Starting a website? Getting a domain is one of the first things to do.
In this article, I’ll show you exactly how to buy a domain name and how to choose a good one in the first place. We will cover domain search, registrars, hosting, and even some ways to get a free domain name.
And yes, you can do it all even as a beginner—no need to be a tech wiz to follow the steps.
What Is a Domain Name?
Domain names are an easy way to surf the internet without memorizing IPs.
An IP address is just like a street address—you can type it in your browser and it will “take” you to the website. But this system uses strings of numbers and they’re not easy to memorize. That is where the Domain Name System (DNS) comes in, replacing numbers with words.
What to Consider When Buying a Domain Name?
So, you want to purchase a domain name. You can pick any word or phrase you want, as long as somebody else isn’t already using it.
But some are better than others—they’re more memorable, help your branding, drive traffic, inspire buyer confidence, etc. Here is how to get a domain name that works for you and your business.
Domain names exist to make internet users’ lives easier. Don’t ruin the experience by choosing overly long, hard-to-spell, tough-to-remember words.
You can buy a domain with up to 63 characters before the dot, but that doesn’t mean that you should.
There is no “golden number” when it comes to domain name length, but keeping it short and sweet is a good rule to go by. Make sure the word is also easy to spell and, ideally, represents your brand (more on that in a bit).
Keywords are search phrases that people type into engines like Google. They’re the cornerstone of search engine optimization (SEO) because they help you get discovered.
Purchase a domain name with relevant keywords—it is a great way to boost search engine rankings. Plus, it keeps you on-brand and memorable, both of which are important for business websites.
Your domain name is an element of branding—and a key one, too.
If you already have an established brand, use that. Your returning clients will recognize you and new people will remember you.
If you’re just starting out, buy a domain name that combines branding with keyword relevance. This way, you can get those sweet SEO juices flowing, while still establishing a recognizable brand.
For example, Nike’s site is nike.com because they’re already a well-known brand. Hosting Tribunal is also a brand name—but it tells you about what we do through keywords as well.
Top-level domains (TLD) are what comes after the dot in a website name.
There are the popular choices—.com, .net, and .org. The country code top-level domains are .co.uk, .ca, .au, etc. And then, “novel” top-level domains include things like .shop, .health, .studio, etc.
So, which one should you choose?
In most cases, a .com domain is the best option. Domain registration for .com’s isn’t as pricey as some people believe it to be (you can get one for under $10). And it’s arguably the most well-known and reputable TLD you can go for.
There are exceptions, of course.
Tech startups usually go for a .io domain; non-profits tend to pick .org; educational institutions can use .edu, etc. You can also choose a suffix that completes your name—just like the owners of bit.ly did, for example.
For the most part, though, .com is the most versatile and universally recognized option.
How to Purchase a Domain Name
Now, let’s talk about where to buy domain names and how.
First things first—is your name of choice available?
To check domain availability, go to the registrar and type up your desired name to see if you can purchase it.
You can also do a domain check if you’re getting it through your hosting provider. Again, type it up and see if it’s available—it really is that simple.
If somebody has already registered your name, you can:
- Accept this and pick another one.
- Make an offer to buy it off.
Domain squatting is when people buy names in popular niches in the hope of reselling them. It is technically illegal, but rarely prosecuted. If your desired name is already taken, giving up or paying the original buyer are pretty much your only options.
Buy the Domain
If you’re going with a dedicated registrar like Namecheap, getting a domain is simple. Just pick the one you want, add it to the cart, and check out.
You will need to provide some personal information for the domain name registration. Don’t be alarmed if asked about your home address—registrars have to collect that information for security purposes, but they do have systems to keep it off the public record. This way, you can have your domain without attracting unwanted spam.
If you’re getting a name through your hosting provider, the registration process will come as you’re setting up the service. Either way, it still goes through the ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), so it requires some personal details.
How to Get a Free Domain Name?
Some hosting providers will give you a free name when you buy hosting. That’s pretty much the only way to get a free custom domain.
You can also go to website builders and create a free page, as long as you’re okay with their branding on it. For example, free Wix sites have the .wix.com extension. Needless to say, this is not ideal for a professional website but gives you a taste of what it is to build and maintain a website.
The Best Domain Registrars
These registrars are essentially dedicated domain name “stores.” You go to them, say what you’re looking for, and they’ll sell it to you.
So, which registrar to go to?
I highly recommend Namecheap for (as the name suggests) the cheapest domain registration. Just go to namecheap.com and type up your idea. You’ll find tons of .com’s for under $10, as well as a wide range of “exotic” domains like .bargains, .cleaning, .lawyer, etc.
You can also use GoDaddy to buy a domain—whether you want to register a new one or participate in an auction for an existing name. While GoDaddy markets itself as a place for cheap domains, it’s pricier than Namecheap—so make sure to shop around for the best deal.
Another place to go is Google Domains, although, again, they’re definitely not the cheapest domain registrar.
We have a full-length ranking review of registrars too. Check it out to get even more recommendations.
Now that we covered the first way to register a domain name—through a dedicated registrar—let’s talk about your other options:
Should You Buy a Domain Separate From Website Hosting?
Plenty of hosting companies will give you a free domain name once you subscribe to their services. It’s a nice deal—and very convenient because it doesn’t require additional setup. The domain you buy will already be mapped to the hosting provider.
If you’re starting just a single website like a blog or a page for your business, there is no need to go to a third-party provider. Your hosting company will give you the name for free and you won’t have to fuss about setting it up.
If you’re looking to make more than one website, though, domain registrars might be a better way to go. They often offer better deals and even bulk domain purchase options—and the savings add up very quickly.
Now that you know how to buy a domain, let’s talk about reselling. This is just what it sounds like:
Somebody else has the name you want and they’re willing to sell it to you. In some places, this is illegal—or in a legal gray area—especially if the original owner only bought the domain to sell it.
Still, if somebody else owns your desired name, the only way to have it is through reselling.
The domain registry (e.g., Namecheap or GoDaddy) can help you make an offer, even if it is taken. For example, GoDaddy has an auction marketplace where you can bid on registered domains. Some of the sellers have listed a price, while others work on a per-offer basis only.
Knowing how to buy a domain name and choose the right one are some of the most important “first steps” when you’re starting your own website. Whether you’re making a blog for your hobby or a professional page for a business, the domain name is how people will find you.
Keeping it simple, on-brand and easy-to-remember is essential for driving traffic and improving user experience—so take your time picking the best option for you.
Website registration is quick enough through a registrar or a hosting provider, so branding should really be your first focus.