In this detailed guide, you will learn everything about domain names, including how to buy a domain name and configure it in your website-building process.
Registering or buying a domain name is one of the first steps in building a website. You will need an address on the internet for your website. This is the address that you tell other users, asking them to visit your website.
Although finding and registering a domain name sounds very technical, the process is relatively straightforward. Many domain registrars – companies that help you buy domain names, have made this process very simple and intuitive.
Nevertheless, it helps to understand the basics of domain names so that you are confident in choosing the right one for your website.
This guide explains everything you need to know about domain names and buying one for your needs.
We will start with the overall steps of buying domain names and help you understand how to search for the right one, ensure it’s available to register and go through the registration process to own the domain name.
Overall Steps to Buy a Domain Name
Buying a domain name is a very straightforward process and has been made very easy by the number of domain registrars available today.
However, the overall process can be intimidating for beginners, with multiple options to choose from, such as domain name extensions and different pricing for each extension.
In this complete guide, we will present you with a detailed process that you can follow to help you with your domain purchase decision.
Overall, the main steps involved in buying a domain name include;
- Searching for the right keywords related to your desired domain name
- Using domain name generators and tools to find a suitable name
- Choosing a domain registrar and making sure the domain name is available
- Registering and configuring the domain name
We have explained the steps with examples and recommended tools and services in more detail below.
Search for the Right Keywords
The first part is to decide on the name that you want to register, specifically the second-level domain part (see the domain basics later in this guide). This is often referred to as the keyword that you will search for and be allowed to register.
Coming up with a good name that is available to register usually takes a lot of time and effort. As most good names for popular TLDs are often taken already, it might help if you decide to be creative with the name that you want to register.
You can also opt for ccTLDs or other custom extensions if they are relevant to your business or website.
You can refer to our top tips article suggesting how to come up with a good domain name. One important tip I would highlight would be to avoid certain characters such as (-) or numbers within the domain name if possible.
Use Domain Name Generators
One surprisingly easy way to come up with a good domain name that is available to register is to make use of domain name generators. You might also see some tools referred to as business name generators.
Domain name generators essentially help you brainstorm available domain names by entering a few keywords.
Please follow our separate article in this series of domain registration guides to see a list of the best domain name generators.
Choose a Domain Registrar
There are plenty of domain registrars, and we have a separate comprehensive list to help you choose the right one. If you are in a hurry, NameCheap and Domain.com are the top domain registrars we personally use and recommend from a list of dozens that we have reviewed on our website.
Domain registrars help you search for your intended domain name and let you register it depending on availability. Most of them usually list all TLDs available for your intended keyword, along with the corresponding cost of those TLDs.
Some domain registrars themselves suggest alternatives that might be available when you search for domains. The available suggestions are, however, mostly about alternative domain extensions (TLDs).
So, for example, if you are searching for a domain name from the UK and looking for a .com domain name, you might be suggested available .co.uk or .uk domain names for the keyword as top available choices (in cases where your primary TLD is not available).
Register and Configure the Domain Name
Once you have found the right domain name, the process is as easy as adding to the cart and completing the checkout steps. Make sure to double-check you have the right characters in the domain name, as most domain registrations are non-refundable.
Also, many domain registrars will suggest additional products during your checkout process, so you will need to keep an eye on the final things added to your final shopping cart.
Following the registration process on any registrar, you will immediately receive a final confirmation once your domain registration has been processed successfully.
You can then start configuring the domain name as you wish. You will most likely need to configure your domain to connect with your hosting account and email service providers.
The hosting providers will provide their specific guides and tutorials to help you configure your domain name to point to their hosting servers. The process mostly involves changing the DNS records of your domain – either the A records or the CName records.
You can also get in touch with your hosting or email service provider asking for specific details if you get stuck in the process.
What is a Domain Name?
A domain name is generally the name of a website and, more specifically, the URL that you use to visit a certain website. For example, ‘google.com’ is a domain name that you use to visit Google’s website.
Understanding a few technical details will make it easier for you to understand domain names. All domain names are associated with a physical Internet Protocol (IP) address on the internet which is like a unique set of numbers to identify a particular domain.
The IP address, for example, can look like ‘198.123.342.7’, which can be really difficult to remember for humans. That’s where the Domain Name System (DNS) comes in and helps us translate those unique sets of numbers into readable names.
The DNS essentially translates IP addresses into domain names that are usually simple and easy to remember.
Additionally, there are certain parts in a domain name and understanding them will further enhance your knowledge of domains in general. A domain usually has two main parts – a domain name and a top-level domain (also referred to as an extension).
In our example of the ‘google.com’ domain, ‘google’ is the domain name, and ‘.com’ is the top-level domain or the extension.
Many domain names will also have a subdomain, which is another part of the domain. For example, if a domain name is ‘www.google.com’ or ‘store.google.com’, the ‘www’ or the ‘store’ part in the domain names are referred to as subdomains.
Previously most domain names used subdomains such as ‘www’, but that is now becoming rare as users can directly type the domain name and extension (two major parts mentioned above). Using the ‘www’ subdomain is still the case with big websites, but most of the time, using ‘www’ or not using ‘www’ leads users to the same page.
However, you will see several websites using subdomains to separate different parts of their website, such as shop.example.com for their shop section or blog.example.com for their blog section.
We will look at how to register domain names in this guide later, but the important thing to note is that domain names need to be registered with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a not-for-profit body that oversees the domain name system.
The process of registering and managing domain names is, however, facilitated by several domain registrars that act as intermediaries between the domain registrants (those that register domain names) and the ICANN.
We have further defined other common domain-related terms towards the end of this guide if you are confused by any of the terms above.
Now that you understand what domain names are and the types of domain names, you are ready to start buying the right domain for your website.
How to get a Free Domain Name?
Is there a thing such as a free domain name?
Well, because domain names need to be renewed every year, there are many domain registrars willing to offer you a substantially discounted rate for the first year of your registration.
That’s the primary reason you see some registrars highlighting their very low promotional prices of a few dollars for the first year.
Domain registrars themselves bear the cost to acquire you as a customer and take it as an acquisition cost for their businesses.
Besides, some hosting providers offer the domain name for free when you buy their hosting services. As the prices of domain names are usually very low compared to the hosting prices, most hosting providers offer a free domain for the first year as a promotional offer to sign you up as a customer.
However, you need to be careful about the renewal costs of the domain name. Some registrars charge very high renewal rates for the domain names, and the initial discount might not be worth it in the long term.
Also, as domain names need to be renewed every year, you will need to account for the renewal costs while making your initial purchase decisions.
Having said that, there are few domain registrars, such as Namecheap, that genuinely offer a discounted price for the first year of your registration.
If you are looking for a free domain name, here are some of the best offers that we recommend signing up for.
Bluehost Free Domain
Bluehost is one of the most popular web hosting providers, with millions of users hosting their websites on the platform. They offer a free domain name when you sign up for their hosting plans.
If you are in the market looking for both domain name and hosting, I recommend signing up for their cheapest shared web hosting offer and claiming a free domain name in the process.
You can refer to the complete Bluehost guide to claiming a free domain name here.
Which domain name type should you choose to buy?
With the rise of custom TLDs, the concept of choosing domain names based on traditional classification has changed lately, and it’s not uncommon to see businesses being creative with their domain name choices.
You can learn more about the different types of domain names in another article in this series of Domain names guides.
While .com is by far the most preferable for most businesses and websites, it’s very difficult to get the domain name available for popular keywords. Most domain names with popular extensions are registered already and sold as premium domain names.
There are also plenty of platforms that help you buy and sell domain names and several registrars offering domain brokerage services. An entire group of companies exist around the domain names ecosystem in facilitating the buying and selling of domain names.
If you are just getting started, it might be wise to just go with a name that’s available for a fair price and not fall into the trap of buying expensive premium domain names.
While popular domain names with .com extensions will continue to demand premium pricing in secondary markets, the availability of more and more custom domain name extensions makes it easier for businesses to get started with multiple available choices.
How to buy a domain name that is taken already?
If your desired domain name is registered already, there might still be few possibilities to acquire the name. In the process, you are essentially trying to contact the current domain owner and see if they are willing to sell the domain name to you.
Here are a few ways to go about acquiring the already registered domain name.
Some domain names are simply parked and available on the domain marketplaces to purchase for additional prices. Depending on the quality of the domain and several other factors, such premium domains are listed for more than 10-100 times their original prices.
They are also often listed as premium domains on domain registrars. And once you buy the domains for premium pricing, most often, you can renew the domain for standard prices.
Many registrars also offer a brokerage service where they will contact the owner of the domain name you are interested in and negotiate on your behalf.
Such service usually comes at an additional cost (brokerage fees) on top of the premium prices that you will negotiate to buy the domain name.
Contact Domain Owners:
If you are able to find the contact information of the domain name owner, you can try directly getting in touch with them.
Most domain names that are pre-registered and available for sale also include a way to get in touch with them and start negotiations.
Please note that your email will be simply ignored if you don’t make a reasonable offer that the domain owners might be expecting. You could also be presented with the domain price range as a counteroffer.
FAQs about Buying Domain Names
The entire domain name system and process of registering domain names can definitely be overwhelming for beginners. Unsurprisingly, we see several frequently asked questions related to different aspects of domain names.
Here are some of the main questions that are repeatedly asked regarding domain names. See my brief answers to quickly improve your understanding of domain names.
Can I buy an already registered domain name?
Yes, you can buy an already registered domain name from its owners, mostly at a premium price. Once purchased, they can transfer the domain name to your account.
How can I get a domain name for free?
You can get a domain name for free from promotional offers from registrars or when purchasing additional services such as web hosting from the hosting providers.
Can I buy a domain name for life?
No, you cannot buy a domain name for life. Domain names need to be renewed every year, and you will be charged a renewal fee by the registrar.
How long can I keep a domain name?
You can keep a domain name as long as you want. However, most registrars will let you register a domain name for a maximum period of 10 years.
What is the minimum and maximum length for domain name registration?
The minimum length for a domain name is 1 character, while the maximum length is 63 characters.
Can I use hyphens in my domain name?
Yes, you can use hyphens in your domain name, but it is usually not recommended as it is difficult to mention it to others and can be easily confused with other words.
What are the most popular domain name extensions?
The most popular domain extensions are .com, .net and .org. However, there are many other domains that you can choose from, such as .biz, .info, .name and more.
Should I register for multiple domain names?
You should try to register your business names for multiple extensions. It can also be useful to have different variations of your main domain name to protect your brand online.
Hopefully, these quick answers have helped to clear up some of the confusion that you may have had about domain names. If you have any other questions, feel free to contact me, and I will be happy to help.