Since this is the first article on this topic, I thought it only fair to introduce the subject to you and we'll work our way up from there.
So you're looking for a domain name? Maybe you have an online business you want to start up, or perhaps you already have a business but want to give yourself and online presence? You might not want to do any business, but would rather have a place where family and friends can go and keep in touch or see what's going on in your daily life. No matter what your goals are, if you're looking to make any kind of online presence, you are going to want to look into registering a domain name.
The first thing you need to do, before anything else, is decide what name you are getting, and what extension (.com, .net, .org, . us, etc) you want. I will talk about finding a good name first as it's usually the hardest part. When choosing a name, you are not just picking any random term or phrase. You need to ask yourself a few questions first such as:
What is my goal for this domain name?
Am I selling anything?
Is this based on an existing business?
Do I want to make a business out of this domain name?
Questions like this are important because it helps you narrow down a purpose for the domain name. What does that matter you ask? Well, if you are selling cars you might want to look for a name like cars.com. This is what's referred to a generic term or keyword. We'll focus on keywords later on, for now, I just want you to think about how people should find you, remember you, and know you in the future. Cyberspace is a very large place so you want to make sure your customers/friends/family can find you easily, and remember what the name is so they can visit again whenever they like.
Now, I mentioned that cars.com is “generic". This is because it's not the name of a brand, or company, or logo. For example, cars is a generic term but Ford is not. Pen is a generic term, but Bic is not. I think you get the picture. These terms can make a difference because if you register a domain that is a non generic term, then it's possible someone owns that trademark. I can tell you right now, you want to steer clear of trademarks when it comes to registering a domain name (unless you own that trademark of course). Registering someone else's trademark can potentially get you into serious trouble. If you want to check on trademarks prior to registering a domain name, you can check out Legal Zoom. They have a nice system to search for trademarks and register your own if interested.
Another reason generic terms are great domain names is because they get high amounts of “web traffic". Unlike highway traffic, web traffic is good and the more your website gets, the more potential you have to reach more people, sell more items, or educate more people on your topics. It's worth mentioning that many people make a very good living purely buying and selling domain names. Generic terms have gone for over a million dollars before for a single sale. I would highly advise buying a generic domain name from someone if you don't have a very strong understanding of domain names and exactly what type of goals you have, accompanied by a strong business plan to achieve those goals. So this bears the question, where do you register a domain name?
Registrars are companies that have the right to sell you a domain name. ICANN has a list of accredited registrars. Make sure you are buying from one of these companies. What you want to do is go to one of their websites, or call their customer service and tell them you are interested in a domain name. However, there is still one more part of a domain name that has not been decided.
By now you should have a few domain names that you would like to possibly register. But what we haven't discussed is the extension. Many people feel that a .com is the only way to go. However, keep in mind that while “yourdomainname.com" might not be available, “yourdomainname.net" might be available for registration. This means anyone in the world can register the domain name. If a domain is already registered, then a registrar cannot sell it to you. Someone else has the rights to that name already. If you want to see if some names are available, you can usually go to any registrar's website and perform what's called a “WHOIS" search.
The WHOIS directory is a database that contains every registered domain name and some basic information about each one such as the registration date, the expiration date, contact info, etc. Try not to get overwhelmed just yet. Remember, we're only talking about 1) finding a domain name you like and 2) picking an extension.
Ok, back to the extensions. When the rules for domain names were being created, the powers that be decided to have extensions represent different types of websites. COM was for commercial purposes, NET was for networks, ORG was for non-profit organizations and the list goes on. There are quite a few domain name extensions or TLD's (Top Level Domains) one can purchase. Rather than try to sort through a complete list of them, it's better to view the ones your registrar sells as they will always have the most popular TLD's available. The top TLD's are (in no particular order):
.com, .net, .org, . us, .info, .biz, . ca, .co.uk
While the guidelines were put in place to prevent confusion amongst web surfers, there has been no actual regulation of who can buy which TLD. With the exception of country specific TLD's (. us, .co.uk, etc) anyone can register any TLD for any reason and put up any type of website they deem fit. Most people will try to register the .com first, and if that's not taken, they either choose another domain name, or see if the same one is available in a different TLD. It all depends on how attached you are to the name, or how much sense it makes, if you spent money marketing that name already and a number of other factors.
Buying a domain name is not the same adventure for every person out there. It boils down to the purpose of the domain name which really makes all the difference in the world when buying the domain. If you want pure search engine traffic, then you might want a generic term, if you want to promote your business, then you may want only your business name.
The last piece of general advice I can give is that if you're buying a domain for a business, or will be selling things on the website then you should consider securing your brand or online identity. This means registering multiple TLD's with the same domain. For example, you might want to register yourdomainname.com, yourdomainname.net, yourdomainname.org as a minimum. There are a few reasons for this. For starters, you prevent anyone else from purchasing those domains so long as you own them. So if you are promoting your company, you don't want someone else registering the .net TLD and stealing your traffic or confusing your customers. Many people don't believe that this happens, but it happens all the time. Is it legal? Well, that depends on the situation and is up to the courts to decide, however, legal or not, it can be damaging to your company if it happens to you. And depending on the outcome of a court battle, the owner might only sell for an incredibly high price.
Cyberspace is not always safe, and without protecting yourself you are open to some pitfalls. I hope this has at least cleared up some of the basic questions you may have had on domain names.
Barry Davis has been in the domain name industry since 2000. He has been an active member in the online community and is now helping newcomers to the domain name industry. For the latest information on domain names, hosting, and all things domain related, please visit Domain Name Registration !