Is it better to run a business from an office building or a garden shed? Would you rather exhibit your portfolio in an art gallery or a back alley?
Having your own address is the online equivalent to working from an office building or holding a show in an art gallery. It is the foundation of your online identity.
If you’ve wondered how it is done and want a guide to tell you what you need to know and help you through the steps, you’ve come to the right place. If you’re ready to buy a domain name and just want the steps to follow, jump straight to the bottom of this page.
What is a domain name and why would I want one?
A domain name is what you type into your browser to visit a website. Two well-known domains are google.com and facebook.com. Not all domains end in .com. Some tell you which country the website is based in, such as telkom.co.za for South Africa. Other domains are more fanciful than informative: replyall.ninja or bejazz.club.
The part of the domain name after the dot is called the Top-Level Domain (or TLD). Many, many different TLDs are available, though the most popular is .com by far.
A domain name is also used in email addresses. Each email address is made up of two parts: the name of the person you’re sending the email to, and a domain name. The two parts are separated by the @ sign. In email@example.com, “john” is the name of the person and gmail.com is the domain name. Of course, gmail.com is also the address of Google’s online email application.
With your own domain name, you will be able to set up your own website and email addresses. Whether it’s for your business, your CV, your portfolio or a blog, having your own address is more professional, gives others more confidence in your abilities and generally puts you in a better light.
How much will it cost me?
Prices generally start at $10 per year for common TLDs such as .com or .co.za. The price can increase to $60-$100 per year for certain specialty TLDs, such as .fm, and into the thousands of dollars for highly sought-after domain names. According to Wikipedia, insurance.com was sold for over $35 million!
Domain names are rented, rather than owned. This means that you have to pay for your domain name every year. It is also possible to pay for several years in advance. The place you get the domain from will email you to remind you before it expires.
Should I choose a .com or something else?
.com is the most common and well-known TLD, so it makes sense to use that. However, there are two reasons you might choose something else:
- Because .com is the most popular of all TLDs, the name you want may already be taken. In that case, you can either modify your domain name until you find something that is available, or you can choose a different TLD. You may see .co used as an alternative to .com because of the similar spelling.
- The .com TLD is well-known, but also rather bland. You may want to give your site a local flavour with .co.za or even .durban. You may prefer something a little bolder and specific, like .guru or .band.
The elements you need to balance are availability, cost and memorability. As your TLD becomes more outlandish, it is more likely to be available, but people may have a harder time remembering it. In that case, it may be worth paying a little more to get something more familiar or shorter.
I’m sold, tell me how to get my domain name!
There are essentially two places to get it from: domain registrars and website hosts.
I do not recommend tying your domain name to your website host or Internet service provider. Often, their domain name management tools are not the best and as your needs evolve, moving your domain name away from your host can be tricky.
Domain registrars specialise in selling and managing domain names. There are hundreds of them. The one I use is hover.com, because its website is both simple and powerful and they provide excellent customer support. Here’s what you need to do:
- Go to hover.com
- Type the domain name you’d like to buy into the search box at the top and hit enter. The TLD is optional, so you can type in mygreatwebsitename or mygreatwebsitename.com.
- Hover will tell you if the name you asked for is available and will also suggest a huge number of alternatives, along with their price. Remember that the price they show is per year.
- Click on the plus next to the domain name or names that you want. When you’re ready, click on the “Proceed to cart” button in the right-hand column.
- Now you can choose how long you wish to own the domain name. Unfortunately, there are no volume discounts, but by choosing a longer period, you won’t have to think about it for a longer period of time.
- If you have a promo code, click the small “Add promo code” link to enter it. The promo code will give you a discount. If you don’t have one, they are often advertised on podcasts such as the Accidental Tech Podcast.
- Click on the “Secure checkout” button at the bottom of the form.
- On the next pages, you will create a Hover account and fill in details such as an address.
- You can pay either by credit card or PayPal.
Congratulations! You now have your very own domain name. You can start using it for your website, blog or email. How to do that will be covered in future articles.