One thing you’ll definitely need when creating a new website is a domain name, also known as the website address or URL (for example, “yourwebsitename.com”). But what exactly is a domain name, and how do you get one?
Your domain name is separate from your website.
A lot of companies that offer website hosting also let you buy a domain name and build a website all in one place. This may lead you to believe that your domain name is connected to your hosting company or your website, but that isn’t necessarily the case.
Typically, the person who pays for the domain name owns it. (I say “typically” because you need to read the fine print when buying your domain name somewhere other than a domain registrar to make sure there’s no clause that prevents you from keeping your domain name if you decide to leave the company!)
If you choose to build your website using a drag-and-drop website builder such as Wix.com, Weebly.com, or Squarespace.com, your website will be assigned a free domain name owned by that company such as “yourusername.wixsite.com/yourwebsitename” unless you choose to purchase and connect a different domain name. If you buy your own domain name, if you wanted to you could later disconnect it from your Wix website and instead connect it to another website. (Bringing the website content with it is trickier, but not impossible either.)
If you’re building a WordPress website, buying domain name is a requirement, but if you’re building a website with Wix or Squarespace, going ahead and getting your own domain name makes your website look more professional. Even if your website is only for personal use, a domain name of your own choosing will be much easier to remember and share. Plus, you can set up a matching email address (firstname.lastname@example.org), which you can then forward to whatever email inbox you want. Domain names are also quite cheap – usually just $10 or $20 per year, and sometimes as cheap as $2-$3 for your first year of website ownership (though website builder companies like Wix and Squarespace do require you to upgrade to a paid monthly plan in order to use your own domain name).
Where & how to buy a domain name
Any hosting company will let you purchase and register a domain name through them. If you plan to build your website through Wix, Weebly, or Squarespace, buying your domain name from them might be the easiest, but be sure to read the fine print and make sure that if at some point you decide to stop using their service, you, and not they, own your domain name. To make sure there’s no possible question of ownership, I recommend purchasing your domain name somewhere else and connecting it to your website later.
Personally, I think it’s a good idea to buy all your domain names through a single Domain Registrar. That way, if you later end up owning several domain names, you’ll be able to easily manage them in one place (update billing info, renew them when they are getting ready to expire, verify ownership for connecting them to a new website, etc.) instead of having to remember which domain name you bought where (and have to look for your login information every time you need to log in to that account).
There are several domain registration companies and any of them are fine to use, but by buying from one of the most common ones, you’ll find it easier to verify ownership when integrating with 3rd party softwares later (such as setting up Google Analytics for tracking visitors to your website). So here are a couple of the most common domain registrars:
My domain names were all purchased through GoDaddy because my husband already had an account there and I just use his account (so technically he owns all my domain names! 😲 Good thing I trust him!). But if I were choosing now, I would probably just pick the one that offered the best yearly price.
As far as how to buy, it’s pretty straightforward: go to the website, type in the URL you want for your website, and see if it’s available. If it is, add it to your shopping cart, and go through the check-out process just like you would to buy any product online. After that, you’ll have an account created through that company where you can log in any time to access the information about your domain name.
Beware of add-ons
When you buy a domain name, most domain registrars will try to convince you that you need a bunch of add-on services. Some of these services may already be offered by your hosting company (such as an SSL certificate). The only add-on service I recommend paying extra for if you can afford it is domain privacy. This (in theory) can help prevent your contact information from becoming publicly available to people who might start contacting you to offer services such as web development as soon as you register your new domain name, or who might hijack your domain name and hold it for ransom (by listing it for sale at an exorbitant price) if you ever accidentally let it expire. (You can read more about domain privacy here.)
Tips for choosing a domain name
If you haven’t yet chosen a URL for your new website, here are some tips to help you decide.
Which top-level domain?
The ending of a domain name (.com, .net, .org, etc.) is called the top-level domain, or TLD. Some TLD’s are restricted as to who can purchase them. For example, you can’t buy a domain name ending in .edu unless you’re an accredited school, college, or university. Some TLD’s are restricted to people and organizations from a certain country. For example, .co.uk is only available to you if you are in the United Kingdom.
There are some interesting TLD’s available to anyone, however. For example, you could call your cooking blog Yourname.cooking, or your pizza restaurant’s website could be nameofyourcity.pizza. But for most people, it’s probably best to just go with .com as a website ending, at least for your primary domain. You might later decide to buy a second “vanity URL” for marketing purposes.
What if the domain name you want is unavailable?
If the .com URL of your choice is unavailable, most domain registrars will suggest that you hyphenate the words in your website address, or change the ending to .net or .us. Whether or not you do that is a personal choice, but here are a few things I would consider:
- Is there already a well-established website with the domain of your choice? If so, you might want to stay away from any close variation, as people could easily confuse the two, and the business name might even be trademarked.
- If you end up with a really great domain name, you might want to buy similar variations just so nobody else does. For example, in addition to rvinspiration.com, I also own rv-inspiration.com and rvinspiration.net just so no one else can decide to set up a competing website with a similar address.
- Is your website address easy to remember and quick to type? I have to admit, as much as it’s fun to say, it can get old typing out thebloggingaboutbloggingblog.com….
- Will your website address be easy to convey to tell people when you’re speaking to them? (Will you have to clarify whether or not a number is spelled out? Will you have to constantly tell people that there’s a hyphen between each word?)
- Try to include keywords relevant to the topic of your blog. This will help with ranking in search engines, and will also make it clearer to your audience what your website is about.
- Your URL doesn’t have to be exactly the same as your business name. It could be a shortened version or an abbreviation if the full name isn’t available.
Once you have your domain name picked out, you’re ready to create your website!