Why domain names matter
Each web page on the Internet has a unique address, which is known as its URL (short for Uniform Resource Locator). For example: www.nytimes.com/pages/world/index.html
This URL is broken down into several different parts:
- The domain name: This is the address of the website, used to find the server that hosts the files. All the files on the same website will start with the same domain name. In this example, the domain name is nytimes.com. The .com part of the domain extension, and it describes what kind of website this is (a commercial one).
- The folders: These explain where the required file is on the server. In our example, the folders are /pages/world/ and it means the file is inside the “world” folder, which is, itself, inside the “pages” folder. This is similar to the way that folders are sometimes described on a Windows PC.
- The filename: This is the specific web page, in this case, index.html, which is one of the traditional names for the start page in any particular section of the website. The .html at the end is the file extension and it explains that this is a HTML file. Image files will have a different extension, such as .jpg.
It is possible to launch a website without having your own domain name, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Some years ago, lots of musicians built websites, which were all hosted by MP3.com and which all shared the MP3.com domain name. When that business was sold on, all those pages were shut. Bands lost the audience they had spent years building up, and all the incoming links they had. Fans lost contact with the bands because incoming links they had. Fans lost contact with the bands because their bookmarks no longer worked. If your site is hosted on somebody else’s domain name, then that organization has absolute control over your website.
Owning your domain name gives you independence. If your hosting company messes you around, you can go to a different hosting company instead, and take your domain name with you. Visitors can still find you, and all your incoming links will continue to work.
Domain names are cheap, often less than $10 or £10 a year, and are one of the best investments you can make in your website.
8 domain name buying tips
Here are some top tips for buying your domain name:
- Any reputable hosting company can tell you whether a domain is already registered or not.
- It’s usually easier and cheaper to buy your domain name from your hosting company.
- Keep it short. Your visitors will often have to type it in.
- Make it memorable and avoid things that can’t be spelled easily, or would need to be spelled out on the phone.
- Your domain extension can help you tell visitors what kind of site you have. There are extensions for different countries, and types of sites, for example: .co.uk for UK companies, .me.uk for personal websites, .ca for Canadian websites, .mobi for mobile sites, .biz for businesses. You can use .com, .info, .net and .org for anything. You can invent creative domains using the extensions of foreign countries, such as .tv (Tuvalu) or .me (Montenegro).
- Don’t try to buy all the different variants of your domain name. You’ll go both mad and broke. There are way too many. It might be worth buying a couple of domains for key markets you want to work in (such as the .com and .co.uk variants, if you intend to create different websites for the US and UK). But otherwise, it’s best to accept that you can’t own every variant.
- Search engines will consider any keywords in your domain name to be important, but don’t overdo it. You could have something like www.bloggs-bakery.com, but you wouldn’t want to have www.bloggs-bakery-bread-boston.com. It makes you look desperate for visitors.
- As soon as you work out the domain you want, buy it! Others might be interested in that same domain and if you snooze, you lose!
Domain name pitfalls
Domain names are valuable assets, so it’s important to look after yours. There are several scams involving domain names which should be aware of, although they are thankfully becoming less common now than they used to be.
Firstly, the renewal date of your domain name is a matter of public record. Rival domain registration companies Sometimes phone up or post letters that look like invoices and ask you to renew. While they consider this to be clever marketing, a lot of people think of it as a scam. Many people are tricked into transferring management of their domain name to another company, and, even if the site continues to be well hosted, do you want to deal with a company that markets itself like that?
To protect yourself from this scam, know when your domains are due for renewal, and beware of any communications that come too early or from organizations you haven’t dealt with before. If you get any paperwork you don’t understand, ask your current hosting company or web designers to explain it.
Another scam involves companies phoning you up to try to sell you domain names you don’t need. They will often say they have another client who is about to register a domain name that is similar to your company name or existing domain name, but they want to give you first refusal. You can safely ignore this. If the domain name is registered and hosts a competitive website, laws that prevent others trading on your goodwill protect you. If the domain name is registered and used for an unrelated purpose, it’s not doing you any harm. In most cases, it will never be registered, of course, because the client who was about to register the domain is entirely fictional.
You need to take care when you’re researching your domain name, too. Some unscrupulous domain registrars will register domains you express an interest in but do not immediately register, in the hope that they can sell them to you at an inflated price later. Only check the availability of your domain name on a reputable hosting company’s website. You can also check who owns a website (if anyone) by running a “whois” search at the Internet registry for an extension, which is basically the organization in charge of it. For .com domains, see http://www.internic.net/whois.html
For .co.uk domains, see www.nominet.org.uk
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