custom top-level domain; instead, you have to pick from a list of pre-existing top-level domains. 

Generic Top-Level Domains (gTLDs)

There are thousands of generic top-level domains that you can choose from; while .com and .net are the most common, others are usually a pointer to the nature of the brand. Most gTLDs don’t require any permissions; however, some gTLDs are reserved only for companies in a particular sector. 

  • Schools use .edu.
  • Organizations use .org.
  • United States government agencies use .gov.
  • There are other more unique TLDs, like .shop, .clothing, .beauty, and .health. While these TLDs are more catchy, it’s advisable not to use them as they can be hard to remember; as much as possible, you should stick to a .com TLD.

Country-Code Top-Level Domains (ccTLDs)

Country-code top-level domains indicate that a website will best suit visitors from a particular country. A country-code top-level domain is an extension specific to a particular country, and it consists of two letters based on the international country codes (you can view the list of country codes here).

Some websites have multiple versions of their websites, depending on the visitor’s country. For example, BBC has the UK version (bbc.co.uk) and an international version (bbc.com).

Some popular TLDs that many assume are gTLDs are ccTLDS. For instance, .tv (used by many TV stations) and .io (used by many tech startups) are the ccTLDs for Tuvalu and British Indian Ocean Territory, respectively. 

2. Second-Level Domain

The second-level domain is what many people refer to when they use the term “Domain name”. You can name this label whatever you want and purchase it from a registrar if it’s available. Second-level domains indicate the location of a website on the TLD. 

The name you give to this domain should be one that best relates to the brand whose website you’re trying to set up. In many cases, you can use the brand name and a gTLD. For example, clouddevelop is the second-level domain on the web address clouddevelop.org.

3. Root Domain

The root domain is a combination of the TLD and domain name. Root domains are what people refer to when they talk about a website address; for example, google.com.

A website’s root domain should direct a visitor to the highest page in the website’s hierarchy, which is most likely the homepage. Every other page on the website must be attached to the root domain to be a part of the website; you can do this either through subdomains or subfolders/subdirectories. 

Your website’s root domain is the highest page in your site hierarchy (probably your homepage). You can build individual pages or subdomains of the root domain, but each page URL must technically include the same root domain to be a part of your website.

4. Subdomain

Subdomains are fully customizable domains added as prefixes to the root domain. You can use them to create a particular location on the website that serves a different purpose from the homepage. You can also use a subdomain to provide a peculiar service on your website, such as various language versions of your website, a blog, an online store, etc.

Google uses various subdomains for its different services— drive.google.com is for Google Drive, docs.google.com is for Google Docs, and chrome.google.com is for Google Chrome. In the examples, drive, docs, and chrome are subdomains of the google.com root domain.

Depending on what your domain name provider allows, a subdomain can have multiple levels. To add a new subdomain level, put a prefix and a period (.) in front of the previous one; for example, abc.example.website.com.

The most common subdomain is www (World Wide Web), which contains a website’s homepage and its most important pages. 

5. Free Domains

Content Management Systems like WordPress and Blogger offer free domain names to new users. These free domains only give you minimal features and tools and are made available to beginners who might want to try their hands at creating a website before investing money in it. 

Free domains are structured similar to subdomains, with the user’s preferred subdomain name placed in front of the CMS’s root domain, like clouddevelop.wordpress.com.

How To Get A Domain Name

Primarily, you can get domain names from domain name registrars; you can check the list of legitimate domain name registrars and pick from the ICANN Database. Some popular registrars are Domain.com, GoDaddy, Namecheap, and Whogohost. Most web hosting companies offer domain registration services also, allowing you to manage both services on one platform.

When you have selected the registrar you want to buy your domain from, you must check if your desired root domain is available. Every domain name must be unique because no two websites should have the same web address.

If the root domain you desire is available, you can proceed with your domain name acquisition. Sometimes, a domain name might be available but requires selecting an alternate top-level domain.

If the domain name you desire isn’t available, there might still be hope because there are many cases where users register a domain name to resell it. You can find out if a domain name owner wants to sell the domain by searching their contact information on ICANN Lookup and reaching them or by contacting their domain registrar. In some cases, the domain name owners put the domain up for sale with the registrar as a broker to the transaction.

Once you pay for your domain name, it becomes your property as long as you agree to your subscription (usually annually).

In summary, the steps to get a domain a name are as follows:

  1. Visit the website of the domain name registrar.
  2. Select an available domain and proceed to checkout.
  3. Choose the subscription plan you desire for your domain name.
  4. Input your personal contact information; this information will become a part of the WHOIS database for all domain name owners.
  5. Upon payment, access your new account.

Note: Most registrars offer domain privacy protection, which helps to keep your contact information away from the WHOIS database. The domain name registrar would provide proxy information instead of your actual details to the database. This service comes at an additional cost and should is suitable for users who want to remain anonymous.

Factors To Consider When Choosing A Domain Name

1. Price

Depending on the state of your brand when you want to purchase a domain name, the asking price is an essential factor that should determine the domain name you choose. Most domain name registrars charge higher fees for .com domains than any other. If the .com domain you desire is too expensive, you can consider switching to another generic TLD like .org or .net.

If someone else has already purchased the domain name you desire to use for your brand, there is little chance they will sell it for less than tens of thousands of dollars. The bigger the size of your brand, the more you’re likely to be charged by a domain name reseller. According to teapotdigital, the highest reported fee for a domain name is $49.7 million for carinsurance.com.

2. Easy To Remember

When you’re about to register a domain name, ensure that it is something that prospective visitors can easily remember. The best way to do this is to use your brand name and a .com TLD; this works because your customers already know your brand, and .com is the most popular TLD.

You can also use a web address that correlates with the service you provide for easy remembrance by your users. Two good examples are last.fm, used by a UK-based radio streaming service, and meet.me– the $450,000 domain name purchased by a social media platform MeetMe.

3. Easy To Read And Write

Your web address is something you’ll surely make an essential part of your branding materials; the last thing you want is for it to be hard to read. Also, your domain name should be easy for less literate or computer-savvy users to type. Some suggestions to this effect are:

  • Avoid using numbers in your domain name, except it’s a part of your brand name.
  • Stay away from using hyphens; if you must use them, do not use more than one.
  • Try to keep your domain name as short as possible.

4. Search Engine Optimization 

Try to make sure your domain name has keywords that contain your website’s service; this makes it easy for your website to rank higher in search engines when users are looking for a particular service. However, overdoing this can lower your rank on search results; for example, how-to-plant-flowers-in-winter.com is not a good domain name.

5. Use ccTLDs Where Necessary

If you intend to cater to your website users in a particular country, try to use a ccTLD. Apart from the fact that it lets visitors know who your intended audience should be, it can also help you rank higher on search results for that service in the specified area.

6. Avoid Confusing Domain Names

Since domain names are strings that cannot be separated using spaces, it is possible for users to read a different meaning into your domain name and you risk becoming a meme. An excellent way to avoid this is to use hyphens to separate words in the position where they might be confusing. 

For example, if you want to create a domain name for a brand called Therapist Finder and use the domain therapistfinder.com, it is easy for people to read it as The Rapist Finder. To avoid such confusion, you should call it therapist-finder.com instead.

7. Avoid Names That Are Too Similar To Popular Brands

Using a domain name similar to a trendy brand is not a good idea. Firstly, your visitors would have a hard time remembering your website if there is a website that they often visit with a similar name. 

Also, the slight modification of domain names is a way that scammers, spammers, and hackers often confuse unsuspecting victims. Because of how suspicious this behavior is, it makes such domains rank low on search engines, and users find them suspicious.

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