Domain Name Basics

Once you have decided that you want or need a Web site, the first thing you should do is register your desired domain name.

What is a domain name you ask?

Your domain name is your address on the internet. And, for those who just laughed at such a simple question, be warned, this post is not for you. Spend your time reading about the difference between a URL and URI. For the rest, I want to offer some information in laymen’s terms that you can use when planning a Web site.

Registering a domain is done through one of the many registrars such a Network Solutions (the first but no longer the best), GoDaddy (which for completely non-technical reasons I don’t recommend) and my personal choice, MyDomain.com. The registrar will charge an annual fee of anywhere from $10 to $30. While some registrars have gotten into the hosting business, domain name registration is a separate thing altogether, and in general, I would not recommend the hosting they provide as their plans tend to be quite restrictive. Most registrars will offer domain forwarding, email forwarding and the ability to modify DNS records as part of the annual fee. Some offer “private” registration so that your personal address and email are not listed in the Whois database for all the world to see (including spammers).

When choosing a domain name, try your organization’s name, a word, or simple phrase that relates to what you do. Ideally, it should easy to spell, pronounce, and remember. Try to get a .com domain name, even if you are a non-profit organization. People will generally try the .com version first. While a dash can be used, try to avoid it if at all possible. Also, write it out all lowercase, running together and make sure it still makes sense and can’t be mistaken for something else (for example, therapist.com).

If the domain name you want is taken, go ahead and visit the site. If the site is not up and running, you may want to contact the owner and see if they are willing to sell. You can get information on the domain name owner by doing a whois lookup.

Sometimes the site will announce that the name is for sale. There is no standard price for buying an existing domain name, and unless the domain name includes a trademark, you don’t have much leverage. I have purchased existing domain names for clients ranging from a few hundred dollars up to a couple thousand. Then there are the half-crazy people who will ask for an insane amount of money. I once tracked down the owner of a 3-letter domain name ending in .org for a church. The person who had it was in South Korea. He stated that he wanted $1 million for it. For my own amusement, I started negotiations. After a few back and forth emails, he lowered it to $125,000. Needless to say, the church didn’t get that one.

Once you have your domain name, keep in mind that it needs to be renewed annually. Also, if you have had a domain name for a while and then change to a new one, keep the old one as long as possible. Some people may still be linked to it. You should have your Web guru set up a 301 (permanent) redirect to the new one. If they don’t know what that means, find a Web guru that does or ask them to find out about it. Another reason to keep it is that there are some less than tasteful online marketers who are just waiting to pounce on recently expired domain names. They realize that with them, they may get instant traffic and older domain names do better in search results—especially with Google. By the way, Google also prefers domain names that are registered for more than one year, so go ahead and register for two years if you plan on using the name for sure.