Introduction to Domain Names
I have bought many domain names over the years, some I still own today. When it comes to knowledge around domains, we don’t need to know everything but some things definitely help. This list will help you make a better decision when you are buying yours. I will answer some questions I get frequently like where to buy a domain name and how much it costs. Also, security and optional extras.
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1 - Buying a domain name is really easy
I’m often asked how to buy a domain name and I always say it’s easy and can be done in a few minutes. The hardest part is choosing a name, all websites that sell domains have a search function that tell you if the name is available. I have tried a few domain registrars and namecheap is my favourite. I like their user interface and updating settings is straight forward. Namecheap is popular so if you do get stuck, there are lots of guides online.
2 - Domain names are relatively cheap
Buying a domain name will likely be the cheapest part of putting together a professional website. Most basic co dot uk and dot com domains are around £10 a year. You can find some really expensive domains but I won’t get into that here. It’s usually when people buy a domain and list it for a higher price trying to make a profit.
3 - Domain names are the one thing you can’t get for free
Some site builders like Wix often bundle in a free domain in paid plans but the truth is someone always has to pay for the domain name. You can get hosting for free with sites like Netlify and Heroku. You can get database storage for free for a time with amazon web services. You can even get a website designed, made and uploaded for “free” if you can code or hire a new developer offering free work. The one thing we will always have to pay for is a domain name.
4 - You never own a domain name
I mean the registrar owns the domain name and we rent it from them. We do this to have a nice and memorable web address when someone tries to view our content through the web. We pay yearly rent on domain names and we can set them to renew automatically.
One of the largest central registrars is Verisign, they own a lot of top level domains like dot com and dot net. Most other registrars like 1&1 don’t actually own the domain names, they resell and provide services around web security and registration.
5 - There is no best place to get a domain name
When clients ask where the best place to a buy a domain name from is, I recommend namecheap because it’s my favourite and I am familiar with it. I also say that I haven’t tried them all and just because it’s my favourite, doesn’t mean it will be yours too. I encourage clients to look around and ask their friends who they went with.
Registrars all have a very similar list of services. The thing that separates them is user interface of their site and customer care. You will probably never have to deal with their customer care so that is why being able to navigate their user area easily is one of my highest priorities.
6 - A domain name is only half of a minimum solution
At the very least, to get your website up and running, you need a domain name and web hosting. I recommend getting your domain name from a different place to your host or at least buy them separately. This will give you the freedom to change company in the future. If you bought your domain name and hosting plan all through Wix for example, it can be difficult to move later on.
Web hosting is fairly straight forward to set up. As I mentioned earlier, there are even some great free web hosts you can use. In the past, the quality of free web hosting was questionable but now we have Netlify, Heroku and GitHub pages. The downside is that you will need some technical knowledge to get up and running.
7 - Domain names are easy to manage
In the settings page in your account, you can set the domain to auto renew every year so you don’t have to think about it. If you don’t want a domain name anymore, you can set the auto renew to off and let it expire.
You will get email notifications from your registrar letting you know it is due to expire. You even get a period after expiry where you can renew. After this period, it goes back up for auction and becomes available to the public again. If you have a valuable domain, you can list it for sale yourself.
Forwarding the domain to your web host is simple and again there are guides everywhere. I use Siteground as my host right now and it is as simple as copying two lines of text from the Siteground settings to the namecheap settings. Here's my review of Siteground.
8 - There are lots of domain names left
It might seem like whatever you think off is gone but there are still lots of domain names left out there to register. It is better to keep a domain name short so it is memorable. This isn’t as much of a problem now because a lot of people reach site via google search and social media these days. When was the last time you typed in a whole web address?
9 - You can buy multiple extensions for the same site
You might find that your desired domain name has multiple extensions for sale. e.g. yoursite.com and yoursite.co.uk. If it’s a personal website, I recommend buying the dot com site no matter where you are in the world unless you really want to let be know you are based in the UK. For business, I recommend you get both if you can.
Names are cheap and you can redirect one to the other if someone searches your site with the wrong extension. There are many arguments online about the choices to make here.
10 - Security is important
I like namecheap because it offers WhoisGuard privacy protection for free when you register a domain. When you buy a domain, you enter personal information like your address and phone number. privacy protection hides this and ensures people can’t find you easily.
You don’t need to worry about SSL certificates at the domain name buying stage. You set it up when hosting. Some hosts offer a free SSL certificate that lets you display the https in front of your domain. It lets users know that your site is secure from certain threats. If you go on a http website and google chrome shows it as not secure, it can make some users nervous.
Bonus Custom Domain Information
Bonus 1 - About subdirectories and subdomains
Again, you don’t have to worry about this at the domain name buying stage but this will help later on as it affects the way your address in rendered in the search bar.
If you had an app hosted on your site you could approach it as follows;
Subdirectory example - mywebsite.com/app
Subdomain example - app.mywebsite.com
There are different ways of showing different pages associated with your domain. Subdirectories and subdomains are two of them as shown above. There are good reasons for both, they are both simple to set up but subdirectories are far easier. I recommend using subdirectories for the different pages of your website for example blog content and about pages. I recommend adding relevant but stand-alone content like an app to a subdomain.
Bonus 2 - Search engine optimisation
If you are interested in SEO, your domain name doesn’t count towards your ranking as much as other factors. Much more important things are the quality of your content, e.g. the structure of your site and the quality of external links pointing to your site.
Some people go for branding and others go for the obvious of what the site is about. Which one do you think would have got more attention, google.com or thebestsearchengine.com?
Bonus 3 - There are lots of names for the same thing
Setting up a website can be confusing because people use different terms for the same thing. It’s the same thing with jargon in any industry. I have seen and heard so many questions about X thing vs Y thing when X and Y are the same thing. Of course there might be some slight differences. My example here is domain name and URL, consider them the same thing for now.Go back to the homepage