A domain name is a unique name that identifies a website on the internet. It’s what you type into your browser to go to a website, like “google.com” or “wikipedia.org”.
The domain name is made up of two main parts – the top level domain and the second level domain. The top level domain is the ending like “.com” or “.org”. The second level domain is the main name before the dot, like “google” or “wikipedia”.
Together, the top level domain and second level domain make the full domain name that locates the website. So “google.com” points your browser to the Google website.
Domain names make it easier to remember how to get to a website. It’s a lot simpler to type “google.com” than it is to remember the IP address “22.214.171.124” that technically points to Google’s servers.
How Domain Names Work
Behind the scenes, domain names work using DNS servers. DNS stands for Domain Name System.
When you type a domain name into your browser, it goes to a DNS server to look up the IP address associated with that domain name. The DNS server has a giant directory matching domain names to IP addresses.
Once it finds the matching IP address, the DNS server returns the IP address to your browser. Then your browser can connect to the website using that IP address.
This all happens in milliseconds behind the scenes. All you have to do is type in the domain name and hit enter. The DNS system handles the IP address lookup automatically.
The organization that oversees top level domains and maintains DNS servers is ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers). They ensure domains resolve to the correct IP addresses globally.
How to Get a Domain Name
To get your own domain name, you need to purchase it from a domain name registrar. Some popular registrars include GoDaddy, Namecheap, and Bluehost.
Domain names are sold on a first come, first served basis. No one else can buy a domain name that’s already taken. So the key is finding a domain name for your site that’s still available.
You’ll want to brainstorm some options that are short, easy to remember, and describe what your website is about. For example, if you were starting a blog about cats, some available domain options may be:
Once you’ve found an available domain name to purchase, you can buy it from a registrar. Expect to pay about $15 per year for a basic .com domain.
After purchasing, the domain name is all yours to use and point to any website. Now visitors who type your custom domain into their browser will be taken to your site.
Setting Up Your Domain
After registering a domain name, you need to set it up to point to your actual website or web hosting account. This involves updating the name servers for the domain.
Name servers act as the intermediary between the domain name and IP address. By default, your domain will use your registrar’s name servers. But you want it to use the name servers from your web host instead.
For example, if you purchase a domain from GoDaddy but host your site with Wix, you need to change the name servers to Wix’s servers. This allows your domain to resolve to your Wix hosted site.
To update name servers, you simply log into your domain registrar account and input the new name server addresses provided by your web hosting company. The updates can take 12-48 hours to fully propagate.
Now when someone types your custom domain name, it will automatically direct them to your website hosted elsewhere. Pretty cool!
In addition to registering your own domain name, you can also use subdomains.
A subdomain is an additional section of your main domain, like “support.yourdomain.com” or “blog.yourdomain.com”. The subdomain prefix comes before the main domain.
Subdomains allow you to break your website into smaller sections or categories. They are commonly used for things like:
- Support or help sections – support.yourdomain.com
- User or account sections – members.yourdomain.com
- Forums or community – community.yourdomain.com
- Blogs – blog.yourdomain.com
The great thing about subdomains is they automatically inherit the main domain name. You don’t have to register each one separately.
Using subdomains can help divide up your content and make it easier for visitors to quickly access different sections. You can have as many as you want!
Popular Top Level Domains
There are many different top level domain (TLD) options when registering a domain. Here are some of the most popular:
.com – The most common generic TLD. Widely used by commercial websites and businesses.
.org – Traditionally used by non-profit organizations and charities, but open for anyone to register.
.net – Originally for networks, but now a generic open TLD like .com.
.edu – Specifically restricted for use by educational institutions.
.gov – Used exclusively for United States government websites.
.io – Tech-focused TLD for information organizations or input/output related sites.
.blog – A newer domain just for blogs and personal publishing sites.
There are many more niche top level domains too like .biz, .store, .site, etc. The .com TLD is the most versatile and popular choice in most cases.
International Domain Names
Domain names ending in a two letter country code are called country code top level domains (ccTLDs). For example:
.ca – Canada
.fr – France
.au – Australia
These allow localization of domains for different regions. The country codes help identify site origin and language.
Some countries also offer domains in their native language. These internationalized domain names (IDNs) use non-Latin characters.
For example, “.試験” is the Japanese Kanji equivalent of “.test”. This allows domain names to reflect local languages and scripts.
Important Facts About Domain Names
Here are some key things to keep in mind about domain names:
- They are unique – No two domain names can be the same.
- Limited length – Technically up to 253 characters, but shorter is better.
- Case insensitive – example.com is the same as Example.com.
- Top-level domains must be purchased/renewed yearly.
- Expired domains go into a grace period, then can be re-registered.
- Special characters are generally not allowed.
- Hyphens are allowed, but underscores are not.
- Domain “hacking” combines words and numbers to find creative available domains.
- Premium domains are short, generic, and highly valued.
- Domain name disputes may occur through ICANN arbitration.
Why Domain Names Are Important
In summary, domain names are a key part of any website or online presence. Here’s why they are so important:
- They provide a human-friendly address for your site. Visitors don’t need to remember IP numbers.
- They build brand recognition and identification. Memorable domains become your digital real estate.
- They give you complete control and ownership of your website address.
- They allow customization to align with your brand or business name.
- They are the first impression visitors get of your site. A domain sets the tone.
- They influence search engine results and search performance. Keyword domains have advantage.
- They can affect conversion rates and click-throughs from listings. Descriptive domains convert better.
For all of these reasons, putting thought into your domain name and purchasing a domain that aligns with your goals is a key step. Your domain name can have a big impact on your web presence and brand.
We’ve covered the basics of what domain names are, how they work, where to get them, and why they are important.
- Domain names convert human-language site names into website addresses.
- They allow you to claim a unique web identity tailored to your brand.
- DNS servers resolve domains to IP addresses behind the scenes.
- You register and purchase domains from registrars like GoDaddy.
- Setting up domains involves changing name servers to your host.
- Subdomains further divide up sites into sections.
- Choosing the right TLD ending is a factor (.com is most common).
- Domain names are critical for branding, SEO, usability, and conversions.
I hope this beginner’s guide gives you a good overview of what you need to know about domain names! Let me know if you have any other questions.