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What is a Domain Name?

If you’re just starting a business or launching a blog, you might find yourself wondering: what is a domain name?

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Here's the short answer:

It’s the foundation of your online presence. Also, yes. You definitely need one.

Think of it this way:

If you’re looking to buy a house, nobody is going to tell you that real estate doesn’t matter. In fact, real estate is what it’s all about. Your domain name is your online real estate. It is where your people find your company — it’s where your brand lives.

It’s vital to your success online.

You can build the most beautiful, functional website. However, without a domain name, it won’t exist online. It’s like having a house in the woods without any trails, paths, or roads leading to it — let alone a mailing address.

By understanding domains, TLDs (top-level domains), sub-domains and how to create the best domain name for your blog or business, you give your project the best chance of being found online.

If you’re wondering “What is a domain name?”, we’ve got a fairly comprehensive set of answers for you.

What is a Domain Name?

Your domain name is the branded address people type in to access your website. It’s a unique string of letters and numbers followed by one of several domain name extensions, such as “.com”, “.org” and “.net”.

Domains first came into existence in 1983 courtesy of the Domain Name System. However, the general public registration didn’t start until February 24, 1986. They were invited to avoid the issue of people struggling to remember IP addresses.

An IP address is a series of numbers that identify a device on the internet. It could look like this: 38.935.22.4

Can you imagine if you were required to remember a long string of numbers to access your Netflix, Amazon, or eBay account? It’s bad enough trying to keep track of all those passwords.

Though computers are great at remembering strings of numbers, people are not. Humans are much better at remembering words — hence the introduction of domain names to make websites easier to find.

With a domain name, users are able to access your website. Without it, they can’t — well, unless they know your IP address.

Because each domain name is unique, you are required to register it before you can use it.

At the end of the day, a quality domain name will make your business appear more professional online, improve search engine rankings, generate traffic and protect your brand — it can also become a vital virtual brand asset.

What is a TLD (Top-Level Domain)?

Now that you know the answer to, “What is a domain name?” it’s time to take your understanding a step further.

The top-level of a domain is the suffix to your unique URL. This is the “.com”, “.org” or “.net” that comes at the end of your domain name.

There are three types of TLDs recognized by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority:

  • Sponsored Top-Level Domains — sTLD
  • Generic Top-Level Domains — gTLD
  • Country Code Top-Level Domains — ccTLD

Most websites are gTLD domains, with “.com” comprising the vast majority of them: 72.90%, in fact. The gTLD “.com” comprises 46.9% of all globally registered TLDs, including sTLDs and ccTLDs. The next closest in popularity is “.net”, with a market share of 6.62%.

Another popular gLTD is “.org”. This gLTD was originally created to allow users to quickly identify nonprofit entities. However, the non-profit status restriction on it was removed in August 2019.

Despite this change, there is still a legacy of “.org” being associated with entities that are trying to do good in the world. Keep this in mind when you start considering which TLD you want to use with your domain name.

It’s important to note that Google does not give preferential treatment to any gTLDs. This includes those that appear to be region-specific but are not ccTLDs. Examples of such “location” specific TLDs that are not ccTLDS include “.Asia” or “.London”.

In the case of ccTLDs, Google does use the information to help it geotarget a website, as it implies that the website is most likely more relevant in the matching country. This, of course, helps to improve the user experience.

For the vast majority of bloggers and business owners, you’ll want to keep things simple by using a gTLD — specifically “.com”. Though there are dozens of other options out there, “.com” continues to be the gold standard when it comes to gTLDs.

There are basically three recognized points of view as to whether or not a non-.com TLD will be a good fit for your blog or business:

  • A non-.com TLD isn’t going to be noticed by many people, and those who do notice won’t care.
  • A non-.com TLD is going to make your brand or blog look suspicious or unreliable.
  • A non-.com TLD is going to work as a unique differentiator and help people recall your brand.

Which of these perspectives is going to be true for your business or blog will mostly come down to viewer demographics: age, education, interests and so on.

In cases where you are focusing on older audiences who have a more traditional mindset and are slower to adjust to change, you will be better served by a “.com”. Conversely, if you’re targeting a younger, tech-savvy audience, you can get a bit edgier with your TLD.

Another option is to create a gTLD with your business name. But if you want to go this custom, that’s going to cost you upwards of $200,000 and would still ultimately need to be approved by ICANN.

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What is a Subdomain?

The answer to, “What is a domain name?” isn’t really complete until you consider the impact of subdomains. A subdomain is exactly what it sounds like. It is a domain that exists within your primary domain.

Technically speaking, the “www” at the beginning of your domain name is a subdomain. To create different subdomains, you can swap this out for any word, such as “store”, if you’re running an eCommerce business.

Though a subdomain falls under the umbrella of your primary domain name, it is treated as a unique web address. In some cases, it can even help drive more traffic to your website.

Most likely, you’ll want to use a subdomain to divide and organize content on your website into distinct sections. However, you don’t really need to have subdomains to do this (you can instead use subdirectories).

Done right, subdomains will not negatively affect your primary website’s SEO. That said, Google will treat them as separate entities — meaning that your SEO efforts with one won’t positively impact the other, either.

You can also use a subdomain to organize your website based on language.

For example, if there’s a Spanish version of your website, you might replace the “www” with “es” for that variation of your website. Doing this would allow Spanish-speaking users to more easily navigate and access content on your website.

You might also consider creating subdomains to test updates or new plugins for your website.

You can keep these subdomains private. This way, if something goes terribly wrong, you won’t disturb traffic to your live site, which can impact sales and your reputation.

How to Select a Domain Name

Given that your domain name is the core of your digital presence, selecting the right one is essential. A bad domain name can significantly hamper your brand’s ability to gain traction online.

In general, you want a domain name that is easy to remember, simple to spell, and captures the essence of your blog (or company) and brand.

Remember, your domain name is often visitors’ first impression of your brand. It has the capability to make them click to check out what you’re all about or drive them to a competitor’s website.

Your domain name is like a storefront window; it’s important for it to be as close to perfect as possible, giving passersby a clear idea of what’s inside.

If you are launching a new blog or have a startup business that needs a domain name, you’ll want to choose a domain name that is an exact match for your brand. Doing so will ensure that there is no confusion when people try to find your blog or business online.

If you have already created a brand or want certain keywords to be part of your domain name, it’s possible that the perfect name will already be taken — even if it’s not being actively used. In these cases, you’ll either need to incentivize the owner to let you buy the domain name (with a larger budget than you’d have to pay buying the domain outright from a registrar), or you need to get a little creative.

No matter the situation, there are some basic guidelines that will help find the best domain name for your project.

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Be Creative With Your Domain Name?

Creative and brandable domain names are vastly better than their generic counterparts.

Generic domain names blend in with all the other blogs and businesses providing similar offerings. In addition to being tacky, they are often stuffed with keywords in an ill-advised attempt to game Google’s search algorithm.

On the flip side, by having a creative, brandable domain name, you’ll rise above all the noise and start creating a name that folks will be able to easily recall and recognize.

Give Your Domain Name Room for Growth

When you first launch a business or a blog, it’s easy to be laser-focused on a specific service, product or topic. However, as your project grows, you will very likely diversify and expand.

What you want to avoid is choosing a domain name that constricts this development or ends up making it awkward.

For example, imagine that you are a blacksmith who wants to make custom grills. You might be tempted to create a domain name such as “www.CustomIronGrills.com”. However, what do you do if you end up wanting to also make swords and knives a few years down the line?

Certainly, the original domain name no longer makes sense. So, instead, when coming up with a domain name, you want to think of a name that doesn’t define your business with quite as much granularity, such as “www.FantasticForge.com”.

Bloggers should be especially wary of pigeonholing themselves with life-stage-specific domain names, such as “www.MyFirstYearAsMom.com”. What happens when you get to your second year? Certainly, you don’t want to miss blogging about the terrible twos!

You Can Use Your Own Name

There may be times when you need to purchase more than one domain for your website. For example, if your domain contains a word that is commonly misspelled.

Even if you’re not starting a business or a blog, you might want to go ahead and buy “your” domain name — as in the one that matches your name. You never want to rule out the possibility that you’ll become famous in your field! In such a case, you’ll be super pleased by past-you for having the foresight to buy such a domain name.

Using your name for your domain name is also a good option for bloggers, writers, artists and other creative types who tend to create a brand with their name at the core of it all.

There is, of course, the possibility that your name is too generic (John Smith) or difficult to spell (Quvenzhane O’Shaughnessy). In these situations, you might consider making up a new name and running with that — it’s the same as an artist using a stage name (think Dr. Dre or Lady Gaga).

Keep Your Domain Name Short

Short domain names are simply easier to remember and are less likely to be mistyped. Concise, simple, typeable domain names are vastly better than long, descriptive names.

Of course, “short” is relative.

As a rule of thumb, you should try to keep your domain name to 6-14 characters while aiming for the shortest possible option. Eight characters is the sweet spot.

Don’t be surprised if the shortest domain names are already scooped up by other businesses or investors. There are lots of people out there who own hundreds of premium domain names and are just sitting on them until they find a buyer who is willing to pay thousands or even millions of dollars for them.

Be Careful When it Comes to Combining Words

You don’t want your domain name to end up on any “unintentionally inappropriate domain names” list — and there are a lot of such lists out there. The owners of these domain names had innocent enough intentions but didn’t think their names all the way through.

You can avoid this awkward situation by writing your prospective domain name down without capitalizing letters or putting spaces between any of the words.

Some classic examples that could have been avoided with a little foresight are:

  • It Scrap — Itscrap.com
  • Speed Of Art — Speedofart.com

Obviously, these domain names ended up not being good for the companies’ brands.

Avoid Numbers and Hyphens in Your Domain Name

If you do not want to pay for a premium domain (one that has already been purchased but is for sale), you might need to come up with some creative alternative of your perfect domain name.

The easiest (though not always best) solution is to see if you can get the same name you like with a different TLD. There is no preference given to the “.com” TLD, which means that choosing a different TLD won’t put you at a disadvantage when it comes to SEO. However, this solution runs the risk of people naturally searching for your website with a “.com” and ending up in the wrong place online.

You can also come up with slight alternatives to your dream domain name. For example, if “www.JoeEatsCrabs.com” is taken, you could try “www.JoeEatsCrab.com”, “www.JoeyEatsCrabs.com”, or “www.JoeCrunchesCrabs.com”.

If you start trying to find a variation that works, make sure you don’t end up too far down the rabbit hole and settle on a super long domain name or one that is convoluted and confusing.

Another way to mix things up is by using a slogan instead of your company name. Of course, for this to work, your slogan must be short, catchy and reflective of your brand.

Still Stuck? Try Domain Generators

If you’re really getting stumped coming up with a domain name that is both a good fit for your brand and available, you can check out WordoidLean Domain SearchDomainHole or any other domain generator for help. They can provide you with some possible (and available) domain names based on your keyword inputs.

Avoid Free Domain Names

There are plenty of website hosts that allow you to use a free domain. However, you’ll want to avoid these at all costs.

Free domain names feel unprofessional and most people won’t be able to take them seriously. They are fine for private blogs that are designed to only be read by a few close family members or friends. But for any website that wants to go beyond such a scope, they are toxic.

These will look something like “www.ThisIsBad.Freewebsite.com”. A much better domain name (though one you’ll have to register and pay for) would be “www.ThisIsGood.com”.

At a glance, it’s obvious which one comes across as more professional.

How Do I See if a Domain Name is Available?

Thankfully, it’s incredibly straightforward to search and see if the domain name you want is available.

With All Green Hosting, all you have to do is select the TLD you want to use, then type your idea into the search bar.

If you’re lucky, you’ll be told that the domain is available, and you can snatch it up right then and there!

You might want to also consider buying up similar domain names at this time, especially those that make use of different TLDs. The idea behind this is to prevent copycats or competition from creating a derivative site that steals your traffic (or aims to make you look bad).

If someone else already owns the domain name you searched for, All Green Hosting will provide a long list of suggestions — similar alternatives that are available. In many cases, at least one of these will do the trick and be a good fit for your business or blog.

Give Your Website or Blog a Head Start With a Great Domain Name.

By asking yourself: “What is a domain name?”, you are on the right path to finding the best domain name for your blog or business.

It is vital that you get a domain name that is effective, as it will be the core of your brand online. By keeping a handful of guidelines in mind when brainstorming your domain name, you’ll be off to a great start.

Just remember to keep it simple, clear and catchy. The idea is to have a domain name that reflects your brand and is easy to recall and type.

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