Perhaps one of the most common questions people ask when they think about building a website is how to register a domain name and setup their website. When it comes to the evolution of domains, there is a ton of choice these days compared to 10 years ago, with hundreds of extensions (we’ll get to that) available to choose from. In this guide, I’ll walk you through how to find the perfect domain, where to register it and how to ensure you’re getting the best deal since all domains are priced on a yearly basis.
If you already have a domain name in mind and want to skip the lengthy guide below, I highly recommend using GoDaddy to register your domain since they offer tons of options and good prices.
In a nutshell, the process for getting a domain is very simple and can be completed in 4 steps:
- Use a search tool (this one is the best) and find an available name
- Head over to your preferred registrar and create an account
- Select the number of years to register for, and any additional items (like privacy)
- Pay for the domain and voila – it’s all yours – you are ready to take on the world
The process above can be completed in a few minutes once you’re used to it, but it gets a lot more complicated if you’re looking for a specific domain name or extension, as I’ve explained below.
Choosing a domain is fun, until you realize that most of them are taken
When it comes to looking for a domain name, it probably helps to think of them as digital plots of land, in the sense that almost all of the prime real estate is already owned by someone else. Unless you happened to be a savvy digital entrepreneur in the late 1990’s (if so why are you reading this), then chances are if you are looking for a generic name (think diamonds.com) it’s not going to be available.
That being said, there are still hundreds of thousands of domain names available to be registered, it just requires a little creativity and flexibility on your name, assuming you want to buy it directly from a registrar and not pay out your nose negotiating with someone that already owns the name.
Perhaps one of the most interesting things about the domain market is that domains are only owned by someone for the period of time that they continue paying for them, and each and everyday, thousands of domains expire when their current owners don’t renew them. Using places like GoDaddy’s auctions, you can actually find some really well-priced high quality names by scouring the auction listings.
I personally love this method of finding a domain related to the niche you are looking for, since in some cases you can find absolute gems that used to be very well built websites that you can revitalize under your own vision. Just be aware that domain auctions can get very competitive and expensive for great names, so you’ll want to set a budget before you start looking, as it’s always tempting to outbid others.
Anyways, let’s assume that you are not looking to negotiate with a current domain owner nor do you want to comb through auction listings until your eyes are sore. In this case, you are looking for a currently available domain that you will pay anywhere from $1.99 to $14.99 per year for, depending on which domain registrar you end up going with and what deals are available.
There are a bunch of ways to search for domains, in fact, each site that sells them offer a feature that browses all the extensions to let you know if they are available, but honestly – the tools they offer suck!
I have been using this site for years and it’s a genius free service that lets you check dozens of domain extensions in real-time to see if they are available or for sale (I have no affiliation with them). It’s seriously a great product and I wish I had thought of it myself – I have used it hundreds of time to search for domains.
Using the their tool, you can quickly and easily check your different ideas and find an extension that works for you – and trust me these days there are a ton of extensions, as I’m about to explain.
Dot Huh? What’s with all these different domain endings?
Up until about 5-7 years ago there was a pretty generic set of domain endings (we call them extensions) available – I’m sure you’ve all heard of the .com, .net and .org extensions, and probably also .edu – from your days checking your email late at night from the Harvard library, whilst brushing up on your 14th century history, and eating a two day old slice of pizza.
Although this was the case for many years, in recent times there has literally been an explosion of extensions ranging from everything from .vegas, to .law, .reviews and so on. What this means is it’s pretty easy these days to find the available name you want, provided you are open to any extension (keep in mind, a lot of these “exotic” domain extensions are a bit of a rip off price wise).
I’m pretty old school and prefer using one of the original big 3 (.com, .net or .org) but there are lots of successful sites using new domain extensions, in particular .co, which is actually the extension for Colombia, but is used by many companies from around the world. In the end, it’s really up to you which extension you end up going with, and while there has been some debate on both SEO and general marketing ability with non-traditional domain extensions, they are becoming increasingly common.
Does it really matter what name you choose? Is it important to pick a “good” name when getting started?
First and foremost, “good” when it comes to domains is a highly subjective term. It could mean domain length, age, history, extension or any number of metrics that will vary from person to person. That being said, there are some things to keep in mind when choosing a domain name in your niche, that will maximize your chances for success, so as a best practice I recommend the following during selection:
- Try to stick with one of the original domain extensions – (.com/.net/.org) since they are the most globally recognized and trusted with consumers (this is changing, but is going to take a while)
- Avoid domain names that have unnecessary numbers or slashes – (for example omg273662.com or this-is-a-cool-website.org) as these have traditionally been used for spam and may have a harder time ranking in search due to that fact
- Decide whether you want to be obvious or build a brand – meaning if you are making a site about selling shoes, you could go the route of “bestshoes.com” or “footwell.com” – either is fine, but it makes sense to decide based on your business model which route makes sense for you
- Check the history of a domain before you buy it – there is a free tool called the WayBack Machine that lets you see historic snapshots of a domain name. Use this to make sure that it was never used for spam or anything illegal as the domain could have a bad reputation. Note this tool only works if there was a site on it previously, if not you have nothing to worry about.
- Examine the SEO metrics of the domain – there is a great tool called SEM Rush (paid service) that let’s you analyze all the links pointing to a domain as well as its’ strength that can be excellent to use before buying anything to see how powerful a domain name is. It’s also a great tool to use once you’ve built your website to monitor your progress, as I’ve wrote about in my guide on how to rank your website in Google, Bing and the other popular search engines.
Who are some of the best, cheapest and most reliable domain registrars these days?
At its core, the business of registering domains for people is pretty basic, and because of that there aren’t a lot of differentiating factors amongst domain registrars beyond basic services and price. As long as the registrar offers fair prices, domain privacy and doesn’t charge an exorbitant amount to register, you don’t really have anything to worry about. Based on my 12 years working online, I recommend:
- Name Cheap
The privacy debate – should you pay for private registration information or not?
You may not know this, but every domain has registrant information attached to it that is publicly available through a WHOIS service, whereby anyone can look up who owns a domain. This is useful for both transparency as well as contacting owners if you want to buy their domain, but it also has a downside in the form of potential spam and of course, people knowing what you own.
Because of this, all the domain registrars offer to protect this information for a fee, which basically makes who owns the name private and provides an anonymous email address if people wanted to contact you. Personally, I use domain privacy on all my sites simply because I don’t think everyone needs to know what I work on, own and what my address is.
That being said, it’s really a personal choice for you, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with leaving your information publicly available. The cost for private registration varies wildly from place to place, I’ve seen it as cheap as $2.99 a year and up to $15-$20 a year (I think they make a killing on this service). I’ve also been told it’s also possible to find free privacy, but to date I haven’t found someone reliable who offers it, and my personal choice is to pay a nominal fee to protect my privacy and have piece of mind.