The path to getting a great website is complicated. There are a handful web service providers involved, and many different routes along the way. Our goal is to cut through the noise and tell you what you really need to know. The purpose of blog posts like these is to empower you to take the right steps to getting the website that’s perfect for you.
If a website is a digital version of a physical storefront, then your domain name is your address--that’s where people know to find you.
What is a domain?
A domain name, such as hellocompass.com, is simply the unique name that points to your website. You register a domain through a domain registrar (i.e. GoDaddy.com). Domains usually cost between $10-20 per year, and you need to renew your your domain every year.
There are three steps to registering a domain:
- Domain Research: search for a domain that’s not already taken, that you want for your website.
- Domain Registering: once you have selected your domain, the next step is to register it with a domain registrar.
- Navigating the upsells: domain registrars will try to tack on additional service offerings. Some will be useful to you, most will not.
The domain name that you register needs to meet the following 3 criteria:
- It’s easy to remember
- It’s relevant
- It’s available
Thinking of a domain that’s (1) easy to remember, and (2) relevant is the easy part. However, it gets tricky when you look at finding a domain that’s (3) available.
As of 2016, there are 296 million registered domains. That means that most of the relevant, easy to remember domains are already taken.
Getting a domain that’s (1) easy to remember, and (2) relevant is like picking a location for your business to open up shop. Just because you find the perfect location does not mean that there’s available space. With 296 million registered domains, a lot of the great locations are already owned by others. So, you’ll need to get creative in finding a good location that’s available.
For example, our business name is Compass. The most relevant and memorable domain name for us would be compass.com. However, a domain name as obvious as that is already taken, and if you get an estimate on the domain price at estibot.com, you’ll see that it’s estimated price is $1,000,000.
Since that was a little out of our budget, we opted for a domain that was still relevant to our brand and easy to remember.
Here are the tactics you can use to come up with a domain that’s still memorable and relevant, even if the perfect one is taken.
- Prepend a short phrase (that’s what we did): you can add words to the beginning for your domain. It will keep the emphasis on your brand name, while giving you more possibilities.
- compass.com → “hello” + “compass.com” = hellocompass.com
- compass.com → “my” + “compass.com” = mycompass.com
- compass.com → “get” + “compass.com” = getcompass.com
- Append a word that specifies the service offering or the service area. This can be
- classichome.com → “classichome” + “vt.com” (Vermont) = classichomevt.com
- Use a different top-level domain extension: “.com” is by far the most common and ideal domain extension, but it’s not the only one. There are dozens of other domain extensions, like “.co”, “.io”, “.us”, and “.ly”
- wetrain.com → .com .fitness = wetrain.fitness
There are three rules to follow to register your domain:
- No domain is free.
- Never purchase through domain resellers.
- You, not someone else, need to be the one to purchase and register your domain with an accredited registrar.
No domain is free
Web companies love to advertise “free domain names”. But as you can probably guess, there’s no such thing as a free domain name. Even some of the companies we love and use, like Squarespace, advertise free domain names. They only offer these free domains if you sign up for a long term plan (usually 1 year). But doing so comes with some strings.
- You cannot transfer a domain within 60 days of registering your domain. That means if you take advantage of a “free domain” offer, and then want to move your site to a different provider, you’ll have to wait 60 days.
- Even if you do wait 60 days, it then takes 7 business days to transfer a domain from a reseller.
Never purchase through domain resellers
A domain reseller is a company or individual that partners with a domain registrar to sell domains on their behalf. Purchasing through a reseller complicates something that shouldn’t be that complicated.
Content Management Platforms and do-it-yourself website builders make it easy to register a domain through them. Don’t do it.
A developer that you hire will offer to register your domain for you. Don’t do it.
An agency will offer to register your domain for you. Don’t do it.
In all of these cases, you will not have full ownership of your domain.
This is like a prospective contractor offering to register the deed to your property for you. Of course they want to help you register the deed--the sooner you do that, the sooner you can hire them to start construction. However, purchasing through a reseller or having someone else buy the domain for you almost always results in problems down the road.
You need to be the one to purchase and register your domain
You wouldn’t let someone else own the deed to your property, would you? In the same sense, you need to make sure you’re the person purchasing and registering your domain. It’s a small amount of work that will save tons of headache and/or drama down the road.
So where do you go?
There are 1,461 certified domain registrars that you can choose from. Let’s examine the pro’s and con’s of each registrar...
Domain registration is a commodity. It’s also a very lucrative business, which is why there are so many domain registrars, and you’ve probably been marketed to constantly by many of them. However, at the end of the day, all that matters is that they're reliable and supportive.
Here are some domain registrars that we'd recommend:
There are countless others that might be fine, but aren’t worth your time digging through.
Navigating the Upsells
If there’s one thing that is bad about GoDaddy, it’s that they will try to upsell you on many other additional services that you may or may not need as you’re checking out. Here we’ve outlined every add-on that a domain registrar can offer, along with simple questions that will tell you if you need it or not. (Hint: the answer is usually ‘no’, and even if you do need it, you can always come back later).
- Website builder. All website builders from domain registrars are bad compared to what else is out there. Deciding how to build your website is an important decision, not one that should be made by an upsell. Unless you’ve already decided prior to registering your domain that you were going to use that specific website builder, just say no.
- Other Domain Extensions. “You’ve purchased hellocompass.com. Wouldn’t you like to purchase hellocompass.guru, hellocompass.net, and more?” If you want to ensure that no one can purchase a similar domain with a different extension and confuse your audience, then this is for you. If you’re less paranoid, don’t worry about this. Some other domain extensions you could consider are .co, .org, and .net, and occasionally .ly, .io, and .us.
- Professional Email: this allows you to have an email address like firstname.lastname@example.org, as opposed to email@example.com. getting an email address with your domain registrar is the easiest way to do it, but this is a decision dependent on the email client that you prefer. If you prefer GMail or your own email client like Apple Mail or Microsoft Outlook, then you should never register professional email with a domain registrar (unless it’s Google Domains). You’ll need to set up your professional email with Google Apps or Microsoft Office.
- Privacy Protection: this protects information like your name, email address and phone number for public records. It usually costs around $8/year. This comes down to how much you value your privacy. If you don’t pay for this, you can anticipate getting some SPAM emails from people trying to sell you more web services. If you can weather that storm, then don’t worry about it. Not adding privacy protection also gives those who discover security flaws in your site an email address to reach out to. We do not have privacy protection, and anyone can find the public records of hellocompass.com’s registration (pictured below).
- SSL Certificates: SSL certificates make your site more secure. These are important for websites that are handling sensitive data. This is absolutely not something you should be concerned about while you’re checking out. If you need this (and very few websites do), you can always come back and purchase it.