What Is a Domain Name? A Beginner’s Guide

A domain name is your online street address—just as you need an address for people to find your physical location, you need a domain name for people to find your website.

Domain names offer a human-friendly way to access websites instead of using their Internet Protocol (IP) addresses.

In this article, we’ll explain what a domain name is, how domains work, how to register a domain name and explore its significance in the online world. Discover how to choose the right domain name for your website and the registration process.

Final: What Is a Domain Name

What Is a Domain Name?

A domain name is a unique identifier that you enter into your web browser to visit a particular website, for example, hostadvice.com. Domain names consists of two main parts: the actual name and the extension, like “.com” or “.org.”

Well-chosen domain names reflect your brand, are easy to remember, and set the tone for what users can expect when visiting your site.

How Do Domains Work?

A website needs two essential components to make it accessible on the internet, which are a domain name and a server. Domain names serve as the user-friendly address users use to access the website, while the web hosting server stores all the website’s files and data.

Here’s how domains work:

  • The browser looks for the IP address linked to the domain name entered using a network of Domain Name System (DNS) servers.
  • The browser sends a request to the Web Hosting to access the website’s data once the IP address is located
  • The web hosting server responds with all the information necessary to display the website’s content
  • The browser takes this information and renders it into a web page that users can interact with

What Does a Domain Name Look Like?

Domain names consist of two main parts: the domain name itself and the top-level domain (TLD). Domain names are a unique string of characters, while the TLD is the extension that comes after the domain name, such as .com, .org, or .net.

Here’s an example of a domain name: hostadvice.com

In this example, “hostadvice” is the domain name, and “.com” is the TLD.

Domain names can include letters, numbers, and hyphens, but they cannot contain spaces or special characters. Domain names are case-insensitive, so “Hostadvice.com” and “hostadvice.com” would be the same.

Domain Name vs URL: What is the Difference?

A URL is the entire web address used to access a particular page or resource on the internet. It includes the domain name, along with other components such as protocol, subdomain, path, query parameters, and fragment identifier.

In short, the domain name is one part of a URL, while the URL is the complete web address.

For example, the URL “https://de.hostadvice.com/shared-hosting/#paragraph2” includes:

Protocol: “https://” (indicates the web communication protocol used)

Subdomain: “de” (a subset of the main domain)

Domain Name: “hostadvice.com” (the website’s unique identifier)

Path: “/shared-hosting” (directs to a specific page or resource on the website)

Fragment Identifier: “#paragraph2” (points to a specific section of the web page)

Why Do You Need a Domain Name?

If you’re a hobbyist looking to make money from your passion, or a business owner seeking a robust online presence, consider getting a domain name for your project or business.

Here’s why domain names are important:

  • Credibility—Building credibility is crucial to gain your website visitors’ trust. With a domain name that matches your company’s or project’s name, your website can look more credible and professional. This, in turn, can lead to higher engagement, increased traffic, and, ultimately, more conversions.
  • Authority—An authoritative website allows you to become a voice of authority in your industry, making you a go-to source for trustworthy info in your niche. It also means other professionals in your field are more likely to link to you, boosting your SEO and visibility.
  • Memorability—Unique and catchy domain names can make your website easy to remember. It can also help increase direct traffic and help visitors find you quickly and easily, as users are more likely to type in your domain name rather than search for it through a search engine.
  • Ownership—Once you complete the domain name registration, no one else can claim it while you a registered. This grants you the power to determine which website it directs to, which domain name registrar manages it, what details are linked to your domain name account, who oversees it, and whether you decide to sell it.
  • Branding—The right domain names can create a strong online brand, especially if it’s similar to your company name. This can represent your business or project’s personality, voice, and values, create a consistent online identity that reinforces your message across all platforms, and communicate your unique selling point to your target audience.
  • SEO—Strong domain names with relevant keywords can improve your website’s SEO, and improve your chances of ranking higher in search results. Plus, it can get you found by potential customers, attracting more organic traffic and leading to more conversions.

Different Types of Domain Names

Final: What Is a Domain Name

Let’s take a look at the different kinds of web addresses you can use for your website.

1. Top-Level Domain (TLD)

Top-level domains (TLDs), commonly known as domain extensions, appear at the end of the domain extension hierarchy. They are managed by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), which regulates their existence and sells their rights to specific domain registrars.

Note: A TLD’s maximum length is 63 characters, but most TLDs are usually around 2-3 characters. The full list of TLDs is maintained by Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

2. Second-Level Domain

The second-level domain (SLD) is the part that comes right before the website ending, like “.com” or “.org”. It serves as the website name or unique identifier. For example, in the website address “hostadvice.com,” the second-level domain is “hostadvice.”

The combination of the SLD and TLD forms a unique address that points to a specific website on the internet. For example, “example.com” and “example.net” would be two different domain names , even though they share the same SLD (“example”).

3. Country-Code Top-Level Domain (ccTLD)

ccTLDs are extensions specific to a particular country with two letters based on international country codes. They’re helpful for businesses that want to focus on a particular country or region, so use them to target a local audience.

Some examples of ccTLD include:

  • .us for the United States
  • .uk for the United Kingdom
  • .ca for Canada
  • .au for Australia
  • .de for Germany
  • .jp for Japan
  • .il for Israel

4. Sponsored Top-Level Domain (sTLD)

sTLD is sponsored or backed by a specific organization or community. For instance, Google has a special “.google” ending, and Apple has a “.apple” ending. .edu for education-related organizations and .gov for the government are some commonly used sTLDs.

5. Generic Top-Level Domain (gTLD)

Generic top-level domains (gTLDs), specifically the non-sponsored ones, are top-level domains not limited to a specific country code. These are the website endings that don’t belong to any particular company or brand, and these are managed by ICANN.

Examples of gTLDs include

  • .com (commercial)
  • .net (network)
  • .biz (business)
  • .org (organization)
Note
Note: .com is the most popular TLD as of March 2023, with 241,757,485 registered domains.

3. Subdomain

A subdomain, also known as a third-level domain, is part of a larger top-level domain. It comes before the root domain name, and it’s separated by a dot. For instance, in “example.hostadvice.com,” the subdomain is “example.”

While the most common subdomain is “www,” you can use different subdomains to organize your website and make it easier for users to navigate its various sections. This can be especially useful if your website has multiple functions or content areas.

Perhaps you have a blog page on your website. You can create a subset of a domain, such as blog.yourdomain.com, to help users easily identify and access that specific section of your website.

Note
Note: The “http://” that appears at the beginning of a web page’s URL is not considered part of the domain name. It’s under the “protocol,” which sends data between a web browser and a website.

Final: What Is a Domain Name

How Do You Choose a Domain Name?

Final: What Is a Domain Name

Choosing the right domain name is essential to improve your website’s visibility in search engine results, boost your credibility, and create a strong brand identity. To ensure you choose the most suitable domain name, consider the following tips:

1. Keep It Short and Simple

While long, complicated domain names might appear unique, they can lead to confusion, misspellings, and frustration for your visitors. Avoid such unnecessary headaches by keeping domain names short and straightforward. It should be easy to pronounce, type, and spell. Doing this increases the chances of visitors remembering and returning to your site.

2. Make It Relevant to Your Business

Selecting the right domain names that reflects the nature of your business can give you a boost. The key is to not get too obvious. Instead, aim for a clever name that’s relevant to your business. It has to give your customers a hint about what they can expect to find on your website and what you’re offering.

3. Choose an Easily Identifiable Domain Name

You can use your company name or even a unique name for your domain name. What’s most important here is it needs to be easily identifiable, and it’s not already taken. This also means it shouldn’t be confused with another brand. Using someone else’s brand name can cause confusion and, potentially, legal issues.

4. Use an Appropriate Extension

Choosing a top-level domain (TLD) for your website can be overwhelming since many options are available. Ultimately, the right extension depends on your target audience and business objectives.

For instance, if your website targets a specific geographic location, ccTLDs like “.il” for Israel or “.de” for Germany may better fit your business. This can establish a local presence and improve your website’s visibility in that area.

Read more about the most popular domain extensions

How To Register a Domain Name?

Final: What Is a Domain Name

Once you’ve decided on a domain name for your website, the next step is to register it with a domain registrar for a specific period. This process is called domain registration.

To register a domain name, follow these simple steps:

Tip
Tip: Use a domain checker tool to check if your desired name is still available
  • Choose a reputable registrar from the ICANN database to buy the domain
  • Look for a “Get a domain name” button or text on the registrar’s website and click on it
  • Fill out the registration form
  • Buy the domain name: Once you’ve filled out the registration form, you will be prompted to select the registration period (typically from 1 to 10 years) and any additional services you may want. After making your selections, proceed to the payment section and buy the domain name by providing your payment details and completing the transaction.
Important
Important: Ensure you’ve spelled your desired domain name correctly and got all the details correct. You cannot change it once you have paid for it, so it’s important to double-check.
  • The registrar will notify you once your domain is properly registered.
  • Expect your DNS information to be distributed to all DNS servers within a few hours
Important
Important: Some countries need registrars with a valid address on file for legal reasons, so you’ll be asked to provide your physical address to the registrar. Fill this out accurately to avoid the closure of your domain.

How to Transfer a Domain Name

Transferring domain names from one registrar to another involves several steps. Follow this step-by-step process to transfer your domain successfully:

  1. Check Eligibility and Unlock the Domain: Ensure your domain is eligible for transfer (registered for at least 60 days and not recently transferred), and unlock it in your current registrar’s control panel.
  2. Initiate the Transfer: Go to your desired new registrar and start the domain transfer process following their instructions.
  3. Confirm the Transfer Request: You’ll receive an email from the new registrar asking for confirmation. Follow the instructions in the email to confirm the transfer request.
  4. Wait for Completion: The transfer process can take a few hours to several days, depending on the registrars involved. Keep an eye on your email for notifications and updates on the transfer progress.
  5. Verify Successful Transfer: Once the transfer is complete, log in to the new registrar’s control panel and verify that the domain is listed in your account.
  6. Lock the Domain: After verifying the successful transfer, lock the domain in the new registrar’s control panel to prevent unauthorized changes or transfers.

Remember to keep your DNS settings unchanged during the transfer process to ensure that your website and email services remain active.

Conclusion

Domain names are crucial for establishing your website’s online presence in a sea of competitors, and domain name registration is a key step in this process. Think of it as a unique address for your website, making it easy for visitors to find you in the crowded digital landscape.

Throughout this article, we’ve covered what a domain name is and how it can boost your SEO, improve credibility, and establish authority. We hope this has given you a better understanding of the domain names’ role in establishing and growing your online business or project.

Next Steps: What Now?

Frequently Asked Questions

Is a domain name different from a website?

Yes, a domain name and a website are different from each other. Domain names is a unique address that users type in their web browser to access a website. Meanwhile, a website is a collection of web pages, images, videos, and other content hosted on a web server.

What was the first ever registered domain name?

The first ever registered domain name was “symbolics.com,” which was registered on March 15, 1985. It was registered by Symbolics, Inc., a computer manufacturer based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The company specialized in developing and manufacturing computer workstations used for symbolic mathematical computations. The domain name is still in existence today and is considered to be the oldest continuously registered domain name in the world.

How do you check a domain name’s owner?

You can use Whois Lookup to find out who owns a domain name. This helps you find out who’s hosting any website and gets all the necessary information. You just need to enter the domain name into the search bar.

Can you buy a domain name that is taken?

If the domain name you want is already taken, there are still ways to get the domain you want. One way is to contact the domain name’s current owner and offer to buy it from them. Alternatively, you can choose a different domain name that’s available. You can use domain name generators to help you come up with unique ideas.

How much does it cost to buy a domain name?

The cost of buying a domain name varies widely based on factors like the domain extension (.com, .org, .net, etc.), the popularity of the name, and the registrar you choose. On average, standard domain names with a common extension like .com typically cost between $10 to $20 per year.

However, premium domain names, which are considered highly desirable or unique, can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Keep in mind that some registrars may offer discounts or promotions for the first year of registration.

What happens to expired domains?

When domain names expire, they enter a grace period where the original owner can still renew them, usually for a standard renewal fee. If not renewed, the domain may go through a redemption period, where it can be reclaimed for a higher fee. If still not claimed, the domain enters a “pending delete” status.

After this phase, the domain is released back into the pool of available domains and can be registered by anyone on a first-come, first-served basis. During these stages, the domain may be temporarily inactive or show a placeholder page.

Can you trademark a domain name?

Yes, you can trademark domain names if they function as a source identifier for goods or services. Trademarking domain names provides legal protection against unauthorized use by others. However, simply owning a domain doesn’t grant trademark rights.

The domain must be used in commerce to represent a specific brand, product, or service. It’s important to note that a valid trademark must be distinctive and not merely descriptive of the goods or services it represents. Registering a trademark involves an application process with the relevant trademark office.

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