What is a domain name and how do I get one?
When you build your dream business, you need a website to support your marketing efforts. In the early development phase most people ask two questions: “What will the business do?” and “What do I call it?” Also during this phase, most people brainstorm domain names for their websites. While many people have a pretty good idea of what a domain name is, you may not.
What is a domain name?
A domain name is the unique name or address of your website. It’s the name you type into the address bar of your web browser. A domain name connects your web browser to a website’s unique IP (Internet Protocol) address. It is a set of numbers that web browsers and web servers understand. We use domain names because they are easier to remember than a string of numbers. For example; Apple.com’s IP Address is 126.96.36.199. See what I mean? So much easier to remember a name.
There are three key aspects to domain names. There is the domain name as in (apple), and there is the Top Level Domain or (TLD) which is the suffix after the domain name. e.g. (.com.) The third aspect is less common than the first two, the sub-domain. Imagine Apple wants to create a private internal training website for it’s employees. They could create a subdomain called (training.apple.com) or (employee.apple.com).
Subdomains are generally pre-pended to your main domain name. They are a sub-category of your main website. They are autonomous with their own page structure and database. It’s a separate website connected to your brand that is independent.
What TLD should I choose?
While .com TLDs are sought after, they are hard to get. Dot com’s are the ideal TLD for your business and you are fortunate to have one. But, if you can’t, there are alternatives.
The .ca TLD, used in Canada, gives a website a Canadian identity. That said, it is not required to use a .ca suffix because you live in Canada. You are free to choose others, but some domain names have restrictions. The .ca TLD for example requires that the registrant is from Canada. You can find a detailed list of the criteria on this Godaddy webpage.
The .org TLD is for non-profit organizations. But, in 2019, the investment firm that purchased it removed the restriction. But, if you use a .org TLD for something other than a non-profit, people may consider you suspect.
For a comprehensive list of TLDs, visit this Wikipedia page. The article also includes information on their intended use.
When should I start looking for my domain name?
Search for your domain from the get-go. The moment you think of business names, think of domain names in tandem. Available domain names will influence your business name and vice versa. It would be unfortunate to register your business name with the Companies Office, only to discover someone else has the domain name. The two are interdependent so research both at the same time.
With this in mind, type your preferred domain name into the address bar of your web browser and see what comes up. Look at the URLs of the search results to make sure your chosen domain name doesn’t appear verbatim. If it’s not on the first few pages of the search engine results, that is a good sign but we’re not in the clear yet.
Don’t forget about social media
Don’t forget to search for your chosen usernames on the social media channels you plan to use for your project. Having a username that is like your domain name will make it easier for people to find you on social media. If someone else has your desired username, you will have to get creative here too. Find available options that resemble your domain name. Here is a link to a website that will search all social media channels at once. The next step is to choose a domain name registrar.|
So, where do you buy a domain name?
You find domain names online through a domain registrar. There are many, but some common registrars are GoDaddy, Namecheap, and Google Domains.
Though we talk about purchasing a domain name, in reality, we lease it. You renew them every 1-5 years, but ICAAN, the regulatory body for domain names, allows up to 10-year leases. Compare domain registrars to find terms that are suitable for you. All registrars have a convenient automatic renewal feature.
Long-term leases are available, but there are drawbacks. This article from Forbes magazine has interesting things to say about long-term leasing.
Once you choose a registrar, go to their website and search for the domain name you want. If it is available, that’s great, you’re in business! A typical domain name costs $25-$50 CAD per year and the first year is usually discounted. Multi-year pricing is also available.
What if your domain name is not available?
There are some solutions to consider if your domain name is not available.
Shorter is sweeter
Can you shorten the name? The shorter the better, short names are easier for people to remember. For example, I called my business Bonhomie Studio. But I registered bonhomie.ca because it’s shorter and snappier than bonhomiestudio.com. I am also from Canada. I usually say the name out loud to hear how it sounds. If it is easier to remember and has a ring to it, it gains favour.
But, in my situation, I also reserved bonhomiestudio.com. It would be unfortunate to spend years building your brand to have someone else pick it up.
To help someone find my business I also re-direct the second domain name to bonhomie.ca. So, if someone types in bonhomiestudio.com, the website will still appear. Any Google search for Bonhomie Studio will show up in the search engine results. So there are a few ways people can find my business.
Attach your business category to the name
You can append your business category to the name. For example, you want to use randall.com but it’s taken. It could be randallmusic.com if you are a musician, or randallfilms.com if you are a filmmaker.
Try a different TLD
If you prefer to keep your original idea, you can try a different TLD. The registrar’s search results will usually include other top-level domain options. Suffixes like .biz .info or .online, etc. Some of these might be good options for you. Do some research to see what may work for you by visiting this Wikipedia link.
Buy a parked domain using a broker
A more costly option is to buy the domain from the current owner. They may have parked it, meaning they registered it but it’s not in use. Some people buy domains as an investment hoping that someone will come along and buy them. So if you have a budget you may be able to buy your preferred domain name.
Most domain registrars have an option to broker the sale of the domain name. This often involves paying a brokerage fee for the service. Once you trigger the service they will try to find the owner to broker a deal. GoDaddy charges a non-refundable fee somewhere under $100 CA to get the process going. If you strike a deal, you pay the agreed-upon price plus a 20% commission. The negotiated price for the domain is a one-time fee. Every year afterward, you will pay a small renewal fee of approximately $20.00 to maintain your lease. All brokers vary their approach, so be sure to research their terms.
Whois domain lookup
There is a free, but not completely reliable way to find out who owns a domain name. With this method, you may be able to approach the owner directly. To do this, go to whois.com and search for the domain you want. Look for the registrant’s email address and contact them.
This method can be tricky because there are some legal steps involved in the transfer of a domain name. Having a broker who knows the process can lead to a smoother transaction. This approach can also be fruitless. Why? Because the registrant can pay a fee to hide their business or personal information.
A last important consideration
This last point to consider is very important. Be sure that you register your domain name yourself in your name or under your business name. You want to own your domain. In some situations, your web designer may offer to register your domain name for you. But, I recommend you do it yourself.
Relationships can sour between you and your web designer, for any number of reasons. Be sure your web designer doesn’t register your domain name under their name or business name. If they do, they are in a position of control over your website. Even if they do it in good faith, it is a bit of a process to transfer it back to you.
Register your domain name under your name or your business name to mitigate any risk. I also recommend that you register your hosting account in your name for the same reasons. You will feel better knowing you are in complete control of your website.
Do you have a question?
It can be difficult to navigate the process of building or redesigning a business or personal website. So, if you have any questions, drop them below. I will answer you directly and/or explore the question in a future blog/vlog post.