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What’s a Domain Name?

Graham Cook  — April 25, 2019

If you’re just starting out as a website owner, you’ll probably have questions about how the Internet works and how you can best optimize your site.

One of the fundamental concepts you’ll want to understand as a website owner is domain names, and how to effectively choose a domain name for your website. This is particularly important if you operate an online business.

What Is a Domain?

The term domain refers to a specific location on the Internet. A domain name is the address you type into your Internet browser every time you visit a website. It identifies a specific computer or group of computers that operate on the same network.

For example, microsoft.com is the domain name for Microsoft’s website. It directs you to all the sites hosted on Microsoft’s network.

Domain names almost always follow the same pattern – they begin with the domain name itself, followed by a dot, and then a suffix like “com” or “org” or something similar.

The most popular domain names end in .com, although .net and .org are also popular. Other domain name suffixes are available as well, like .blog or .me to name a few.

Government websites will always end in .gov, while websites for educational institutions will usually end in .edu.  

Why Are Domain Names Important?

Websites are actually hosted at and accessed via numerical IP addresses. Most IP addresses follow the same format – four sets of numbers, each separated by a period.

For example, an IP address might look like this: 123.45.678.910.

Of course, it is much easier for us to remember something like google.com as opposed to a series of numbers. So websites use domain names to prevent visitors from having to type in a long IP address each time they want to visit a website.

When you type in a domain name, you’re telling your browser to find the IP address for the website you want to display. So, typing microsoft.com into a web browser takes you to the numerical IP address hosted on Microsoft’s website server.

Choosing a Good Domain Name

Domain names are an important way to brand your website and tell your potential visitors a little bit about it even before they visit.

For example, a domain name like “flowersbyjim.com” gives visitors a sense of what they can expect to find if they visit that site. That’s why it is important to choose your domain name carefully.

A good domain name should be short and easy to remember. Nobody wants to type”flowersbyjimonthecornerofthirdandmainstreet.com” every time they want to visit your site, even if they’re able to remember the entire domain name.

A short and simple domain name will make accessing your site easier. If your website is an online business, it should match your business name as closely as possible. If Flowers by Jim’s domain name was “flowersonmainstreet.com,” it could be confusing to visitors.

Think of your domain name as an extension of your business brand – if your brand is fun and irreverent, consider choosing a domain name that matches.

A .com domain name should always be preferred over other domain name suffixes. Domains like .blog or .me are usually cheaper, but will not be as highly-ranked on search engines like Google and may be harder for your website visitors to remember.

Avoid using hyphens in your domain name, your visitors don’t want to have to remember where to put the hyphen every time they want to visit your site.

Where to Get a Domain Name

Registering a domain name has been made simple by services like Squarespace or GoDaddy. The domain name you’d like to use needs to be available for you to register it, meaning that no other entity has registered it as their own.

When you register a domain name, that registration is valid for a period of time, and you must renew your registration regularly in order to maintain ownership of your domain.

Otherwise, the domain name will be released and made available for other web owners to buy. Most domain registrations have to be renewed on a yearly basis.

Domain names are one of the crucial building blocks of the Internet, and as a new website owner, you’ll want to have at least a basic understanding of what a domain is, and how to select an effective domain name.

Remember – a good domain is short, easy to remember, and an extension of you and your brand.