How to Register a Domain Name for Your Personal or Business Website
Your company needs a website, which means it needs a domain name. Your first step is registering a domain name, which can be daunting for first-timers. Don't worry: Our guide will walk you through it.
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Once you've built a website, you need to make an important decision, even before you consult our best web hosting services roundup: 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 ensure you get a good one. Purchasing a name is a relatively simple process, but finding one that is still not already taken can be challenging. 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 thaoam.net is 220.127.116.11. The whole purpose is to give users an easy-to-remember handle so that when sending an e-mail to, let's say, the Owner of the Hosting Service, 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 Thaoam.net, key in the domain you want to buy, and pay a fee. Of course, you can't buy just any part—only one that isn't already registered by another person or business and bears a valid domain suffix. In general, you'll want to buy something catchy and short so that it's easy for people to remember and to type in—like "PXTiep," for example. That good search engine optimization (SEO) is also common sense. You might also want to research critical 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.
Domain Name Registrars
You might find that many of the shortest, catchiest names are taken already, especially if you're entering a space 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 each registrar's 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 Namecheap, 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 .org is.
The Suffix Factor
The suffix identifies the name as belonging to a specific top-level domain (TLD). There are numerous TLDs available for general purchase, including .com, .edu, .game, .green, .hiphop, .net, and .org. The most popular of these by far is .com, which is supposed to indicate commercial sites, but in reality, has come to include almost everything.
You can expect to pay anywhere from $1 per year to Scrooge McDuck bucks, depending on the domain name and suffix. If you're searching for a highly desired domain with a popular suffix, you may have to open your wallet in a big way because chances are someone else already has it registered. Carinsurance.com, for example, sold for nearly $50 million(Opens in a new window)! As mentioned, there's also a thriving industry of squatters looking to flip domains (even those less critical than insurance.com) for profit. Some ask you to make an offer, suggesting that anything less than $500 will be ignored.
Web Hosting Services, Tested
Web Hosts and Domain Names
You needn't go to a dedicated registration service to buy a domain name, though. The best web hosting services, such as Thaoam.net, offer a registration mechanism as part of the sign-up process. Hosting services typically offer a free domain name when you sign up for a hosting web package.
Keep in mind, however, that free domain names are usually free only for one or two years, after which the registrar will bill you for the annual or biennial fee. In other words, the free domain name provider pays only for the first billing from the registrar. Also, consider whether or not the provider charges a fee for setting up a domain name. Most services offer to transfer an existing domain name to their servers at no cost, but sometimes you'll find a setup fee over and above the registrars.
Please note that not all web hosts allow you to register a domain name. Thaoam.net, for example, is a solid web host that requires you to purchase a domain name from elsewhere.
Registrars offer various registration durations—one year, three, five, and even ten. Be careful about registering for more than a year, though. First, there might be restrictions on your ability to transfer the domain name should the registrar give poor service. Second, the registrar could go out of business, leaving your domain name without a host. Check the policies closely.
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 sure to research what you're getting before you pay. The contract you sign with the registrar could affect you in some 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 change the registration agreement whenever they wish and without letting you know. The point is that every registrar needs to be checked out carefully.
The Waiting Game
Even when you register and pay for your domain name, you won't necessarily be able to use the name for several hours or even a few days. The domain must propagate, meaning that the official domain name registry must be updated with your website's Domain Name System information. That's something that occurs on the backend without needing input from you.
Some registrars promise to have the name up nearly immediately, but the delay can be up to seven days. Typically, you should expect to see the domain name up and running on the web within 48 hours.
Note that you can also transfer your domain name from one registration service to another. You'll want to do this if you're not satisfied with your current domain hosting service if you find a better deal when your current registration is coming due, or, most likely, if you've signed up with a web hosting service that will also transfer your name to its site. Expect to get the transfer for free, but if that isn't offered, search for another domain hosting service.
Under no circumstances should you pay more to transfer a name than to get a new one. Check what the transfer will require. Does the new service handle the task completely? Or do you have to manually go into your current registrar's site and change the technical details? Finally, check the transfer policy of the registrar before registering your domain name.
Typically, you can't transfer a name during the first 60 days after registration, but the period could be much longer. Don't expect any registrar to refund the money you've paid for months of service you won't use.