The Basics: What is a Domain Name Anyway?
It never hurts to start at the beginning. I have horror stories of my own and I have heard many, many more from folks who spent days or weeks searching for a domain name, only to have their selection be a bad choice. Now I don’t mean to alarm you, but as I have mentioned more than a few times, an ounce of prevention and all that….
What exactly is a domain name anyway? In keeping with one of my original promises (to keep things basic), I will try not to get too technical, but we need to understand that in order for computers talk to one another, they all need to have an address. Just like the address on your home that helps the postal carrier find you, computer all have an address as well. And when I send information from my computer to yours, a network uses the computer address to find you. These addresses are called IP addresses.
So all computers have addresses called IP addresses, and they look something like this: 192.168.125.001.
Now that looks difficult to remember, especially if you need to remember hundreds of them. Wouldn’t it be easier if I could just remember a name, like “MyComputer”? So if I wanted to send information from my computer to your computer, I could just say: “MyComputer” to ” YourComputer”?
Now that sounds much easier to remember, but we can’t have everyone’s computer called “Mine” and “Yours”, so everyone much have a unique name. And we will create a protocol that translates the name to the number. That way, when you type in “MyComputer” the domain name service will know you actually mean 192.168.125.001.
We will call our new protocol “Domain Name Service” or DNS, for short.
To wrap things up let’s look at a real life example, the IP Address for Google’s server is 126.96.36.199. This is not a secret and it is not difficult to find, but it is difficult to remember. It is much easier to just remember Google.com, right.
So when you type Google.com into the “address bar” at the top of this page, the network (the Internet) send that information to a DNS Server that contains a list of name to number conversions, it’s called a DNS Server.
The DNS Server tells the Internet that you are actually looking for 188.8.131.52 when to type Google and bingo/bango, you are sent to the Search Engine website, Google.
How do I get a Domain Name?
The answer to this question is extremely simple, you buy one. It really is that simple to get a domain name. The problem is not getting one, the problem is finding one. You see, as I mentioned before, every computer in the world (and that’s a lot of computers) must have a “unique” name.
The last time I checked there were over 330 million domain names registered on the planet. And when a domain name is purchased, no one on the planet can use the same name. This is where the real challenge lies when picking a domain name.
Chances are the domain name you are looking for is taken. If you were hoping to purchase DomainName.com, it was originally registered in July 1997, more than 20 years ago. Funny thing about DomainName.com there is no website attached to the domain name. So why would anyone pay for a domain name and not have a website attached to it?
The answer is… Because it’s valuable. A quick appraisal shows that the potential value of DomainName.com to be $25,000, just a name. All of this may seem strange to you, but a little research will show that DomainName.com was once the home of what is now NameCheap.com, a domain name Registrar. They moved from one name to the other back in 2016 and I am sure they still own the rights to the valuable name.
What is the first step when purchasing a domain name? Well, first you need to find out if the name you want to purchase is available. As mentioned, this is much easier said than done. When people found out that you could invest $15 a year for a name and potentially sell that investment for $25K, domain names started disappearing at an alarming rate.
Let’s pretend that you want to sell domain names on your website and you already know that DomainName.com is taken. You might want to try Domain.com or Name.com, both taken.
All taken, back to the drawing board (does anyone say that anymore?). Well, the search continues but I can promise you that there are names out there, because the possible combination of words and letters are truly endless.
Does my Domain Name need to be a .COM?
The quick answer is NO, but I can tell you that .COM remains the most sought after domain name suffix.
Historical fact: The first domain name ever registered was Symbolics.com and I will not link to it, because it is not secure.
The domain suffix .COM was one of the earliest and most popular of all time and remains so to this day. But as the number of potential one and two word names dwindled, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) decided that the number of available suffixes should expand and today, 280 domain suffixes exist.
The second most popular domain suffix is .NET, but those names disappeared fast as well and today you can choose from .BIZ, .ORG, .CO and even .DOMAINS, but the most popular and most valuable of all suffixes will always be .COM.
Now that you have selected a Domain Name: It’s time to claim your stake. All you need to do is “pony up” about $15 and you can own a domain name. And you will be the only person in the world that can use that domain name, unless of course you fail to pay the annual registration fee.
I highly recommend that you use a single Registrar to purchase your domain names. If you are serious about starting and maintaining an online business, your are going to end up owning dozens of domain name (it just happens, believe me).
The domain name registrar I use is NameCheap.com, there are many others, but I find that Name Cheap will be the least expensive in the long run.
Once you have selected a Registrar, all you need to do is search for your desired domain name and check to see if it’s available. Remember to add the desired suffix and prepare to be disappointed when you learn that the name is taken. It is better to prepare yourself, because you will go through hundreds of name possibilities before you find one that suits you.
Purchasing a domain name is fairly straight forward, you may be asked to purchase multiple years at a discount. It is entirely up to you, just remember that domain names do need to be paid for annually so decide how many years you wish to pay for at a time.
What happens if My Domain Name Expires?
The renewal of a domain name is one of the reasons I always use the same Registrar. The price of domain names is not terribly expensive, so the familiarity with a single Registrar can usually outweigh the discounts given by others. Anyway, once you are familiar with your Registrar, you will know how they typically notify you when your domain is about to expire, most of the time Registrars will notify you well in advance.
Of course all of this can be avoided, if you set up Auto Renewal for your domain names. I do not have a problem with auto-renew, you will typically get any discounts available if you set this feature up on your account.
This information is readily available on the domain name screen of your account with whichever Registrar you use. So domains expiring is not something you should worry about, if you are paying any attention to your business at all.
However, if you were to miss an expiration date, the Registrar will place your domain into Grace Period status. The Grace Period for an expired domain name is 30 days. During this 30 day grace period your domain will be placed into a domain name “Parking Lot”, the domain name will no longer be directed to your website, but will likely display some type of advertisement for the Registrar and clearly state that the domain has expired.
During the 30 grace period, you still control the rights to the domain and may renew the domain, simply by paying the renewal at the standard rate. However if a name is not renewed during the grace period the domain name will go into what is called “Registrar Hold”.
Registrar hold also has a 30 duration, in this status the original domain owner may pay a “redemption” fee as well as the renewal fee and still own the name. However the Registrar has the right to try to sell the name at auction and if the name is purchased during the auction the buyer will own the name if the name gets past the 30 day hold period.
Beyond the Registrars hold period there is still one last chance to renew the name. The domain name will enter what is called the Redemption Period, which can last anywhere for 2 weeks to 2 months or more, depending on the Registrar. During this period the original owner can still renew by paying the redemption fee as well as the renewal fee.
Of course the Registrar will be doing all that it can to sell your domain name during the periods beyond the grace period.
As mentioned, the status of your domain name will be obvious to you, if you are paying any attention at all to your business. So do not worry too much about expiring domains, unless of course you want to buy one and that my friends is a whole different article.
The Registrar Search Results
Searching for a domain name is very, very easy. There are hundreds of Registrars and Resellers out there just waiting for your next search. As I mentioned before, my Registrar of choice is NameCheap.com, so I will outline what you might expect from them in terms of search results.
Is my name already registered – The dreaded “Nichewebsitenewie.com is Taken“. Trust me I have seen this a thousand times or more. The first and most important result you will see is whether or not your name is available to be registered. And there is a fairly good chance that it is not. Generally if the name is any good, someone has already thought of it and purchased the name. Please do not get discouraged at this point, there are plenty of .COM domain names to be had and with a little (lot of) luck you might even get your first choice.
Give me some options – The next result you will notice is the myriad of options or alternatives that the Registrar will suggest. Of course they are doing their best to make a sale and I rarely find the options to be a good option and typically move on to my own second favorite name. However, one potential alternative you might want to consider is the alternative suffixes that could be available.
If you are looking to purchase a .COM domain name, but it is taken, perhaps the .NET version would suit you. And if the .NET is not available then perhaps one of the dozens of other domain suffixes (often called extensions) out there. Her is a link to the Wikipedia page for domain extensions: WIKIPEDIA PAGE FOR DOMAIN EXTENSIONS.
TAKEN, but “For Sale” – One of the more frustrating things I often find with Registrar results is the the “This Domain is For Sale” result. This happens most often when the domain has been registered by someone who wants to profit from “flipping” domain names. Now, I can get too angry with these folks, since I was one of them, at one point. But, it still hurts a little when you know no one is using the name, but you cannot have it.
The registrar will do all that it can to make the “For Sale” domain look appetizing, but when priced between $1,500 and $10,000, this will seldom be an option for us Newbies. Some of the valuable aspects a domain name might possess are:
- A word that is a widely used in keywords, like Store , Mart or World.
- The domain is easy to remember.
- Uses the .com extension.
- The domain is a single word domain or perhaps a 3 or 4 letter domain.
- A similar name sold for big dollars.
Some Last Minute Tips for Picking a Domain
Tip Number 1: Get a bunch of ideas down on paper. Write out as many creative ideas as you can that are associated with your niche. Write the words in any combination that makes sense and maybe a few that don’t. Writing the names down and looking them over, once or twice will spark other creative thoughts. Believe me this method works, you will be surprised.
Tip Number 2: Think Brandable. If you name is “catchy” or can be associated with a cartoon character, then you will be able to build brand around the name. It never hurts to consider what type of logo would fit with your name and if it’s a cool logo, you night just have a winner.
Tip Number 3: Get help from your friends and family. Sometimes we all just suffer from writer’s block or creative block and we get fixated on a particular word or phrase. You friends and family can be an awesome source for “fresh” ideas. Don’t hesitate to get some outside help if you are stuck and don’t get frustrated.