What is a domain name (and do I need one)?

what is a domain name

Every website starts with a domain name. But what is a domain name and how do you choose the right one for your business?

This post first appeared at the GoDaddy blog.

3 rules on finding the perfect domain name

There is a science to choosing domain names. Read on for the basics.

  1. Keep it short and easy-to-spell.
  2. Make it memorable.
  3. Use the right domain name extension.

Before we dive into our tips, we’ll answer the question “what is a domain name?” and talk about how they work.

What is a domain name?

The wonderful world of the internet is designed in a similar way to streets, cities and countries. Your domain name is your address on the internet, and it is how people find you. When you type a URL like Telstra.com.au or CommBank.com.au into your favourite browser, you are also typing in a domain name.

A domain name is different to your registered business name. It is your address online.

How domain names work

Each property on the internet has a unique address or domain name. Just as you won’t find two 1 Olympic Drives at Milsons Point NSW, you won’t find two identical domain names on the internet.

Domains are like street addresses, except they help locate your website, not your house.

In the brick-and-mortar world, there are land titles authorities in charge of registering and recording street names and real estate plots. In the online world, there are domain registries to keep track of the millions of domain names on the internet.

The main registry in Australia is .au Domain Administration Ltd. (auDA), and it maintains the record of all domain names that end with au. This is known as a country-code domain extension, and it is unique to Australia. There are many other registries around the world, each with slightly different rules and regulations.

Then there are registrars

When you want to choose and register a domain name, you need to use a registrar. In Australia, registrars are companies authorised by auDA to help people register, update or renew their domain names.

GoDaddy is one of the domain registrars officially certified by auDA. This means GoDaddy is officially compliant with the auDA Information Security Standard, so you can trust that they look after your private information.

And then there’s you. You are called the domain name registrant (just in case you haven’t had enough jargon yet).

How long does a domain registration last?

One big difference between the real world and the online world is that in the real world, you can buy your block of land. In the online world, you can only lease your virtual real estate for a time. Most domain names can be registered for periods from one to 10 years.

The main benefit of longer-term registration is that there is less for you to remember to do, so there is less likelihood that you forget to renew your registration. The last thing you want is to see your domain name lapse and then be sold on to another company. Especially if there’s a website associated with it.

Finding the perfect domain name: 3 rules

Choosing a great domain name for your website can be as challenging as naming your first-born child — if you come from a family of 20 brothers and sisters who all have families of their own.

Some of the best names have already been taken.

You can’t use the same domain name as someone else, so do a quick search first to see if the name you want is available or if it’s already been registered by someone else.

Ideally, you want your domain name and your social media business handles to echo your business name. If you’re not quite ready to point your domain name at a website, it’s easy to forward your domain to one of your business’s social media sites.

As you consider your options, keep the following rules in mind.

1. Keep it short and easy-to-spell

The longer the domain name, the more chance people will make spelling errors and end up anywhere other than your website. A couple of related points:

Keep it clean

Remember that there’s no space between words in a domain name. Watch that you don’t inadvertently turn your nice few words into something rude or anxiety-provoking — sydneytherapist.com.au or speedofart.com.au for example.

Don’t use hyphens, dashes or symbols

This means that Prince-type symbols are off the books. While it can be tempting to shove a hyphen in between words if a competitor has already registered the domain name you want, you will spend the rest of your life saying “hyphen” and watching your clients promptly forget and head off to your competitor.

Think twice about using your own name

Before you register your personal domain name for business use, know that this could be an issue if you ever get married or divorced. If you end up changing your name, you will need to change your site address, which could affect your website’s search ranking.

Avoid exact match keywords

About ten years ago, people tried to game Google by registering domain names that were just their keywords (e.g.melbournestilletoshoes.com.au). Google wised up in 2012 and now penalises exact match domains. Unless an exact match domain name is also your company name, don’t go for an exact match. That isn’t to say that you shouldn’t include one or two keywords, just don’t go for the overstuffed spammy version.

Resist the urge to be clever

Avoid creative or alternate spellings of names, and don’t include numbers in your domain names. M8s4m8s.com.au will only get people confused.

2. Make it memorable

The best domain names make people stop and want to know more.

Make your domain name easy-to-remember by matching your company name or brand name. That said, if you have a very long company name, try to avoid acronyms as it will be hard to remember. There are exceptions, like SMH.com.au, but this requires lots of media dollars.

It may take some time, but there are plenty of unforgettable domain names open to you. All you need to do is find them.

3. Use the right domain name extension

Getting the right domain name is the fun part, but you also need to choose the right domain name extension to go with your name.

While most people know of the .com and .com.au extensions, there are many more that you can choose from. You need to choose the right extension for your business and your goals.

  • .com is perfect if you are selling to a global audience, as it’s the most widely recognised extension in the world.
  • .com.au is a good choice if your clients are located mainly in Australia. It lets consumers searching for a local service provider know you’re in Australia. Using .com.au for your main domain name might also increase the likelihood of being returned in local searches.
  • .org.au is preferred by not-for-profit organisations, with the added advantage of showing you’re located in Australia.

For most small business owners, I recommend registering both the .com.au and the .com versions of your domain name just so you own the virtual real estate. Use the one that matches your geographic audience to build your site on.

New extensions – there are a raft of new extensions available on the market (e.g. .website, . xyz, .me, .shop, .news) Google has said that they are not weighting these extensions any more favourably than existing extensions, so only look at those options if they make sense for your brand.

For most small business owners, I recommend registering both the .com.au and the .com versions of the domain name just so you own the virtual real estate, and then using the one that matches your geographic audience as the one to build your site on.

In summary

If you want a website for your business, you need to register a domain name first through a domain name registrar. Choose a name that is unique, available and easy to remember, using either a domain name extension that reflects the geographic area where you will primarily be trading or an extension that matches your brand. Your domain name is a core piece of your business branding, so it pays to invest some time to get the perfect domain name for your business.

One more thing: Once it’s yours, be sure to record your domain name details — even if your web designer registers it for you. Your domain name is as valuable as a property title, so you need to make sure you can always access your registration.

About the Author

Ingrid Moyle

Ingrid Moyle is a small business web designer and copywriter. When not hardwired to her computer, she quests for the perfect decaf coffee while chasing virtual reality creatures across the backstreets of Brisbane.
Bowler hat with lightbulb.

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