What are Domain names?

Domain name what are they

Domain names are vital to how the web works and we use them every time we visit a website, but what are they and how do you choose one?

To understand what a domain name is and why they are important we need to look at how the world wide web works, a simple website comprises a set of files (text, images, sound etc) that are stored on a web server which is a computer connected to the internet with the specific job of hosting websites. Each web server has a specific address called an IP address, these are unique to each server on the internet and let users connect to a specific web server.

These IP addresses are like post codes each one is a way of referring to a unique web server on the internet, take this website for example the IP address of google.co.uk is 74.125.224.151 if you type this IP address into your browser it will load the website (try it and see). The problem with IP addresses is they are not very user friendly, easy to remember, or descriptive of the content that’s on the website. The solution to this problem is domain names. A domain name is a user friendly way of referring to the web servers IP address by giving it a name.

When a user types in a domain name it will look up the IP address of the web server so that the user can connect to the website, there are some limitations to the content of domain names but they are allot more user friendly than IP addresses.

How do you register a domain name?

We know now that the domain name is a user friendly way to locate website files online, but how do you get one? And once you have it, can you keep it?

Domain names are so crucial to the smooth running of the web that there are several layers of protection in place to keep it secure. Part of this is that each TLD (Top-Level Domain), also known as domain extension, such as .com or .co.uk has a single body that looks after the registration. For the .uk domain names, this body is Nominet.uk, they look after the system for all of the domain names that end with .uk. This includes the most popular .co.uk but also .gov.uk, sch.uk and the lesser known net.uk, Nominet ensures they only register each domain name to a single person at a time and maintains the system that lets the world wide web know where to look for settings for all of the .uk domains.

So when registering a domain name, you just contact Nominet? Not exactly, you need to go via a domain name registrar, these are companies who specialise in helping consumers register and manage domain names. They act on your behalf to register the domains and give you a host of management options that let you connect the domain up to other services such as emails and websites. Many of these also offer these other services, helping to keep everything under one roof. Shop around because like many other services prices for these vary. https://www.20i.com/ and https://www.123-reg.co.uk/ are examples of popular UK domain registrars.

It’s important to note that these domain registrars will also let you register other domain names, for example ‘.com’ domains helping again to keep things in one place.

The other option for domain names is to have a 3rd party register them on your behalf, this lets you hand over the job to someone who can deal with it and the maintenance of the domain for you. The classic example here is your web developer or creative agency who will build your website will register it for you, alternatively your email or your IT support provider may also offer this as a service.

How to select a domain name

Now we know what a URL is next we will look at how to chose one, domain names should be easy to read and remember so it’s best to go with something short and recognizable such as your name (eg. Alex-Wells.co.uk) or something that describes who you are what you do or your product (eg. AirportTaxis.com or BirthdayCards.co.uk)

It will Benefit your SEO strategy if you choose a domain name with some keywords in it as google will give you points for it, for example the domain name usedcars.com will get extra points for the search term ‘used cars’ but it’s a balancing act stuffing lots of words into your domain name will make it hard to read & understand and google will detect you are trying to stuff lots of keywords into your site and you will lose any SEO points.

Once you have chosen the domain name you want, you will need to select an extension, this is the bit at the end for example the .com or the .co.uk

Which one you choose is up to you (check out the possibilities and their intended uses here) but if you are a UK company a .co.uk would be best, followed by a .com as these are the two that people are used to seeing and using. If they are already taken you could opt for having a .net but failing that I would suggest thinking of something new.

There are several websites that will let you search for domain names and register them for you, I use www.123-reg.co.uk to register domains.

If both the .com and the .co.uk domains are available, I would suggest registering both to ensure no one else can.

How to keep domains safe?

When you register a domain name, you pay an annual fee to secure it – some companies offer the option to pay this fee up front for several years. This could, for example, be 10 years, others renew this annually. It’s important that you check this and keep track of it because if you miss this renewal your domain name registration will expire and your domain name will be up for grabs!

I strongly suggest setting it to an annual renewal and setting it to auto renew (this is normally the default, but check!). This will mean that unless you turn it off, the domain name will auto renew each year. It also means that you will likely get an invoice/email notifications about this each year – this serves as a friendly reminder where your domain name is!

It’s very easy to forget who you registered it with 10 years down the line if you don’t let anymore emails etc! – I have seen it a few times.

Make sure your payment details and contact details are up to date so if your provider sends you notifications about your domain, you will get them and be able to resolve any issues.

It’s also really important you keep your login details safe and secure!

First posted: 1/11/19
Updated: 5/4/21

Blog post by Alex Wells

Blog post by: Alex Wells

Based in Saffron Walden, Essex, I have over 10 years experience in crafting bespoke websites for a wide range of clients, I love helping businesses and individuals achieve their digital goals through smart deployment of modern web technologies.

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