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How to buy/register a domain name

About this guide

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One of the first steps in creating an online presence is to choose and register a domain name. Written with the novice in mind, this guide will help you navigate the process, providing insight about details you may not be aware of. Overall, getting your domain name nailed down can be fun and the hassles are minimal when you follow the steps in this guide.

PIONEERS OF THE INTERNET
JON POSTEL
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The economist dubbed him the «GOD» of the internet. He managed the creation and allocation of top level domains and IP addresses in the pre-ICANN era
JOHN DEMCO
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John Demco, one of WEBNAMES.CA's co-founders also founder the .CA domain in 1987. During this time, he and a group of volunteers managed the .CA domain name from a small office in The University of British Columbia

Introduction

Choosing the right domain name is an exacting process. As a website owner, you'll want to determine the best type of domain name for your business. This guide is designed to help you understand what a domain name is and how to go about selecting and registering the perfect one.

Why a domain name is important

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Any website you visit online is stored on a web server and has a specific web address, known as an IP address. The server itself might have one or more IP addresses that have the following format: ex. 123.123.123.123.

If you host your website on a shared server, an additional identifier such as a user name, may be used to locate specific site files. But, combining all the identifiers requires you to know «123.123.123.123/~username» in order to open and view a website.

Using cumbersome numeric addresses for sites works well if you're a computer. For people, though, a domain name makes it easier to identify and memorize a website's address. When you enter a domain name in a search field or address bar, a server uses the name to look up the numeric address and direct you to that particular website.

Domain names are also very important for brand identity because they can give credibility to a business. In the modern era, customers assume every business has some sort of web presence. Not having a web presence reduces a business's credibility in the eyes of potential and existing customers. And it places the business at a competitive disadvantage because, according to AdWeek magazine, 81 percent of shoppers conduct online research before making a purchase. That percentage rises to 94 percent in the business-to-business market.

Having a website that doesn't have its own unique domain name is another mistake some companies make. Instead, they cut corners and use domains such as:

YourBusinessName.DomainShop.com
DomainShop.com/your-business-name

This means the website is just a page connected to a larger site (directory or subdomain). It's an inadequate way to present a business. So remember: A domain name lends a greater level of professionalism and credibility to your business.

Top-Level Domains (TLDs)

Total TLDs globally
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A top-level domain (TLD) is a portion of the domain name you will want to register. It's what some people think of as the suffix portion of a domain name. For example, in the domain name "example.com" the TLD is ".com" There can be different websites with the same name, but different TLDs. For instance, Example.com and Example.net can both exist as separate websites owned by different people or companies.

Generic top-level domains
There are different categories of TLDs, but the most common type is the generic top-level domain (gTLD). This consists of: .com, .gov, .edu, .mil, .org, .info, .biz and .net domains. These are usually the first types of TLDs people think of when they want to purchase a domain name.

Country code top-level domains
Next are the country code top-level domains (ccTLDs). These are two-digit codes associated with a specific country. For example:

United States has .us
Puerto Rico has .pr
China has .cn

Top 10 generic top-level domain
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Top 10 country code top-level domains
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Note that there may be additional requirements for registering country code top-level domains. Some countries require you to be a resident or have a representative in the country.

Descriptive top-level domains

Descriptive top-level domain (dTLD) names have recently made an appearance on the domain registry market and are growing in popularity. These domain names are more descriptive than the original gTLDs and can add credibility or distinction for your business.

Examples of dTLDs include: .guru, .adult, .bike and .ninja.

Not every registrar will be able to register all types of TLDs. Most offer the original gTLDs of .com, .net, .org and usually .biz and .info. If you decide on a ccTLD or one of the new dTLDs, you'll need to find registrars that handle those specifically.

We recommend going for the .com domain if you can find your desired name.

Read our "How to Choose a Domain Name" guide for detailed instructions.

How much do domain names cost?

A list of 10 most expensive domain names ever sold up to 2016
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Prices for domain names vary among different registrars and hosting companies. The normal cost is in the range of $12 to $15 per year for the .com domain. Other gTLDs such as .net or .org may be less expensive. Specialty dTLDs such as .guru, can run as high as $100 a year.

Registrars may also offer special deals, such as $6.99 for the first year for a .com domain. Pricing is often used to lure you into an initial purchase so that you pay a low entry fee, but are charged the regular price in subsequent months.

Note: If a promotion boasts $1 domain registration for the first month, it will likely charge you $14.99 the following eleven months. Simply be aware that after the first month or first year, the normal price will take effect.

The myth of the FREE domain

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Sometimes you'll see a hosting company or registrar offering «FREE» domain names. Check the fine print carefully, as «FREE» usually comes with a price of its own. The most common offer for a free domain name is that it will be free for the first year when you purchase a hosting plan.This is fine as long as you realize you'll be paying for the domain name after the first year is over.

Other companies may give you the domain free as long as you host your site with them. This is also fine, but understand that the cost of the domain name is bundled into the cost of the services they provide. Just like companies that use the business model of «free shipping», the cost of the «free domain» will be buried in the price.

Precautions to take when purchasing your domain

In addition to keeping an eye out for shady pricing structures when purchasing a domain name, you'll want to be sure that you will own your domain. It's rare, but some companies register the domain name to themselves and simply allow you to «use» it while you are using their services. You may even be charged for the domain name registration every year as a sort of «rent».

The real problem occurs if you decide to leave that hosting company and take your domain name. As the domain technically belongs to them, they have ownership and can either refuse to allow you to take it or charge a fee to transfer it to your name.

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New Domain Registration

Overview

In this section, we'll review the purpose of a domain name. We'll also discuss the different reasons why you may want to register a domain name. Some of the most common practices in new domain registration are to «park» a domain, create a custom email address and for launching a website or blog.

The purpose of a domain name

A domain name is created to be a simple way of remembering a website. Computers read domain names as numbers. Humans have a much harder time remembering phone numbers of friends and family, much less the specific IP addresses of all the websites they visit. Having a name that's understandable and even fun is a far easier way to remember a domain. Domains names are usually registered by companies or individuals that placard their own name to it as a branding opportunity.

Finding a name

Some people find that naming the domain can be the hardest part of the process. There are a few common ways to name a website. Many companies simply use their name, such as «ABCCompany.com».

Examples: CocaCola.com and WellsFargo.com

Other companies register uncommon terms as their domain name, as a seemingly random naming strategy. Their name might not have anything to do with their product, but it's catchy and it sticks.

Examples: Yahoo.com and Amazon.com

Domain name only (parked domain)

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A parked domain is a domain name that is registered but does not point to its own site. Sometimes people register domain names they want to use, but they're not ready to build a website or sign up for hosting.

Another use for a parked domain is to redirect visitors to a different site.

For example: You may already have «example.com» as your primary website but you may also want to have «example.net» and «example.org» as parked domains that point to your primary site. This means that no matter which domain a visitor enters, they see «example.com». The parked domains will simply redirect and display the «example.com» website when they are entered into the web browser.

Parked domains are not always other TLDs (.com, .org, .net.) Sometimes companies register common misspellings as parked domains. For instance, users may often type "example.com" when they mean to type "exampl.com". The misspelling might be so common that the company registers that domain name and points it to the primary website.

At times, companies will even register common misspellings of their competitor's domain name and redirect them to themselves. Some see this as being sneaky while others view it as a smart business practice.

In any case, a parked domain is simply a domain name that isn't attached to its own files. Instead it redirects visitors to another domain. Registrar companies and many hosts offer «domain only» registrations that are perfect for this type of domain.

Domain name for custom email

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Another fairly common practice is to register a domain name in order to establish a custom email address.

If you have a very long domain name, such as: «ThisIsALongDomainName.com», it can be a pain to give out your email address, which would be: «Joe@ThisIsALongDomainName.com»

If it's available, you may want to register an abbreviated domain name to use specifically for email. Using our example, one could use «tialdn.com», where the domain name for email is the acronym of the primary domain name. This way «joe@tialdn.com» is much easier to give out and use than the much longer «Joe@ThisIsALongDomainName.com».

Domain names registered for this type of use need to be pointed to a host in order to use their email servers. Some registrars offer this service, but in other instances, this requires a normal hosting account, even if the account isn't used to house an actual website.

Domain name to launch a website (often free domain with hosting)

Step-by-step instructions
Registering a new domain is a simple process:
  1. Decide on your domain name and TLD
  2. Find a registrar or web host for your domain and specific TLD
  3. Register your new domain name with registrar or web host
  4. Point your domain to your web host (if registered separately)

By far the most common reason to register a domain name is to launch a website or blog. A website without a name is like a nameless street. Registering a specific name to a website is essential if you want to establish an online presence.

Normally, when you sign up for hosting, a domain registration process will be included. In some cases, though, an additional fee for domain registration will be required. But your goal is to tie a name to the website that will be housed on that hosting account. This specific domain name is called the site's «primary» name. It may be the only domain name associated with the site, unless you also register a name for parking or email purposes as described above.

Recommended domain registrars and web hosts

Top Registrars
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There are many domain registrars and web hosts to choose from. We recommend the following vendors for reliable service, support, cost and ease of use.

After you register a domain name

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Pointing a domain name to your website (if separate from hosting)

If you've registered your new domain name with a registrar that's not also your web host, you'll need to point, or connect, the domain to your web host's server. Most registrars have an interface that makes the process simple and straightforward.

Before starting the process, you'll need to contact your host and get the names of the nameservers you will point to. This will be a list of two or more servers and possibly IP addresses for each one. You simply need to take this information to your registrar and replace the existing nameserver list with your new nameservers.

Setting up your custom email

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Once your domain name is pointed to a host, you'll be able to set up your custom email addresses. Hosts will have some sort of interface for you to access the server, the most popular currently being cPanel. Once you've accessed the interface (or dashboard), there will be an email address tool. This is where you'll create new email addresses for your domain name. The process is simple, requiring only the creation of an email address and its password. As soon as you've created your email address, you'll be able to receive emails for your new domain.

Changing registrars (transferring a domain name)

Though you purchase and register a domain name through a specific registrar, you're not required to keep your domain name with them. You may change registrars whenever you wish, except during a 60-day period after initial registration or recent transfer. This is mandated by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and not simply a requirement of your chosen registrar. When you're ready to switch registrars, you'll need to follow the procedure to transfer the domain name from the existing registrar to your new one.

First, you must contact the existing registrar and obtain a transfer key. This is known as an AUTH Code or an EPP Key. (They are the same thing.) The current registrar will then enable your domain name to be released.

Next, provide your newly chosen registrar with the EPP Key you were given. They use it as authorization with the old registrar to allow the transfer.

The two registrars then facilitate the transfer of ownership. Domain transfers can take as little as a few hours or long as 14 days, though most occur within a few days.

Note: One caveat to the process is that neither registrar will change your domain's DNS records or name servers. Should you need to make any changes you will need to change them either prior to the transfer with your old registrar or wait until the transfer is complete and then change them at the new registrar.

Aftermarket domain names

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If you're determined to get a cool, short domain name, chances are high that this name will already be taken. Don't give up too soon, though; many of these domains are up for sale as aftermarket domains. There are a couple of ways to purchase aftermarket domains. You can work directly with the seller. Or you can purchase a domain through a third-party agent. These are companies that purchase and resell popular domain names.

Is it for sale?

Your intended domain name may be reserved but available through an auction, such as Godaddy Auction, Sedo or NameJet. You'll need to find the desired name and monitor the auction to ensure you get the best price and beat any competing bidders.

Another possibility is that your intended domain name is reserved, but not in use, not publicly listed for sale and not up for auction. If this is the case, try contacting the domain owner to see if they're willing to sell it. See if the contact details are listed on the site. If not, you can try to find the domain owner's information using a Whois search. In 40 to 50 percent of cases, you'll find the domain owner information there.

If you're not comfortable doing this yourself, you can use a broker to buy a domain for you. Some brokers have established relationships with the major domain investors. But remember, a broker will charge a commission rate of 10 to 15 percent of the total sale price.

Research the seller and domain

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A domain name's price estimation service www.estibot.com

Don't just settle on the asking price for a premium domain. See if you can contact the seller or service to negotiate a lower price. This tactic is especially effective if the domain has been on sale for a long time.

It pays to do a bit of homework before approaching a purchase. Does the seller have a documented history of previous sales? Does he have a blog or social media profiles that give you insight to his standing, views and opinions? What is his favorite breakfast cereal? Every tidbit of information you gather on the seller can help you in negotiations.

Do a background check
Before you purchase an pre-used domain, you'll want to see what has been published on that domain in the past to ensure it has a good reputation. The last thing you want is to purchase a domain that has hosted adult content or has a bad backlink history. Use Archive.org to see what content has been on a website in the past and use Cognitive SEO Site Explorer to check backlinks. If something looks suspicious, don't buy it.

Your new domain is going to be your branded business name. You'll want to ensure that future social media profiles are available. Use Knowem.com to quickly check profile availability for your new brand and instantly reserve handles from services like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. It's probably not a good idea to buy a brandable domain if its corresponding social profiles are already taken.

Closing the deal

The domain aftermarket is the secondary market for Internet domain names in which a party interested in acquiring a domain that is already registered bids or negotiates a price to effect the transfer of registration from the registered holder of that domain name.
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Source: Wikipedia

Be patient when buying a premium domain; the process is completely different from simple domain registration. Rarely will you immediately reach a mutually agreed-upon price. Sometimes waiting on a deal for few weeks and checking back with the owner later will help you leverage a better price.

If the price is still too high, try to work with the owner to agree on a «lease-to-own» or «partial payments» deal for the domain name. This way you won't need to pay a big chunk of money up front.

If the owner agrees to sell the domain, draft and sign a purchase agreement with the buyer. This will legally dictate the terms of the purchase and protect both parties. The next step is to make the payment. Don't just wire money to the buyer once you've reached an agreement. You need a secure transaction to protect you from any fraudulent activities. Use a secure service such as Escrow.com to close the deal.

Conclusion

As you can see, there are a few considerations to make when choosing and registering a domain name, but all in all, the process is fairly straightforward. Do be careful of «free» domain names or those that are deeply discounted for the first year as you may end up paying more over time. Other than that, have fun finding your domain name as it can be an exciting step in getting your brand new website up and running!