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Domain names are the foundation of every website
If you’ve been a long-time internet user and have considered setting up your website, you have probably heard the term “domain name.”
Domain names are an essential part of any website. Like the addresses that point couriers to your residence, they are the addresses that point your potential customer base to your site. If you’re serious about setting up your website, you must first gain a basic understanding of what domain names are and how they work.
Today, we’re going to take a deep dive into the ins and outs of domain names and answer the most commonly asked questions regarding the subject. Check it out below.
What Is a Domain Name?
The term “domain name” is synonymous with the word “website name.” It is an address that points internet users to your specific space on the world wide web. It is used for finding and identifying computers on the internet, as all websites are stored on computers more commonly known as “servers.” These servers use a string of numbers called “IP addresses” to identify themselves. However, it would probably be inconvenient to have to type a long series of numbers just to access a website such as Google. Thus, domain names were born.
Nowadays, accessing websites via domain names has become the norm. Everyone types in Google.com to access Google, rather than a string of numbers such as 192.168.0.1
A domain name can be any combination of letters and numbers, in conjunction with any of the various domain extensions, such as .com, .net, .org, etc. Special symbols, however, cannot be used.
Before a domain name can be used, it must first be registered. Registration makes sure that every domain name is unique and that no two websites can share the same name. That would be like you and your neighbor sharing the same address! When someone types your domain name in their web browser, they will be redirected to your website and no one else’s.
What Are the Parts of a Domain Name?
Domain names operate on multiple levels. They include a top-level and a second-level domain.
Let’s use thedomainpromoter.com as an example.
The letters to the left of the dot are referred to as the second-level domain. It is the identity of your website. In our case, the second-level domain is “thedomainpromoter.”
On the other side of the dot is the top-level domain or TLD. The top-level domain; in our case, it’s .com, which is one of the most common top-level domains. Other top-level domains include .net, .org, .club, etc.
To fully understand how domain names work, we need to take a look behind the scenes. The moment you enter a domain name in your web browser, a series of processes take place.
First, your web browser sends a request to a global network of servers that collectively form the Domain Name System or DNS. Next, these servers check their records to find the server associated with the domain and forward your computer’s request to those servers. Once the correct server has been located, the DNS transmits the information back to your web browser, and you get to view the website you were looking for.
If you’re interested to learn more about domain names or are still hesitant about investing in one, check out our article on why domain names are essential here.
Domain Name? Website? URL?
As you take the leap to set up your online website, you’ll be seeing several terms closely related to but vastly different from the word “domain name.” Simply put, a domain name, website, and URL are not the same thing. They are, however, easy to explain. Let’s take a look at how they differ.
We’ve already discussed what a domain name is. To recap, it is simply the name of a website. If someone asks you what to type in to access a specific site, they’re usually asking for a domain name.
A URL, also known as a Universal Resource Locator, is a complete web address used by web browsers to access a specific web page. URL’s are not the same as domain names. Every URL, however, must contain a domain name. Confusing? Let’s look at a few examples:
Notice how domain names differ from URLs? A domain name is the title of the website, but a URL leads to any one of the pages within the website. For example, wikipedia.org is a domain name. A related URL is https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/umami. This does not only point to Wikipedia but a specific page on Wikipedia about umami.
Although a domain name can lead to a website, that does not mean that it always will. Buying one does not necessarily mean you have a website for it to redirect to. It can be the name of your website, a URL is what people type to find a specific page on your website, and a website is your space on the internet. In other words, buying a domain name means purchasing the name for your website. However, you’ll still need to build the actual site.
Who Oversees the DNS?
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) operates the DNS. It is a non-profit organization responsible for creating and implementing policies surrounding domain names.
The ICANN can authorize companies known as registrars to sell domain names. These registrars can edit or add new domain entries to the registry on your behalf.
Free vs. Paid Domain Names
If you’d like to get a website up and running without paying a fee, you can obtain free domain names from various website builders such as WordPress, Wix, Squarespace, Weebly, etc.
Beware, however, that these website builders give you sub-domains. If we were to register using a free sub-domain, our domains would look something like this:
If you just wish to dip your toes with making a website, maybe a free sub-domain will work for you. More often than not, however, it’s always better to invest in a proper domain. There are two main reasons why working with sub-domains is not optimal:
- You do not own the sub-domain. Although the domain is free to use, you have no ownership over it. The website builder wholly owns the domain name. If for whatever reason, you choose to migrate to a different website building service, you cannot bring your sub-domain with you.
- A sub-domain name serves as an extension of the website builder’s domain. As we’ve seen in our examples, the name of the service provider will be part of the domain; thedomainpromoter.com sounds far more professional than thedomainpromoter.weebly.com.
With that said, we recommend investing in a domain name, allowing you to have full ownership over it. Paid domain names are also immensely beneficial to your marketing and branding efforts.
How to Obtain a Domain Name
By now, you should be ready to take the leap and purchase your very own domain name. Whether or not you have a website already up and running, a good domain name registrar such as Namecheap can help you out.
- Choosing: When a customer sees your domain name, he or she should know immediately what kind of website he will be led to. For more information on choosing domain names, check out the posts on thedomainpromoter.com.
- Purchasing: Buying a domain name is easy. Namecheap will allow you to register for any available domain name. If the domain name you want isn’t available, Namecheap will show you other alternatives that will work for you.
- Parking your domain. Even though your website is still under construction, you can still reserve a name. Namecheap allows you to put up a “parking” page letting everyone know that the domain name is yours.
Domain names are perhaps one of the most commonly encountered aspects of the internet. We encounter them every day as we surf the web. Despite this, we take their functionality and convenience for granted. Perhaps, domain names serve their function so well and do not cause any trouble for us, that we tend to overlook them.
A good domain name works in your favor and helps drive traffic to your website. At this point, you have all the knowledge required to choose and purchase the right name for your website. Good luck!
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