What Is a Domain Name? A Beginner’s Guide

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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!

What is a Domain Name?

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!

How Does a Domain Name Work?

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!

how dns works start to finish

What Different Types of Domain Names Are There?

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.

A TLD is a domain extension. It’s the part that follows the last dot, at the end of a website address. The most popular TLDs are ‘.com,’ ‘.org’, and ‘.net’. There are others out there, but they tend to be more obscure.

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!

A ccTLD is country-specific, and lets users know that the content of your website is for a specific geographical location. For example, sites ending in ‘.uk’ are for people in the United Kingdom, whereas those ending in ‘.in’ are for those living in India.
An sTLD shows what kind of organization the website belongs to. These extensions include ‘.edu’, which is for educational sites, and ‘.gov’ which marks the website as an official government site.

How Is a Domain Name Structured?

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.

For example:

websitebuilderexpert.com

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.

For example

websitebuilderexpert.co.uk

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.

Where Can You Get a Domain Name?

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:

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 Reading

If 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.

How Much Does a Domain Name Cost?

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.

Good to Know…

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 Reading

If 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.

How Do You Choose a Domain Name?

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.

Top Tip!

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
Good to know…

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.

Further Reading

If you want to find out more about how this works, take a look at our guide on How to Transfer a Domain Name.

And, for even more info, we have articles that address How to Choose a Domain Name, How to Get a Domain Name, and How to Change a Domain Name. You’re spoilt for choice!

What Is a Domain Name: Summary

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!

FAQs

A URL (Uniform Resource Locator) is a sequence that contains all of the information that makes up the complete web address of a web page. The domain name is just a single part of it. A full URL also includes the protocol at the beginning (HTTP or HTTPS), the subdomain (WWW.), and the specific page on a website you are visiting.
If a domain name is the address of your house, your website is the rooms and belongings inside of that address. In other words, the domain name shows the servers where to find you, but it’s the data they find there that makes up your website.
Although they sound similar, a domain name registrant and a domain name registrar are slightly different. The registrant is the person who wants to register a new domain name (in this case, that would be you!), and the registrar is the person who registers it for them.
WHOIS is a huge database that contains all of the registration information for domain names. It also lists the contact details of those who own them. It’s a bit like a domain name phonebook!

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.

When you pick a paid plan with a website builder, the cost of your domain name is usually included in the price, at least for the first year. From this point onwards, though, you may need to renew and manage your domain name yourself.

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.

132 comments

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  • Akhil
    Wow, that was an amazing article about the domain.
    1 reply
    • Lucy Carney
      Hi Akhil, Thanks so much, I'm so glad you enjoyed the article! Feel free to share it on if you think anyone else would find it useful. Take care! Lucy
  • Hilton William
    Very informative. Learned an enormous amount.
  • Michael
    All I seek is a NEW personal domain name. How may this best be done non-technically, and quickly?
    1 reply
    • Lucy Carney
      Hi Michael, thanks for reaching out - hopefully I can help! If all you need is a new domain name (rather than a website and domain, for example), then you simply head to your chosen registrar's homepage, search for the domain you want, and see which results come up. Once you find the domain you want, add it to your basket and complete the purchase. At checkout, make sure to pick the term length you want the domain for - one year, two years, or three years are the most common options. It's quick, easy, and doesn't require any technical knowledge! We recommend using the registrar Domain.com, but you can see our top five favorites, along with more detailed instructions on how to easily purchase a new domain, in our article: The Best Domain Name RegistrarsI hope you find your perfect domain, and thanks for reading! Lucy
  • Easy.gr
    Very informative post!! Thanks for sharing this post here with us. I just loved to read this blog.
  • Beverly
    I'm looking for a domain name and wondered if I should have the word "The" at the beginning or leave it off. Example: www.TheLuckyOne.com or www.LuckyOne.com. Want to get it set up correctly the first time. Any help would be appreciated.
    1 reply
    • Lucy Carney
      Hi Beverly, Thanks for your question. It doesn't make any difference from a technical or SEO point of view, so it's purely down to your personal choice! If your website is called "The Lucky One" then leaving "The" in your domain should be absolutely fine. Make sure you check if your domain name is available - if one of them is already taken, then that might make your decision for you! Hope that's helped, Lucy
  • Millie Hue
    Thanks for helping me understand that a domain name is just like a cell phone number. I just got curious about how these things work because I heard my mom that she will be setting up a website next year. It appears that she has decided to finally follow her dreams of becoming a blogger now that she has retired. She wanted to have her own site.
    1 reply
    • Charlie Carmichael
      Hi Millie, No problem at all, and best of luck to your mother with her blogging! Charlie
  • domain name
    Thanks for sharing such a great information with us.
  • Chandrashekar M G
    Very Useful and comprehensive information about the Domain Name and Website Builders. Thanks.
  • Jeffery Fernandez
    Hey I have a domain registered with NameCheap and and hosted with Hostgator. I want to transfer it to GoDaddy. Is that possible? I have purchased Deluxe Linux hosting from GoDaddy. I have also changed the namsservers but it didn't work. My domain is namobot.com. You can check my nameservers in WHOIS. Thanks.
    1 reply
    • Fred O'Brien
      Hi Jeffery, Yes you can. Domains are a separate entity and can be attached to whatever server you like. GoDaddy has a guide to transferring domains which is well worth a read if you're stuck. Keep in mind as well that transfers can take up to 10 days to go through, so don't worry if it doesn't turn up immediately. Cheers, Fred
  • Aalejandro P. Hamblin
    Nowadays, choosing the right domain name for your website has become more difficult than a few years ago. Many short and brandable domains are already taken and also domain brokers register potential domain names to sell them to website owners for lots of money. However, with some creativity it’s still possible to find great domain names that are available.
    1 reply
    • Lucy Carney
      Hi Aalejandro, Thanks for your comment! Choosing the right domain is certainly an important decision, and you're right to suggest a creative approach as there are definitely still plenty of great options out there to make your website stand out. Hope you found the article useful and thank you for joining the discussion! Thanks for reading, Lucy