Discussing where and how you to purchase a domain name for your business sounds as boring as watching the Notebook. (We said what we said.) But, as your friendly neighborhood web developer, it's important to us that you know there is, in fact, a right way to buy a domain.
Before we get into it, here's a quickie list of terms you'll want to have a basic understanding of when buying a domain:
Domain Registrar - The organization who handles reserving domain names and assigning them to corresponding IP addresses (e.g. websites).
Domain Name Service (DNS) - A system for naming computers, services, and resources connected to the Internet. The DNS translates complex IP addresses to domain names (like your website) so browsers can load the information being requested. To paraphrase: Your domain name and your web host are two separate entities, and the DNS is what's used to link the two together.
Top-Level Domain (TLD) - A domain at the highest level of the DNS after the root domain. You can think of these like "extensions" and is where you'd choose .com, .net, .org, etc.
Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) - Among many things, ICANN develops policies on the Internet's unique identifiers (such as domain names and IP addresses).
WHOIS Privacy - A service provided by domain registrars to protect the domain owner's privacy by hiding their physical address and phone number. Some registrars include this in their pricing, while other registrars charge extra.
No doubt you'll search for yourcompany.com first, because a .com website is what most people have come to expect for a domain name. But, purchasing a .com isn't your only option, although it may depend on how your business is registered.
.com - This extension is short for "company" and was originally intended for businesses.
.org - This extension was originally intended for nonprofit, charitable, and religious institutions. However, this is no limit to who can purchase this TLD.
.net - This isn't 1999. Please don't purchase a .net unless it's a backup domain. (See below for more info on backup domains.)
.edu - Only postsecondary institutions and organizations that are institutionally accredited by an agency on the U.S. Department of Education's list of nationally recognized accrediting agencies are eligible to apply for this TLD.
.us or .ca - This is short for "United States, Canada" or whatever country code you choose.
.mil - Reserved for military use. AKA these are not the droids you're looking for. Move along.
.gov - Only U.S.-based government and public sector organizations are eligible to purchase this TLD.
If you look up to the URL bar, you'll notice this website uses the .digital TLD. That's because we decided to get creative with our domain name! (And the corresponding .com was unavailable.)
Almost any word can be available as a TLD. If you want to see what's possible, visit ICAAN's website to view a full list of options.
We're skipping the step of helping you brainstorm a domain name, because that's going to be unique to you and your business. Instead, we want to want to focus on the how.
While you can search 'til your heart's content using any domain name platform, plan to purchase the domain through an ICAAN Accredited Registrar. This list is wonderfully long, so here's what you should focus on:
Location. Purchase your domain from a registrar closest to where your ideal demographic is located.
Domain Extensions. Not every registrar offers aaaaall of the possible domain extensions. If you're looking to use a .co or .club, then be sure the registrar has those available.
Registration Period. Some registrars only offer one-year contracts, while others allow you to purchase the domain for as long as 10 years!
Domain Expiration/Auto-Renewal. What's going to happen if you accidentally forget to renew your domain? If your registrar puts the domain up for sale the second your contract lapses because you don't have auto-renew enabled, then someone else could buy it and you'd be out of luck.
Domain Transfers. Most registrars will allow you to transfer your domain to a different registrar if you ever change your mind... but not all of them do. Be sure you have the ability to transfer should you choose to do so. (Or, maybe, someone wants to buy your business and you need to transfer ownership to them!)
Pricing. (Yep, pricing is last on our list!) It can be extremely attractive to want to go with the cheapest registrar but that doesn't make it the best. These registrars sell their domains on the cheap because they have hidden fees or make you pay extra for additional features (like WHOIS privacy).
We mentioned that pricing should not be the primary factor in choosing a domain registrar, but that doesn't address how much domains should cost.
Common TLDs, like .com, will cost on average around $12 per year which should include WHOIS privacy protection. Less common TLDs, like .agency, will cost closer to $20 per year which also includes privacy protection.
If you find a cheaper domain for around $2-$3 per year, then you can expect to pay extra for WHOIS privacy protection. Additionally, those prices are usually only for promotional purposes and will renew at a much higher price.
Website platforms like Squarespace, and hosting providers such as Bluehost, usually offer a free domain to you for one year when you sign up for their hosting plans. This is FANtastic and we highly encourage you to take advantage of it - but maybe not in the way you'd expect. Instead of using this opportunity to grab your primary domain, we recommend you use it to get a supplementary/back up domain.
A supplementary/back up domain is one you'd setup to forward to your primary domain. For example, we also purchased pixeljamdigital.com which redirects here, to pixeljam.digital.
This can be a good strategy so that (1) other people don't purchase a domain similar to yours, and (2) provides a backup in case a customer accidentally types on the wrong domain name. We have clients who have unique spellings of their business. So, in order to prevent their customers from not being able to find their website if they type it incorrectly, their backup domains will catch the typo and redirect them to the correct website.
However, we do not recommend buying a free domain through your website platform to be your primary domain. This can make the process extremely difficult if you ever want to transfer your domain to somewhere or someone else.
As mentioned above, buying similar domains can be a good marketing strategy. If money was no object then we'd suggest you buy all sorts of domains related to your business and forwards them to your primary website.
Forwarding a domain involves you going into your domain registrar and specifying that domain forward - or points - to another domain. You can have an unlimited number of domains forward to other domains you own, which makes it convenient if you want to capitalize on alternative spellings.
Ok, who knew there was so much info around purchasing a domain name? If you have questions and need a nerd to help you purchase you domain, please contact us!