domain-ideas

Introduction

Choosing the right domain name for your business website and e-mail communications takes careful consideration. A domain name is more than just an online address. It will become a vital component of your business identity.

This guide explains what a domain name is and what you need to consider when you are choosing one. It covers how to register, move and sell your domain name. It also defines some common jargon you may come across when you are registering your domain name or linking it to your website.

Glossary of terms

Registering a domain name is quick and easy to do, but you may come across some unfamiliar terms. Here are some basic definitions that you may find useful:

Domain name suffix: This is an alternative name for a domain name extension.

Domain name registrar: This is a company that provides domain name registration services. You can find a list of '.uk' registrars at: www.nominet.org.uk.

Internet service provider (ISP): An Internet service provider's main role is to provide access to the Internet. Many offer additional services.

WHOIS search: A WHOIS search provides information about a registered domain name. It tells you who owns the domain name, where and when it was registered, and when it is due to expire. It also identifies the servers assigned to the domain name. There are many websites that will let you perform a WHOIS search for free. Go to www.whois.sc, www.whois.net or www.dnsstuff.com for examples.

IP address: Every machine that connects to the Internet has a unique Internet Protocol address (IP address). This is a string of numbers separated by full stops. When you are asked to enter the IP address of your website, this refers to the IP address of the web server on which it is located. Your web service provider will provide you with this information.

URL: A uniform resource locator (URL) is the specific address of a website, web page or file on the Internet. It has the following format: 'http://www.yourbusinesswebsite.com/about'.

What is a domain name?

A domain name is basically an electronic address. It directs people to your website and forms an essential part of your e-mail address. Every domain name is unique.

When the Internet was first developed, the dotcom (.com) top-level domain was the only extension available to businesses. Now you can choose from many extensions, depending on the type of business you run and where you are base.

A typical website address has the following format: 'www.yourbusinesswebsite.com'. In this case, the domain name is 'yourbusinesswebsite.com'.

E-mail addresses also conform to a format: a name followed by a domain name, separated by '@'. For example, 'owner@yourbusinesswebsite.com'.

A domain name consists of the name you choose plus an extension (or suffix). Extensions normally have one or two parts, such as '.com' or '.co.uk'.

The Internet's domain name system (DNS) is organised into levels. The last part of the extension is called the 'top-level domain' or TLD. For example, '.com' and '.uk' are both top-level domains.

Some top-level domains, such as '.uk', are specific to particular countries. These are called country code top-level domains and are divided into sub-domains. For example, in the extension '.co.uk', '.co' is a sub-domain of '.uk' and is called a 'second-level domain'.

When the Internet was first developed, the dotcom (.com) top-level domain was the only extension available to businesses. Now you can choose from many extensions, depending on the type of business you run and where you are base.

How to choose a domain name

Choosing a domain name for your business is a key marketing decision. The name you select for your website and e-mail communications will quickly become associated with your brand

Choose a domain name based on your business name or create a name that relates directly to your business sector

You can choose a domain name based on your business name or you can create a name that relates directly to your business sector. If you are starting a new business, consider your domain name when you are deciding on your business name.

Ideally, your domain name should:

  • Reflect your business name or your brand.

  • Be unique to your business (at least in the location or sector you trade in).

  • Be simple and easy to remember.

  • Use short, descriptive words. For example, 'www.cleancars.co.uk' is more memorable than 'www.carvaleting.co.uk'.

If you need inspiration, think about the words people might use to search for your business online. Try entering them into Google, and see what alternative words are listed. You can also use a free keyword suggestion tool to give you ideas. Go to http://soovle.com and http://ubersuggest.org for examples.

You should also bear in mind the folllowing points:

  • Domain names cannot be more than 63 characters long. You can include letters and numbers, but you cannot use special characters such as @&%'?.
  • You can use hyphens within your domain name, but not at the beginning or the end.
  • Avoid hyphenating your domain name if you can. Customers tend to forget the hyphen and this can make your website harder to find.
  • Don't try to register a domain name that sounds similar to another business' name. Businesses protect their domain names just like any other intellectual property.

Choosing the right domain name extension

Next, you need to think about the extension you would like to use. This is an important decision, as the domain name extension says a lot about your business. There is now a great deal of choice. In addition to the standard short extensions, you can choose from a new range of generic top- level domains (gTLDs) that reflect your business, brand or location.

gTLDs are top-level domains that use a word rather than a two- or three-letter extension. For example, you can now register a domain name ending with a business-specific extension such as '.bike', '.clothing' or '.plumbing'

It is easy to find out if your ideal domain name is available online. Every domain name registrar should let you check your preferred domain name before you register.

New generic extensions, approved by the Internet domain name authority ICANN, are being released in stages. Many domain name registrars are inviting people to register their interest in advance of their release date. Go to www.iana.org for a current list of approved top-level domains.

Some new extensions reflect your location, rather than your industry or brand. Nominet, the organisation responsible for managing the '.uk' domain space, has launched a simple '.uk' extension, as an alternative to '.co.uk'. This will be available to register from 10 June 2014. Businesses who have registered a '.co.uk' address before this date will get the first right to register the equivalent '.uk' domain name. Go to dotuklaunch.co.uk for further information.

You can still continue to register the more established extensions, such as those listed below:

  • .com (which stands for commerce) is usually associated with businesses and is the most common domain name.
  • .co.uk is ideal when you want to show that you are a UK-based business.
  • .org.uk or .org is usually used by non-commercial organisations such as charities.
  • .biz is a top-level extension for business users.
  • .net can be used by any business.
  • .info is another extension than can be registered by any business.
  • .mobi is an extension for websites that are specially designed to be accessed by smartphones and mobile devices.

Some extensions are restricted to certain types of business, for example

  • .ltd.com is restricted to limited companies registered in the UK.
  • .plc.uk is restricted to public limited companies registered in the UK.
  • .pro is restricted to professionals such as registered lawyers, accountants, doctors and engineers.
  • .coop can only be used by co-operatives.

How to check if a domain name is available

It is easy to find out if your ideal domain name is available online. Every domain name registrar should let you check your preferred domain name before you register. You can normally enter your selection into a search box to get a list of extensions that are currently available. Go to www.ukreg.com and www.domaincheck.co.uk for examples.

If your preferred domain name is unavailable, you can do a WHOIS search to find out who currently owns it, and check the date when their ownership expires. Several websites offer this facility. Go to www.whois.sc or www.whois.net for examples. Potentially, you could make an offer to buy the domain name from its current owner via a domain name marketplace such as www.sedo.com. However, it may be simpler and cheaper to choose a different domain name.

Download our full factsheet, which provides more information and guidance, including how to register a domain name and sources of further information.