Have you ever come across the term ‘domain name’, and nodded along like you knew exactly what it means, all whilst having no idea? We have a feeling you’re not the only one!
Domain names are a perfect example of something that seems so simple, but no one ever really bothers to explain. That’s why we’re going to strip this technical term right down to its basics to help you understand exactly what a domain name is, why we need it, and where you can get one. Without any of the confusing jargon!
The internet is a big place, and as time goes on, it’s only going to get bigger. That’s why we need a simple way for users to find their way around. In its most basic form, this is what a domain name does: it acts as an address for your website to help your visitors find you.
If you want to get a bit more technical, you need to think about the internet as one big community of computers. Each computer has a name, but instead of being called Julie or Frank, they’re assigned a string of numbers to help us identify them. This is called an IP address and it looks something like this: 123.324.237.139.
The problem with IP addresses, however, is that they’re not very easy to remember. Imagine having to type a different sequence like this into your URL bar every time you wanted to visit a website. Sounds like a lot of work, doesn’t it?
So, to make it easier, domain names were invented as the text version of an IP address. They make up everything after ‘WWW.’, and you only need to type that into your URL bar to get to the website you’re looking for. For example, our domain name is websitebuilderexpert.com – we think that’s much nicer than a long list of numbers!
When you enter an address into your URL bar, it takes mere seconds before the website loads on your computer screen or mobile. Despite how quickly it all happens, there’s a lot going on behind the scenes.
Your visitor will enter your domain name into their search bar. This will then send a request to the Domain Name System (DNS).
The DNS is a network of servers – or computers – that acts in the same way as a huge address book. It contains information on all the locations on the internet where your name could possibly be stored. These locations are called name servers, and they’re managed by your hosting company. If your domain name is like your house address, these are the towns where that house is based.
Once it has found the name servers that host your domain name, the DNS forward the request to them, letting them know that someone wants to view your website. Your hosting provider will then find the computer, or web server, where your website lives.
Think of the web server as your street. Once your hosting provider is on the right street, it’ll gather up all of the data collected under your domain name that makes up your website. It’ll then send it back to the browser.
We know it might sound like there are a lot of steps to get through just to display a website, but it all happens in the blink of an eye. Your visitors won’t be left waiting for more than a couple of seconds!
When choosing a domain name, it’s important to know that there are a few different types out there. Below, we’ve explained the three most common types – just click on the plus symbol to find out more about each.
Don’t panic if you can’t get one of the most popular ones, though. Google views all TLD extensions as the same, so certain ones aren’t given preferential treatment in the search engine results!
Now you understand what types of domain names are out there, it might be useful to look at how they’re structured. They’re usually made up of two or three parts that come after the ‘WWW.’ at the beginning of a website address. Each section is separated by a dot.
When we talk about domain names, you’ll often hear the term ‘domain level’. This refers to the different parts of the name. In the example above, ‘websitebuilderexpert’ is known as the Second-Level Domain (2LD). This is the section in the name that tells the DNS and other servers specifically what website you’re looking for.
The last part, ‘.com’, is called the Top-Level Domain (TLD). It’s not as specific as the 2LD, but it helps to distinguish the website address from others that have the same 2LD.
Sometimes, you’ll come across a domain name that consists of three parts.
In this instance, ‘websitebuilderexpert’ becomes the Third-Level Domain (3LD), and ‘.co.’ becomes the 2DL. This is a Sponsored Top-Level Domain, and tells you that the website you’re visiting is a commercial site. The Top-Level Domain here is ‘.uk’, and lets us know that the content of the website is going to be aimed at people living in the United Kingdom.
The domain name system can get quite complex, so it’s a good thing that there’s an overarching managing body that oversees everything. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is a nonprofit organization that maintains the system, and keeps all of its policies and procedures in place.
However, it’s the domain registrars who are in charge of selling domain names. The ICANN allows them to alter the domain name registry every time a name is purchased, keeping them up-to-date.
That means that when you’re looking for a domain name for your website, you’ll need to go to the domain registrars to buy one. There are a few to choose from, though, and they all offer a variety of different services. Take a look below at our favorites:
- Domain.com – Best value for money
- NameCheap – Best for domain security
- Bluehost – Best for all-in-one convenience
- HostGator – Best for ease of use
- DreamHost – Best for domain transferring
If you’re just looking for a domain name, we recommend Domain.com and NameCheap, however, if you’re also after a hosting package, Bluehost, HostGator, and DreamHost make it easy by keeping everything under one roof.
Further ReadingIf you want to take a closer look at our favorite domain providers, check out our guide to the 5 Best Domain Name Registrars. We’ll put each one under the microscope to help you find the best one for you.
Domain names vary in price, but you can generally expect to pay between $10 and $20 a year for one. The cost depends on who you’re buying it from, and what kind of domain you end up choosing.
TLDs like ‘.com’ and ‘.org’ are usually the most expensive type of domain names, because they’re so well-known and therefore are considered more trustworthy. Typically, ccTLDs are a bit cheaper, so could be a good option if you’re on a budget.
Most domain registrars will offer you an introductory price for your first year. This is a great way to save some cash straight off the bat, but be mindful that when you renew your domain name registry, that price will jump right up.
Further ReadingIf you want a more thorough look into the costs of a domain name, our guide on How Much a Domain Name Costs is a full breakdown of the finances surrounding domain names.
Settling on the right domain name for your website or business isn’t always easy, especially if your first choice is gone. In these instances, we recommend exploring alternative TLDs and ccTLDs – it’s a good way of getting around limited domain availability.
As your business or website grows, it’s a good idea to purchase as many TLDs as you can, so that you have exclusivity over your full domain name. This way, if users make a mistake entering your URL, they won’t end up somewhere else instead.
When it comes to choosing your 2LD, or the section of the domain name that represents your specific website, there are a few rules you should try to follow:
- Keep it short – Longer names are harder to remember and get right
- Make it easy to spell – Spelling mistakes could result in potential visitors missing your site altogether
- Avoid numbers and punctuation – This helps to keep things simple, and avoids confusion
- Make it relevant to your business – Choosing a domain name that reflects your website is a good way to set expectations before visitors land on your homepage
- Don’t make it too specific – Hopefully, your business will grow and develop, so avoid pigeonholing yourself with a very specific name
Choosing a good domain name is no simple task, so you want to know that you can take it with you if you decide to change your domain registrar. There are plenty of reasons you might want to do this, but one of the biggest ones is cost, especially if another registrar is offering your domain name at a cheaper price. Luckily, most domain registrars don’t charge for this.
On the surface, domain names might not seem like the simplest of things to understand, but as with all technical terms in the digital world, it’s easy to break them down and get to the root of what they do and how they do it. By now, you should have a better understanding of them!
Here’s a recap of everything we’ve covered:
- What is a domain name?
- How does a domain name work?
- What different types of domain names are there?
- Where can you get a domain name?
- How much does a domain name cost?
- How do you choose a domain name?
If you have any questions, or need some advice, leave us a message in the comments and we’ll do our best to get back to you as soon as we can!
When you purchase your domain name, many registrars will offer WHOIS privacy as part of the package. This is because WHOIS is open to the public, so certain information is visible to anyone. Opting for domain privacy keeps your details from being publicly available.
If you opt for a free plan, you will usually be given a subdomain, which features the builder’s name in the address. For example, www.websitebuilderexpert.wix.com. You’ll need to upgrade if you want to get rid of this.