Last updated on October 15th, 2019. Posted in Web Design For Business.
How do domain names work? In this tutorial, we'll go over some domain name fundamentals—things like how domains work, why you should consider your domain your number one business asset online, and how to keep your private information safe. If you're really unsure about all this stuff, you're in the right spot!
By the end of this tutorial, you’ll understand exactly how domain names work, some key aspects to your domains, and things to watch out for when you register your domain names.
If you'd like to know the steps for registering a domain, I've put together another tutorial on exactly how to do that. Be sure to check it out.
Okay, let's get started with how domain names work.
Now right off the top, I want to mention that in order to obtain your own domain name for your business, you'll need to register your domain with what's called a domain name registrar. This is just a company that you can register domains with. I always recommend using NameCheap for domain registration. I've been using them for years, but you can use whichever registrar you like. The annual cost for registering a domain is pretty reasonable—anywhere from just a few dollars to around $20 or $30-ish per year. Domain names must be renewed before they expire, otherwise you'll risk lose them—which is obviously very bad for your business!
Yes, I've let a few domain names expire over the years, and I'm still kicking myself for it. Always make sure to renew your domains! Otherwise, you might find yourself in an embarrassing situation, like the Dallas Cowboys did. Crumba!
Domain name registrars often allow you to renew in one, two, three years, or five year increments. And many have auto-renew features as well, which means you'll never lose a domain name.
I argue that your domain name is your business's number one web asset. In fact, I think it's even more important than your website. Your domain name is the name or the identifier of your business online. It's is a part of your overall web brand. Your website is just a bunch of files—a page layout with colours, graphics, and typography—and this stuff can always be replaced (either via a data backup or in a worst-case scenario, rebuilt from scratch). But once your domain name is gone, it's gone for good...unless you're willing to shell out big bucks to get it back.
Protecting your domain and keeping it safe relates to why I always recommend separating your business's three essential web services.
Okay, so we understand just how important domain names and keeping them renewed is. Now, let's cover some of the fundamentals of domain names.
Now, before you can start building and running your business online, you'll need a domain name. I'm hoping it's safe to say that we all know what a domain name is. But just in case it's unclear, a domain name is what you type into a web browser's address bar to navigate to a website...like
howdidallmyhopesanddreamsgetcrushed.com. Pretty simple. And maybe depressing...depending on the URL.
Now, to understand domain names from a technical perspective, you need to know that every website has at least one IP (Internet Protocol) address assigned to it. Don't let this technical jargon scare you off...here's how it works: An IP address is just a series of numbers. They look something like,
22.214.171.124. But obviously, if you and I wanted to surf around the web, it's pretty tricky to remember a series of numbers like this to get to the sites we'd like to go to. It's a lot easier to remember
wikipedia.org rather than
126.96.36.199. So, domain names replace the need to remember unique IP addresses for each site you visit.
So, think of a domain name as being similar to your street address where you live. If we really wanted to, we could determine the GPS coordinates of your house or apartment, but it's a lot easier to remember 4 Pennsylvania Plaza, New York, NY 10001, USA than it is to remember 40.7505° N, 73.9934° W. Your website's domain name is the same. We could use an IP address to reach your website, but it's much easier to remember
thegarden.com than it is to remember a series of seemingly random numbers.
Or, think of domain names as speed-dial. Do you know your best friend's telephone number, or do you just tap their contact on your phone? Obviously, it's a lot easier to simply tap contacts than it is to memorize everybody's number.
But more than just a shortcut for a website's IP address, a domain name is also the unique name, or the unique identity, for your business online. We talked about this above. Every website must have a unique domain name. So there's an element of branding behind domain names too.
Brands serve as mental shortcuts, or identifiers, for us. They're what make The Foo Fighters, Tesla Roadsters, and Heineken stand out from other music, cars, and better life choices!
Understanding this, think for a bit about what you'd like your domain to be. Will it simply be your name? Your company's name, or an abbreviation of your company's name? Your product's name? Something else? I'd suggest coming up with a few different ideas and variations, just in case your domain name idea is already taken. Listing out your ideas in a "first-choice, second-choice, third-choice" list is a great idea.
With a list of possible domain names in hand for your business, you'll have some options when you go through the domain registration process. I walk you through the steps to register a domain in another tutorial. But for now, I'd like to tackle a question that comes up frequently...
Before we move on, I want to answer a common question that comes up: Can you register a domain name without having a website? Sure! Every domain you register doesn't have to be assigned to web hosting or to a website. For example, I'm sitting on a whole bunch of domain names right now (about 20 or so, I think) and only a small handful are actually pointing to websites. What about all the others? They're being saved for ideas I have—future projects, new online businesses, and so on.
As you might guess, online business can get addictive! You'll get an idea for a business or web project, and then rush out and register the domain name. Next thing you know, you have a small collection of them. But I argue that with so much competition for domain names (thousands of new domains are registered daily, the demand is nuts), if you can grab a domain for a potential project now, get it while you can!
Let's move into a very important area of domain names, and that is, your privacy. If you're concerned about protecting your information online (and you should be), then this section will be important.
You should know that when you register a domain name (a personal domain name or a business-related domain), a publicly accessible record is created. This record is called a WhoIs record. A WhoIs record includes the domain owner's personal information, like their name, telephone number, and other personal information. So if you want to know who owns a website, a simple WhoIs search is all it takes.
Want to see what I'm talking about? Head over to whois.net. Type in a domain name and click search. On the page that appears, you'll see the WhoIs record for the domain you entered. Thankfully, website owners like you and I, and domain name registrars, are starting to protect private information more and more, so you may have a tough time finding out a lot about who owns a particular domain.
That said, I'm sure you'll agree with me that I don't like the idea of this kind of information being made publicly accessible for any domains that I own. Email spammers, identity thieves, and hackers can use this information for all sorts of nefarious purposes.
Here's a quick example: Not too long ago, I got a letter in the mail from my domain name registrar with a simple form to renew one of my domain names. Being busy, at first I didn't think much of it, but later I realized something wasn't right...I've owned lots of domain names for years and years, and never once have I received a piece of snail mail from any a domain name registrar—especially to renew a domain I own. They all use email. I took another look at the letter, and in fact it wasn't from a domain name registrar that I recognized. It was from some other entity. Presumably they'd gotten my contact information via a WhoIs lookup, and sent me a very official looking piece of mail that looked like a renewal form. Whether they are another domain name registrar looking to steal business away or if they were a Nigerian prince who needed to be bailed out of a third-world prison remains unknown at this point. But still, pretty underhanded.
So what can we do to keep our information private when registering domain names? Domain name registrars offer additional privacy measures to keep your information safe. Keep an eye out for this when you're registering your domains—it'll be called something like Domain Privacy, WhoIs Guard, or something similar. Sometimes registrars will include this privacy protection for free, other times you have to pay a bit extra for it.
I'm not a huge fan of extra add-on services, but whatever your registrar calls it, WhoIs protection is definitely something you'll want.
So there's a ton of information for you about domain names. You learned how important your domain name is—that your domain is your number one business asset on the web—and you also learned that we can register domains without having them assigned to a website. And we talked about WhoIs protection and what to watch out for when you're registering your domain names in order to keep your information private.
The only thing we didn't cover was how to actually register a domain name! I always use NameCheap for my domain registration, and I walk you through all the steps in this tutorial, How To Register A Domain Name With NameCheap.
You can use any domain registrar you like, but just watch out for any additional services they try to sell you that you don't need, like web hosting or email. Essential web services for your business, like web hosting and email, should always be kept separate from one another.
Alright, if you're ready to register a domain, then let's get to it!
I hope to see you there!