What’s a domain name and how to choose one for your website

What’s in a name? Everything. “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”. William Shakespeare in his romantic play Romeo and Juliet seems to disagree. But not when you are playing on the internet.

Unless you are using an App on Android or iOS platforms, everything on the internet has a domain name. This is your address that users are going to type in their web browsers to access your website or web App. Great internet companies have thought hard about their their domain names and even paid up millions to have them. Facebook for instance was called thefacebook.com before it purchased facebook.com for about $200,000 and $2 million dollars for fb.com.

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So how do you choose the right domain name for your website? It’s an art.

Start with your Brand name

Chances are that you already have an offline business or organization that you wish to give an online presence via a website. Your business already has a name, right? If that’s the case, then choosing a domain name might be a nobrainer. It’s just youroganisation.com, no? What’s the .com about and what about .net, .org, or .eu, .ug. .ng, .ke?

What’s in a domain name?

Domain name has two parts; the name and the extension. It’s a bit similar to how we name file names. For instance, I could name an MS Word file for a draft document draft.docx. The first part is the file name, and the second part if the file extension. Domain names follow similar syntax.

For a domain name like dignited.com, the extension .com is called a Top-Level Domain(TLD) and its administered by Domain registry under the watch of ICANN(Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers ).

Dot com is the most popular TLD, but there are others like .org for organizations, .info for informational sites, .biz for businesses. For domains that designate countries, ICANN created country code top-level domains (ccTLDs) such as .ug for Uganda, .ke for Kenya, .ng for Nigeria and so forth.

Whether you want to go with TLDs or ccTLDs is a rational decision you have to make. TLDs are global and in high demand. As a result, there are already exhausted while ccTLDs are still very much in plenty. Also if you want your visitors to tell your country of origin by name, then you want to use a ccTLD instead of TLDs.

The second part read from the right “dignited” is a name that we choose to represent our brand name online. It must be unique across the entire internet so that it’s identifiable by computers connecting to the web.

These domain names are used to represent numeric addresses or IPs of servers on the internet.

Brand name and domain name

So the name and TLD combined make up a domain name. These domain names are freely available on the open market and they are served on first come, first serve basis. They have nothing to do with your brand name or trademark — sort of. It’s therefore possible to have someone else having registered a domain name that bares similarity with your brand or trade mark.

To protect their trademarks, big companies register as many domain names baring their brand name or trademark as possible.

WHOIS

WhoIS is a database of domain names across the web. This information is supplied by WHOIS servers which are run and maintained by various registries. Before registering a domain name, you probably want to use a whois service to query for the availability of a domain name.

Most registrars already have this service, but you can use third parties like https://whois.net, https://www.whois.com, whois.domaintools.com, https://whois.icann.org/en, https://domainr.com, whois.co.ug.

How do you choose a great domain name?

As we mentioned earlier, your domain name can be similar to your organisation name or trade mark. But there’s no guarantee that’s someone else hasn’t legally registered it. If it hasn’t been taken up, you are lucky. If it has, then you have to get very creative.

Related post: That African name you endlessly shun may be worth millions online

Here are the dos and don’t of registering a domain name.

  • Use a short memorable name. safedrinkingwaterfortheplanet.com doesn’t cut it. Perhaps safewater.com will do, but chances are it’s already taken. So you might want to go with ccTLD like safewater.co.ug or whatever country ccTLD you like to be associated with. If you feel you really want a domain which has already been taken, then you can use services of domain brokers in domain aftermarkets. But be ready to remit a lot of money.
  • Don’t use hyphen. Do not use the – sign like safe-water.com. Just don’t. People will often forget it or mistype it and they will end up in a wrong website resulting in loss of traffic or revenue for you.
  • Avoid names with double meanings. Domain names are usually case insensitive and don’t have spaces. Take for instance the website Experts Exchange, a programmer’s discussion site. At first they registered expertsexchange.com. It can easily be read as expert-sex-change if you are not familiar with the site. So the owners were forced to add a hyphen like experts-exchange.com.
  • Consider brandable names. These names have no specific meaning attached to name e.g google or yahoo. It can turn into recognizable brands. But make it unique, short, easy to pronounce. Would dignited.com pass as brandable?
  • Avoid trademark infringement. You are free to register coke.co.ug but you stand a chance of losing it to Coke Cola if they came after you in court.

Getting a domain name can be a headache. You can use online services like  NameMesh, DomainWheel, Bust a Name which will help you generate or suggest ideas on the right domain name for you. When are you ready to register your new domain name, check out places like Name.comGoogle DomainsNameCheap, and eNom for TLDs and for African-specific ccTLDs, check out http://www.afridns.org/ for an aggregated list of African domain names and registries.

Once you get the perfect domain name, you want to make sure no body takes it away from you. Domains expire and you might miss out on the expiry email from the registrar. Sign up for domain monitoring and protection using Site Monki for free.

Image: Pixabay