What is a Domain Name?

A complete beginners guide to domain names! What exactly is a domain name? How do we register a domain name? How do we choose the best one for our website, and should we register more than one?

OK, so maybe you’ve heard about companies buying domains for millions (QuinStreet paid $16 million for the domain Insure.com in 2009!) and are wondering what the fuss is all about? Or maybe you need a domain for your new business website, and aren’t sure how to choose one. So, let’s start at the beginning …

What is a domain name?

A domain name forms part of your website’s address or URL. Take the example below. The whole thing is called a URL, or Uniform Resource Locator. It’s the exact location or address of a web page or file.


The grey part is called the protocol (could also be HTTPS or FTP).
The redpart is the subdomain, the ubiqituous ‘www’.
The orange part of the URL is the bit we’re interested in – the domain name.
The green part is the name of the directory or folder in which our file is stored.
The blue part is the name of the file itself – in this example it’s an html file.
The domain name is the part that you’ll choose, and promote on your business cards, leaflets, advertisements, and maybe even on other websites.

What’s a domain extension?

The extension is the .com or .net part of your domain name. Most businesses choose to register the .com version, probably because it’s the most popular extension (and the most memorable) and due to the claims that Google and other search engines tend to rank .com domains more highly.

When a desired .com domain isn’t available (ie it’s already been registered buy someone else) a website owner may register the same name with a different extension, such as .net or .biz.

Companies who sell to customers residing exclusively in one country may also choose a country extension, such as .au or .co.uk, to affirm their ‘local’ status to a potential customer (see What is A Domain Extension? for a more in-depth look at extensions and their meanings).

How do I choose the best domain for my website?

While there is much debate about how to choose a good domain name, there are a few rules on which there is a general consensus. Choose a domain that is easily remembered, and try to keep it as short as possible. Subject your chosen domain to the ‘radio test’ – can you easily convey your domain name verbally, without spelling (or saying ‘hyphen’ too frequently!). If you can work in a keyword, all the better, but don’t compromise to fit one in. See How To Choose a Good Domain Name for more info.

Should I Register More Than One Domain?

If you’re really protective of your brand or business name, you may choose to register several different extensions, that is example.com, example.net, example.co.uk etc. The idea behind this is to protect your brand by preventing others (especially your competitors) registering these and cashing in on your success.

Another instance when registering multiple domains may be beneficial, is when you have a branded (ie none-descriptive) domain name, and you want to also register a descriptive domain for search engine optimization purposes. Your web designer might then publish your website to your brand domain, and ‘point’ the other, descriptive domain to the same site.

It definitely does not pay, however, to buy scores of domain names and point them all to the same site. Though a well-touted SEO practice years ago, this strategy will at best dilute your search rankings, and at worst get your website blacklisted.

How Much Should My Domain Cost?

An available .co.uk domain will generally cost between £5 and £20 per year, while a .com domain is usually more expensive – maybe £15-40 per year. Beware of ‘fly-by-night’ domain name suppliers, and VERY cheap offers. Your domain won’t cost the earth anyway, so better to spend a few extra pounds a year than be stuck with a dodgy or non-existent domain.