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What is a Domain Name and How Do Domains Work?

what is a domain name and how do domains work

The process of building a website starts from choosing a domain name. This is where most beginners face their first obstacle on the way to a successful deployment. They find their backs against the wall due to many technical issues and terms like web hosting, domain registration, server, etc.

On the other hand, it is impossible to have a website without a domain. In this guide, we will try to cover each and every issue that might sound a bit too technical for newbies. We will discuss the necessity of domains, their types as well as fast ways to choose and buy them. The main mission is to clarify how a proper domain will work great for your site in the future. Let’s get started.

What Is Actually a Domain Name?

We are not going to dive deep into the term definition. To make things simpler, a website contains two fundamental elements. They include:

  • A Web Server – Let’s say, it is a physical (digital) storage for your site’s files and content. It operates as a mechanism that stores all files and sends them to a visitor every time he or she goes to your website.
  • A Domain Name – As every building has a physical address, a domain name is the online website’s address. In other words, the name helps people to find your site by typing it in the browser.

The Global Web comes as a huge network of millions of connected devices. All computers, laptops, tablets or smartphones interact with each other. An IP address is the only way to identify every particular device within the network. On the other hand, a typical IP address looks like an endless listing of figures that are impossible to remember.

Domain names are to simplify the process of website identification instead of typing in endless numbers. Users only need to remember a short name that is not only easy to type but also relevant to the main website concept.

How Does Domain Work?

Despite the unknown terms, the process looks pretty simple. It consists of the following stages.

  1. You type in the domain name in your browser.
  2. Once you have done, it automatically sends a request to DNS.
  3. The network identifies name servers associated with the site’s domain.
  4. The particular name server receives the initial request.
  5. It sends the data back to the user’s browser.

In this circuit, the name server is the machine supported by your particular hosting provider. In other words, the DNS request will be forwarded to the place your website is hosted. Name servers use special software to fetch the site content as well as all of its web pages.

Why Is It Necessary to Have a Domain Name?

Apart from assigning an online address to your website, domain names may lay a crucial role when it comes to the site’s recognition among target users. At the same time, it might appear to be a vital promotion and optimization tool to bring your project higher in the search ranking.

  • First User’s Impression. A domain name is the first thing your visitors see. A domain is the face of your project. It defines whether your visitors will have a good first impression or not. Make them memorize your website name with a clear and catchy domain.
  • SEO Affect. Let’s consider, you know at least some basic SEO tools. Having a focus keyword in your domain will certainly be a huge plus I terms of website optimization. Make sure the key word reflects your site specialization or field.
  • Promotion Capabilities. A memorable and sharp domain is a great promotion instrument. You may easily stand out from your competitors in the niche as well as ensure successful branding in the long run.

Defining Domain Name Types

After you have learned about the way the domain makes work and what they actually are, we need to highlight the main domain types. They include various extensions and levels that may also play a vital role in further website development.

The key to success is to choose the type depending on the website type whether you are launching a short-term project or create a solid short-term business on the Internet. So, here are the main domain types you might come across:

  • TLD – the abbreviation stands for Top Level Domains. It means that boast the highest listing rating among other domain types. The most popular TLDs include extensions like .com, .net, .org, and some others.
  • ccTLD – the type introduces TOP LEVEL Domains with the country code. They identify the particular website region making it easier for the target audience to stay tuned. Most of you have probably seen such extensions as .uk, .de, .in, etc.
  • sTLD – another TLD type that refers to sponsored domain names. They mainly belong to communities, non-profit organizations, social and educational hubs, etc. The most popular ones include .gov or .edu. They are considered as the most trusted as well.

TLDs are not the only domain types you may come across. Here are some other categories that are less frequent although may still serve particular goals.

Second Level Domains

Judging by the term it becomes clear that these domains set directly under TLDs. As a rule, such types refer to governmental or financial institutions, universities, academic establishments, etc. Most of you have probably seen such extensions as .gov.uk consisting of two endings instead of a single .com.

Subdomains

Some website owners tend to use subdomains to represents several company divisions. A subdomain can pinpoint a particular department or directory without buying a separate TLD. They are mainly used for separate promoting campaigns, landing pages, services, etc. However, they are not always a good idea especially when it comes to free subdomains.

In some cases, you might need to use domains for redirecting purposes. It means when a user visits your initial website, he or she is automatically forwarded to another site. It may work well for promotion campaigns, temporary pages of microsites.

Reasons to Avoid Free Subdomains

As it was mentioned before, subdomains are registered to launch child-website versions. For instance, your domain name is superblog.com. You need to create a separate child site for a video section. In this case, video.superblog.com will be a domain name.

The reasons to have a subdomain may be the following:

  • Temporary promotions.
  • Separate landing pages.
  • Short-term microsites.

Users are recommended using subdomains only for temporary tasks and web pages that will be of no use in the nearest future. Subdomains will not work for a long-term business in the long run. While you work hard on creating high-quality and SEO-friendly content for your major project, you will hardly appreciate driving quality traffic to a temporary page from the main domain.

From both marketing and SEO concerns, it is a better idea to concentrate your target audience around the major project rather than splitting it between two different websites. For big companies requiring growth is better to buy several TLDs with different extensions to avoid extra costs in the future.

Tips to Choose a Domain Name

It is high time we started selecting a proper domain for our website. The task is pretty easy today considering tons of domain generators and other services that put ease on the project. But, as we have said before, a domain is the face of your website. A good idea is to come up with a catchy brandable name rather than opting for generic alternatives.

Self-Crafted Domains

If you decide to create a domain name on your own, focus on the following issues:

  • Make It Different – make sure your domain sounds different from competitors although still relevant. Do not be afraid to express your creativity and make it as memorable and recognizable as possible.
  • Use Synonyms – try to be unique and avoid traditional words. Use catchy synonyms instead with the help of available online services such as Thesaurus.
  • Keep It Short – avoid long domain names. Try to make it as short as you can. A good idea is to stay somewhere between 7-14 characters. Do not exceed those limits.
  • Simple to Type and Spell – users will hardly appreciate domain names that are difficult to type. They would rather opt for an easier website name. Make sure your domain is easy to spell.

SEO-Friendly Domains

The domain is not only to introduce your website to the public. It may appear to be an effective tool from SEO optimization perspectives. A properly conducted website name may influence its further search engine ranks. On the other hand, you are not supposed to overdo with target keywords. Here is what you can do about it:

  • Insert Focus Key Phrase – a good idea is to make a domain name with a focus keyword inside. It should be relevant to your particular niche. This is what actually most generic names look like. The only problem is they are packed with key phrases making the name hard to read and recognize. This is what you should avoid preventing over spam.
  • Avoid Temporary Domains – some website owners change domains after some time. It is a bad idea especially if you launch a business for its further growth and extension. If you change the website name, it will have a negative impact n the project’s SEO and search engine ranks.

Think twice before you start the registration process.

Generic Domains

Those are the domains automatically generated by online services. All you need is to type in the company’s name or niche and get several available options with different extensions. On the one hand, they might be a simple solution for those looking for a quick solution. However, we recommend using exclusive brandable domains.

Why Generic Domains are not as Good as Brandable?

The main problem about generic domains is that they are mostly alike. You should not expect much creativity from the online service especially if it is free. Brandable website names look unique. They are easier to remember and appear to be more recognizable. A good idea to stand out from the main competitors.

On the other hand, you can use generic domains as the source of inspiration in case you fail to work out a name of your own. However, you should avoid typical names that might be misleading for the target audience. You would hardly appreciate your traffic to be shared websites with actually the same generic domain names.

What Domain Extension to Choose?

Once you have made up a stunning and original name for your website, you will need to choose an extension. We have already covered this issue when discussing the domain types. This time, we will have a closer look at the available options.

A domain extension is a suffix we use after a dot. It might appear to be a defining factor for future promotion. Although most website owners crave for .com, it is not good for some website types focused around a particular country or region. In this situation, a ccTLDs looks like a better option.

In other words, the extension relies on the website type, goals, purposes, etc. Have a look at some of the available alternatives:

  • .info – good for blogs, info projects, and sites that are not related to commercial activities.
  • .co – unlike the previous suffix, this extension is used for commercial websites.
  • .org – good for educational establishments, charitable organizations or other types of non-profitable projects.
  • .net – good for technical blogs, online guides, manuals, hosting providers, etc.

Apart from traditional TLDs mentioned above, there are also sponsored extensions. They might be a good solution for a particular niche, as they clarify the industry your project refers to. For example, some f the most popular sponsored extensions include:

  • .photo – perfect for online galleries and photo projects. They will work fine for professional photographers as well.
  • .media – a domain extension for projects such as video streaming services, platforms to store and share media files, etc.
  • .club – a TLD extension used by different communities and clubs that are related to sports teams, educational organizations, musical gatherings, etc.

Sponsored domains are more expensive if compared to typical TLDs. On the other hand, they are less flexible. For instance, switching between various niches with the .com domain is easier than jumping into a new field with .club. So, you need to think over the extension plan beforehand.

Domain Name Buying Guide

In today’s Internet environment, there are several ways to link your domain name to a website. Some of them do not require a separate registration process. Some platforms offer all-in-one solutions for users. Anyway, you may choose between three major variants:

  • Domain Registration Services – they come as tools used only for domain registration. It means you will have to handle the process on your own from scratch and then link it with your website depending on the platform. The process is pretty time consuming although there is a chance to save u a couple of bucks.
  • Hosting Providers – a good option for those who crave for a solution with all features in the pack. Leading platforms offer free domains within a paid plan.
  • Website Builders – another way to get a domain already linked to your future website. You actually get a building tool with a plan that also includes a free domain name. On the other hand, you will have to stick to a single instrument.

If you require maximum freedom and flexibility, the first option may be a good idea. You can register a domain you like and then choose the most appropriate platform that meets your site needs. In this case, you will need to complete 5 essential steps.

Step #1 – Check the Domain Availability

Your path will start from the domain checker. You need to make sure your domain is free to register and not occupied by other websites. There are plenty of available services like ICAAN WHOIS letting you check the vacancy online with just several clicks.

Step #2 – Search for the Domain

After you have picked the registrar, you need to type in the preferred name and check if it is available. The system will advise several other options different in prices and extensions.

Step #3 – Select a Name

If there is a name you like, you may add it to cart and complete the registration process.

Step #4 – The Registration Process

At this stage, you will need to follow simple steps to complete the registration. Prepare to fill in the gaps and provide required data in the control panel or setup box. You are supposed to indicate real data. never use fake personal info, as this factor might be vital when resolving copyright issues or domain authority struggles. Once you have submitted all the info, there is only one step left.

Step #5 – Domain Verification

The final step is to verify your new domain and prove the ownership. You will get a special verification link forwarded to your email you have indicated during step #4.

5 Things to Watch Out

As you can see, the process of purchasing domains is not as hard as it may seem. However, you still need to be aware of some hidden risks and threats you need to watch out during the registration process.

  • Hidden Charges – hidden extra fees and costs are normal for some online services. You need to read the pricing policy carefully to avoid new costs in the future. Some companies offer huge discounts for the first year with twice-higher renewals. Make sure the price is the same and will not change throughout the entire agreement. Moreover, you should avoid platforms that force you to purchase their add-ons that are of no use.
  • Privacy Protection – domain details are usually free to the public. This fact might encourage spammers and hackers. A good idea is to opt for companies that guarantee users’ privacy and do not charge extra fees for that.
  • Personal Data – taking care of your personal data is vital as some services sell users’ info to third parties. Read the privacy policy terms to avoid commercial offers from other marketing or promotion websites and organizations.
  • Look for Transparency – a common situation is when a company offers affordable registration and renewal fees. The pricing policy is clear with the exception of cancellation or transfer fees. In some cases, domain cancellation or transferring may cost you a fortune. Look for transparency and up-front pricing to avoid unpleasant surprises in the future.
  • Customer Support – a vital feature that is often underestimated by beginners. Do not hesitate to contact the support team before the purchasing process. Make sure it is ready to resolve issues and respond promptly.

Domain Recovery and Prolongation

Today, a user has a chance to register a domain for 10-year period as the maximum term. However, a good idea is to start with at least 1 or 2-year period.Both long and short-term domain purchases have their own advantages and disadvantages.

Reasons to buy long-term:

  • there is no risk of your domain getting to competitors.
  • a good value for money, as most services provide discounts on long-term purchases.
  • there is no need in constant renewals.

Reasons to buy short-term:

  • easier to track all domains and stay in touch with their statuses.
  • minimum pressure on domain pricing, as you do not have to rush for discounts.
  • less risk of domain expiry.

Both long and short-term domains require regular renewals. Otherwise, your website will not be available to the users. Once a domain name has expired and you failed to renew it on time, there is a risk of losing it. Competitors tend to use dropped domains for their SEO purposes as well as for making some money during the auctions.

For this reason, you need to make sure there is enough time until the next renewal. A good idea is to pay in advance. As a rule, registrars send notifications several days/weeks before the expiring date. All you need is to get into your account and use any of the available payment methods to transfer necessary funds.

However, some users may miss the date. Good news is that they still may take the advantage of renewal grace period that may last up to 1 month. Only the initial owner of the domain has a right to renew or recover it during the grace period. Once you have missed that period, any user from the global web is able to register the domain name on regular basis.

The Bottom Line

A domain name is the first stage of your online business deployment despite the niche or website type. It is your chance to make a good first impression as well as boost SEO ranks or target visitors from a particular region.

With so many different services, you still need to do the research and sort out some best options with clear pricing, no hidden fees, good customer support, and privacy protection. It will help you to avoid unexpected financial and technical traps in the way to grow your project. Make sure your domain name is in good hands, so your site could last for years.

Howard

About the Author

I'm Howard Steele, the founder and editor-in-chief of this website. With over 10 years of web building I know how complicated and tiresome this task can be for a non-IT person. Can’t decide which service to choose? Feel free to ask me for advice. Just describe your website needs, and I’ll gladly help you.

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