Navigating the Alphabet Soup… Domain Names

They say every industry has its own language, and the tech/ hosting/ domain world is no exception. Actually, it’s more than earned its badge – pretty sure it has more acronyms than the CIA. Thankfully, knowing where to head is half the battle – and the soup quickly clears up.

Here’s what you need to know.

Getting Started

Every site that you see online has a domain; if you want people to find your site, yours will too. Your domain is like a virtual house address – it puts you on the map and lets people know where to find you.

There are countless tips and considerations for determining your actual domain name (more on that here), but none of that gets you very far if you don’t actually register your domain, a critical part of the process.

All domains are registered through one centralized governing body called ICANN (short for Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers). There is a whole bunch of “stuff” that goes on behind the scenes, but there are two big parts important to you:

1 – When you register your domain, you are ensuring the claim to your site. This protects you against theft, intellectual property damage, etc. ICANN registration is critical for this. It’s a good thing.

2 – Kind of like how each house has GPS coordinates, but everyone knows it by its common street address, each website has its own assigned combination of coordinates (aka, IP address)… though everyone knows it by a user-friendly domain name. ICANN gives the perfect example: what’s easier to remember, 192.0.34.163 or icann.org? This happens through the DNS (Domain Name System), another critical part of registering your domain.

To complete registration, you’ll need a few things:

  • The top-level domain and the label (more on this in a moment)
  • To know who you are registering through (there are several to choose from)
  • To decide how long you’re registering for (there are various term-lengths to choose from)
  • To provide personal information (ie; address, name, etc.)
  • Payment

On item two (a registrar), there are tons to choose from. For example, GoDaddy is a well-known registrar. Basically, you’re not going to do all the paperwork and technical hoopla directly with ICANN – instead, you’ll work with a more user-friendly process and system to input your details, verify that you have a unique URL (domain), and pay for the registration term. More on that here [link].

Top Level Domains and Labels

When it comes to picking your domain, there are two parts: the top level domain and the label.

The top level domain is the part everyone thinks of when typing in a URL (ie; webhostingsecretrevealed). There are plenty of best practices for picking a quality domain name, such as keeping it short, keeping it memorable, and ensuring that it isn’t too close to a competitor’s or another existing domain. But really the only hard rule is that it has to be unique. Which brings us to the second part: labels.

Remember that alphabet soup we talked about? There’s way more to it than the DNS, ICANN, URL, etc. that we’ve discussed so far. Labels are a big part of that soup. Labels are the second part of the domain… and part of when ensures someone reaches your actual site. Think .com, .net, .mil, .edu – all labels. When you go to register your domain, you’ll also need to select a label. I suggest, if you’re going with a more common label (such as .net), that you pick up two or three or four. Why?

Let’s say you’re registering your new domain, ILoveSoup.net. A sneaky competitor could buy up ILoveSoup.com and get all the traffic from people who had been looking for your site. If you reserve multiple labels, you protect your traffic and site further. But I digress.

Labels. Some labels, anyone can purchase (.com, .net, .biz), while others require additional documentation and that you meet certain criteria (.mil, .edu, .org, etc.). There are also 250+ country code extensions designated to point various domains to a specific country. .US, for example points to the United States, while .JP belongs to Japan. The label that makes most sense for you depends on your mission. Choose wisely.