What is a Domain Name & How to Buy One
Last Updated on December 4, 2021 by James Wilson
A domain name is a name and URL that represents your website’s presence on the internet. Domain names are unique and can be registered with a domain registrar. Once you register your domain name, you can ‘claim’ your part of the internet. You can use your domain name for your website address, email address, or both (which most people tend to do).
If you’ve made a start on creating your own website, you won’t be able to publish any of the content without a domain name. When you sign up to a great web host, you’ll need to provide your domain name (or buy one) to launch your website. Without a domain name, your web host’s servers have nothing to reference.
Some web hosts actually offer domain names for free, but we’ll come back to that in a moment.
Even if you haven’t started building your website yet, it’s worth getting a domain name. Maybe you’ve been sat down watching TV having a coffee and inspiration has sparkled. If it has, don’t wait around! Domain names are like gold dust, so if you’ve thought of a good one, grab it whilst you can.
Web hosts like BlueHost give you a domain for FREE when you sign up to web hosting. It doesn’t matter which package you go for, starting from £2.25 per month, you’ll get unlimited web hosting and a domain name.
Different Levels of Domain
Okay so this may sound like it’s going to be confusing, but I promise you it’s not. I’m going to use my own website as an example in explaining this one. When you, or anyone else, visits my website, you’ll type in www.ukwebhostreview.com and you’ll land here. The whole URL is known as the web address.
The top-level domain is the part after the dot. In the case of our website, it’s .com and in the case of the example above it is too. There are plenty of top-level domains to choose from which I’m sure you’re aware of. Government websites will often have a top-level domain of .gov and non-profit organisations will have .org.
Most top-level domains (TLDs) are used to represent where a website or business is located. If your target market is based in the U.K. it’s worth having a .co.uk domain. TLDs like .ca and .us also tend to represent the location. If your business isn’t location-specific or you want to attract a wider audience-base then .com is a safe bet to go for.
The second-level domain is located left of the dot. This is also simply known as the domain name. Like I mentioned earlier, this represents the identity of the individual’s website, business, or what it does. My own website represents what I do and what my website is about. Second-level domains should be memorable and easy to type so that visitors don’t end up navigating somewhere else.
Domain Name Usage
According to Singapore Data Company, there are estimated to be 137 million .com domains registered. Around 1/3 are in use and contain relevant content and 1/3 appear to be unused. There’s also a 1/3 that seem to be in ‘limbo’, used for other purposes that they’ve speculated.
In 2016 Verisign reported 334.6 million registered domain names. The registration of these TLDs had increased around 7.9 million from the previous quarter. This represented a growth of around 38.2 million domain names each year. Unfortunately, it’s very hard to get completely accurate figures regarding registered domain names.
Registering a Domain
When you register a domain name, it will be regulated by Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). You can actually use the ICANN website to locate a domain name registrar and register a domain with them. The cost of doing so will depend on the TLD and the registrar that you choose.
Registering a domain name can be done in a number of ways. Like I mentioned earlier, you can register a domain with your chosen web host. Most web hosts will offer domain names at competitive prices as they can sell them onto you for discounted prices. As you’ve already seen, many of them offer domains for free as part of your web hosting package. But, you don’t have to use a web host if you want to register a domain.
There are plenty of domain name registrars that are independent to web hosting or other services. The main reason web hosts or web development/design companies sell domain names is because it makes sense to get everything together. You’ll need to create your website (or use a website builder), purchase web hosting and a domain name in order to make your website live.
I’ll let you into a little secret. You can get domain names for free from certain domain name registrars.
Step-by-step to Register a Domain
Registering a domain name is pretty simple once you know what you’re doing. To ensure that you know how to register a domain name, I’ve put together a simple step-by-step guide.
- Choose your domain name registrar or web host. If you’re feeling a little stuck as to where to go, you can check ICANN’s list of domain registrars who they deem reputable.
- Check your domain name. Your domain name registrar or hosting service will have a domain search function. This tool will check whether your chosen domain name is available. If your domain name isn’t available, they may suggest some alternative domain names to give you some inspiration.
- Provide your details. When you register a domain name, you will probably be asked for some personal details. This is completely normal and your details will be registered against the WHOIS database. You can select whether your profile is public or private, however, you may have to pay to keep your details private (which I recommend).
- Purchase your domain. When you’re ready to go ahead with your domain name, you’ll need to pay for it. Most domain name registrars or web hosting will allow you to register your domain for a certain amount of time. This is usually 1 year, but some allow 2 years or more. Prices will depend on your TLD and how ‘valuable’ your domain name is considered.
- Link your domain. In order for your website to be visible online, you’ll need to link your domain name to it. Domain name registrars and web hosts will have the tools you need to do this. Most of them will have FAQs if you’re not sure how to proceed.
Why it’s useful to have a Registered Domain
Apart from the obvious, there are several advantages to having a registered domain name. In some cases, you won’t have to register a domain name for your website to be accessible on the internet. Some companies like website builders will offer sub-domains as part of their free packages. For example, Wix has a free plan where you create and host a website for free. They will provide you with a sub-domain that looks something like www.mywebsite.wix.com.
- Looks professional. Having a registered domain name (as oposed to a sub-domain) looks professional and adds credibility to your site. Sub-domains are known to be offered for free and therefore don’t look very credible.
- Easy to find. A domain name makes it easier for visitors and potential visitors to find your website. Regardless of whether you change website builder, web developer, or web host, your domain name stays the same.
- Email address. Registering a domain name often means you’ll be able to get a professional email address for your site. If a customer visits your site and wants to contact you, it looks a lot better if they can email you with a recognisable domain name.
Cost of Domain Names
Now that we’ve covered what a domain name is and where to get one, it’s worth talking about the cost of registering a domain. As I mentioned earlier, you can actually get a domain name for free, but there may be restrictions on length of term, TLD etc.
If you’re serious about registering a domain name with a reputable registrar or web host, let’s understand the cost behind it:
Choice of TLD
Length of words or word combinations
Length of registration term
Above are some factors which can affect the cost of your domain. Certain TLDs may be more expensive to register than others. Often .com domains are more costly because they are more sought after. This is also the case when using popular words or keywords within your domain name.
When you register a domain name, you’ll be asked for the length of time you want to register it for. If you’re confident about your domain, it’s worth registering it for the longest time possible. On average, you’re looking at anywhere between 99p and £9.99 to register a domain name for a 12 month period.
If you want to protect your WHOIS privacy, most registrars will allow you to do this at an additional cost. This is entirely at the discretion of the domain registrar but usually comes in at around £5.99. As I said before, I really recommend protecting your privacy.
Unfortunately sometimes your perfect domain name can already be taken. There are a range of domain name auction sites out there, as well as domain registrars. You can often find the domain name you want but may have to bid on it or buy it outright at a high cost.
Can I transfer my domain?
This is something I get asked quite often. In short, yes you can transfer your domain. As long as you keep paying the fee for your domain, you can ‘take it with you’ to other locations. What I mean by this is that if you bought a domain name from GoDaddy, you could then transfer it to Wix, and so on.
NameCheap GoDaddy Wix
In fact, you could do this as many times as you like (though I’d recommend choosing a location and sticking with it).
Why would you transfer your domain?
Following on from the above, it’s important to understand why you would want to transfer your domain. The most common reason for transferring a domain is to keep everything in one place. For example, if you purchased a domain name from GoDaddy but started building your website on Wix, it’s handy to have both your domain and website in one location.
If you don’t fancy relocating your domain name, you can just point your domain name at a different location. If you purchase a domain via a domain registrar, you can update your name servers to point at your website builder. This ensures your domain registrar remains the same, but your website is visible through your website builder.
Is it best to purchase a domain name through a registrar or website builder?
If you’re wondering whether it’s best to purchase you domain name through a registrar, or through your website builder, I can help you answer that. Both options have pros and cons, and really depend on your own wants and needs. Let’s take a look at both options:
Some website builders like Wix will give you a free domain for the first year
If you use a website builder for both your domain and website, your domain will automatically connect to your site
After the first year you will need to renew your domain. Doing this through a website builder can often be more costly
If you move to a different website builder, you’ll need to transfer your domain to your new website builder
If you switch your website builder, you can update the name servers via your domain registrar (can take up to 24 hours)
It’s often cheaper to purchase and renew your domain through a registrar
Connecting your domain name to a website builder takes a little more admin work