This article is part of a series created in partnership with SiteGround. Thank you for supporting the partners who make SitePoint possible.
Web hosting is the physical location of your website’s files on the internet. A domain name is what your website is called, or the address your visitors type in to get there. It’s how your customers will find you among the millions of other web sites on the internet. So invest some time choosing the right one.
This article is a non-technical overview of domain names, how to get one, and what you can use it for. We’ll link to more technical articles if you’d like to learn more.
What Is a Domain Name?
Like the phone system, the internet is based on a system of numbers. Beneath the surface, each website is associated with an IP address—a numerical addresses that tells your browser where to find the website on the internet.
Most people find it easier to relate to names than numbers. Do you prefer to make phone calls by dialing a phone number, or tapping on a name in your contacts app? In the same way, you can think of a domain name as the human readable version of the IP address.
Some examples are sitepoint.com, wordpress.org and example.com.au. A domain name is made up of:
- A series of letters, numbers and hyphens,
- An extension (called a Top Level Domain), like .com, .org, .biz, .edu.
- An optional country code, like .au, .nz, .uk. US sites don’t have a country code.
- These are separated by a “dot” (a period, or full stop).
A domain name must be registered before it can be used.
Choosing a Domain Name
Think long and hard about your domain name—it’s the first impression people will have of your website. It can strengthen your brand, affect your search result ratings, and impact how easily visitors will remember how to get to your site. The choice deserves careful consideration.
Here are some tips for choosing an effective domain name for your business or project:
- Keep it simple.
- Keep it as short as possible, but not at the expense of clarity.
- Keep it memorable. Beware of tricky spelling.
- Avoid complication. Adding a hyphen is just one more thing for your visitors to remember. Avoid numbers if possible, too.
- Aim for a .com, it’s what people are expecting. .org is good for non-profits, .gov for government sites, and .edu for educational institutions. .net is also commonly used.
- A host of new TLDs have become available, like .info, .biz, .business, .church, .investments, .photography, .software, and .tv. Consider them if they’re a good fit for your business, but think twice about not using .com if it is available.
- If your business is local, you might like to end your domain with the relevant country code, like .com.au or .org.nz.
- If your business name is already taken, consider adding something to the beginning or end, like johnsmithplumbing.com or hirejohnsmith.com or even iamjohnsmith.com.
- Avoid using someone else’s trademark, even if the domain is available.
- Find inspiration at morewords.com (the Scrabble resource)—it can help you come up with interesting domain name ideas.
- How to Choose a Domain Name for Your Business
- Domain Names: Make Them Memorable
- How to Find the Perfect Domain Name
- ICANN’s New gTLDs: Is It Worth Becoming a .guru?
Checking Domain Name Availability
Of course you need to choose a name that’s available. Domain names are vanishing every day, so don’t put the decision off. While you’re at it, also check the availability of the name on social media, including Twitter and Facebook.
Here are some resources for checking the availability of a domain name:
- Namecheck: Find the best name for your next project
- DomainsBot: Ideas into names
- Domainr: Search all domains
- Domain Name Brain: The smartest way to find a domain name
If you haven’t chosen your business name yet, take the availability of the domain name into consideration when doing so.
- 12 Tools to Help You Buy the Perfect Domain Name
- 11 Domain Name Generators & Search Tools
- Top 3 (Free!) Domain Name Generators
Registering Your Domain Name
The next step is to hand over your money and register the domain. This is relatively inexpensive—often just $15 or $20 a year for a .com, .net or .org. And there’s no shortage of companies you can pay for the service.
Consider registering your domain name through your hosting provider. Having everything in one place is convenient, and it means you have one less company to pay.
SitePoint recently partnered with SiteGround as our official recommended host. They let you add a domain name to your website hosting from as little as $14.95 a year.
Alternatively, consider a company that specializes in domain registration. Make sure they’re accredited by ICANN (the Internet Corporation For Assigned Names And Numbers). Namecheap is a good option.
What Else Can I Use My Domain Name For?
Use your domain name for your email. Using firstname.lastname@example.org sounds much more professional than email@example.com. Using a generic email address when you’ve registered a domain should be a crime.
Your hosting provider will provide a way of setting up email for your domain. Alternatively, you can use a third-party solution like Gmail, which is part of Google’s G Suite of apps for businesses.
Set up subdomains. Once you have a domain name, you can create an unlimited number of subdomains for free. A subdomain is created by adding a word and a dot before your domain, like subdomain.domain.com, and is set up in your DNS settings.
You can map a subdomain to an important page on your website (like your contact page), a different website you have set up (like your company blog or wiki), or somewhere different on the internet, like your Facebook or Twitter account.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
Time to Choose
Are you ready to choose a domain name? Work through the tips in this article, and browse some of the additional articles I’ve linked to.
If you’d like to learn more, also check out SiteGround’s article Web Site vs Domain Name vs Hosting – what are the differences?
What tips do you have about choosing a domain name? Let us know in the comments.