Setting out as a small business online should be the beginning of an exciting journey. Plans, templates, designs, content…there’s an important list of things to choose from and create. Top of that list, however, should be your domain name.
The actual name of your site is an essential part of your online brand — which makes it vital to your overall brand, period. So you have to create a domain. You want a snappy address, but maybe you’re completely new to choosing a domain? Why not start off by trying a few ideas to see if they're free? Whatever pops into your head first.
When you type “buying a domain” into Google, on the results page, in addition to Namecheap, maybe you also recognize the names GoDaddy, Bluehost, or Domain.com. But who do you choose? And how do you pick the right domain name?
When you visit https://www.namecheap.com/ or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, the part of the address after the https://www. or the @ is the domain name: namecheap.com, yourwebsite.info. That is what you can buy from a registrar for a certain period, renewable.
Behind that name, there is a worldwide directory service called the Domain Name System, or DNS, for looking up the actual numerical address of the servers hosting your site or your email.
The domain itself is composed of two parts:
The choice of SLD and TLD together form the domain name that people will enter into the URL bar in their browser or that they will see in emails from you. It is as important as your company name when it comes to how they perceive you.
The history of domain names tells you interesting things about where we are now. This imaginary scene could have happened in the late 1980s:
“These are the generic domains,” your contact at the Network Information Center says, “the gTLDs: .COM, .ORG, .NET, .EDU, .GOV, and .MIL. That’s how you access this network created by the military-industrial complex of the United States of America at the height of the cold war. That’s .com for commercial companies, .org for non-profit groups, .net for network infrastructure. Then there is .edu for accredited US educational institutions, .gov for the US government, and .mil for the US military.”
“Wait a minute,” you might have said, as a network-savvy Norwegian or Yugoslav, “What about the schools, the government, and the military in my country?”
“Yes, for your countries, we have these two-letter country-code TLDs that we adopted from the International Standards Organization. So you get .no, you get .yu, and we’ll allow the authorities in your countries to run those ccTLDs.”
“So my government gets to decide under which conditions we get our domain names on this network created by the US military-industrial complex at the height of the cold war?”
“Hm. What could go wrong?”
Surprisingly little did go wrong. The open standards and transparent processes underpinning the internet have for the most part kept the playing field level.
And nobody minds anymore if you are not a non-profit in the .org registry, or a network infrastructure provider on the .net side of things.
And yes, there is also a .us TLD, for the USA. It’s good to be the inventor of the global network that everybody wants to use! The US-based Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is the organization now in charge of the TLD registry.
For a long time, the official structure of the six gTLDs and the couple hundred ccTLDs barely changed. This order was challenged by a few groups setting up alternative DNS servers supporting a wider range of TLDs, but they remained marginal.
Finally, in the 2000s, ICANN recognized the desperate need for more domain real estate and also saw the opportunity to expand funding for its operations. After protracted political and technical negotiations, it started releasing new extensions:
By the 2010s ICANN was ready to loosen restrictions on new gTLDs, and a flood of new extensions were registered: .DEV, .ART, .APP, .COFFEE, .PIZZA, .FISH, .BERLIN, .LONDON, .TOKYO. After some initial trepidation that they were not professional-sounding enough, these funky new gTLDs have become part of our lives too.
At all the major registrars including Namecheap, you can buy a domain and hosting in one smooth operation. In 90 seconds you can have a website accessible from anywhere* in the world. Most reputable registrars will have great deals on packages containing both a domain and email services.
The good registrars run their own robust and secure DNS servers. They protect their authoritativeness carefully. As owners of critical parts of the internet’s infrastructure, they have a stake in maintaining the integrity of their customers’ DNS records.
A good domain name should be descriptive of what you are doing, or at least distinctive and memorable. The former might not be possible anymore if all the generic terms in your field have been taken. That’s when you have to start getting creative and shoot for distinctive and memorable. Brainstorming domain ideas with your associates can help get the juices flowing.
There are still people who look down at domains that are not in the conservative mold. They believe that any business that is not in the august .COM zone cannot be a serious operation. If you are in a very buttoned-down field such as law or finance, then you should think twice before setting off on the road less traveled here.
Dashes also are to be avoided. They make it harder for people to remember a website name. They don’t play very well on the radio or in podcasts, confusing hosts and listeners. They are also often associated with spammy behavior, which can lead to a lower resale value.
The domain hacking we are advocating is completely legal and safe! We aren’t advocating trespass or vandalism! Domain hacks, the innocent kind, are about taking an extension meant for one purpose and playfully putting it to use for another.
The world’s 300-odd ccTLDs are full of fun possibilities here. A lot of the two-letter codes can have meanings of their own either as short words, as word endings, or as well-known abbreviations.
India lets anyone register a domain under its ccTLD .IN, which is a great ending if you want to get creative with domains. However, India is also a very large and important market. This is one way Google and others will screen TLDs: to push local search results. They boost your ranking if the search comes from inside the country.
That means that you might get less lucky if people are supposed to find your site all over the world. But Google knows that some very small countries won’t be using up their ccTLD for their own purposes. In those cases, the regional targeting is non-existent.
The country of Tonga is liberal about the conditions for registering a domain under its country extension, and that’s why a lot of URLs in the .to space don’t have anything to do with the Polynesian kingdom. Without pandering to your fear of missing out, there are some catchy names still available there (at time of writing!).
Then there is .us, a word in its own right, but also the ending for English adjectives in -ous like fabulous and glorious, or for Latin words of the first declension like servus or invictus. There were many juicy possibilities here. The first site to do this and become famous was del.icio.us, a social bookmarking site that briefly rivaled search engines for how quickly it led users to quality sites that were relevant to their interests.
But it is hard to find real gems that are still available in the .us space. You also are required to demonstrate a connection to the US, such as citizenship, residency, or business operations there. You might want to hop over to Iceland (.IS), or Montenegro (.ME). Both registries market their country extensions to the whole world explicitly for use in domain hacks.
The two-letter country codes reveal another use too. Some of them are well-understood abbreviations for vital concepts in particular fields. If the regional registry is on board with unrelated entities buying domains in their zone, there can be fun possibilities if you are in the implied business.
The .IO registry has become popular for projects and companies in a wide variety of electronics-related fields both digital and analog, from the internet of things (IoT) to modular synthesis. This would be a good match if you are providing B2B IT services or running a technology blog.
In the same vein, companies providing machine-learning software, big-data analysis, or neural-network services have been creating strong domains in the .AI zone, taking advantage of the country of Anguilla’s moniker being the abbreviation of Artificial Intelligence.
Is this an angle for you to pursue? In any case, have fun exploring the TLD list.
Shopping for a domain can be fun, but how do you know which registrar you can trust? It takes some digging to go beyond the bold domain-sale prices and find the features that will make a difference to your peace of mind.
The big three we will focus on in our comparison are GoDaddy, Domain.com, and Namecheap.
When you register a domain, you have to enter contact information that is stored in the publically searchable Whois database. That means that spammers and scammers can take advantage of email addresses and physical addresses listed there.
To combat this danger to your privacy, registrars allow you to configure anonymizing services that keep your contact information hidden. At Namecheap, this is called Domain Privacy. It is free forever with any domain registered with or transferred to us.
GoDaddy now also offers Whois privacy protection as part of its basic domain package, but that costs $17.99 per year compared to Namecheap's $8.88. On Domain.com this is an optional feature that will cost you $8.99/year above its $11.99 yearly registration fee.
When it comes to securing your online accounts against hijackers, nothing beats the efficacy and convenience of two-factor authentication (2FA). That's why Namecheap has implemented 2FA across the board. Neither GoDaddy nor Domain.com are currently offering a 2FA option.
Namecheap and GoDaddy both offer simple setup interfaces that abstract away the nitty-gritty of DNS entries. This makes it a breeze to declare your forwarding rules for URLs, emails, and subdomains. And when something goes wrong, they also offer expert customer support around the clock. It can be worth your time to explore the various companies’ values in terms of support and structure as well.
Domain.com's options in this area are more limited, but unlike GoDaddy they do offer Transfer Lock. This extra precaution, that Namecheap also enables on all domains, prevents unauthorized domain transfers.
A few things to bear in mind:
The exact definition of "Premium Domain" depends on the TLD.
For some new gTLDs such as .app, .club, or .cyou, the corresponding registries (not registrars!) set the rules according to aggressive business models. They decide which names to sell for premium prices to maximize their revenue. Often these are dictionary words.
In the .com, .net, or .org registries, a Premium Domain is one that is already registered and whose owner is trying to sell it on a marketplace such as Afternic. The transfer prices for such domains are set by the current owner. After such a domain is purchased from the marketplace, regular renewal prices usually apply. Here there is no rule as to what kind of domains will be premium priced as it's up to the owner to estimate the domain value and to set the price.
Two things happened in the last ten years: the TLD space grew tremendously, and the world has wanted more and more domains.
Which one had a greater effect on domain prices? Was over-abundance pushing prices down or was the surge in demand driving them upward?
The results are in... and it’s too early to tell. Or it’s a bit of both: Yes, you can now get a free domain. But a lot of other domains are seeing price inflation.
True free domains exist again, and not just subdomains, where you squat a few alphanumeric
characters inside the great estates of blogger.com, squarespace.com, or wix.com in exchange for all your data and a cut of your sales. More like free as in the early 1990s, when the .com, the .net, and the .org registries were indeed still giving them away.
The global rise in technological capacity and innovation in business models have made it possible for the territory of Tokelau to offer free SLDs in its .tk zone, which explains its phenomenal rise in the charts.
However, you want to be careful with these free domains. There have been a lot of scammers among the many taking advantage of Tokelau’s policy. Has this landed .tk in a visibility hole with respect to search engines, ad networks, and email spam filters?
Google’s last statements on the issue date from a while back. They said that a site’s TLD had no effect on search placement. But they didn’t mention spam filters or ad placement. Already, they don’t allow email addresses from a .tk domain to open a GSuite account.
Reputable registrars, Namecheap included, will often have the words “Free Website Domain” somewhere on the offer page for their more premium hosting plans. What they mean is a domain for free for a year with the purchase of a professional-level web hosting package. Not all TLDs are eligible, but it’s a valuable incentive. Don’t let it go to waste if a .STORE is what you are building, for example.
Outside of the free arena, domain prices are increasing. More fees from ICANN contribute a small amount to the rise. Historical caps on prices for some of the TLDs are falling away. In general, the companies awarded the contracts for the new gTLDs have priced them much higher than the older TLDs.
Namecheap is vocal in opposing the rising price of domains. True to our mission, we still offer personal domains in the .com space for as low as $8.88 per year. For entrepreneurs and for ecommerce, we are also consistently one of the cheapest around! Check out our domain pricing. Also, it is often advantageous to buy your domain in conjunction with a hosting or email service.
Or if you’re a webmaster or a programmer, a technical person whose A RECORD is unbeaTTLable, you might want a domain with a history that you can ride into higher search-engine rankings. You will find Namecheap to be the perfect place to bid on an expired domain or an existing domain in a top domain marketplace.
Think of the leading goose in a flock flying in ‘V’ formation. It has to exert less effort than it would on its own because a smooth airflow is established around the whole ‘V’.
Your first choice of a domain can be like that first goose. If it has a small formation of similar domains at its sides, it can get a boost from all the hits to these other domains. You might really like your first choice of unpeelingtheonion.com, but having unpeelingtheonion.net and unpeelingtheonion.biz behind you could help you fly.
Like the head goose when it needs a break, your lead domain also might lose steam and become absorbed into the formation. Another domain might be fitter at that moment and take a turn upfront.
You can also A-B test different domains. You can launch one series of social-media ads with one domain and one with another and see if there are any differences in impact. You can vary the top-level domains by geography to celebrate regional launches or expansions.
Sideways attacks on domains are still a common threat to anyone’s income or message. The attacker registers domains that are similar to yours. They might differ in the extension or their use of dashes.
The attackers have tools to track trending sites. They noticed you were getting traction. The domain packages these professionals have with their registrars allow them to make these kinds of bets profitably. They clone your site and run ads and malware on the adjacent domains.
So they end up with domains and content that search engines already like, just in a slightly new flavor. They steal your traffic and tarnish your domain. Then they go again, leaving the domains parked and further hurting your SEO.
Conveniently, Namecheap points out these adjacent domains to you in its domain search results when you buy your domain. Often they are cheap, too. But it can nevertheless be a hard decision.
“Oh, I don’t need that, I’m just running a limited thing.” First of all, never think like that! Second, yes, it can be more of a cost upfront. But it gives you the possibility of maximizing your impact and your sales in multiple ways. Think of the geese.
Taking all this information and processing it into a working domain strategy is not that hard with the search tools at Namecheap. In the end, your domain name also just has to feel right to you. Take your time. It’s fun to explore the possibilities.
* DNS replication used to be slow. It could take 24 hours for the whole system to be aware of your new domain pointing to your new server. Now the servers for Europe and North America propagate new records within minutes.