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How to get a domain name

By Craig Goldwyn, visibility.tv

Some essential jargon

Some techy gobbledygook that may come in handy:

A browser is a program like Internet Explorer, Firefox, or Safari. needs a url to get a web page.

A url is a web address. It stands for Universal Resource Locator. It is the thing you see at the top of your browser right now. It usually starts with "http://".

A domain name is something like Yahoo.com, Google.com, and Whitehouse.gov. A domain name is your brand name. You must pick it carefully.

A url NEVER has an @ symbol. They are used in email addresses only.

A url can be quite long. For example here's one for a photo story about a puppy I raised for Leader Dogs for the Blind:


Most browsers don't even need the "http://www." stuff anymore. Just type "whitehouse.gov" into the top of a browser, and you'll get there.

Once you have a domain, you should use it for your email. Why should you get email at yourname@yahoo.com or another domain? Why promote Yahoo? Your email should be "yourname@yourdomain.com". Much more professional looking.

Your website will be an important part of your business. Whether your site is a simple online brochure, or a fully stocked store, the name you give it is as important as naming your business or your child. You're going to invest in the name and build it as a brand, and you're going to have to live with it for a long long time.

Enough to make you url

Although it looks mysterious, a domain name is like a phone number, everything in it means something. That's why a web address is called a URL, a Universal Resource Locator.

In the same way that phone numbers have country codes, area codes, 3-digit exchanges, main numbers, and extensions, a website's url can be split into meaningful parts.

Website names usually start with "http://www". It's sort of like the country code. There are other prefixes: "https://www" (notice the s) tells the browser that the site is secure and information has been encrypted so you can feel safe when entering a credit card number or other private info. "ftp://" tells the browser that there are files, like programs, to be captured and saved on your computer. On most browsers, if you leave off http:// it will insert it for you. Try it. Type "amazon.com" into your web browser instead of the "http://www.amazon.com". It should work.

When listing your website on promotional literature you can usually get rid of the http://www part and just list mybrand.com. This is a marketing issue not a technical issue. However, when you write a url IN AN EMAIL, it is VERY important that you include the prefix. A complete url with the prefix, when typed in an email, will be delivered with a clickable link in the text that will automatically take me there if I click on it. No typing or cut and paste necessary. If you leave off the http:// and just type mybrand.com or www.mybrand.com in an email, it is NOT clickable, and the likelihood that someone will go there diminishes significantly.

My advice: opt for user friendly and build your brand. In print mybrand.com is best. In email, http://mybrand.com is best.

Dot what?

At the end of a domain name is a suffix of two or three letters called a "top level extension". Dotcom and dotnet are the most popular for businesses. Dotgov is for government, dotedu is for schools, dotmil for the military, and dotorg is usually a not for profit organization (but not always). Some countries have their own suffix, such as dotca for Canada. A popular one is dottv, for the Pacific island of Tuvalo. Even though they are not located there, many broadcasters and communications companies use dottv.

Recently some new suffixes have been introduced because most of the good dotcom names are gone. Dotbiz and dotinfo are gaining popularity with businesses, and a lot of good names are still available.

Before long these suffixes may be available:

  • .name - individual and personal websites.
  • .pro - professions such as law, medicine, accounting, etc.
  • .aero - services and companies dealing with air travel.
  • .coop - co-operative organizations.
  • .museum - museums, archival institutions, and exhibitions.
  • .xxx - sex and porn.

Where's the beef?

The meat of the address, sandwiched between the prefix and suffix, is your brand. Make it good. Make it short and easy to type. Make it memorable and easy to spell.

In the best of all possible worlds, your brick and mortar business name is short, catchy, and memorable, and you use the same name online. Like Ford.com, Kraft.com, UPS.com, etc. But that rarely happens.

But if your name is Barnes & Noble, you've got a problem. Domain names can't have ampersands (&). So they named their site barnesandnoble.com. Bad idea. First of all, it's too long. Second, its spelled differently. Eventually they came to the realization that a short, memorable domain was better than using their proper name (well, almost). So they spent big bucks to buy bn.com from the person who bought it first.

In choosing your name, keep in mind domains may contain letters, numbers, periods, and hyphens, but no spaces, underscores, or other punctuation. You cannot begin or end with a hyphens. And domain names are not case sensitive.

Here are some more tips for picking your domain name:

  • Watch out for potential confusion. Is samswine.com a wine store or a pork store?
  • Try a contraction of your name. Network Solutions became Netsol.com.
  • When I was president of the Beverage Testing Institute we decided to name our website Tastings.com because we ran wine, beer, and spirits tastings. Easier to remember than bti.com. In fact, the name worked so well, we changed its letterhead and entire corporate identity to Tastings.
  • Another strategy is to use a name that contains an important keyword that people will use when searching. Wine.com, music.com, movies.com all come up near the top in web searches. If the best keywords are gone you can modify it. Try variations like winetopia, boozeorama, artique, or epills. Use a thesaurus (Roget's is at http://www.bartleby.com).
  • But don't outsmart yourself. Photosbyfred.com will be closer to the top of a search engine hitlist for photos than will fotosbyfred.com.
  • Likewise, beware of deliberate misspellings. If your name is aireport.com, count on losing business to airport.com. And count on getting sick of spelling it for people in interviews or at cocktail parties.
  • Look ahead. As the internet merges with cell phones, palm computers, and television, wineonline.com will soon be outdated.
  • There is another way to go. A nickname. Bacall & Conniff is an accounting firm and their whimsical domain, beancounters.com is unforgetable. Ditto for Law Offices of Richard P. Reichstein, Ltd. His site is legaleagle.com.
  • Another avenue is the fanciful name. Like Yahoo.com, or eBay.com. And just what is a Google? Great sites with memorable, nonsensical names.
  • Remember, the name you choose will be on all your letterheads, business cards, in your email address, and in newspaper articles about you. Make it a good one.

Brainstorm it

How to pick the right name? Brainstorm it.

Brainstorming is a technique used by ad agencies to create brands and concepts. Get 4-10 people together in a room with a white board, a computer with an internet connection, and wine and cheese. Pick a variety of people. Starched collars and nose rings.

Explain the mission and give them this article. When everyone has read it, ask them to start throwing out ideas. Write them on a pad of paper and on the white board no matter how silly they might sound. A silly name might lead to a great name.

Keep going until there are no more names. Then go through the list and vote to keep or delete a name. Discuss each name's strengths and weaknesses. Try to whittle the list down to the top 10. Then adjourn. Go back top your desk and look them up on Netsol.com. If a name is not available, make note of the variations that are offered. Type up a list of the names that are available and circulate it among key people and solicit feedback via email.

Pick the best and buy it. Now. And if it is not available, consider backordering it.

Protect yourself

You can buy MANY domain names and set them to point to one website. So buy your proper name like randolphwinecellars.com even if you plan to use wineorama.com. And protect your trademarks. Some companies will lock up mybrand.com, mybrand.biz, etc. This prevents confusion (but can get expensive). If you want to read about the President of the US, go to whitehouse.gov, not whitehouse.com. The latter is a porn site. Some folks even anticipate monkeybusiness from their competitors and enemies and reserve names like kmartsucks.com.

Anticipate misspellings. If your site is catwares.com, you might want to buy catwears.com. CigarAficionado.com can also be found at CigarAfficionado.com, and CigarAficianado.com. Each cost them $35 per year, but I am sure each brings them business well in excess of $35.

Be careful that you do not buy a domain that could be an infringement of someone else's trademark. That could lead to costly legal action and loss of the domain. Likewise, you should also beware of squatters. These are people who buy domains that infringe on you and offer to sell it to you for far more than face value, but less than the cost of litigation, so people usually pay the ransom rather than sue.

And never, never, never have your domain registered in someone else's name! Don't let your webmaster of ISP do it for you and list himself as the owner. If he goes out of business you have lost control of your brand. Or if she gets mad at you she can take your site down and you can't move it elsewhere. If you ask someone to do it for you, make sure the listing shows you as the administrator, at your email address, and on your credit card. Renewal notices will be sent to the administrator's address, and you do not want to fail to renew!

How do you register a domain? There are many services that will do it for you, including your internet service provider or the people who will house your website. As far as I am concerned, the best way to do it is to go to http://netsol.com. This is Network Solutions, the oldest, biggest, and most reputable registrar. They charge $35 per domain. There are others who charge as little as $8.95, and I have heard good things about some of them, but I have also heard horror stories about these discounters. They range from slllllooooowwww service when rapid response is needed, to shady business practices.

A cautionary tale

Jerry N. Uelsmann is a famous artist named one of the 20 most important photographers of the 20th Century. In the late 1990s a student offered to build his website and he agreed. The student registered the domain Uelsmann.com for him with a discount registrar. After a year, the student had graduated, and moved on. When the domain expired, he did not respond to the renewal requests, and the registrar promptly sold it to a company that buys expired domains and holds them for ransom.

One morning Uelsmann got an email from someone who wanted to know when he began photographing porn. Well he did have some tasteful nudes, but not porn. Sure enough, Uelsmann.com was now pointing to a porn site. With my help, he got a new domain, Uelsmann.net, and we notified more than 300 websites linked to him that the old site was now porn and would they please link to the new domain.

We moved quickly, but there was nothing we could do about the thousands of books and calendars of his work with the old url. Eventually we were able to buy back the domain, for about $2,000! In talking to the discount registrar we learned that they knew the company that bought Uelsmann.com held names for ransom. They had gotten complaints before. But the discounter still did business with the ransomer. In fact, I suspect the ransomer was a subsidiary of the discounter but I cannot prove it!

As a result, I recommend you use Network Solution to register your precious domain. They do not resell an expired domain for several months. Another good reason to use Network Solutions is that if you search for a name and it is not available, it will suggest variations on the name that are available. There is also a feature called Whois at Netsol that allows you to look up who owns a name if you want to make them an offer. Most important, they also have a feature that will automatically renew your domains by charging your credit card. Just be sure to mark your calendar with the renewal date so, if you change your email or credit card, your domain doesn't lapse.

When you buy a domain name, the registrar asks for a primary and secondary IP address and/or name. Internet Protocol (IP) addresses are numbers like this: 12.345.678.90. Every computer connected to the internet has an IP address. Some have permanent IP addresses. The computer on which your website will live, called a server, has a permanent IP address. When you logon to the net at home, your computer has an IP address. Typically your home computer gets a different number each time you logon. But web servers have permanent IP addresses and domain names, and when you buy a domain, you need to tell the registrar the IP address or the domain name of the computer on which your site will live. That info is then sent to hubs and routers around the world, called Domain Name Servers (DNS), so when people enter your url into their browser, they will find your home page. DNS servers are like giant telephone directories that look up your domain name and find the IP address of the computer, and routes the browser's call for a page to the right place. All in milliseconds.

Often, at the time you select a name, you know where your site will be hosted, and the host can provide you with the IP address. If you are not sure of where you will host, Netsol can "park" your domain on one of their servers until you select a host.

Yes, $35 per domain from Netsol is a lot more than $8.95, but is it worth $26.05 per year to rest certain that your domain name is safe? I think so.

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