What is a domain name?

Domain names
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If you’re wondering what makes websites extraordinary and easily accessible on the internet, you’re at the right spot. Here’s a hint, it all starts with something called a domain name. Even if you're a newcomer in the world of sites and online presence, understanding domain names is an essential step toward establishing your own online identity.

So, what exactly is a domain name? Imagine it as the digital address of your site, the way people locate and visit it in the vast online world. Just like your home address helps others find your physical location, a domain name guides internet users to your site - that’s why having a simple and memorable domain name goes a long way.

For instance, if you're thinking about starting a blog about travel adventures, your domain name could be something like “travelbug.com”, "adventurewanderlust.com" or “wanderlustking”. Not only it reflects the theme of your site but also makes it easier for others to remember and find it. 

Besides a virtual address, a domain name also acts as a brand for your online presence. It represents your unique identity and can leave a lasting impression on visitors. So, choosing the right domain name is critical for creating a strong online presence.

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let's delve deeper into the world of domain names, find out how they work, and how to choose the right one. 

Domain name vs URL: What’s the difference? 

Have you ever caught yourself using the terms "domain name" and "URL" interchangeably? If yes, you're not alone. Many people mix up these two concepts, but it's important to understand the difference between them. So, let’s clear up the confusion.

A domain name is the unique and human-readable address of a site. It's part of the web address that people type into their browsers to visit a specific site - let’s say "google.com". So, a domain name serves as a site's unique identifier and plays an important role in establishing its identity and branding.

On the other hand, a URL (short for uniform resource locator) is the complete address that specifies the exact location of a specific webpage or resource on the internet. It consists of multiple parts, including the protocol (such as "http://"), the domain name (like "google.com"), and any additional path or parameters that define the specific webpage or resource (such as "/blog").

In a nutshell, a domain name is a subset of a URL. While a domain name is a memorable and unique address that identifies a site, a URL is a complete address that includes the protocol, domain name, and additional details.

Now that we've clarified the difference between domain names and URLs, let's explain how a domain name works.

female hand typing on laptop, internet extensions flying

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How do domain names work?

As soon as you enter a domain name in your web browser, a series of behind-the-scenes actions begin. It all starts with the domain name system (DNS), which acts as the internet's address book. When you type a domain name like " google.com," the DNS translates it into a unique IP address, which is a series of numbers and dots (something like “”) that identifies a specific web server.

This translation from a domain name to an IP address allows your browser to locate the correct web server and retrieve the site's content. It's a bit like looking up a contact in your address book to find a phone number and connect with them.

The DNS system is hierarchical, with different levels of authority responsible for managing specific domains. At the top of the hierarchy are the root servers, which store information about the major top-level domains (TLDs) like ".com," ".org," or ".net." When you enter a domain name, your request is routed through various DNS servers until it reaches the appropriate authoritative server for that domain.

To sum it up, domain names simplify the process of accessing sites by providing a human-readable and memorable address. The DNS system translates these domain names into the corresponding IP addresses, ensuring that your browser connects to the right web server.

Now, it’s time to explore different types of domain names.

What are the different types of domain names? 

Each of these domain name types comes with its unique characteristics (pros and cons included), so it’s important to figure out which one is best suited for your site.

Top-level domains (TLDs) are the highest level of domain names in the hierarchy. They come in two main categories: generic top-level domains (gTLDs) and country code top-level domains (ccTLDs). Some examples of gTLDs include ".com," ".org," and ".net," while ccTLDs represent specific countries, like ".uk" for the United Kingdom.

gTLDs are not specific to any country or region and are often used for a variety of purposes. They can range from industry-specific extensions like ".tech" or ".edu" to generic ones like ".store" or ".blog."

Meanwhile, ccTLDs are associated with specific countries or regions. This means they can help you localize your site and indicate its geographical relevance, which can be beneficial for businesses targeting specific regions or audiences.

Lastly, exotic domains refer to unique or specialized domain extensions that go beyond the traditional TLDs. They can include extensions like ".pizza," ".photography," or ".guru." While they aren’t as popular as traditional TDLs, they can make your site more unique and create an original branding opportunity for specific niches.

If you’re wondering which domain name is best for your site, consider your target audience, the purpose of your site, and your branding goals. For global or general sites, it’s best to stick to gTLDs like ".com" as most visitors find them familiar. On the other hand, if you're targeting a specific country, ccTLDs can help build local credibility. Meanwhile, exotic domains are fit for unique branding and niche-specific sites.

Finger Presses Orange Button Domain Name Registration on Black Keyboard Background. Closeup View

(Image credit: Shutterstock/ESB Professional)

What is a domain registrar and what are its responsibilities? 

To put it simply, a domain registrar is a company responsible for managing the registration of domain names. When you want to claim a specific domain name for your site, you can go through a domain registrar to officially register it. So, they act as the intermediary between you and the governing bodies that oversee domain names. 

The responsibilities of a domain registrar include facilitating the registration process, ensuring the availability of domain names, maintaining accurate records of registrations, and handling the technical aspects of domain management (such as DNS configuration and domain transfers).

Also, the best domain registrars maintain accurate records of registrations, keeping track of important details such as registration dates, expiration dates, and ownership information. The aim is to ensure the transparency and integrity of the domain registration system.

So, a domain registrar is a go-to solution for securing and managing a domain name.

What are subdomains and parked domains? 

In addition to the classification of domain names we’ve covered above, there are also two types of domain names you’ve probably heard about - subdomains and parked domains. 

Subdomains act as an extension of your main domain name and allow you to create separate sections or subsections within your site. For instance, if a main domain is "google.com," a subdomain could be something like "blog.google.com" for a blog section or "shop.google.com" for an online store. This way, subdomains can help you organize and categorize your content, making it easier for visitors to navigate your site.

At the same time, parked domains describe domain names that are registered but not actively used for a site. At the bottom, they’re placeholders that can be used to reserve a domain for future use or to redirect visitors to another site. This makes them particularly useful for businesses that want to protect their brand.

Both subdomains and parked domains add flexibility and alternative options for making and managing your online presence. While subdomains can help you structure your site, parked domains can serve as placeholders or redirect tools.

How to choose the right domain name? 

Before buying a domain name, you’ll want to do some brainstorming and research potential domain names that match your site's mission. Remember, you can’t change your domain name once it’s registered. So, you should consider carefully what to call it. 

Here are the top five tips to guide you in choosing the right domain name:

1. Keep it simple and easy to memorize

Opt for a domain name that is easy to remember and pronounce. Short and straight-to-the-point names tend to stick in people's minds and are more likely to be remembered and revisited.

2. Avoid confusing spelling, hyphens, and numbers

Steer clear of confusing spelling, hyphens, or the use of numbers that may create ambiguity or make it difficult for your audience to remember or type your domain name accurately. To avoid any confusion, stick to clear and straightforward word choices that are simple to type and comprehend.

3. Think about the extension

Select a TLD (such as “.com”, “.org”, or “.net”) that aligns with your site's purpose. Also, while “.com” is widely recognized and considered trustworthy, most of the top names have already been claimed by the competition. So, consider other extensions that are suitable for your specific industry or target market.

4. Make sure it reflects your brand

Ideally, your domain name should be a reflection of your brand identity. That’s why you’ll want to incorporate relevant keywords or your brand name and create a strong connection with your target audience.

5. Carry out trademark research

Before picking out your domain name, take time to perform a search and ensure it doesn't infringe on any existing trademarks. This step helps protect your brand and avoids legal complications.

Also, it’s smart to make sure your chosen domain isn’t registered on social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

How to buy a domain name?

Fortunately, buying a domain name is simpler than choosing one - this straightforward process that can be done in a couple of steps. Here's a short guide on how to purchase your domain name:

1. Choose a reliable domain registrar

Select a reputable domain registrar to facilitate the registration process. Some of the popular registrars include GoDaddy, Namecheap, and Google Domains.

2. Check domain name availability

To check if your desired domain name is available, use the registrar's search tool - it’s as simple as entering a domain name and hitting the Enter button. If the name is already taken, consider alternative suggestions or try using a different domain extension.

3. Select the domain name

Once you find an available domain name that meets your needs, add it to your cart.

4. Provide information 

Enter the necessary details, including your contact information, payment method, and any additional services you may require, such as privacy protection or web hosting.

5. Complete the purchase

After you review your order details, go ahead and finalize the purchase by making the payment. That’s it, you’ve bought a domain name. 

Alternatively, you can purchase a domain name on domain marketplaces where individuals sell their registered domains or by contacting a domain broker who can assist you in acquiring a domain name from its current owner.

Red flags to look for when buying a domain name 

When picking out and purchasing a domain name, it's important to stay vigilant and aware of potential red flags that could indicate issues or complications down the road. Here are a few key red flags to watch out for:

1. Suspiciously small price

Be cautious of domains being sold at significantly lower prices than their average market value. Such offers may suggest the domain has a poor reputation, legal complications, or hidden issues.

2. Shady seller or marketplace

If the seller or marketplace lacks credibility or has a history of fraudulent activities, it's wise to be extra careful and avoid it. So, research the reputation and reviews of the seller or platform before proceeding with the purchase.

3. Incomplete or inaccurate documentation

To stay on the safe side, ensure that all essential documentation (such as ownership records and transfer authorization) is provided accurately and in full. Incomplete or sketchy documentation can lead to complications during the transfer process.

4. Expired or near-expiration domains

Check the expiration date of the domain you plan to purchase. If it's close to expiring or has already expired, it may require extra work and fees to recover or renew the domain.

5. Trademark or legal issues

Conduct thorough research to confirm that the domain name you're interested in does not infringe on any existing trademarks. If you don’t, you could end up with legal complications or even lose your domain.

By staying alert to these red flags, you can minimize the risks associated with purchasing a domain name and securing a smoother and more secure transaction.

What is an SSL certificate and why do you need it? 

A secure socket layer (or SSL) is a digital certificate that encrypts the connection between a site and its visitors. It makes sure that data transmitted between the user's browser and the site remains secure and private.

If you’re still wondering why you need an SSL certificate, we’ll give you a couple of reasons. First and foremost, it protects sensitive information (such as login credentials and credit card details) from being intercepted by malicious actors.

Additionally, having an SSL certificate boosts your site's credibility. It displays a padlock icon in the browser's address bar, indicating a secure connection. This visual cue creates trust with visitors and assures them that their data is safe.

Moreover, SSL certificates are now a critical ranking factor for search engines such as Google, which means that sites backed by SSL enjoy a slight ranking boost, improving their visibility in search results.

What is domain privacy protection? 

When you purchase a domain, your personal information (including your name, address, email, and phone number) is required to be listed in the public WHOIS database. Here is where domain privacy protection comes into play. 

It protects your personal information from prying eyes by replacing it with the registrar's contact information. This way, your sensitive data remains hidden from spammers, identity thieves, and other malicious actors. So, you can safeguard yourself from unsolicited emails, unwanted solicitations, and potential privacy breaches.

It's also worth noting that some domain extensions require domain owners to provide accurate contact information, so domain privacy protection may not be available for all domains.

Final thoughts on domain names

That’s it, now you have a solid understanding of what a domain name is and its significance in building a beautiful online presence.

Before we conclude, here are a few key takeaways to keep in mind as you embark on your domain name journey.

1. Opt for an official, reputable domain registrar

When choosing a domain name, it's recommended to go through an official registrar rather than relying on free domain services. This ensures a smoother and more reliable registration process.

2. Choose your domain wisely

Opting for a catchy and simple-to-spell domain name is crucial for your site’s success. So, take time to brainstorm and search for a name that closely represents your brand or site and resonates with your audience.

3. Consider multiple TLDs

To protect your brand and prevent cybersquatting or scams, consider purchasing different domain extensions or variations of your domain name. This can also help maintain your online identity and prevents confusion among visitors.

4. Welcome SSL certificates

If your site collects sensitive information or handles online transactions (as most sites do), installing an SSL certificate is a must. 

It encrypts data transmission, strengthens security, and inspires trust in your visitors.

5. Prioritize privacy

Look for a domain hosting provider that offers privacy features to protect your personal information from being publicly available in WHOIS databases. This will keep you from unasked communications and potential privacy breaches. 

By keeping these tips in mind, you'll be armed with the knowledge to make wise decisions and pave the way for a prosperous online presence with your domain name.

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Mirza Bahic is a freelance tech journalist and blogger from Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. For the past four years, Mirza has been ghostwriting for a number of tech start-ups from various industries, including cloud, retail and B2B technology.