Many people have questions about domain names and web hosts. Today I start a series of posts to answer the questions most often asked.
Your domain name is what people type into their browser to find your website. It is not your actual website but rather points people to the location where your website files are stored. Your domain name can also be used for your email accounts.
Because domain names are so important, you must register your domain name through an approved domain name registrar, like GoDaddy. Each year, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) will ask you to confirm the contact information in your domain registration is accurate and up-to-date.
Although many web hosting companies offer free or discounted domain name registration, you may want to think twice before accepting their offer. If for any reason you become dissatisfied with that host, it will make it more complicated to move your website to another host if your domain name is registered through your hosting company. In addition, some domain registrars intentionally make it difficult to transfer.
What do you need to know about domain name registrars?
When you order a domain name, you authorize the registrar to be your designated registrar. Only the designated registrar make changes to the registry database. If you choose to switch registrars, you must go through a domain transfer process that is governed by various policies. Some registrars make this process easier than others.
While domain name prices vary, when you order your domain name, the registrar must pay an annual fee to Verisign and ICANN. GoDaddy is probably one of the most well-known domain name registrars due to their massive amount of advertising, but they are not your only option. Many of the commercial domain registrars are actually resellers for larger companies.
In 2014, Google began offering domain name registration to better help small businesses and non-tech people quickly and easily establish their domain names. It’s not the cheapest registrar, but it’s easier than some others to use.
I’ve used GoDaddy for years, despite their annoying ads, because they are fairly easy to work with if you need to make changes quickly and offer good customer support. Still, I’m excited to see Google enter the game.
Whether you decide to use GoDaddy, Google, or any of the other abundant domain registrars out there, the hardest part of the process may actually be choosing your domain name.
Choosing Your Domain
In the early days, it was fairly easy to get your domain name of choice. Now that there are a bazillion websites out there, it’s much harder to find an available domain name. At least, a domain name that uses real words. This is why so many new startups are inventing words to name their company—nonsense words may still be available as a domain name!
When I meet with entrepreneurs or early stage startups, I generally recommend they don’t name their business until they see what domains are still available. Finding relevant words for your domain will require creativity. It needs to be easy for your audience to remember and use as well as reinforce your overall brand experience. I like how some businesses build their brand through specific domain names like millercares.com and callbowman.com. If you see a domain name you’re considering is available, snap it up. Next time you look, it may be gone.
So, now that you have your domain name, how do you point it to your web host?
Every computer has an IP address. (Not sure what your IP address is? You can find out here.)
A nameserver is a computer that is permanently connect to the internet and translates domain names into its corresponding IP address. That’s why you can type in www.mydomain.com instead of a 10-digit number.
When a domain name is first registered, it is said to be “parked”. It uses a default set of name servers from the registrar. Your web host will have it’s own IP address, so you will need to login to your domain account and “point the nameservers”, replacing the default or parked nameservers with the correct nameservers for your web host.
It’s not difficult, though some registrars make it easier to do than others. This is a good example of how Google’s user-friendly interface makes it easy.
You’ll need your domain name before you set up a hosting account, but you can’t point the domain’s nameservers until you have a hosting account set up.