Once you’ve decided to build a website, you need to make an important decision:
What’s your domain name going to be? You know, it’s the [yoursitename.extension] web address by which all your (hopefully) many customers find you.
Your domain name is, in effect, the name of your website, so you want to make sure you get a good one. Purchasing a name is a relatively simple process, but finding one that isn’t already taken can be a challenge.
In addition, you’ll also want to make sure you understand the contract between you and the domain name registrar. If this is starting to sound a bit complicated, don’t worry: This primer can help you get started.
Domain Names Defined
Domain names put a friendly face on hard-to-remember numeric internet addresses. Every computer on the internet has a unique internet protocol (IP) number.
A domain name represents one IP number or more. For example, the IP number for the domain name whitehouse.gov is 126.96.36.199. The whole purpose is to give users an easy-to-remember handle so that when sending an e-mail to, let’s say, the President of the United States, you can type email@example.com instead of the more unwieldy firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anyone can buy a domain name. To do so, you visit a domain name registrar, such as Sakurahost, key in the domain you want to buy, and pay a fee.
You can’t buy just any domain, of course-only one that isn’t already registered by another person or business and that bears a valid domain suffix. In general, you’ll want to buy something catchy and short so that it’s both easy for people to remember and easy for them to type in—like “Sakurahost,” for example. That good search engine optimization (SEO) and it’s also common sense. You might also want to do some research on key terms for your business. If you can get a good one into your site’s name, that’s all the better, from an SEO perspective.
You might find that many of the shortest, catchiest names are taken already, especially if you’re entering a space that is already well represented on the web. To make matters worse, cyber-squatters often scoop up these attractive names as an investment to resell them later to legitimate would-be site owners—more on this later.
If you’re having trouble finding a domain name (whether because of crowding or cyber-squatters), check for a help facility on our site. Domain registrars typically house search engines that return a listing of available names similar to the one you want. When you search for a domain name at Sakurahost, for example, you get both the status of that name and a list of suffixes available for that name. Maybe [Sitename].com isn’t available, but [Sitename].biz or .co.tz is.
The Domain Contract
We’d all like to think that, once bought, a domain name is ours forever and under all circumstances. This is not necessarily the case. Be certain to research what you’re getting before you pay. The contract you sign with the registrar could affect you in several ways.
Many registrars reserve the right to revoke your domain name for specific reasons, typically if you use the domain for illegal purposes or purposes deemed unacceptable (such as spamming). Many contracts contain a clause letting the registrar delete your domain name for no apparent reason. The implication, of course, is that the domain name is the registrar’s, not yours.
Furthermore, practically all registrars reserve the right to make changes to the registration agreement whenever they wish and without letting you know. The point is that every registrar needs to be checked out carefully.