One of the most common questions I’m asked at Sheffield Hallam University’s monthly web advisory sessions for entrepreneurs is what exactly domain names and hosting are, and how they’re tied together.
Although at first glance these can both appear to be absolute minefields of meaningless jargon, the process of obtaining both and getting one to relate to the other is relatively straightforward.
What are Domains?
Domain names are, as you probably know, a unique identifier to make your location on the web more memorable. Without them, we’d have to rely on strings of numbers like 220.127.116.11 to identify us online. Domain names are formed of a string of letters, numbers and hyphens, and your chosen ‘TLD’ (Top Level Domain), for example, abc-123.tld.
Which TLD should I choose?
In the UK, the most common choices of TLD at the time of are .CO.UK and .COM – if your business is primarily UK focussed you can use either, if you are looking to sell internatonally you’ll want a .COM. If you can register both, then do so.
There are literally hundreds of other TLDs, some relating to countries (.ES for Spain, .FR for France, .DE for Germany) and some more general purpose (.NET, .ORG, .INFO). At the present time, I’d avoid these other TLDs, simply because UK customers are not used to them and are thus less-likely to remember a domain featuring one.
It’s worth baring in mind that this Blog was written in January 2014 – just before ICANN release thousands of “Generic TLDs” (gTLDs) which has the potential to change all this. For the time being, my advice is to stick with .CO.UK and .COM.
What should I have in my domain?
In the olden days, you’d simply want the domain that closely matched your brand name. Nowadays, you might find that’s not possible as the closest domain to your name is already taken. If this is the case, I’d simply add another keyword to your name – for example, when we were working with Creations, we knew without even checking that creations.co.uk and creations.com would not be available, and so we registered creationspottery.co.uk on their behalf instead.
It should be noted that although still the most important factor, domain memorability is not as important as it used to be, mostly because whereas at one time people would, almost speculatively, type domain names straight in to their browser. Now people are so used to using search engines that many will even do a Google search for things like ‘Facebook’ rather than type in facebook.com.
This brings us rather nicely to our second consideration, which is the effect that your choice of domain will have on your ability to perform well in Search Engine rankings. Including a keyword is great, but don’t go overboard with too many or Google will probably (initially at least) assume you are spam incorrectly. Also, although hyphens can be used, I would wholeheartedly recommend *not* doing so, again because Google seems to associate hyphens with spammers.
I know what I want! How do I find out if it’s available?
Pop it in to a domain name registrar and see – I recommend Namecheap.
It’s available. When should I buy it?
Immediately!! I recommend buying a domain as soon as you’re even partially sure that it’s the name you want to go with. Again, I recommend Namecheap (and check out if a coupon is available to reduce the cost by a few pence). If you change your mind, it will only have cost you a fiver or so.
My host is offering one for free, should I take it?
I would wholeheartedly advise against doing so. Your domain is like a set of keys to your website. If things with your website go wrong, you ultimately hold the keys and can take it elsewhere. Leave it in theirs, you’re leaving for potential for trouble.
In my experience you’ll just end up with paying inflated renewal costs in any case.
There is a slight risk of sounding hypocritical at this point, since PineGreen do often register domains on behalf of our clients – however we always do so in such a way that the (metaphorical) keys are held jointly – so our clients have complete control should they need it.