One essential element of any website is its domain name. It’s what people type into the address bar of their web browsers in order to access a specific site, and it’s a major part of the site owner’s online identity. For companies that do business exclusively online, a domain name can become synonymous with the company itself, as is the case with Amazon and its domain, www.amazon.com, for example.
In this article, we’ll go over the basics of what a domain is and how domain registration works. We’ll cover what’s involved in purchasing a domain, and how important your domain can be for your business.
What Is a Domain Name?
A domain name uniquely identifies a website, and it can’t be shared with other websites. If you look in your browser’s address bar, you’ll see the domain name of the site you’re visiting, like www.hostpapa.com, for instance.
While a domain name is associated with a website, it’s not right to think of them as the same thing. Every website also has an IP address, which is its official identifier on the Internet, but IP addresses are just a series of numbers. Accessing a website using its IP address instead of a readable domain name would not be an effective way for people to use the internet.
When your website is created, you, your web developer, or your hosting company will associate the site’s IP address with the domain name you purchase. This is not a permanent decision—if you buy a different domain name in the future, it’s simple to redirect your website to the new domain.
When someone buys a domain name, the seller, known as the registrar, is often a web hosting company. Let’s take a closer look at what domain registrars are and how they fit into the domain registration process.
What Is a Domain Registrar?
A domain registrar is one half of a two-part supply chain for internet domains, managing the reservation and registration of domain names.
The other half of the chain is a registry, also known as a top-level domain registry, which controls all registrations for a given domain, like .com or .org, for example. Domain name registries maintain all registration records, and they contract with domain registrars to manage registrations in the marketplace. All registrars must be accredited by a registry, and a registrar must conduct business in accordance with the rules of the registry they’re associated with.
As a website owner, you’ll choose a registrar, select a domain name, and pay them a fee; in return, the registrar will maintain the domain registration under your name.
What Is Domain Registration
Domain registration is the procedure by which a website owner purchases a domain name from a domain name registrar.
When you’re shopping for a domain name, you’ll find a large and competitive marketplace, with many registrars to choose from. It will be easy to select and purchase the domain name that perfectly suits your business. You can get one with a popular extension, like .com, or you may choose a cutting-edge extension like .club or .shop.
Your domain name is at the core of your company’s online identity. When registering your domain, you should take the opportunity to carefully select one that represents your business in the most effective way.
To this point, we’ve only discussed the idea of purchasing a domain. You can get a domain name for free, but it’s not advisable.
Website building brands like WordPress and Squarespace will let you use what’s called a sub-domain, like yoursite.wordpress.com, for example. For most businesses, that sort of domain just won’t suffice. Your domain will be one of the key parts of your company’s online identity. In order for your business website to be taken seriously, it will need its own domain, like yoursite.com, not a sub-domain.
As you can see, the relationship between your domain and your website is not complicated. The process of getting a domain is straight-forward as well—it simply involves exploring an active marketplace and then making your purchase. In the next section, we’ll take a closer look at that process.
Purchasing a Domain
Purchasing a domain name involves paying an annual fee to a domain registrar. It’s the only way to keep a domain name registered in your name. Each year, before the expiration date, you have to renew the registration. If you don’t, the domain name will be made available to the open market and you would risk losing it.
That’s no real cause for concern, because, even if you forget to mark the date on your calendar, your domain registrar will notify you when the registration period is about to expire, plus, there’s usually an auto-renewal option available.
Don’t expect to pay a lot to register a domain—it typically runs around $10 to $15 per year. A domain that’s in high demand could cost much more, for example, if someone already owns the domain name, knows that it’s valuable, and has priced it accordingly.
But, realistically, you won’t be going after a costly domain name. If you run an online store selling sunglasses, let’s call it Shades Planet, for example, the domain www.sunglasses.com would be both too pricey and too generic for your business. On the other hand, www.shadesplanet.com would be available at an affordable price, and it would serve as the foundation for your brand online.
Before moving on, it’s worth noting that if you change hosting companies, your domain name is portable. You can transfer it to a new website that’s hosted by a different company and start paying that company the annual registration fee. The hosting company you switch to will have instructions about how to get that done.
Let’s wrap up our discussion of domain registration basics with a brief look at how powerful your domain can be, as a brand identifier, as a business communications tool, and as a home base for all your customer outreach.
The Power of Your Domain
Your company’s online presence starts with your domain name. It’s how people access your website and it can help your business stand out on the web.
Every small business owner has to establish awareness among their customer base and provide a place where business can be transacted. To be viewed as a real business, a company used to need a building with a sign out front that clearly stated the name of the company. Today the building has been replaced with a website, and the company’s domain name is the “sign out front.”
Your domain name is also the key to professional communication with your customers. Hosting companies offer email services that allow you to incorporate your domain into your business email address, like firstname.lastname@example.org.
Using a generic email address for business is a mistake you should avoid. When you choose to communicate with customers from a gmail.com or outlook.com account, for example, you miss out on the chance to project a professional image and leverage the brand power that your business domain carries.
Another way your domain can help your business is by meshing with your social media marketing efforts. An active presence on social media is an effective way to generate interest in your business and drive traffic to your website, which, of course, would not be accessible without a domain name. Your branded domain provides a centralized place to send prospects, giving you much more control over your marketing communication than if you relied solely on social media channels.
We hope this article answered any questions you may have had about the basics of domain name registration. It’s one of the easiest steps you’ll take in getting your business online. It’s also one of the most important, because your domain is the entry point to your website and a key part of your brand identity.