Your Address: The Domain Name

One of the first things to do when planning a website is to register a domain or domains. Choosing an address that is available is perhaps the most difficult task as the naming system becomes more crowded. Once an available address is found, registering the domain can be quick and simple. In this guide I will cover some considerations when choosing a domain name and registering it.

Components of a Domain Name

A domain name is made up of at least two components, a top-level domain and the domain. An optional sub-domain can be used. The default “www” sub-domain came about to specify an organization’s world wide web server, but is not required. Using just the domain and top-level domain as your address is acceptable and allows for the use of sub-domains for other areas of the site, such as store. The resulting domain host name can refer to a specific server or be used in a URL to specify a web resource. See the examples below:

[sub-domain].[domain].[top-level domain]

www.example.com

The segments are always separated by periods and are read left-to-right starting with any sub-domains. Any number of optional sub-domains can be appended to the front of a domain, followed by the domain name and the top-level domain. Domains are registered within a single top-level domain, like .com, .edu, .net, .org or any of the country code top-level domains (.ca, .us, .uk, .de). A single owner may register the same domain against a variety of top-level domains. Valid characters for a domain are the letters A-Z (case insensitive) and the numerals 0-9 and the “-” symbol. The name is restricted to between 3 and 63 characters and cannot start or end with the “-” symbol, but that symbol may appear anywhere else in the domain. The Domain Naming System is a hierarchical system. Once a domain is registered, the owner has unlimited ability to create sub-domains underneath the domain without going through a domain registrar. No one else can register a sub-domain on a domain belonging to someone else.

Considerations for Registering a Domain

First, find a domain name that is not already taken. This is done by performing a domain name search, most conveniently from a registrars site. However, some registrars have been accused of funnelling the results of domain searches to domain squatters, who snap up the registration on these domains while the searcher mulls it over, then hold the domain up for a ransom in the hundreds of dollars or more. Another trick is for the registrars to register the domain themselves, called front running, to hold it for anyone to register through themselves, forcing anyone who wants the domain to pay their higher than market registration costs. They hold the domain for the five day grace period, before returning it to the pool of unregistered domains as long as no one decides to register it. To protect yourself, make sure you find a reputable registrar by searching for complaints of funnelling and front running or use a reputable service, like instantdomainsearch.com. The risk can also be minimized by making a decision quickly after searches have determined what is available. Registrars participating in these shady actions are a minority, but it does not hurt to be aware of the potential results of your actions and do a little research first.

To attain rights for all or the most common top-level domains, the domain will have to be registered and paid for on each top-level domain. The domain is in the owners control as long as the domain fees are renewed annually. It is possible to pre-pay for up to 10 years with some registrars, but it is more convenient to use an auto-renew feature most registrars have to automatically renew the domain every year. Warning is given prior to renewal so the opportunity to cancel renewal is available if the domain is no longer required. It is important for domain owners to remember to keep email addresses and credit card information up-to-date with their registrar so there is no missed notices or domains lapsed due to non-payment.

When choosing a domain name, consider the length of the name, how easy it is to read and say and look for hidden words that make it difficult for someone to determine the actual name of the site. This is becoming more important as most single English word domain names are taken, and it is common to register domains on phrases. Phrases can be organization slogans or wording that plays on the name or persona of the organization. A good example of this is haveamint.com, which is a short and easy to remember address that plays on the name of the product. Acronyms and abbreviations can also be problematic in domain names if they are not well known. Acronyms can come across as cold and bureaucratic which may not be the association desired for an organization. Be sure to consider how the chosen domain name will be considered by others with some simple focus group testing among friends.

Once a domain name is selected and registered, an address for the site is now available. There will not be anything there just yet. A location for the site must be found before construction can start. The next step is to find a place to put the site.