You’re ready to take your small business online — hooray! Now where do you start? Like buying a piece of land to build a house, your first step should be securing a digital address for your business’s online home (aka your website). That’s where a domain name comes in.
But how do you choose the right domain name? Where is the best place to buy, and how much should you expect to pay? What if the domain name you want is already taken? This article answers those questions, as well as others you may not have thought about yet (but should, because there are gotchas).
Read on for the all the basics on domains and buying a domain name. If there’s anything I didn’t cover, please leave a comment and let me know, and I’ll follow up..
What is a domain name?
A domain name is a kind of shortcut that online customers use to find or recognize you. In very basic terms, your business website will live on a server (aka, a fancy, publicly accessible computer). If it wasn’t for your domain name, you’d have to give out a set of a dozen or more numbers instead of a memorable word or phrase.
Can you imagine expecting people to remember and type something like 18.104.22.168? Yikes.
How much does my domain name really matter?
Your domain name is more than just a URL – it’s the cornerstone of your online brand and your first impression to the online world. It has the power to build credibility, foster trust, and communicate your brand’s unique identity.
Every domain name is made up of two parts:
- A Top-Level Domain (TLD): The final part of a domain name, like ‘.com’, ‘.net’, or ‘.org’. Also referred to as the extension.
- The Domain Name itself: This is what comes just before the TLD. For a business website, it should represent your brand or business name.
That’s it, as far as the basics. Now let’s look at how to pick a domain name that’s right for you.
Choosing the right domain name for your business
Choosing the right domain name can feel like navigating a maze, especially if you’re new to the world of websites. But it’s a crucial step towards establishing a strong online presence for your small business. Let’s break it down into manageable chunks.
- Understand your Brand – Your domain name should resonate with your brand. It’s the first thing visitors will see, so it should encapsulate your business’s essence. It’s usually best to match your domain name with your business name.
- Keep it Short and Sweet – Avoid domain names that are too long or complicated. A shorter, simpler name is easier to remember, leading to more repeat visitors.
- Keyword Consideration – Consider including keywords relevant to your business in your domain name. This can help with search engine optimization (SEO) and improve your website’s visibility.
- Domain Extension – .com is the most popular domain extension, and the one I recommend buying if at all possible. But don’t stress if the .com you want is taken and you can’t get anything close. There are other good options like .net and .biz and even industry-specific ones like .photography or .cafe.
- Check for Availability – Finally, you need to know whether or not your desired domain name is available. There are plenty of online tools that allow you to check availability, but some are more trustworthy than others. While I’ve never had an issue with our registrar of choice, others don’t trust certain sites or won’t search at all until the moment they’re ready to buy. Below this article we’ve included a checker we trust.
Your domain name is an investment into your business’s online identity. It’s not impossible to change your mind later, but the farther down the road you get with it, the more of a headache it is to switch. It’s worth taking the time to get it right the first time.
Securing your domain name and brand
After you’ve spent countless hours brainstorming the perfect name for your business, the last thing you want is to find out that someone else has already claimed what would have been the perfect domain name. Ugh, right?
Although you can sometimes find a name that’s close enough, it’s best to check domain name availability before you commit to a business name. That doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t use the business name you’ve set your heart on. But it’s better to strive for as unique a name as possible.
- Identity: Your domain name is your digital identity. If it’s very similar to another business’s — competing or not — it can be confusing for your would-be visitors.
- Brand Reputation: A unique domain name builds your brand reputation. It makes you look professional and credible in the digital world, and helps you stand apart from other businesses.
- Search Engine Ranking: Google and other search engines rank websites based in part on their domain names. A stable domain name — one that’s been registered for a good length of time — can help you rank higher in search results.
When I started my first online business, the concept and name popped into my head nearly effortlessly, before I’d done any research. Since my mission was all about making getting on the web simpler for small businesses, the name “simpler web” was perfect. When I discovered it was taken, I tried “the simpler web” and got what I wanted. I then used the simpler web instead of my original idea, to keep things consistent.
It’s important to note that, had “simpler web” been in use by a company even remotely similar to mine, I would not have used the simpler web. The potential for confusion and lost business would not have been worth it.
Even after you’ve secured your domain name, keep an eye out for people who might try leeching from your good name. It’s not worth stressing over, but it is worth a Google search every so often to see what might pop up.
My husband made this a regular practice. I thought he was overdoing it until we discovered someone who’d set up a website with a nearly identical domain name. The impostor even copied content from my husband’s website! Fortunately, one gentle legal threat was all it took to resolve the matter.
We’ve covered the importance of protecting your domain name and brand. Now let’s move on to registrars. It’s a small but important choice that impacts how easy it is to manage your domain.
Choose a Reputable Registrar
While you could buy your domain name from the same place you purchase web hosting, it’s best to separate domain registration from your website. That extra step gives you a little more safety when it comes to your online presence.
Not all registrars are created equal. You’ll want to make sure your registrar is accredited by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). Beyond that, you’ll want them to have an easy to use website and great customer service. We use and recommend NameSilo, and have for years. We’ll cover them below in more detail.
Consider Registering Variations of Your Domain Name
It wouldn’t be great if a competitor registered a domain name too similar to yours, right? To prevent this, think about whether you should register variations of your domain name. Situations where it might make sense include common misspellings, or purchasing different domain extensions.
This can get ridiculous, of course. But it’s worth considering if your domain name might be easily misspelled, or you’re not using a popular TLD (aka extension) and want to make sure no one else does, either.
Stay on top of your domain name’s expiration date
Let’s have a chat with your future self – the one with a successful website, a brand identity that resonates with all the right people, and in general a really solid online presence. One day, you wake up and find your website is offline. Why? Your domain registration expired. It’s a potential nightmare, but one that’s easy to avoid. Here’s how:
It’s a Big Deal: Your domain name is your online identity. If it lapses, not only does your website go down, but someone else could buy your domain, putting your business in a real bind.
Note the Expiration Date: When you register your domain name, add the expiration date to your calendar, and set it to notify you. Don’t rely solely on your domain registrar to send you a reminder.
Set Up Auto-Renewal: Most domain registrars offer an auto-renewal option. This can be a lifesaver, ensuring your registration never accidentally lapses. We recommend always setting up auto-renew.
Double-Check Your Contact Information: Make sure the email address associated with your domain registration is current. This is the address where any notices about your domain name will be sent.
Remember: A lapsed domain registration can severely impact your business. While there will be a generous grace period before your domain can be sold to someone else, your site will go offline the moment your registration expires. So be proactive, and ensure your online presence remains consistent and uninterrupted.
|Register your domain for a longer period. This signals trust to search engines and customers.
|Don’t use hyphens and numbers in your domain name, they can confuse customers.
|Enable auto-renewal for your domain name to prevent accidental expiration.
|Don’t forget to update the contact information linked to your domain name.
A great domain name is catchy, easy to spell, and mirrors your brand. It’s your first impression online, so make sure it’s a good one. And, make sure you don’t let it get away.
How much does it cost to buy a domain name?
Imagine buying a domain name like purchasing a plot of land. The land is your space on the internet, and the price can vary greatly depending on location (the domain extension), size (the length of the domain name), and prime real estate (popular or keyword-rich domain names). So, let’s dive into what it might cost to stake your claim on the World Wide Web.
The cost of a domain name is largely dictated by three key factors:
- The registrar: Different domain registrars offer different prices. It’s like choosing where to buy a car. You might find the exact same vehicle at different prices. But trust and customer service always factor into the equation.
- The TLD: The Top-Level Domain (TLD), or the “.com”, “.net”, “.org” part of your domain name, also affects the cost. In a way, it’s similar to the location of a plot of land when house shopping. Some are more sought after and can be more expensive, while others are offered at bargain prices because fewer people are willing to buy.
- The domain name itself: The more popular or desirable your chosen domain name is, the higher the price if it’s already taken. It’s like a beachfront property—everyone wants it, so it costs more. But if you happen to stumble on a great name that isn’t already registered, it costs the same as any other name with that TLD.
On average, a new domain name costs less than $20 per year. That is, unless you want a premium domain with a fancy TLD or you’re trying to buy a domain someone already owns. Premium domain names can run into the thousands or even millions of dollars. Not a great way to start a new business venture (that is, unless your VC backers are super gung ho).
You might already be aware that buying a domain name is only a small part of the cost of having a website. You’ll also need to consider costs for website design and development, hosting and ongoing maintenance.
Note: Prices can also increase after the initial purchase. Some registrars offer promotional prices for the first year, then raise the price for subsequent years. Always read the fine print!
Renewing your domain name: What you need to know
Imagine your domain name as a lease on a physical space. Just like a lease, your domain name isn’t something you own forever. Instead, it’s something you rent for a specific period of time. And when that time is up, you need to renew it. Let’s explore what you need to know about renewing your domain name.
Typically, a domain name registration lasts for one year. However, you can opt to renew it for multiple years. This is much like renewing a rental agreement; you can decide whether to renew for a year or more. The longer you renew your domain name, the longer you can secure your online presence.
Many registrars offer an auto-renewal feature. This is akin to an automatic bank payment that takes care of your bills without you having to remember every due date. It’s a convenient feature that can prevent your domain from accidentally expiring. But there’s a catch. You need to ensure your billing information is always up-to-date, or else the auto-renewal might fail.
Expiration and Grace Period
What happens if you forget to renew your domain name? Just like forgetting to pay your rent, there can be consequences. If your domain name expires, it enters a grace period. This period varies from registrar to registrar, but generally, it’s a short window where you can still renew your domain without losing it. This grace period won’t do a thing for your website; it will be offline until you renew your domain registration.
If you still haven’t renewed your domain after the grace period, it enters what’s known as a redemption period. Imagine this as a last-ditch effort to reclaim your property before it’s put up for auction. At this stage, renewing your domain can be substantially more expensive. If the redemption period passes without renewal, your domain goes back on the market for anyone to purchase.
Renewing your domain name is a crucial aspect of maintaining your online presence. In essence, it’s like keeping up with rent payments for your online storefront. By understanding these key points, you’ll be well-prepared to manage the renewal of your first domain name.
What is domain privacy? Do I need it?
Domain privacy, also called WHOIS protection, is a service offered by most domain registrars. NameSilo (our domain registrar) includes it at no additional charge.
If you register a domain without privacy, your details (like your name, email, phone number, and physical address) are entered into a public database called the WHOIS directory. Anyone on the internet can access this directory, which might not be ideal.
With domain privacy, your registrar replaces your personal information with theirs. Your details are still connected to the domain, but they’re not on public display. Privacy is important to me, so I paid for it with my prior domain registrar. If NameSilo didn’t include it I’d purchase it.
So, do you need domain privacy? Here are a some things to help you decide:
- Spam: Without domain privacy, your email is out there for spammers to harvest. You might find your inbox flooded with unsolicited offers.
- Identity theft: The more your personal information is out there, the more vulnerable you are to identity theft.
- Unwanted contact: Sometimes, people might use your contact information for purposes you didn’t intend, like sales calls or other unsolicited contact.
Domain privacy isn’t mandatory. If you’re comfortable with your contact information being publicly accessible, you might choose to skip it. However, for many small businesses — especially home-based businesses — the benefits of domain privacy far outweigh its cost. It’s a small price to pay for a peace of mind.
Note: Some domain extensions (.gov, .edu, or .ac for example) require specific eligibility and don’t allow domain privacy. Always check the rules for your specific domain extension.
Why we like NameSilo
We’ve been in the webite business since 2009, and went through a few registrars before discovering NameSilo. Most weren’t bad; if they were, I just transferred my domain away from them. That’s a minor hassle, but can be a mini-nightmare if you haven’t done it before. So it’s best to find a registrar you like, and stay for awhile 🙂
- NameSilo has honest pricing. They’re among the lowest prices, if not the lowest ($10.95 US as of this article’s publication date). Unlike some registrars they don’t do the lowball first year/jack the price up in subsequent years thing.
- NameSilo doesn’t charge extra for domain privacy. Since domain owners must disclose their information in order to comply with ICANN regulations, domain privacy is the only way to escape what would otherwise be a steady stream of registry-related spam, scams and sales calls.
- NameSilo makes it easy for us to help you with your domain. All you have to do is invite us to your account. We can then manage it for you when needed, such as when your new website is ready to go live — all without the need to share your login or billing details.
- NameSilo lets us give you a discount. It’s not much, but c’mon — their prices are already pretty low. If you use coupon code FEARLESS, you’ll get $1.00 off of your new (or transferred – that works too) domain name. Full disclosure: Using this coupon code also pays us .80. We promise not to spend it all in one place.
Other domain registration options
We’ve used NameCheap and Hover and had no major complaints or problems. As I mentioned earlier in this article, we transferred our domains to Namesilo because of the included privacy, responsive customer service and the pricing.
Transferring registrars does involve rules, restrictions and procedures. Although it can be a pain if you’ve never done it before, it’s more of an administrative headache than a technical one. In other words, you can change your mind down the road, so there’s no need to overthink it.
Although I strongly recommend against registering your domain with your web host, I understand it can be a simpler option. I wouldn’t choose this option myself, even with a hosting company I completely stand behind. But I’ll go along with it if a client understands the risks and isn’t on questionable hosting.
As we near the end of this insightful journey into the world of domain names (LOL…j/k), I hope you’re now better equipped to make an informed decision about your first purchase. It’s an important step in establishing your online presence, and while it may seem somewhat daunting at first, it’s a lot simpler once you understand the basics.
So, let’s recap what we’ve covered:
- Choosing the right domain name: Remember, your domain name is like your online address. It’s how customers will find and recognize you. Make it relevant, concise and easy-to-remember.
- Domain extensions: While ‘.com’ is the most popular option, it’s OK to explore other relevant extensions that may suit your business better.
- Domain registrars: Choose a reputable registrar that provides good customer service, and fair pricing.
And, what to avoid:
Remember, the internet can be a bit like the Wild West. Don’t let your domain name get hijacked by cyber squatters, always renew it on time, and keep your contact information updated (it’ll help if things somehow go awry).
|Choose a simple, memorable name
|Don’t opt for names that are hard to spell or pronounce
|Consider using keywords relevant to your business
|Don’t stuff your domain name with keywords – it can look spammy
|Protect your domain name by registering similar or misspelled versions
|Don’t forget to renew your domain registration
While there’s a lot more to learn about the world of domain names, this primer should serve as a good starting point. I wish you the best, and hope you’ll see your business flourish online. Please get in touch if there’s anything I can do to help you make that happen.
p.s. – Not sure about next steps with your website? I think starting small is the smartest strategy.