What Is a Domain Name A Complete Guide for Beginners

The internet is becoming pervasive and it is increasingly important for every business to have a presence on the web. Regardless of what type of business you are trying to run, it is important that you have a domain. In this article, we will tell you everything you need to know about a domain name. 

“What Is a Domain Name?” is a question that lots of people ask. But it is also a question that lots of people answer badly.

How many times have you seen some variation of this answer: “A domain name is the name of your website”?

So today, we’re going to cut through the jargon and give you a simple, easy-to-understand answer to what a domain name is all about.

And if you’re wondering how to get one, we’ll tell you that and show you how to choose one that’s right for you too.

What is a Domain Name?

A domain name is a unique web address, much like a phone number or street address – it is the human-readable address that people type into their browser to visit a site such as www.example.com or google.com  

Why do you need one?

When setting up a new site, domain names are more important than you may think. Domain names are used to give websites an easy-to-remember identity that allows visitors to find them quickly and easily. Without a domain name, you’d have to ask people to visit your website using its numerical IP address. That’s not easy to remember!

The different parts of a domain name

When someone asks you for your site’s URL, they’re really asking for one (or several) of these pieces of information, depending on what they want to do with it.

Domain names are read right to left. So, starting from the rightmost label of a fully qualified domain name (FQDN) these are several different parts that make up a domain name: 

  • The Top-Level Domain (TLD)
  • The Second-Level Domain (SLD)
  • The Subdomain

Let’s break down these terms and look at each part one by one.

Top Level Domain (TLD)

The top level domain is the last part of a domain name. It’s also referred to as a domain extension or domain suffix. In the case of example.com, .com is the TLD. It can also be classified as generic top-level domains (gTLDs) like .com or .net or country code top-level domains (ccTLDs) such as .us or .co.uk.

Some are extensions that you’ve probably heard about before like .com, .gov, .org, and .net. Others might not be as familiar yet but are still widely used like .info, .co, and .me. And there are also newer TLDs that are niche-specific like .pizza and .design.

Second-Level Domain (SLD)

The SLD is the part of the domain name that identifies it as belonging to a specific organization. An SLD can be almost anything — usually, it’s a business or organization name, but it can also be your name, nickname, or any other identifier you choose.

It is the part of the name that comes before the top-level domain, and it is what most people think of when they hear “domain name.” 

Examples:

  • ‘hostinger’ in hostinger.com – This is Hostinger’s SLD
  • ‘google’ in google.com – This is Google’s SLD

The Subdomain

Subdomains are sometimes called “hostnames” or just “hosts.” This is the first part of your domain name. For example, in the URL en.wikipedia.org, “en” is the subdomain. So is www (which is the most popular subdomain on the web by the way) in www.example.com. Subdomains are used for many reasons and can be created by anyone with a domain name. For example, if you had a website about cars, you could create a subdomain called “ford” where you put all the information about Ford products. Your domain name would be www.example.com, and the “Ford” subdomain would be ford.example.com.

The combination of the TLD and SLD is often referred to as a “fully qualified” or “absolute” domain name

How does the domain name system work?

The domain name system, or DNS, is the service that translates web addresses (like www.lifewire.com) into numerical IP addresses that direct internet traffic to the right places. It’s a fundamental part of how the internet works.

When you type a web address into your browser, it needs to contact a domain name server somewhere to find out what IP address is associated with that name.

The IP address is then used by the computer’s networking software to find the resource on the network. When you’re requesting something from a web server, it responds with the content you requested if it exists and an error message if it doesn’t.

How to pick out a good domain name

While choosing a domain name may seem like an easy task at first glance, there are numerous factors you need to consider when selecting the one that is both memorable and easy to find in search results. To help make this process as painless as possible, here are some tips for picking out a good domain name.

Choose a domain name that reflects your business or brand name

Try to pick out an available domain name that uses your business’s or brand’s name. This will make it easier for people to find your website when they search for you. For example, if your business is called Blue Shoes, you should choose the domain blueshoes.com if that’s available.

Make sure the name is easy to remember, spell and type

Make sure that it’s short enough so that even if people just hear it once, they’ll still be able to remember it easily. If it’s too long, they might forget it right away or maybe misspell it later on. Remember also to use words that are easy to pronounce so they won’t have any problem spelling or telling it to other people.

Long names are harder to remember than short ones, so try to keep them short and sweet! Choose something catchy and unique!

Consider including keywords

A good domain name can give your business a leg up in the search engines.

If you’re trying to build a brand, having a domain name that includes keywords closely related to your brand can help you stand out in the search engines.

For example, if you’re a local florist, having something with “flowers” in your domain name (like “MikesFlowers.com”) can help you rank well for that keyword.

Or if you’re trying to build authority as an industry expert, having something with your name (such as “MikeMarketing.com”) can send some signals that you’re an authority and trustworthy person.

Use an appropriate TLD

The last part of any domain — .com, .net, .org — is called the top-level domain (TLD). When you choose one of these suffixes, you’re telling people what kind of organization you are. For example, .org is typically used by nonprofit organizations; .gov is used by government agencies, and .edu is assigned exclusively to schools.

If your business doesn’t fit into a special category, there’s no point in registering a domain that ends in one of these TLDs. For instance, a site about food and recipes would have no trouble using .recipes as its extension. However, if you were going to create an e-commerce store selling beauty products, using .recipes instead of .com could be confusing for potential customers. If you’re setting up a personal blog or portfolio website, then .me might be good to use. For example, if your name was John Smith and you wanted to make a blog about coding, then jsmith.me would work well. 

If you’re not sure which TLD to pick, go with .com. It’s the most popular option for businesses and is generally the default choice for people who don’t know the full domain name of a particular site.  

Also, depending on your niche (say, if you’re targeting people in Germany or the United Kingdom), use a relevant country code.

Avoid numbers, hyphens, and other special characters

People easily get confused by numbers, special characters and dashes when they’re used in domain names. 

For example, If you use “2” in your domain name, people will have trouble figuring out whether you’ve used a numeral (2) or spelled out (two) two.

Similarly, special characters can be easily lost, misplaced, and even forgotten altogether.

So, it is recommended that you don’t use them unless you absolutely have to. And even when you do, it is good practice to register all of the possible different domain variations to be safe.

Avoid “reserved” words and trademarks

This is a huge mistake a lot of startups make. They set up shop under www.something.com, only to discover later that someone else owns something.com who may even be a competitor.

Don’t do this! 

Do your due diligence and make sure you’re not stepping on someone else’s trademark or reserving a word that’s already taken by some other company in your industry.

Before you register your domain, make sure there aren’t any trademark issues with your chosen name. You can do this by searching the U.S Patent & Trademark Office database and doing an online search for information about your proposed domain name. You may also want to consider contacting an intellectual property attorney for further advice on this matter.

Check the availability of social media handles

The key is to make sure that the name you choose is available on as many major social platforms as possible. Do the same checks on social media networks like Facebook and Twitter to see if your proffered domain name is available. If not, you might have to rework your original idea slightly so that all of your branding elements match up across different platforms.

Lastly…

Consider buying multiple versions of a similar domain name to ensure people will find your site no matter how they type it in, and so that competitors can’t purchase a similar domain name.
The bottom line on the importance of knowing how to choose a domain name: In addition to being a crucial part of your branding, a good domain can help customers remember your brand, find information about your business and improve your search engine optimization (SEO).