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Domain Names for Beginners

Executive Summary:
There are three primary components necessary for any website. A domain name, web host, and website files. Think of it like this. In the physical world, a domain name would be your street address, your web host is your house and your website files are all the wonderful things inside your house that make it your own.

So, when visitors type in your web address (domain name), they are pointed to your website which is hosted on a publicly accessible computer (web host server).

What is a Domain Name
Your domain name is your online address. Similar to a physical address, it is how people find your website. As an example, my domain name is elbemarketing.com. A domain name is made up of only two parts, a Top-Level Domain (TLD) such as “.com” and Second-Level Domain (SLD) such as “YourCompanyName”. That’s it.

What is a Top-Level Domain (TLD)
Sometimes called an “extension”, TLD examples could be .com, .de or .sale. In my case, “elbemarketing.com”. There are countless TLDs in existence with more becoming available all the time. Most serve to identify you by country, industry, or the type of information available on your website. Some TLDs have requirements but most don’t. Pick the one which is best for you. The TLD, .com, still appears to be the preeminent TLD in the United States.

What is a Second-Level Domain (SLD)
This is what most people picture when they think of a domain name. In my case, my SLD is the “elbemarketing” of elbemarketing.com. Your SLD can be anything you want (if it is available). However, I strongly suggest you consider the points at the bottom of this article when it comes to your choice of domain names.

But What About the www?
Great question because “www.” is often a part of a website address. This is a default Third-Level Domain, or “subdomain”. You should be able to type your domain name with or without the www and still reach your website courtesy of your web hosting provider. Functionally, it does not matter whether you use www or not on your domain name. However, there are debatable Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and web analytic considerations if you allow both to coexist without redirecting one to the other. What that means is, when someone types “yourdomain.com”, it could redirect to “www.yourdomain.com”. I highly suggest defaulting to one or the other and not allowing web traffic to reach both.

What is an IP Address?
Bottom line: You don’t need to know about it. An IP address is an unfriendly string of numbers (such as, and it is how your website is actually found when someone types in your domain name. Your domain name is translated into your assigned IP address via something called the Domain Name System (DNS).

What is a URL?
A Uniform Resource Locator (URL) is the full path to a file on a computer network. Basically, a specific web page or file on your website. So if you were to type in www.elbemarketing.com/downloads/doesnotexist.pdf, you would be accessing a type of file. This specific file, located in a directory called “downloads”, would load in your browser. URLs reflect how your site is organized and accessed as well as how it is indexed by search engines. There is a great deal of best practice to consider when it comes to organizing your web files and directories (and thus, URLs).

www.yoursite.com/directory/file.php = Domain Name
www.yoursite.com/directory/file.php = TLD
www.yoursite.com/directory/file.php = SLD
www.yoursite.com/directory/file.php = Subdomain
www.yoursite.com/directory/file.php = Website Address
www.yoursite.com/directory/file.php = URL = IP Address

How Do I Get A Domain Name
A domain name is registered through one of ICANN’s accredited registrars. I currently use GoDaddy. I have also used 101domains quite heavily (70+ concurrent domains) in the past for international, country-specific TLDs (ccTLDs). I personally have had great experiences with both and receive no referral commission from that endorsement. Also, my opinion on GoDaddy is purely for their registrar services which I believe to be their core competency. Perform a domain name search and discover if the name you want is available.

Prices vary from registrar to registrar, but I think you will find most to be fairly comparable. Be sure to look past their first year pricing. Look at their regular, yearly pricing as that is what you will be paying moving forward minus any multiple-year deals. Again, factor out the first year pricing in any deals.

I would bet that you don’t need ANY of these cross-sells and up-sells …minus one. You may want to consider the option for private registration. When you register a domain name, various contact information associated with that registration is made public. So if you are using a personal address, phone number, and email, any solicitor or customer can easily pull that information. Private registration allows the registrar to act as a proxy and list their information instead. You still own and control the domain.

Here are a few points to take with you today.
1. Use your business name instead of keywords
It is true that your domain name is a factor in your SEO. However, I always recommend your business name vs keywords in your domain name.

— If you care about SEO, you will have a whole site dedicated to relevant key terms, key phrases, and SEO best practices. If you don’t, your domain name isn’t likely to save you.

2. Be brief. One to two words.
— Easy to remember. Fits well on business cards and collateral. Works well in advertising. Easy to communicate verbally.

3. Avoid numbers and punctuation
— Unless it is your business name, do you want to explain to people that roofer4you.com is a “4” and not “four” every time? Or how about having to verbally communicate “best-city-plumbing.com” as “best hyphen city hyphen plumbing .com”. Here are some more examples of naming conventions I would discourage. “idoctor” instead of “eyedoctor” and “usellyourhome” instead of “yousellyourhome”. You get the idea. It is tempting because a lot of domain names are taken.

Added Resource
If you’re feeling REALLY adventurous, you can learn more about the basics of Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) Functions or dive deeper courtesy of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).