Every online venture starts with a name, be that a new business, side hustle or your next step towards world domination. So getting the right name, and right domain names from the start can have far reaching benefits for your project.
I’m going to assume from this point that you already have a good idea on what your business name is going to be, and focus on what you need to know before you make that all important decision and register your new website address.
Remember, your domain name is your online business address. Try and keep it short, memorable, and most importantly, available to register.
Domain names are the user-friendly version of your online address that people use to access your website, web system, or web asset by entering it into their browser's address bar. This address will be registered on the internet's DNS (Domain Name System) to allow the correct routing to your domain's destination.
During this post I'm going to cover some of the key points I think you need to be aware of before purchasing any domains. I’ll keep the technology references to a minimum as the aim is to give you what you need to make an informed decision, rather than turn you into a techy.
Here is a quick overview of what we are going to cover;
How to search for and register a new name
What are domain extensions & which should I register?
What can I do with a domain name?
How to transfer your domain to or from a provider
Simply put, a domain name is a user-friendly address that people can enter into their web browser to reach your website. For example https://novainternet.uk
Your domain is registered with a provider (such as Nova), which sets up routing between your digital name and its physical location. This is done via a global network known as the Domain Name System (DNS for short).
Think of this as a giant phone book, where your name points to your provider, which in turn keeps a record of your domain's routing instructions (DNS). These instructions are in the form of records that point to an IP address (in most cases) that is the physical address of your website.
Once at the physical location of your website, the webserver looks up your site and displays it to your visitor, all in a matter of milliseconds (if done right!).
Unless you have the urge to feed your inner geek and become an expert in the field of internet protocols and server administration it makes sense to choose a provider that does all the complex background stuff for you. There are a few key points to look out for;
Price - domains cost to register (yes we have costs too), so it’s a good idea to look beyond the “free domain”, or “£0.99p, for the first year” options unless you are on a very strict budget. There will be a catch, or just a bad experience lurking around the corner.
Support - Most domain processes are automated these days, so registration and renewal does not need much human intervention. However, what if you have a question upfront (what domain should I register?) or need help getting email setup, or just dont have the time or want to get into the details. This is where the right provider can be vital.
Quality - Not all providers are equal. I mentioned above how your domain name works, in milliseconds, this is not always the case. Having the right provider, DNS and web server is critical to that first step your visitors will take, and can make or break a project.
Here at Nova we are in it for the long haul. We don't over automate or use cheap systems to keep up with the big boys out there, we focus on efficiency, good advice and the very latest technology making sure that this first step in your digital journey does not fall at the first hurdle.
Now for the fun bit. Searching for a domain can be great fun, looking for that quirky name (like our very own Zidivo), or finding the right combination of what you do, and where you are (such as Phoneworcs) and is super easy to do.
When searching for a domain you use what is called the WHOIS, which is the system that asks the question, who is responsible for a domain name? The results it returns will be for both registered and available domains.
Now, as domains have been around since the dawn of the internet, you might find your first choices are already taken, so a little lateral thinking is a good idea. Look for abbreviations, alternative phrases for what you do, or try a different extension (more on this below).
To help in this process our very own domain WHOIS search tool does just that, enter in your preferred domain name, click search and see what comes back. Check it out below.
Domain extensions are the bit after your domain name, such as .co.uk, .uk or .com.
Choosing the right extensions will depend on your project, but as a rule of thumb you should try and register .com, .co.uk as a minimum (assuming you are a UK business). Other factors to consider are;
Location. It’s good practice to have a domain for each country you operate in, .com is a good international choice, but if you specifically target another country, get that too. For example .fr for France.
Brand identity. If you are in a competitive market space, consider all relevant extensions, such as .com, .co.uk, .uk, uk.com, .net and .biz to stop your competitors from encroaching on your brand name.
Sector-specific. Over the last few years, there have been more and more domain extensions released to keep up with demand, such as .accountants or .cafe. These are worth considering if your preferred .com or .co.uk is not available or to future proof your brand's identity.
You can check out a full list of available domain extensions below or if you would like some advice on choosing the right extensions, get in touch.
If we think about a domain name in it’s own right, and not the website or system the domain points to, there are a few basic options you have available to you.
Parked - This is the name given to a domain name that has been registered, but does not yet have a function such as an email address or a website. This is less common these days, as most people have a plan for a domain before they buy it, but it’s an option.
Email - Any domain name can be set up and used as an email address (or addresses), this is pretty simple to do, and is as simple as setting up a few DNS records (MX records to be precise) to point at your preferred email provider. Alternatively, you would need a hosting plan that offers email services, commonly referred to as POP (protocol for receiving) and SMTP (protocol for sending) accounts.
Forwarding - If the domain in question is not the primary domain for a website it can be set up to forward both website traffic (HTTP) and email to another domain. This requires DNS and server side configuration to be set up to route the traffic where you want it to be. There are many uses for this, such as forwarding domain variants to your primary domain (https://nova-internet.uk forwards to https://novainternet.uk for example), or changes to your primary domain (so you don’t loose traffic to your old domain) and is fairly simple to set up (honestly, just tell us what you need).
Website - If the start of a project is a name, then one of the main milestones is normally a website, any domain name, or subdomain (more on this below) can be used for a website. To get this in place you need a web host, this is the next logical step for most domain names and requires the domain to be set up to talk to a web server, provided by a web host (like us).
I could spend hours talking about web hosting and the role it plays with all the above, but I think i’ll save that for another post. Suffice to say Nova Internet is a web host, and we do it all. As with domain providers, not all are good or the right fit, so tell us what you're planning and we can advise on the best options to suit your objectives and budget.
A subdomain looks like this; https://[subdomain].mydomain.com so is the bit before your domain name in the full address (also known as the URL).
These are an optional addition to your domain name’s address and can also be called a third-level domain. The most used subdomain is www. that used to be common practice for website addresses, or for redirecting customers to a specific destination (like a client portal), such as https://portal.mydomain.com.
In addition to redirecting traffic, there are also a number of other uses that are common practice for web hosts, such as mail. (for email), ftp. (for FTP access) and many more.
I think subdomains are a case of, if you don’t know that you need one, then you don’t. If you do know, you will likely know what it is you need. These are simple to set up normally and come in the form of an A or CNAME, DNS record, but if you're unsure, just ask.
Transferring domain names between providers should be a fairly simple process, with a fairly consistent process for the most common domains. However, factor in the many different registrars, providers and their systems on top of it and the reality can be anything but.
Getting your domain transfer right, is a must. Get it wrong and you could bring your website down, lose access to digital assets or in the very worst cases lose the domain to the ether, which is not only time consuming but can impact your business.
To avoid any issues it’s always best to take a cautious and well planned approach. Making sure you account for everything you have in place (email, websites, etc) before initiating any transfers. Here at Nova we understand this process inside and out, so I would always recommend speaking to us before doing this (even if you are moving away).
The two most common mechanisms for transferring domains are;
I could write for hours on the planning required for switching providers, but for now the below is a high level overview you can work to.
Transferring domains can take anything up to 48 hours to complete (but is generally much faster), so planning and timing is everything to avoid downtime.
The biggest nugget of advice I can give you here is to choose the right provider.
Let them help you plan and migrate to your shiney new setup, stress free. Over the years we have managed literally thousands of migrations for domains, hosting, websites and even entire infrastructures so we know the dangers and we know how to combat them.
When choosing a name for your business or project there are many factors to consider, like making sure it’s not already in use, not closely aligned to any negative factors or trademarked by someone. The same care and attention should be given to choosing your domain name.
In addition to this it is also important to check your name on any social media sites, is it available for use on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn etc. Taking the time to research your market and your chosen channels will help avoid any issues down the road.
Other than doing a ton of googling into your new name you should also consider using the following tools to check for any skeletons in the cupboard.
WHOIS History - Check to see if the domain has been registered before by checking it’s whois history with https://www.whoxy.com/
Blacklists - Check to see if the domain is on any blacklists with https://mxtoolbox.com/blacklists.aspx
If you find any evidence of the domain being in use in the past it is always a good idea to dig a little deeper. For example Companies House can be used to look for any trading companies that might have an issue with you using the name. This might sound like overkill, and in the most part it is, but rather than diving into trademark law or employing a legal team to research things (which can cost the earth), some basic research can avoid the issue and give you confidence in your choice, for the long term.
Choosing a domain name is an exciting part of your online journey, and you should enjoy the process. Having an understanding of the what’s and how’s surrounding the simple domain name (maybe you're thinking it’s not so simple now) will help you plan for success.
We have been around the block (more than once) over the years and provide more than just a domain registration service. We assess your project, with a long term view, understanding your objectives and milestones.
Get in touch to see how we can help.