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Technology / Business websites

Business websites 101: What is a domain name?

A domain name is the unique portion of a business website address. It’s the string of letters (and sometimes numbers) between the ‘www.’ and the ’.com.au.’

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It’s also the bit that comes after the @ and before the next dot in an email address.

Using my own domain name as an example, those things look like www.ihatemypc.com.au and [email protected].

Strictly speaking, the combination of the domain name and the postfix or extension (for example .com.au) is what makes your business website address unique. Just typing ‘www.ihatemypc’ into your browser is not enough to find me, because someone else could own a domain with the same name as mine, but a different postfix (such as www.ihatemypc.co.nz), which would uniquely route internet traffic to their website instead of mine.

Common New Zealand and UK domain names have a .co instead and a .com before the .nz or .uk. There’s no real reason for this. It was just an arbitrary choice made some time ago.

The type of business or activity you’re conducting will determine the postfixes you’re allowed to use with your domain name. Generally speaking, to acquire a .com or a .com.au domain name you’ll need a registered business name first.

"Don't send cyber-squatters your money. There is no guarantee they'll release the domain to you, and they often go to great pains to remain well hidden and untouchable."

You can purchase a domain name without necessarily having a website (for example to secure a domain name you’re planning to use later). It will cost you less initially but you’ll need to buy additional services if you want a website and/or email associated with that domain name.

You can also have a domain name that simply redirects to another website (or domain name) if you wish.

Some people buy domain names they think may be valuable to someone else and then hold them to ransom. This is referred to as cyber-squatting, and while there are steps you can take to get your domain and pay a fair price for it, the most common result is a dead end.

If you find your domain name being cyber-squatted, I strongly recommend you simply find another name. Don’t send cyber-squatters your money. There is no guarantee they’ll release the domain to you, and they often go to great pains to remain well hidden and untouchable.

In my opinion, the cleverness of your domain name is less important than it used to be. These days, you’re more likely to get found on Google than by visitors directly typing your domain name into their browser.

Having said that, I do recommend you choose a domain name that’s not too long or complex. You want to make it as easy as possible to remember, type, put on your business cards and communicate to people verbally. Long domain names and those with cute or tricky spelling lend themselves to typos and frustration from potential visitors to your site.

Before you buy a domain name:

  • Register your business name
  • Think carefully about the domain name before you purchase it
  • Consider whether you want to register a number of similar domains (for example the .com, .biz, and .net.au variants of your .com.au)
  • Compare pricing thoroughly as this simple purchase can vary greatly in cost

Additionally, factor in whether you’re ready to build your business website now, or want to simply buy the domain name and hold onto it for later. Either way, talk to your web designer or computer support person before proceeding. Even simple decisions that you make now can end up having implications down the track, so if you’re a complete novice, you really are best advised to seek professional advice.

If you’re new to the online world and find the technology overwhelming you’re not alone. Please feel free to post your questions below, and we’ll do our best to help you make sense of the whole interweb thingy.

David Moore

is the owner of I Hate My PC. He helps people make computers work for them instead of the other way round.

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