What’s My Domain Name?

This will be the first of several posts I plan to do on the topic of domain names. I thought it best to first understand what a domain name is before going into the economics of domain names in later posts. To find a starting point for discussion, I simply googled the word “name”. On the second page of the search results I found a site called “What’s My Pirate Name?” (http://www.piratequiz.com/) which purports to scientifically determine your pirate name based on your responses to twenty questions. As peculiar as it sounds, determining your company’s domain name often follows a similar process. You need to ask important questions to determine the best domain name that is right for your company. What follows are some questions and answers about domain names in general.

What Is a Domain Name?

A domain name is a unique name that identifies an Internet Protocol (IP) address on the Internet. IP addresses are numerical addresses that computers use to identify each other. IP addresses, however, are not easy for people to remember, so we use a system of domain names. These domain names help identify us in cyberspace to friends and businesses when we send email or help us find businesses on the Net when we do searches for information or buy products. In the early days of the WWW, the choice of domain name could often make or break an online business. Today, sound business and economic principles are largely responsible for the success or failure of an online business. But a good domain name can help or hinder that process.

Domain names have two essential parts: the top-level domain (TLD) and the second-level domain (SLD). The TLD is the part of the domain name that is to the right of the “.”. The most common TLD is .com. As of July 21, 2008, there were 76,392,628 .com names active. This number changes every day as new .coms are added, deleted and transferred. To see the current count to the day, check http://www.domaintools.com/internet-statistics/. This site also shows the domain count of other common generic TLDs such as .net, .org, and .info.

The SLD portion of a domain name is the part of the domain name to the left of the “.”. This is the part that you wisely choose to represent your organization or business. Anything to the left of the SLD (separated by one or more .’s) is a subdomain. The “www” used in domain names is really just a third level subdomain that is usually not a necessary part of the domain name. A domain name can have up to 127 subdomains. (Bain, 2000)

Why Is the Choice of Domain Name Important?

There are many reasons why a domain name is important. Think of your domain name as an investment. It is an essential piece of cyber real estate where the same mantra of location, location, location applies in reference to search results. You want to choose a domain name that separates you from the competition – one that sets you above the competition. For that reason, you should try your best to obtain the appropriate .com address. (I recommend the .com TLD because it is the most familiar and customers will likely check it before looking at any others.) You want to choose a name that is short, easy to remember, has few, if any, hyphens or numbers, and that best represents your organization. Typically your domain name will include your brand name.

Building brand recognition for your domain name is important. Most generic SLDs of one or two words have been taken, so you will have to be creative. Shorter domain names are easy to remember, but they may not always make sense. If numbers or hyphens are included in the domain name, then customers will have difficulty reciting the address to others. This confusion may lead customers to other sites with similar names or lose them altogether when they are unable to find your site. However, longer names do have benefits – for example, when someone knows only your company name they may type it in the address line in the form of a URL. You can have a domain name that has up to 64 characters; however, you should consider the idea that most URLs have accompanying email addresses. Long domain names mean even longer email addresses. It’s like having a long street name and has many similar cyber complications (e.g., the address may not fit in the box on a form as an email address).

How Is a Domain Name Chosen?

For the reasons listed above, choosing a domain name is somewhat of a scientific process. You have to ask the important questions. What is my company’s name? Have I sufficiently built the brand name? Can I describe it in a few short words? Can I incorporate keywords into my domain name? Has the domain name that I have chosen already been trademarked by someone in a similar business? If someone mistypes in my URL, where will it take them? I have listed several sites and tools below that may help with these types of questions.

When Should a Domain Name Be Purchased?

A domain name should be purchased sooner rather than later. Domain names are so cheap (usually $6.99 - $35.00 per year) and have so much value to your business that they should be purchased as soon as they are conceived as an idea. Buy the domain name across TLDs to protect your investment. You might even consider buying common misspellings to keep typosquatters* from taking advantage of your good name.

Where Can Domain Names Be Purchased?

Once you have decided on a domain name, you will register it with a registrar (For a complete list of accredited registrars see http://www.icann.org/registrars/accredited-list.html). A registrar has the ability to register your domain name in the global registry maintained and overseen by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). Your name will be unique and no one else in the world can register it. However, many SLDs are registered across different TLDs – i.e., economicsofsellingonline.com can only be registered to me as long as I continue to renew it; however, the only way I can prevent others from purchasing economicsofsellingonline.net or economicsofsellingonline.org, etc. is to buy them myself.

Who Can Purchase Domain Names?

TLDs are generally classified as generic or specific. Generic TLDs are unreserved meaning that anyone can register them. Current generic TLDs include: .com, .net, .info, .org, and .biz. Businesses may also buy domain names that identify them by country using ccTLDs (for example, .us, .uk, .de, .au, and so forth). Specific TLDs are reserved for specific groups or industries. Specific TLDs are just that – specific to a purpose and limited as to who can register them. Examples include: .tv (entertainment), .gov (government), .mobi (mobile phone access), .edu (education), .museum (museums), .name (personal names), .int (international organizations established by intergovernmental agreements), .coop (cooperatives), .aero (aviation), .mil (military), .travel (travel), and .jobs (job search).

At the time of this writing, however, ICANN policy for assigning domain names is undergoing a major change. I will post on this at a later time.

*typosquatters – individuals who buy common misspellings of popular domain names in order to profit from consumers who are directed there by accidently typing errors in address lines of browsers.

Other readings:

M. Brain. “How Domain Name Servers Work.” 01 April 2000. HowStuffWorks.com. <http://computer.howstuffworks.com/dns.htm> 01 June 2008

Erik J. Heels, Domain Name Law, http://www.erikjheels.com/?p=993

Mark Jackson, Search Engine Watch, Dec. 4, 2007, How to Choose the Best Domains for Search Engine Visibility, http://searchenginewatch.com/showPage.html?page=3627757

Mark Jackson, Search Engine Watch, Dec. 11, 2007, What’s in a Domain Name? Take 2 http://searchenginewatch.com/showPage.html?page=3627834

David Kesmodel. The Domain Game: How People Get Rich From Internet Domain Names, Xlibris Corporation, 2008

Nach Maravilla. What’s in a Domain Name: How Your Domain Name Can Ensure Your Online Success, http://www.powerhomebiz.com/vol34/domain.htm , PowerHomeBiz.com

Christopher Heng, Tips on Choosing a Good Domain Name, http://www.thesitewizard.com/archive/domainname.shtml

JumpLine.com, 8 Quick Tips to Choosing a Domain Name, http://www.sitepoint.com/article/tips-choosing-domain-name

12 Rules for Choosing the Right Domain Name, http://www.seomoz.org/blog/how-to-choose-the-right-domain-name

http://www.webmaster-toolkit.com/

http://www.domain-generator.net/

http://www.deleteddomains.com/

http://www.dynamoo.com/webmaster/choosing_a_domain_name.htm

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