Your domain name is your face on the internet.
It doesn't matter how great your site is, your domain name is your first impression; in order to see your site, the average visitor needs to type in your domain name or click a link to your site. When the URL appears in the browser's address bar, the user can still regret it if your domain name has a bad connotation.
This domain registration guide will cover the subject from start to finish, with the exception of the bare basics which I already explained here.
It might feel like a simple task, but choosing a domain name can have huge implications on your success.
Great products can fail because of marketing failures like an unsuitable name, and terrible products can succeed because they go viral for reasons beyond their quality.
To demonstrate my point:
Let's start this section with some humorous internet-famous domain name failures which show a clear lack of forethought by the founders.
Alright, now that we're all on the same page, let's dive into the process of choosing a domain name.
Brainstorm with as many people as possible for domain name ideas. Send out a mass email; consult your friends, your family and your significant other.
Yeah, you're clever, you're experienced, and you're the king of marketing.
You're still only one person, and you only have a limited amount of knowledge and experience, which is because of your personal and professional history. Believe me, other people with different views and experience can really surprise you with awesome ideas. Don't knock it before you've tried it.
Some creative techniques to try:
So gather as many ideas as possible and on to the next step.
Send out a survey to anyone you can describing in short what the site will do and which domain names they should choose from.
You can ask them to choose up to 5 domains if you have a long list of names, or just ask them for one favorite option from the names you have.
A few important points:
After everyone sends their results, count the votes, prepare an Excel sheet, and move on.
Protip: If you have a really long list of ideas and recipients, try using LimeSurvey.
You need to consider several factors when you're cutting this list down.
But don't over-do it.
First of all, you should make sure there are no names which might be perceived as trademark infringement.
You can't register a domain like paypalpayment.com because it contains a brand name: PayPal.
There are exceptions, and as a matter of fact, yours truly did some research and found one perfect example that demonstrates both:
One good place to search for trademarked names is Google. Another is the US Patent and Trademark Office.
If I were you, I wouldn't buy domains with registered trademarks of significant brands because they monitor this sort of thing. But if you find a mom-and-pop shop with the name you wanted and they don't have a site, you're probably in the clear.
No matter how clever you think it is to use a domain like l3titgo.com, just know that it's not clever. It's stupid.
Don't use numbers, don't use dashes, stick to letters only, unless a number really makes sense in the context of your domain name.
Oh, and just to clarify this right here and now - capitalization doesn't matter.
According to MozCast, the Exact Match Domain names (EMD) and Partial Match Domain names (PMD) still have an effect of approximately 3% on ranking in Google's search results.
So if you have the option, go for domain names which contain industry-relevant keywords.
Should you choose this method over the more creative ideas I suggested in step 1, check out Google's Keyword Planner to discover which keywords are more popular. You will need a Google Adwords account in order to use this tool, but it's free to register.
One good reason to go for a new word over industry-relevant keywords, is that you have a product which will become a brand name, and then you have your own industry-keyword which nobody can take from you.
As I already said, shorter domain names are usually the better choice. They're easier to pronounce, to remember, and to advertise.
In this regard, there's one specific consideration you must keep in mind, even though it's not super limiting.
For paid search advertising, the limit on the URL displayed (including the TLD) is 35 characters, so don't go for domain name that's too long.
If you intend to advertise your site on Google AdWords or Bing Ads, you must take into account the length of your domain name.
Obviously you can't forsee the potential difficulties of branding a product with a certain name, before you begin the process.
But bear in mind the fact that you will have to think about it in the future, and take a marketing point of view into your considerations.
There are over a 1000 different TLDs available for every domain name you can think of, but most of them probably won't work out too well for you.
Aside from the classic .com, .net and .org, the list includes industry specific TLDs, purpose-specific TLDs, and country code TLDs.
You can find some very nice Domain-TLD combinations if you're willing to forfeit the ever-popular .com TLD for your site, like .me and .co from the ccTLD list.
Most webmasters treat the classic .com as the first choice because of a misconception that sites on these TLDs have better authority in the eyes of users and from Google's point of view (in terms of SEO), but this is not the case for a long time now.
For example, more and more web apps and SaaS (Software as a Service) companies use the .io TLD for their websites.
I could guess that it's a trend now because these are only two letters which are conveniently located one after the other on the keyboard. It also adds a nice -io suffix to any domain name ending with a consonant.
Other TLD options you can choose from are more market specific, like .camera, .host, .shopping, etc.
Here's a complete list of TLDs which are available today. The list is updated periodically by IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority), the organization responsible for the global coordination of technical aspects of the web (like DNS Root Zone, IP Addresses, etc.).
I think it's clear that a very small part of domain names are a realistic option for any given project, and you should really weigh your options before committing to a TLD, just like you do with the domain's actual name.
Now, you could be a simpleton and go over to a domain registrar and start typing in all those site names which you combined with the relevant TLDs (and I pray you at least used Excel to create them, and didn't do it manually).
You could be a pro and use a bulk domain checker like this one:
I have special love for this tool because I used it myself on multiple occasions, but there are tons of other tools.
Here, let me google that for you.
Now that you have the results, I bet your list is much shorter now, and you can consider the votes you received from your colleagues and friends in step 2.
This is also worth mentioning:
Another reason to check your domains in bulk, is a theory I stumbled across back in the day.
It's more of a speculation, really, but I've been nervous about it ever since I heard of it. It's called Domain Name Front Running, and what it means is that after you've searched for a domain name on the registrar's site, the domain is mysteriously no longer available after a short period of time, even if you added it to the cart and didn't complete your purchase.
The theory is that domain registrars allegedly use the data from the searches performed to grab the really nice domains before you have the chance to buy it, unless you're really quick.
Why would they do it?
The incentive is to either keep it out of the hands of the competition (relatively harmless), or to mark up the price under the guise of a premium domain and make a few extra bucks at the expense of your creativity and research efforts.
So my counter-theory is that if you use a bulk-checker to evaluate hundreds of domains at once, it would be much harder to focus on your intention as a customer, and in this way you only go to the registrar's page when you're ready to buy and complete the purchase quickly.
There are 2 problems with my counter-theory:
Then again, it could all be a figment of some paranoid's (my) imagination.
Once you choose a domain name, or a few names, you can go ahead and buy them.
Protip: Avoid premium domains. It's a waste of money when you're only starting out, and you can always transfer your website to another domain later.
Based on my experience, I recommend one of the following domain name registrars.
As far as domain registrars go, GoDaddy is the biggest and most familiar brand.
They have very convenient domain management tools, and they offer every related service you could think of on top of it.
This young company offers great tools and easy domain management. Their slick interface makes it a pleasure to use and to search and pick your domain names.
Aside from their domain registration service, they offer SSL certs, a website builder, and VPS hosting. You can find great deals on a variety of domains and use their bulk domain search tool I mentioned above.
You can also take a look at the marketplace to find some nice deals and auctions of aged domains.
This domain registrar offers rather cheap domain registration and a free privacy service during the first year. They've been active since 2001 and live up to their reputation as a cheap domain registrar.
Domain registration is not their only product either.
You can also purchase SSL certificates, any type of web hosting, use a variety of site building and analytics tools, and search for domains in bulk.
One notable point about NameCheap: they announced publicly their opposition to SOPA in December 2011.
Each of the best web hosting providers our team reviewed offers domain registration services.
So if you don't quite fancy my recommended registrars, you can always check them out.
Once you have the full and final list of all the domains you would like to have, start and finish the purchase in one sitting.
Registering a domain name is fairly simple.
You choose a registrar, look up all the domain names on your list, and add the available ones to your shopping cart.
Complete your purchase immediately, don't wait to do it 'after lunch', and don't postpone it.
What to expect:
Another thing registrars just love
shoving down your throat up-selling, is additional TLDs.
Got the .com?
Hey, why not buy the .net, .org and .info as well?
Well, it really depends on your needs, goals, and budget, but I wouldn't waste my money on additional domains just to redirect traffic from them to my main domain.
If you're an international company and you want to customize the experience for each country, you can go for multiple country code TLDs along with a main .com site, like Amazon or TripAdvisor do.
If you're writing a personal blog, you don't need the extra expenses.
One thing I noticed over the years is that as you grow and your brand is becoming familiar, others may purchase your domain name with different TLDs to ride on your coat-tails or to try and re-sell them to you for an exaggerated price.
Sometimes you might find a domain so nice you'd buy it twice. Unfortunately, domains this nice are already registered.
However, every domain has an expiration date, and when a domain expires it usually can be acquired for the standard price.
Domain name backorder services offer you an option to grab that domain as soon as it expires, and register it as your own.
The really nice domain names usually go to auction for you, and others like you, to bid on.
Domain name auctions are open 24/7 on many domain registration services, and other sites specifically designed for this purpose.
Do your research and search through those lists, and with a bit of luck you can find a killer domain name.
Be advised that should you find such a domain name, you have to research its history to make sure it's wasn't black-listed by search engines and wasn't associated with questionable practices in the past.
Most registrars will remind you when your domain's registration is about to expire and you need to renew it.
Be advised that more often than not, any special price for a domain (unless stated otherwise), is only special for the first year.
When you renew your domain registration, the price might surprise you because discounts you received in the beginning, you will no longer receive.
At this point you may become a captive customer because you can either renew at the offered price, or go through an unpleasant process of changing your domain registrar.
A quick google search for a coupon code before purchasing doesn't cost anything, and never hurt anybody.
Some registrars have a buttload of coupons floating around the web, and all you need to do is grab one before you buy a domain and save some money.
Sometimes, for various reasons, you might need to check to whom a domain is registered.
It might be because you're trying to reach a website's owner or because you're trying to dig up some info on your competitors, or for any other reason, really.
It's fairly easy to do with services like who.is and a lot of other similar tools.
As a webmaster, you're exposed to being the subject of the same type of research by your competitors, spammers, and other undesirables.
Private registration is meant to protect your identity online from basically anyone by anonymizing your who.is record (As I mentioned above, law enforcement can subpoena your registrar for your information if they need it).
Every domain registrar offers a private registration at an additional annual cost, whether it's their own service or an external partner. Some registrars offer it for free, or include it in the domain's price.
If you're in a competitive market, spend a few extra bucks for privacy protection.
Transferring a domain between registrars isn't complicated, but a bit time-consuming:
Note that owing to ICANN regulations, you can only transfer domains which have been registered for at least 60 days, and if you don't have a full year of registration left, you have to register for at least one additional year with the new registrar.
Pro-tip: Before changing contact and privacy details, contact your current registrar and make sure that it won't reset the 60-day counter. Trust me.
The approval process may take up to 2 weeks, but the time it takes varies between the different registrars and can sometimes take as little as 2 hours.
Once the process is completed, don't forget to turn your privacy back on and make the required changes to your host's DNS settings.
Now that you're done acquiring your own domain or domains, you will need to set up your web hosting. This is a fairly simple process, but you need to get domain hosting first.
If you're new to this, start by reading my guide about choosing a web hosting provider.
After that, you can choose a provider from our list of the best web hosting companies.
Once you selected a provider and purchased a web hosting deal, you need to check the IP address of your server.
Then, you need to go to your domain registrar account and find the DNS settings. Usually, right next to your domain name in the list of domains, or under the management of the relevant domain.
There, you will add 2 "A" records for your domain (one "@" and one "www"), both with the value of your IP address.
Like with any complex field, there's a lot of misinformation online about domain registration and web hosting.
First of all, I'd like to say that while this was true 5 years ago, .com TLDs are no longer deemed more reliable by users, and there's no inherent advantage to using any gTLD over another, according to Google's John Mueller.
What will make the difference for you today would be a good product that people like and share, so aim to please your crowd and choose your domain based on your advertising strategy, and not based on unsubstantiated rumors.
Here's another tip:
One good domain is good enough. It's always nice to have a spare domain or 2 in your arsenal, especially if these are really good names.
But don't go buying every TLD and every typo of your brand unless you actually are a multinational corporate giant and really need to protect your brand.
Another thing for you to remember is that you don't have to register a domain and host your site with the same company.
You found a domain name?
Great, buy that sucker and then start researching web hosting. Don't buy in to "amazing" first year deals only to overpay later; rather do your research about hosting providers.
Now that we've covered the entire process of registering a domain name, go get your own.
And don't forget to read our web hosting reviews before choosing the right hosting provider for your website.
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