Domain Name Basics
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What Is a Domain Name?
Within the land of machines, a web address is a series of numbers. A domain name is a human-readable form of a web address. It helps people find and remember how to find your website more easily than they would with a number string. In the case of a commercial site, it also is part of the site branding. A domain name is what allows you to build a website that is identified they way you want it to be. For companies big and small, the quick and easy identification and memorability of their website is part of their marketing and translates into customers who use their site rather than their competitor's site.
The Parts of a Domain Name
A domain name is made up of several parts. To begin with there is the part referred to as the Top-Level Domain. This is also called the extension and it is the part that comes after the first dot. Examples of TLDs are:
TLD's are divided into two groups: country code top-level domains (ccTLDs) that are (for the most part) each connected with a particular nation, and generic top-level domains (gTLDs) that are either US-based or open to anyone in any country. In each case, criteria may have to be met in order to register a domain name with a particular TLD. For example, .edu can only be used by an educational institution, and some country TLDs may require residency or a business presence in the country to be eligible for registration.
An example of an exception to the general ccTLD approach is Tuvalu, assigned the extension .tv. Because this is also the abbreviation for the word television, the Tuvalu government decided to allow people who wanted to use it for that meaning to do so.
The next part of the domain name is a subdomain of all the websites that have the same TLD. This is the part that is often chosen to match the brand or person registering the name. Sometimes the domain name is simply the business name, sometimes it is the business tag line, an advertising slogan, or a description (best<fill-in-the-blank>.com). All pages on your website will include these two name parts, as well as an additional identifier that comes before or follows this subdomain.
How to Get a Domain Name
Even though there are advertisements that talk about buying domain names, the registration process is actually a rental process. You have priority for re-renting the name after the initial rental period is over, but if you don't pay, the name will become fair game for others to register.
Before you register a domain name, you will want to establish what you want the TLD and next subdomain to be. It is best to have a few ideas in mind in case your initial ones are taken. Unless you have an international copyright or tradename, there may be someone else who has used a name very or exactly like yours. The web is first come, first served, for better or worse. There are also domainers who try to guess domain names that people will want and register them themselves first in order to sell the people who need them the right to register them.
If your business name is Sally's Shoes, you'll drop the apostrophe and try SallysShoes. If that's taken in .com, you might try .net. Or, you might decide that localizing is not a bad thing, and try SallysShoesNY. You can use the WhoIs registrar to find out if the name you want is free: http://www.whois.net/ Once you have located an available name that you wish to register, you need a domain name registrar.
Finding a Domain Name Registrar
The registrar you will want to use will be accredited by the agency that is authorized to handle the TLD(s) you have chosen. For gTLDs, this accreditation authority is ICANN, the International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. You can find their list of accredited registrars here: http://www.icann.org/en/registrars/accredited-list.html For ccTLDs, an agency in the country is the accreditor. You can find a list here: http://www.iana.org/domains/root/db/# Be aware that an accredited domain name registrar may have licensed resellers working for it.
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