If you own or plan to own a business in 2018, you absolutely need to have a website. This is non-negotiable. In fact, if you’re disputing this fact right now, things aren’t looking great for you.
When someone hops on to Google or Bing and types in the name of your business, a legitimate website needs to show up in the search results.
But a website isn’t like a social media profile, where you just sign up and automatically have everything you need. Rather, there are several things you need first in order to have a website, such as:
- Web hosting
- A content management system
- A web developer or a way to build a website
- A way to take your website live
However, before you get any of the things mentioned above, you need to register a domain name.
Your domain name is what your customers type into the address bar to go to your site. It’s the name of your website, and it’s how your customers will find you online. Google.com, Amazon.com, and Walmart.com are all domain names. It’s like your internet ID card.
You can’t get into the “bar” of the internet without having your ID (I think that analogy works).
Your domain name serves as your first impression on the internet and can give your company credibility, so a solid domain name is crucial. A good domain name will make a positive impression, while a domain name like UnicornRocker1234.com probably won’t convey the impression you want.
In this article we’re going to walk you through the process of choosing, registering, and purchasing your domain name. By the end, your website will have a name and you’ll be ready to build an internet-dominating website.
Choosing The Perfect Domain Name
Before you get started, it’s important to know that a lot of domain names are already taken. And I do mean a LOT. There are people who set up businesses that do nothing but register domain names they don’t actually need and then sell them for a profit to people who do need them. We don’t like these people very much.
So unless your business name is completely unique (Unicorn Rocker?), there’s a chance your domain name is already taken.
If this is the case, don’t panic. We’ll talk about what we can do if the domain name you really want is already taken a little later on.
The good news, once you do have your domain name picked out, it’s yours for as long as you want it. It’s kind of like a tattoo your mom actually approves of. Even if you switch hosting accounts, you can take your domain name with you.
First things first, though. You need to come up with a good domain before you can see if it’s available. When brainstorming ideas for your domain name, it’s important to keep a few things in mind.
- Make It Current: It’s important that your domain name sounds like it was made today, and not in the 90s. You don’t want to make your company seem dated when someone reads your domain name. Avoid using single letters or numbers to replace entire words.
For example, if your business is named Excess Junk Removal Incorporated, don’t choose the domain name www.ejri.com. It’s tough to remember random sequences of letters and sounds dated.
- Make It Professional: The last thing you want is to have customers not take your business seriously because of your domain name. Your domain name needs to sound like it’s for a legit business.
Having an unprofessional domain can make your business sound like a scam, and will give customers a negative opinion of your business before they ever see your website. Domain names like athomebiz4u.biz and freegoldnow.club should be avoided.
- Make It Readable: Look at your domain name and make sure it’s easy to read. It should be easy for customers to read at first glance without having to think about it too much. Avoid putting words together that have a lot of repeating letters or letters that look alike. Something like lillieslusciouslilacs.com or sugarsosweet.com are difficult to read and will probably be misspelled.
- Make It Memorable: If you can come up with a domain name that gets stuck in your customers head, you’ve done a great job. You don’t want a long and intricate domain name that no one will remember. No one wants to type www.inhomecleaningservicesallday.com.
Keep it short and sweet and be clever if you can. If it’s a portfolio site or a personal site, name it after yourself. Customers shouldn’t have to think hard to remember your domain name.
- Make It Unique To You: Do your best to make your domain name unique to you or your company, and not a duplicate of your competition.
Also avoid making it product specific. Your domain name needs to make sense for your company and brand as a whole. Even if you start by just selling a single product, there’s a good chance you’ll branch out, and you want your website to be able to handle that.
- Make It Short: As a general rule, the shorter the better. Why? Because it’s much easier to remember one word than three. The holy grail of domain names is finding a one word domain for your business. Those are few and far between these days, but keeping it as short as possible is still a good rule to follow.
If you get stuck, use NameMesh to help you brainstorm ideas.
Make sure that won’t violate any copyright laws when you’re creating your domain name. No matter what your business does, it’s very important to keep other companies names and trademarks out of your domain name.
Avoid names like pepsibottles.com or disneycharacters.net. At the very least you will be forced to get a new domain name and could possibly face legal repercussions. Don’t get sued over a domain name.
Buying From Domain Name Registrars
To register a domain name, you need to go through a Domain Name Registrar. They’re kind of like the bouncers/gatekeepers of internet names. You give them money, they hand you your ID, and you go into the party.
There are dozens of domain name registrars out there to choose from, and it’s important to know that this is a highly competitive industry, with competitive prices and deals for new customers happening every day.
Here’s a quick list of the most popular domain name registrars.
GoDaddy is probably the most popular and well known domain name registrar.
It has a customer friendly web interface, a free starter web page and free parked or for-sale page. GoDaddy also provides free web redirection, if you want to buy multiple domains and direct them all to the same website, and an optional private domain registration where your domain is registered in the name of a proxy company.
In addition to the .com or .net extensions, GoDaddy has plenty of other extensions to choose from.
1&1 is a large web hosting service that is also a domain name registrar.
They include private domain registration so your information is kept safe. They also give you a free email account and unlimited email forwarding, DNS management, and a free SSL certificate for your domain to give you an extra layer of security.
1&1 also has plenty of TLDs for you to choose from.
Bluehost has a convenient web interface and the option to register your domain privately.
Like the other registrars above, Bluehost provides web hosting services, so you can set up your hosting and website quickly all in one place. If you choose to go this route, you can get a free domain if you buy their hosting package first (here’s how).
While those are some of the more popular registrars, there are also many more for you to choose from. You can purchase domains at:
Some domain name registrars like Bluehost and HostGator are also web hosting services, meaning they’ll give you a free domain name if you use their hosting. Either method works, but registering directly with a domain name registrar ensures you’re the owner of your domain name.
There have been instances where people register their domain name with their hosting provider, which then gave the hosting provider ownership of the domain name. You don’t want that to happen. You need to be sure you own your domain so that you don’t run into problems if you want to transfer to a different hosting service.
How To Register Your Domain Name
We’re at the point where you actually get to register your domain! Just a few things to keep in mind while registering.
- When you register your domain with a registrar, it’s registered through an organization called ICANN. To keep it simple, ICANN coordinates all of the domain names across the world. Without that coordination, we wouldn’t have a global Internet.
- The price of your domain name will vary depending on a variety of factors, including the extension, the popularity of your domain name, and whether someone already owns it. Certain domain names are considered “premium”, and thus cost more. If someone already owns the domain you want, you have to negotiate with the owner if you want to purchase it.
- It’s really important to remember that domain names disappear fast. If you have an idea for a name and it’s available, buy it right away. There are numerous stories of people finding the domain name they like, but choosing not to buy right away. When they came back a day later to buy, the domain had been purchased by someone else. So please, buy your domain name right away.
Okay, now let’s walk step-by-step through the process of registering your domain.
If you don’t have hosting yet, don’t worry. Every registrar will park your domain on a temporary site until you do. This allows you the freedom to buy your domain whenever the idea strikes instead of waiting until you actually have hosting.
Step #1: Check To See If Your Domain Is Available
First off, you have to visit the registrar’s website.
In our case, that’s Namecheap.com.
As soon as you get to the site, you’ll see a bar that allows you to plug in ideas for your domain and see if they’re available.
If your .com isn’t available, they’ll show you the extensions that are and even suggest names similar to your original domain that are available. Start plugging in some names and see what happens.
Once you find an available domain name that works for your business, it’s time to buy.
As you can see in the image, NameCheap appears to be pushing the .club TLD so that’s what it’s showing as available at the top. However, if you look down at the list though, you can see that the .com extension, as well as many other TLDs are also available.
Select the one you want and add it to your cart.
Important Side Note: The Importance Of A Top Level Domain
The Top Level Domain, or TLD, are the three letters after the dot in your domain name. This can also be referred to as the extension.
The best and most popular TLDs are either .com or .net. About 75% of the websites online use the .com TLD. If your customer can’t remember your extension, they typically default to one of those two, which is why it’s so important to get one of those extensions.
They also aren’t restrictive in terms of who can use them, so no matter what type of business you own, a .com or .net will work for you.
However, there are other TLDs available to you if you really want to get creative, or if the .com or .net just isn’t available. If the popular TLDs aren’t available, figuring out which TLD to use is the next step.
Here are some suggestions:
- Choose Organization Or Non-Profit Extension: If you run an organization or a non profit, the .org TLD will be perfect for your company. The .org extension used to have restrictions, but now it’s available to everyone.
- Choose A Personal Site Extension: If your website is for your portfolio or your personal brand, you can pick a TLD that will make that obvious. The .me or .name TLDs could be perfect for you.
- Choose A Regional Extensions: Some TLDs represent a country or region. Extensions like .us, .ca, and .uk all represent a specific country. If you only operate out of one country or region, this is good option for you.
- Choose A “Phrase” Extension: Some extensions allow you to create a phrase. Read your entire domain name aloud without saying the “dot” before the TLD. This is a fun way to get creative. Domains like buyfrom.us or lookits.me would be very memorable. Just make sure it makes sense for your business.
Some TLDs require extra credentials to get. TLDs like .aero, .pro and .museum are examples. Unless you’re operating in one of these spaces and it’s crucial for you to have that TLD, don’t bother with these.
Step #2: Choose Your Services
Now that you have your domain in your cart, you can choose additional services you want. Namecheap automatically includes WhoisGuard that protects your information for free.
From there you can chose to purchase their Premium DNS, hosting, Positive SSL, and private email among others. Choose what’s best for your business and confirm your order. If you have a promo code, enter it now.
Step #3: Log In Or Create Your Account
Next you’ll be asked to log in or create an account. Do that and then proceed to the review screen.
Step #4: Review Your Order And Enter Your Information
It’s time to review your order and enter your information. Everything on this page is pretty straight forward. Make sure the domain name is correct, as well as any additional services you are purchasing.
Since I already have an account with Namecheap and have purchased a domain from them, most of this information is already filled out for me.
If this is your first time using them, you’ll fill out your payment information.
Step #5: Purchase And Start Building
Once you purchase a domain name, you’re ready to start building your site. Exciting times!
If you chose to add a hosting package to your purchase, you’ll get an email with instructions on how to log in to your control panel, or “cPanel”. From there you can start designing your website.
Your cpanel will have tools you can use to build your site, or you can install a content management system like WordPress or Drupal. If you’d rather have someone else handle all of this, you can hire a web developer.
If you didn’t choose to host through Namecheap, you need to choose a host.
Changing The Nameservers
If you chose not to use the Namecheap hosting, you need the information for your primary and secondary nameservers so you can host your site on another platform. Don’t worry about completely understanding this, just have the information handy.
Domain Nameservers are like the internet’s contact list (or phonebook for anyone over 35). To change your nameservers in Namecheap, you’ll need to log in to your account and go to your dashboard.
Click on “Domain List”, choose the domain you want to host, and then click “MANAGE”.
From here, you’ll scroll down until you see the NAMESERVERS section. Click the drop down arrow to change to custom nameservers and enter your desired nameservers (which you’ll get when you buy a hosting plan). Most hosting plans follow a similar set up process. As a reference, here’s a step-by-step guide for signing up for hosting with Bluehost.
Step #6: Renewing Your Domain Name
It’s crucial to remember to renew your domain every year. If you forget, you will lose your domain and it will go up for sale again. If someone else were to buy your domain before you realized what’s going on, it could absolutely crush your business. Imagine if Apple lost Apple.com. Not good.
Most registrars will send you loads of reminder emails and have a grace period before you completely lose it, but it’s also a good idea to set up a calendar reminder.
You can also set your domain name to automatically renew, which I highly recommend. Just be sure to keep your payment information up to date. It’s better to forget to turn off your renewal and pay for a domain you aren’t using than it is to forget to renew your domain and lose it completely.
What To Do If Your Domain Is Taken
There are a few things we can do if your domain name is taken and you absolutely want to use it.
- Use a geographic modifier: Try adding the name of your city to your domain. If you live in a large enough city you can add the name of your neighborhood. This will help in search results because it tells search engines to where your business is located. Domains like NewYorkCityCleaners.com are what we’re aiming for here.
- Add LLC or Inc to the domain: Depending on the type of business you operate, this option could work for you. It allows you to keep your full business name in your domain as well as get the .com. People rarely buy domains with the business type added on so this is often available.
- Try alternative TLDs. If necessary, you can try a different top level domain. If the .com or .net is taken, there’s definitely a different extension still available. However, don’t get too crazy with these since most people don’t know about the different extensions and default to .com. While .pizza and .ninja are creative, no one will think to type them in. The first place to start is a geographic extension (.ca or .uk) or one that fits your business (.club).
- Negotiate buying the taken domain. This is obviously the most expensive method. Depending on the power of the domain, they can be sold for millions of dollars. It’s important to understand how much money the domain is worth to you by knowing how long it will take your business to recoup the money you spend on it.
Do your research. See how much traffic the domain is currently getting using tools like SEMrush. Look at the cost of the PPC for the keywords it ranks for. Ask the buyer for a breakdown of the traffic coming into the site. They could be buying irrelevant traffic to inflate the numbers before the sale. Don’t buy it just because you think you need it. Spending too much on your domain can set your company back thousands of dollars that you may never recoup.
If you’re trying to buy a domain because it has traffic, sometimes it might be more useful to learn how to increase your site traffic yourself. Of course, it depends on the scenario.
Bottom line: Be smart when choosing your domain.
Don’t spend crazy amounts to buy the .com just because you think you have to. Social media and mobile apps are changing the way people find you. The .com is becoming less and less important as time goes on.
Creative marketing can even overcome not having the .com name. Sites like list.ly and lover.ly made their entire domain name into a word that is catchy and easy to remember. They didn’t need the .com to set themselves apart.
Businesses need a web presence. There’s just no way around it. Although it may seem like a daunting task to get your business online, if you follow a few simple guidelines it’s a fairly simple process.
Don’t get too overwhelmed. Start simply by registering your domain name. If you follow the steps above, you can have your own domain name in less than ten minutes.
Remember, your domain name is also a unique branding opportunity. It’s a very simple way to increase brand recognition and awareness. Don’t take coming up with a domain name for your website lightly, it’s a very important step in establishing your online presence.
Now what are you waiting for? Go get that domain!