What is a Domain Name?
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123 Main Street.

Classic address, isn’t it?

Type it into Google Maps and up pops hundreds of spots across the United States.

Now, type that same address into your web browser as 123MainStreet.com and see what comes up.

Your welcome for the free plug AgencyLogic.

123 Main Street and 123MainStreet.com share the same principal.

They are both considered addresses.

However, the web-based version is a far more unique and a far more powerful address than the one that physically identifies a home or business in Anytown, USA.

Why?

It’s a domain name.

But we’ll explain a bit more.

You’ll first need to understand what’s really behind that address and realize it’s not an address at all.

Domain Name: Another Name for Numbers and Dots

Domain name - another name for numbers and dots

From our example, our common understanding is that 123MainStreet.com is AgencyLogic’s web address, but there is a lot more behind that name.

Anything that ends in a .com, .org, .edu, or any other .xyz suffix can technically be considered a web address, but a more apt description would be a web identifier. Most commonly this is what we call a domain name.

What does the domain name identify then?

The actual online address for a website is an Internet Protocol or IP address, which is a group of numbers that provides the identity for a given site.

So if a website already has an address, why does it need the domain name?

The Internet works as a series of interconnected networks and the devices plugged into that network need a way to identify and interact with each other. They do this best when they communicate via numbers.

Hence the IP address, which appears as something like 66.249.64.1 (among endless variations). This allows a computer to connect to the server hosting a particular website and relay whatever information is necessary for you to browse that site.

Humans, however, do not communicate like computers.

Taking our example from above a bit further, let’s look closer at one of the biggest Internet players today.

If someone asks you the capital of Liechtenstein, there’s a good chance you’ll respond by saying “Google it.”

A far more accurate way to respond is recommending they, “64.68.90.1 it.” Or suggest they try a 216.239.59.128 search. (Both are actual Google IP addresses).

But seriously, who talks like that?

It’s much easier to communicate the word based domain name than it is the numerical IP address.

And thus, we have a system of domain names that identify the actual, behind-the-scenes Internet addresses.

What’s in a Domain Name?

Now that you know that a domain name is the public face of an IP address let’s examine the specifics of that domain.

The URL

The Uniform Resource Locator or URL can be considered the full Internet address identifier for a particular website or webpage. There are multiple parts to the URL, one of which is the domain name.

Let’s revisit Liechtenstein for a minute and break down the following URL:

https://www.google.com/maps/place/Liechtenstein/

The URL breaks down as follows:

  • https:// is the protocol or the manner in which a network transfers data.
  • www.google.com is the actual domain name
  • /map/place/Liechtenstein/ is the path to the specific item you are reviewing

As you can see, locating a website on the Internet requires more than just the domain name. Without it though, you’d be forced to memorize endless strings of numbers, which would be impossible.

Within the domain name there are two parts: the top-level domain and the mid-level domain. These are laid out from right to left.

Top Level Domain

What's in a domain name

The top-level or parent domain is the familiar three-letter suffix with a leading period. For the vast majority of servers based in the United States, the most common suffixes are:

  • .com – for general commercial use, and can be used openly by anyone
  • .net – once limited to network-based providers, this suffix can be used publicly by anyone
  • .org – organizations commonly identified as non-profit, but can be used openly by anyone
  • .gov – government based websites
  • .edu – educational based sites, like colleges and universities
  • .mil – used by the United States military

Additionally, when surfing international websites, the top-level domain suffix corresponds directly to the home country and uses a two-letter code. A few notables include:

  • .au – Australia
  • .ca – Canada
  • .de – Germany (for the German translation to Deutschland)
  • .fr – France
  • .li – Liechtenstein
  • .mx – Mexico
  • .uk – United Kingdom

Mid-Level Domain

The mid-level or child domain is the portion of the name to the left of the .com parent suffix. For Google.com, the parent is .com, and the child is Google.

You’ve probably already figured it out, but the mid-level domain is arguably the single most crucial part of any web address. It’s how people identify your personal or professional website.

This is where the uniqueness of a web address comes into play. The mid-level domain can be whatever combination of letters and numbers you want it to be. Each name must be distinct and cannot match another website’s domain.

If you want to set up your website how do you ensure you get a domain name that no one else has?

You register it.

Registering A Domain Name

Registering a domain name

For a mid-level (and its parent) domain to be active, you must register it through a domain name registrar service.

A reputable registrar service is one that has been accredited by the non-profit group ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers).

The accredited registrar service will help you identify whether a domain name is obtainable or previously registered by someone else. Once you find a domain name that both suits your future website and is available, the service guides you step by step through the purchase and registration process.

Who are these registrar services? There’s a good chance you’ve heard of a few.

GoDaddy

One of the oldest and possibly most well known domain registrar and website hosting group.

Bluehost

Often associated with WordPress, this registrar is excellent for beginners and novices.

HostGator

Widely used alternative to the above options; aside from domain registration, they host over nine million websites.

Network Solutions

Associated with web.com, this is a good domain registration and host option for the more tech-savvy crowd.

Namecheap

If you’re looking for a simple, inexpensive registrar service, then the name here says it all.

There are numerous other options available so make sure you do your research before deciding on the one that best fits your domain registration needs.

Finding the Right Domain

If you find you’re having trouble coming up with the right domain name for your website or the ideas you have are already taken, don’t be discouraged.

As more websites come online, it can be a challenge to parse out a domain that’s both creative and serves either your personal or professional website goals. Thankfully, there are several sites to help you find just the perfect name.

Domain name generators are becoming ever more popular, and while you may not end up using their suggestions, they can help with the creative process and push you closer to finding a viable domain name.

A few of the more popular generators are:

Name Mesh

Simple and easy to use, this tool also helps categorize ideas in different groups like Fun, SEO, and Common to help steer you in the right direction.

Name Station

A community based generator, you can use either the automated domain tool or reach out to other users and hold a naming contest or get ideas through crowdsourcing.

Shopify Business Name Generator

From one of the largest eCommerce web hosting providers, this domain generator is fast and very easy to use when searching for just the right business name.

Conclusion

More than just a simple address or identifier, a domain name is the public face of every Internet website. Understanding how it works and the purpose it serves helps you gain a better grasp on ensuring your domain name is not only catchy and memorable but will serve as an excellent marketing tool for many, many years.

Oh, and by the way, we did in fact Google it and the capital of Liechtenstein is Vaduz. In case you were wondering, their domain name is www.tourismus.li.

What is a Domain Name?

Written by Alex Jasin

Last Updated: August 27, 2018