How to Get the Domain You Want for Your Website

You'd like to set up a website, and you have some creative ideas for a website address (URL), but you're not sure whether those URLs are available, or how to set them up.

Here's how to get a URL you like, with a few simple searches. I'll also explain the basics of domains, because we all tend to bandy about common technical terms, but it's nice to understand what they really mean.

What Exactly Is a URL?

"URL" stands for "Uniform Resource Locator." A URL (or ULI) has four parts:

  • The data transfer protocol (HTTP, FTP, etc.), as in http://...
  • The domain, as in ...wikipedia
  • The Top Level Domain (TLD), typically .com, .org, or .net
  • The path, as in .../directory/file.htm

Who Owns Web Domain Names?

In order to use a particular word or string as the domain in a web URL, you have to register that domain name. A domain might be completely available (no-one else has ever used it); previously in-use but now available; or currently registered to someone else, and not available until that person's registration expires.

Some domains are currently registered to someone, but that someone hasn't set up an actual website that uses that domain. In this case, you get some random-looking search portal, with a bunch of sponsored search links and business listings. (The first time I encountered one of these years ago, I was totally disoriented.)

To avoid the black hole of generic search portals, smart businesses register their primary domain name, plus a number of other close variations that people are likely to type into the URL. This way, users are re-directed to the businesses' actual site, and are that much more likely to buy something online!

How Do I Find and Acquire a Domain Name?

It's actually fairly simple; you just need to know where to look.

1. Find an available domain name. Use one of several online resources to find a domain name that is available. Here are some of the better domain name tools. If your first choice for a domain name is not available, these tools will provide a list of available domain names that are similar to your subject.

  • http://who.is/: Very simple to use.

    Click Domain Suggestions, and then search by domain name or keyword.

  • http://www.domaintools.com/: Fairly simple to use.

    Click Suggestions, and then enter your chosen domain name.

  • http://1and1.com/: Simple to use, but less flexible than other tools.

    Click Domains at the top of the page and then follow the domain search instructions.

  • http://www.godaddy.com/: More complex than the rest, but also provides more options.

    Enter your chosen domain name in the Start a domain search field at the top of the page.

You can use one online service to find a domain name, and another to register it. So, searching for a domain name doesn't commit you to anything!

2. Register your domain name. Use one of several online resources to register your domain. Some recommendations:

  • GoDaddy.com ($9.99 as of May 2008)
  • 1and1.com ($6.99 as of May 2008)

Don't be shy about shopping around for a good deal, and reading the fine print! Some registrars with a seemingly good deal will turn a deal into a hole in your wallet with miscellaneous fees.

Be sure you understand what type of hosting service you need to build the site you want. Will you need email? A database? Where will you build your website -- right on their server, by using their tools, or locally?

Note: After registering your domain name, you might not be able to navigate to it online right away. This is because it can take a few days for DNS servers to begin resolving the new domain name to a web address.

3. Find a web hosting provider. If the registrar you registered your domain name with does not provide hosting, you need to find a hosting provider. There are literally thousands of these. In many cases, a shared hosting provider (such as GoDaddy.com) is adequate, and offers the best value.

Most hosting providers also offer a package deal that provides web and email hosting. Be sure you understand the details before you buy. You can move your domain to a different hosting provider, but it costs time and money.

Many reputable hosting providers have web interfaces for building and maintaining your website. If your hosting provider does not have website-building tools, you need to transfer files to your hosting provider. (For example, you could download a free file transfer tool, such as FileZilla, to move files to the provider's server.)

After you've chosen a hosting provider, you're well on your way to having your website!

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