Domain Names What, Why, Who, and How

WHAT, exactly, is a domain name?

The Domain Name System was originally developed to help us navigate through the internet. Every computer connected to the internet has it’s own IP address, a string of numbers that identify it to other computers. Domain names are a way of pointing to a specific IP address to make things easier to remember – so now you shop at Amazon.com, instead of at 207.171.166.102!

The domain name is made of two parts, the name and the extension.The name is whatever you choose, it can be your personal name, your business name, a term or a saying. When choosing a domain, be careful to select something that is easy to remember and is representative of you or your business. There are numerous resources to help in choosing a great name, search Google.com for the term “choosing a domain name”.

The extension is the part that comes after the name, the most familiar extension is ‘.com’. There are many extensions, some available only to educational institutions (.edu) or to citizens of specific countries. The most common domain extensions registered now are .com, .net, .org, .info, and .biz. It is often recommended that when you choose a domain name, you register as many of the popular extensions as you can, to protect your brand.

WHY would I want a domain name?

The main reason that people register domain names is because they are building a website, but there are other reasons, too. The registration of domain names has become relatively inexpensive, and the variety of uses for them has expanded. Some people register domain names for email only, so they can have a personalized email address. John Doe can now get email at john@johndoe.com, for example. Websites themselves have evolved in such a way that anyone can set up and maintain their own personal spot on the web – it isn’t just for businesses anymore. Blogging and forums (bulletin boards) have become very popular ways for people to communicate with friends and family, post pictures, and share other information; and having your own domain name makes finding your blog easy. Web hosting companies offer personal accounts that allow you to have email, create a blog, and even build your own personal website at very low prices.

Even if you don’t plan on having a website now, registering your domain name is a good idea – you never know what you may wish to do in the future, from starting a home business to wanting to post pictures of your grandchildren. As more domains are registered, it becomes more challenging to find the exact name you want. You can register a domain for from one to ten years, and registering now ensures it will be there for you when you’re ready!

WHO should I buy my domain name from?

Domain name registrars are plentiful on the internet, but make sure you register with an ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) Accredited Registrar, and register in your own name and email address. There are people who may act on your behalf to register a name for you (such as a webmaster), but be sure they register it in your name, not theirs. Even if you want to distance yourself from the everyday operations of your website and domain, you will still want to be the real owner of that name. Domain registration is very easy on the internet, using the registrar’s website interface to choose your name and place your order, even the least techno-savvy can get through it. Don’t be afraid!

Domain registrars offer a tool to check to see if the name you want is available, or if it is already owned by someone else. If a domain is available, you will be asked to purchase or register it. You may see the option to transfer a domain listed instead. If you register a domain name with one registrar, and later decide you’d like to move, or transfer, that domain to another registrar to receive different services, you have that option. But you must actually own that domain name in order to be able to transfer it. Many people have made the mistake of thinking that if they choose transfer, the domain will be taken away from it’s current owner and given to them – this is simply not possible, nor would you want it to happen to your own domain!

So then, Who owns the domain name I want? And how can I get it? are becoming questions that are heard more often. There is a tool called a WHOIS Lookup that can tell you who currently owns a domain name, and WHOIS tools can be found on the web – search for them on Google.com, and you’ll see. Buying a domain that is currently owned by someone else is no longer out of the question, either. Many domain owners are willing to sell their domains, and often list the domains for sale with various domain sale and auction services. There are also services that will accept a backorder for a domain. These services allow you to list your desired domain with them, and if that domain expires and becomes available, the service will try to register it for you. These systems work like a lottery – or more precisely, like a concert ticket system. When the tickets go on sale, everyone is trying to get the front row center seat, but only one can get it. Drop or backorder services do the same thing, all competing for the same domain name. If you choose to try for an expiring domain, research several of these services and register with as many as you can. Remember there is sometimes a fee above and beyond the registration price when you use one of these services.

HOW to keep your domain name in good health (or the care and feeding of a domain name).

First and foremost, now that you’ve got your domain name, be sure not to lose it! The most common way for people to lose a domain name is by not renewing it before it expires. When you register the domain name, you will be asked to provide an administrative email contact. All future correspondence relating to your domain name will be sent to that address, including expiration notices. If you change email addresses and do not update your address with your domain registrar, notices will never reach you. Likewise, you should always update any change of physical address or phone number with your domain registrar, just in case. Put your registrar on your list of places you would inform if you were to move, and you will avoid this common trap.

Another common way to run into trouble is by falling victim to a competing registrar’s advertising. Sometimes unscrupulous companies will send out email or physical letters informing you that your domain will expire soon, and asking you to renew it by transferring it into their domain system. These letters can be very persuasive, convincing domain owners that they must follow the instructions in the letter or they will lose the domain name. Often these cheaters charge a higher fee than your real registrar, and don’t offer a refund once you’ve paid them for a transfer, even if you don’t use it. The best way to avoid this scam is simply to know who your registrar is, and only respond to requests made by them. Keep a copy of your first registration letter in your files, so you can refer to it later if you have any doubts.

The Domain Name System has truly evolved since its inception, and now having a domain name has become a standard for individuals as well as businesses. Your domain name is your personality, your identity, your calling card in the internet world. Choose it wisely and take care of it, and you’ll spend many happy years together!