The complexity involved in choosing a domain name is twofold.
First, you must think of a suitable name. Most people start websites with a specific purpose or theme. If you are hoping for a domain name that is roughly associated with that purpose or theme, the number of possibilities drops even further.
After you’ve decided on a name it also must be still available. There are already a ton of names that have been registered – as of Q3 2019, there have been a total of 359.8 million domain names that have already been registered. To put this into context, the second edition of the Oxford English Dictionary has complete entries for 171,476 words.
So if you want a domain, you have to hope it hasn’t yet been bought or that the owner is willing to sell it to you. To begin, perform domain search in one of the following sites.
Best Place to Search and Buy a Domain Name
Hostinger is not well-known as a domain registrar. However they have very decently priced packages, some of which include a free domain name.
Hostinger Premium and Business shared web hosting plans (which cost only $2.15 and $3.45 respectively per month) both come with a free domain name registration. If you are buying domain only – .online, .xyz, .tech, and .store are sold at $0.99/year.
Founded two decades ago, Namecheap is one of the bigger names in the industry and is an ICANN-accredited domain name registrar. It has a potent combination of affordable domain name pricing, great customer support, and a huge selection of top-level-domains (.com, .net, .uk, etc.).
One of the best parts of buying form Namecheap is that hey often have domain names on sale, with prices dropping to as low as $0.50 on occasion. Do remember though, that domain name discounts are often only on the first year of registration, so pay attention to renewal rates!
Namecheap also sells value-added services for domain names such as WHOIS privacy protection (with WhoisGuard), guaranteed uptime with their PremiumDNS system at $5 per year, and the option for SSL certificates which starts at $9 per year.
GoDaddy is probably one of the singular most recognizable domain name registrars in the world. It is what I consider a full-service web company since they are a one-stop-shop for anything you need to start up your own website, from domain name to hosting.
Prices on GoDaddy are more or less standard but they have a service which lets you buy some special domain names via auction. You can find some great domain names here that are already registered but whose owners are willing to let go of – for a price. Other features that they provide are WHOIS privacy, SSL certificates and of course, web hosting.
Hover focuses purely on being a domain registrar site and you can get a domain here for about $5 per year. Their pricing system is extremely transparent and cost of renewals and other facilities like transfers are indicated on the same page. There are discounts available if you’re purchasing in bulk (more than 10 domain names) at once. You can get your standard TLDs here such as .com or even some of the nTLDs like .io.
As mentioned, Hover doesn’t offer web hosting so you will need to know how to point your DNS to the right servers if you buy form them. One advantage is that they do include free WHOIS privacy protection with all their domain names.
Being a specialist in domain names also has its advantages as they have great add-on services like email forwarding to your domain name or even allowing the creation of a domain inbox for $20 per year.
Not to be mistaken with the similarly-named Indian activist, Gandi is one of the longest existing domain name registrars in the industry. Their forte has been a fuss-free domain name registration experience and tend not to distract customers too much by overwhelming them with options and offers.
Gandi also has one of the biggest selections of domain name extensions available with more than 700 to choose from. Anything from .abogado to .zine is up for grabs here. They also have a list of top-level-domains options that gets updated regularly, along with articles that discuss new TLDs that will be upcoming.
Prices can be affordable depending on domain name extension with some going for as little as $0.50 per year. With the domain names you get free WHOIS privacy protection for free and two email boxes with up to 1,000 aliases included.
What is a Domain Name?
A domain name is basically the address to your website. It is how people who are online navigate to where your site is being hosted. Think of it as a physical street address which lets people find their way to a location.
Some people mistake domain names for web hosting, but it is important to note that they are not. The domain name and web hosting are two distinct elements that combine to help a site function. Examples of domain names are –
Apple.com USA.gov Amazon.com BBC.co.uk
Every domain name in the world must be unique.
You will not be allowed to register a domain name that is already owned by someone else. There are some caveats to this, and to understand how two domain names which look similar can exist, you need to understand Domain Name Extensions.
Domain Name Extensions
When I listed the few examples of domain names above, you may have noticed that each of the names was followed by a “.” – something. That is known as the domain name extension. Domain names must always be accompanied by an extension in order to work.
When the web was just beginning, there were only a few domain name extensions introduced. These were called Top Level Domains (TLDs) and examples of them include:
.com .net .org
Because of the speed at which the web grew, there was a need for more domain extensions and from there emerged country-code TLDs (ccTLD). These were used to identify websites originating form specific countries, such as
.ke .uk .cn .sg
for Kenya, the United Kingdom, China, and Singapore.
Soon, other TLDs were also added for various purposes, such as
.dev .travel .biz .store .guru .inc
These were dubbed new generic TLDs (gTLDs or nTLDs).
Now, remember where I said that two similar domain names might exist? This is because of the nature of the domain name extension. Again, all domain names must be unique and because of that, if you were to buy yourname.com, it is entirely possible that someone else might buy yourname.biz.
Abuse of Domain Names
Two similar domain names at a glance may be mistaken for each other unless you’re paying attention to the domain name extension. This system is often exploited by domain name squatters who hijack domain names or register similar domain names in the hops that legitimate businesses will buy those domain names from them.
One example of this is if a scammer registers a domain name such as Citibank.tk and tries to pass it off as the real Citibank website. Some visitors may be fooled by the site and enter personal details there by mistake. Even if they do not set up scam sites, domain name squatters often infringe on trademarks, often with the intent of selling them at inflated prices to owners of those trademarks.
The SteveJob.com domain case is another example. The domain used to be owned by a South Korean who goes by the name Steve Jobs Kim and he used the domain to publish technology-related news and articles. The case was resolved in December 2019 – where The Steve Jobs Archive, LLC, a trust run by Steve Jobs's widow, Laurene Powell Jobs, won the right to own the domain name.
In some cases, similarities could be entirely innocent, such as in the case of Canadian teenager Mike Rowe, who registered the domain MikeRoweSoft for his web design business. Microsoft (the company) was not amused and sued, issuing cease and desist notices.
Naming Ideas: How to Pick the Perfect Domain Name
Now that you’re aware of what makes up a domain name and some possible pitfalls of the system, how will you choose a good domain name?
Although technically you can register any domain name as long as you qualify for it, there are general guidelines to choosing better domain names.
1. Keep Your Domain Short and Simple
Short domain names are in very high demand and unless you’re opting for a nTLD, it isn’t likely you will find a suitable one very easily. Many short domain names have already been registered, for example one.com or g.cn.
Shorter domain names are easier for visitors to type as well as remember. This is especially helpful if you’re not a global brand such as Nike or Coca Cola.
voice.com 360.com insurance.com rise.com pingdom.com goal.com
2. Avoid Slang
Because so many domain names have already been bought, the process of finding one that you want can be a frustrating and tedious process. However, do try and avoid using slang such as replacing ‘you’ with ‘u’ or ‘right’ with ‘rite’ as this makes it more likely your visitors will make typos.
3. Avoid Special Characters
This goes back to the point above about avoiding slang. Using digits (1, 2, 3, etc) or symbols like hyphens ( – )between words can help you find a domain name more easily, but they are difficult to type, and visitors are more prone to make mistakes. These factors easily cause confusion and can lead to frustration among potential visitors.
4. Use Strategic Words in Your Domain
Again, this might be very difficult to do but using a keyword that is associated with the nature of your business can be helpful. It acts associatively for people who hear it and can give you a leg up in terms of SEO as well.
For example, a domain name like BostonLocksmith might be helpful to a locksmith serving the Boston Area.
5. Be Cautious of Area Targeting
Although I gave the Boston example above, it would be wise to take care how it is used. Online businesses, for example, eCommerce shops, are often borderless and using an area-targeting keyword in your domain name wouldn’t be as effective. In fact, it can often be misleading and might result in the loss of potential business.
6. Choose the Right Domain Extension
Domain name extensions vary greatly and come at different prices, even if bought new. In fact, there are some domain name extensions such as .tk which are entirely free. Use them with caution as free domain name extensions have often been abused and many have gotten a very bad reputation.
Personally, I recommend using reputable TLDs or at the very least a ccTLD, especially if you’re in business.
7. Try a Domain Name Generator
If you really can’t decide on a good domain name and you’ve run out of ideas or friends to ask, there is another option. Try using one of the many free domain name generators floating around the Internet (see below). Even if you can’t find the ideal domain name, some of the suggestions may give you a new perspective and some inspiration.
This article features some free domain name generator to make use of.
Walkthrough: How to Register a Domain Name
The actual registration process of a domain name is something that should easily be completed in a few simple steps. The basic format is: search, choose, then buy. Although some of the terms used by sites that sell domain names may vary, the process should be similar.
1. Search for the Name You Want
Most registrars will have a section specially for domain names. There you should find a search box where you can type in the domain name you want. I recommend you type in the complete domain name, inclusive of TLD.
To perform a domain search, simply go to Namecheap.
2. Choose from the List Available
Once you’ve typed in the domain name you want, the system will do a search and see if it is available. Irrespective of whether it’s available or not, you will often be shown a list of the same domain name with various other extension you might want instead.
If none of these options appeal to you, then go back to step 1 and repeat the process until you find one that you’re happy with and is available. Some sites allow you to search for more than one domain name at a time.
3. Finalize Your Purchase
Once you have chosen the domain name you want to buy, the site will often ask if there are add-ons which you would like as well. Take note of what they offer as some of them offer greater privacy for you.
You also need to select the term of the purchase, meaning how long you want this registration to be for. The minimum length of time you can register for a domain name is one year. Once that’s done, all you need to do is pay for your purchase and details on managing your domain will be sent to you via email.
How Much Should I Pay for a Domain Name?
Domain names are just like any other product you can buy in the stores. The price will vary depending on when you buy it and where you buy it from. For example, sites may have domain name sales from time to time.
Another factor which contributes to the price of a domain name is the extension. Different domain name extensions have different purchase and renewal prices. The .win TLD as an example can cost as little as $1.74 to register and $2.23 to renew annually.
Sometime sites will also lower domain name prices based on how long you do your initial registration for. A one-year registration is standard, but they might drop the price if you register for two years or more at the same time.
Because of this, there isn’t really a ‘standard’ on how much a domain name will cost you. Thankfully, much like airline tickets there are places like TLD-List, where you can gather this information quickly to buy the domain name you want at the lowest rates.
As a general guideline, most TLDs will cost around $10 to $15 per year. If you buy an aged domain name, that will cost you much more depending on age and keywords. Free domain name are of course, free, but there is often much fine print you need to be aware of.
What Makes a Domain Name Registrar Great?
Today, you can buy a domain name practically anywhere on the Internet. From dedicated domain name registrars to web hosting companies, they’re available all over the place.
Yet not all places are the same and there are some points you can take note of before registering your domain name from somewhere.
Good domain name registrars (sites authorized to sell domain names) often share similar qualities that give them the edge over the competition. Ideally, you want to find a registrar which is ICANN accredited, has transparent pricing and renewal fees, offers good customer support and most importantly, has a system that lets you manage your domain name easily.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, is the key non-profit body which monitors and regulates the entire domain name industry. Always ensure that wherever you are planning to buy a domain name from is ICANN accredited.
These registrars must follow ICANN regulations and there are guidelines issued which ensure that those who sign up via accredited registrars are safeguarded. Not all companies which sell domain names are ICANN accredited.
Pricing and Renewal
I consider domain names as services rather than goods, because you must pay renewal fees in order to keep the domain name. Because of this, it is important to ensure that the registrar you are buying the domain name from has a transparent pricing and renewal structure.
Like regular consumer goods, domain names often go on sale and some registrars may offer dirt-cheap deals on domain names. Note that these sales are often only applicable to new domain name registrations and only for the length of time you buy them for. Renewals will be at regular rates.
Always keep an eye on both the purchase price as well as renewal price of any domain name you’re buying. Different registrars also have different pricing, so even though Namecheap offers very competitive rates, do shop around before you make your decision to buy.
Good customer support is a must for any company, and this applies to domain name registrars as well. Before ordering any products from the registrar, try to get in touch with their support staff to see how responsive and helpful they are. Companies which respond quickly are more likely to have a better support system in place to deal with any issues which might arise.
Domain Name Management
Aside from letting you buy and renew domain names registrars have to provide you with a system that allows you to manage your domain name. This includes setting the DNS for the domain name or other functions such as transferring to another registrar.
Some registrars have terrible systems and it can be difficult to use to handle your account. I recommend you sign up for an account with a registrar you are interested in to explore their system a little before you make a purchase. I once signed up with a registrar that had such a terrible system in place it was practically unusable.
Conclusion: A Good Domain Worth More Than You Think
Although this guide is meant to give you a better idea of where and how to get your domain name, you will notice that I’ve included sections on the domain name selection process as well as other tidbits of information.
No matter if you’re an individual looking to establish a small blog or a small business seeking to expand digitally, the domain name is much more than just a cheap name tag. Essentially, it represents you in the digital world and has all the implications that follow.
It needs to be built and nurtured, just as you would your own reputation in the real world. Choose, buy and protect your domain name carefully.