How to Buy a Domain Name | Domain Registration Guide
If you want to start a blog or a new online business, you’ll need to register a domain name, the name for your website. Getting the right domain for your needs might sound technical at first, but the process is pretty simple.
This domain registration guide will tell you what you need to know about domain name extensions, how to choose the right one for your needs, and the steps you’ll need to take to check if a domain name is available and to register your domain.
What Is a Domain Name?
Every website on the internet has an IP address. These addresses point to a website’s location — think of them like GPS coordinates. The IP address, which is generally a set of numbers, usually resembles something like this:
Unfortunately, trying to remember all of those numbers in order to navigate to a website can be challenging. That’s where domain names step in and lend a hand.
A structure called the Domain Name System (DNS) translates those IP addresses into names that are (hopefully) simple to remember. Those names are called domain names.
Your website's domain is what people enter into the address bar on their browsers to point it toward your website. In the simplest terms, if an IP address is your website’s GPS coordinates, the domain is its street address. Some examples are mailchimp.com and google.com.
When someone types a domain into a browser, it gets routed through a DNS server. That server translates the name to figure out which IP address it points to. Then it grabs the data for that website and delivers it to the browser. This process happens in a matter of seconds, letting you find and view a website fast.
Types of Domains
According to Verisign, there were over 360 million registered domains in 2019. The types you can buy vary greatly. To make the best choice, you need to first understand the anatomy of a domain, which is made of two main parts — a second-level domain (SLD) and a top-level domain (TLD).
Second-Level Domains (SLDs)
A second-level domain is what most people think of when they think of the name of a website. It’s the unique name that you choose to represent your brand because it’s the part that people will remember the most.
In a web address, an SLD appears just to the left of the extension, or top-level domain. It can contain as many letters, numbers, and special characters as you want, but it’s best to keep them short and easy.
Top-Level Domains (TLDs)
Top-level domains (TLDs) are also referred to as domain extensions. They’re the series of letters that appear at the right of your SLD, after the dot. The most popular ones include:
- .com: Short for “commercial,” this was the first TLD launched, initially meant for business and commercial use. It’s still the most popular.
- .net: Short for “network,” this was created for technology organizations, but it has become another common option for business website owners of all types.
- .edu: Short for “education,” this TLD was created for universities, colleges, and other educational institutions. Today, it’s mostly associated with U.S. schools.
- .org: Short for “organization,” this was developed for non-profit organizations but soon became popular among schools, communities, and for-profit enterprises.
- .gov: Short for “government,” this was created strictly for U.S. government agency use.
- .mil: Short for “military,” this TLD was developed solely for use by branches of the U.S. military.
There are also TLDs for different countries (.ca for Canada, for example) as well as niche domains like .coffee, .cheap, and .ninja. In all, there are more than 1,500 different TLDs to choose from, and the list continues to grow. But the cost for different TLDs vary. Some carry more "weight" than others, which should impact your decision when buying a domain.
How Much Does a Domain Name Cost?
When you buy a domain name through domain registrars, you register it for one year with the option of a multi-year registration. You will be able to renew your domain name registration when the initial period finishes, and will usually be alerted by the registrar to do so. Domain names are also sometimes included in your web hosting plan and if not, usually offered by your hosting company.
Domains purchased through Mailchimp are priced based on the TLD you choose, such as .com or .net.
A domain name with a common top-level domain, such as .com, can be had for as low as $12.99 per year, and promotions are often available. Internet domains purchased through Mailchimp also come with free WHOIS privacy protection and a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate to provide your website with free verification and encryption.
You do need to have a web hosting plan to put your site online, but you don’t need to have hosting to purchase a domain. Assuming you have a business or blog name in mind, it’s possible to reserve your brand’s name for the future by purchasing and registering your domain name now. Then you’ll have plenty of time to consider how to build your website.
How to Choose a Domain Name
Since your domain name can have a major impact on your online presence, what you choose is a vital first step in building your brand. Finding the perfect domain name, however, can be challenging.
While it’s true that there are millions of domain names available, many of the popular domain names that are easy to remember are taken. Fortunately, you can still get what you need if you go through a simple process and use a bit of imagination.
Make It Brandable, Not Generic
Creative, memorable domain names are always better than generic ones. After all, your domain name is how people will find, remember, and spread the word about your business on the internet. It’s much better to have something that aligns with your brand instead of a domain name that’s made up of a bunch of general keywords.
For example, can you tell the difference between cheapcarinsurance.com and affordableautoinsurance.com? Which one would you trust when it comes to buying insurance? Probably neither. Both sound a little spammy, and they’re terribly generic.
On the other hand, you’ll probably know where the domain names progressive.com or geico.com are going to point you to. Those companies have invested in their brands, and they’ve used them in their domain names. You can trust that these sites are legitimate.
Even if you haven’t built up trust and loyalty yet, you can start by choosing a strong domain name that fits your brand.
Choose the Right Domain Extension
When picking the extension or TLD for your domain name, “.com” is still the best choice unless you have a reason to choose something else. Roughly 43% of all domains have a .com extension, making it what people expect to see the most.
While Google confirms that your choice of TLD will not impact rankings, it does affect consumer perception. Many people view other TLDs as less trustworthy.
That said, .net or .org extensions are not uncommon, so they can be good secondary options if you find the perfect name and the coveted .com isn’t available.
But if you do decide to go with an extension other than a .com, make sure you take a look at what type of website is currently on the .com extension. Someone is bound to go there accidentally while looking for your brand. If the site holds fishy or offensive content, you might want to steer clear of that name altogether.
Finally, avoid those niche domain name extensions like .space, .club, .pizza, unless you really think they’ll enhance your brand.
Watch Domain Length
When it comes to domain name length, shorter is better. Search engines — Google in particular — give preference to easy-to-understand and simple domain names that deliver what they promise. URLs that are filled with numbers and special characters can hurt search engine rankings.
Your domain name should be as short as possible while still capturing the concept of your website. Short domains are easier to read, take up less room on marketing materials, and have a better chance at sticking in visitors’ memories.
The downside to short domain names is that there are fewer of them available. But, if your brand name is 100% unique or has some other creative element to it, you might be able to find something to fit the bill.
So, what is an acceptable length? Aim for 6 to 14 characters with a focus on the shorter end of that range.
Make It Memorable
Whatever domain you choose should also be memorable. It should be simple enough for anyone to spell and type.
Not sure if your domain name is memorable? Tell it to 10 friends and ask them if they can spell it. If more than a few struggle, you need to pick something else.
Provided your chosen domain name passes that first test, make sure it’s also easy to pronounce for the sake of word-of-mouth promotion. Use that same “10 friends” test as a guide. Write the domain name down and ask your friends to pronounce it. If no one struggles, you have a winner.
Think about some popular websites like Yahoo, Amazon, Reddit, and Twitter. Each is short and easy to spell. If you choose poorly, there’s a good chance that many of your visitors are going to end up on someone else’s website.
Avoid Numbers and Hyphens
Imagine asking your 10 friends to spell or pronounce a domain name filled with numbers and dashes. It won’t work.
If you choose a domain name with these elements, you’re likely going to lose traffic to people who can’t remember your domain or effectively tell someone else how to find it. We probably wouldn’t have Facebook today if you had to go to Face-Book.com to reach the site.
Check for Trademark Infringement
Both major and minor brands alike take issue with others using their trademarked names. Even if you’ve just made an innocent mistake, the legal hassle involved in a lawsuit and having to rearrange your web presence could be costly.
You can avoid these situations by using a trademark lookup tool before you finalize your choice.
Future-Proof Your Domain Name
Domains and websites are long-term investments. That means you should avoid choosing a domain name that includes a year or the latest trendy catchphrase.
Think about where your business or brand might be in five or ten years. If you provide basic SEO services now, you might end up expanding your offerings as your business grows. So, using the words “marketing” or “digital marketing” might be better descriptors than “SEO services.”
Use a Domain Name Generator
If you’re not the creative type, you can use a domain name generator to help spark some ideas. Simply enter in some words or phrases that describe your brand or website, and these tools will give you a list of ideas that you can then check for availability.
Steps to Buying a Domain Name
Let’s assume you have a list of catchy, memorable, branded, and short domain names, and you’re ready to buy. Here are the steps for buying and registering your domain name.
1. Choose a Reliable Domain Registrar
To get a domain name, you should first find a registrar that is accredited with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which is the nonprofit organization responsible for coordinating all of the numerical spaces on the internet. Mailchimp offers domains governed by ICANN.
2. Find a Domain Availability Checker Tool
The next step in your journey is a domain name search and should involve a domain availability checking tool. This will tell you if the domain you want, such as tinysgarage.com, is available or not.
3. Choose the Best Domain Name Option
When you’re checking for available domain names, you’ll often find that your first, second, and tenth choices are already taken. Some of the different approaches you can take when this happens are:
- Keep searching. Let your creative juices flow, and continue to search until you find something you love — or at least like.
- Choose another extension. If the .com isn’t available and you’re set on a certain name, consider the .net or .org if you think it will work.
- Reach out to the owner. Maybe the domain is already owned, but it’s not being put to much use. You could reach out to the owner with an offer.