Buy your domain
The first piece of advice I offer you is never get a free domain.
Some web hosts offer a free domain name when you buy a hosting package. That may seem like a no-brainer, but don’t do it.
Your domain name is going to be a key brand asset for your online business. You could build a hugely profitable business on a website using that free domain.
With a free domain from your host though, it’s not in your name and you don’t control the DNS settings (I’ll explain this soon) for that domain.
In the event you have a problem with your hosting, without control over your domain, you’re reliant on the host company to get your site online. Big problems that take websites offline for extended periods are unusual, but they do happen.
If you have full control of your domain, if necessary you could buy hosting with a different company, set your site up on that new hosting account and direct the domain to the new site.
Of course, you may already be using a free domain name, so in that case you may want to consider transferring your domain. We’ll look at how to do that a little later.
Which Top Level Domain should you use?
A Top Level Domain or TLD is the extension that appears at the end of a domain. For example:
Those are all examples of TLDs. The first two have been around pretty well since the start of the web. The second two are examples of country specific TLDs and the last two are examples of newer TLDs that resulted from a change in the rules governing TLDs.
In addition to TLDs, there are Second Level Domains or SLDs. Looking at the website for this book, the SLD is shoestringhustle, however I’ll refer to domain name rather than SLD as I think it makes more sense to most people.
If your business is specific to a country, then looking to use the respective country TLD usually makes sense. It could boost search engine rankings for searches in the selected country.
If you want to use a country specific TLD for another reason other than your business operating in that country, be sure to check you’re eligible to buy it. Some countries, such as Spain with .es, require you to be resident or have a business office in the country.
If you’re not location specific and you can find a suitable .com that’s available, it’s probably still the best option to choose. If someone tries to guess a domain name, they’ll usually try .com first.
One reason to select a different TLD may be if there is one that is specific to your industry, such as .fashion for a clothes retailer.
How should you choose your domain name?
As suggested above, availability may be the main driver when you select your domain. Here’s a checklist of things you should bear in mind when choosing though.
- Names can only include letters, numbers and hyphens and can’t start or end with a hyphen
- Shorter is better as it’s more easily remembered
- Google is a fan of brands, so including your brand name may have value, though it may offer less benefit for small and new businesses
- Include a relevant keyword if possible as it helps signal what you’re business does, but this no longer affects search engine rankings
- Is it easy to spell? Don’t select something that you need to explain how to spell it
- Likewise, think hard before making up name with a vowel or two removed, like flickr.com
When you have decided on a domain name, type it out and look at it. Then get other people to look at it to ensure you get no unexpected surprises later.
It’s likely the owner of the online pen sales business that registered the domain penisland.net knew exactly what they were doing (they must have received huge amounts of traffic from people sharing their domain with others to give them a laugh), but it’s possible they never saw that some people might not interpret it as an island of pens, rather as a land of, well you get the idea.
Where to buy your domain name?
To buy a domain name, you will need to sign up for an account with a domain registrar.
I’ve used a few, but for the last few years I’ve bought all my new domains from Namecheap (http://www.namecheap.com/?aff=102849). I still have domains with other registrars, but that’s only because I’m too lazy to move them and save a few dollars a year on each.
It’s not uncommon for some registrars to sell domains more cheaply than Namecheap for the first year, but then the price jumps significantly from the second year onwards. So when you buy, make sure you check what the renewal cost will be.
Namecheap renewals may also be a few dollars more than the initial price, so you can always contact their support if that may be an issue for you and it’s not clearly stated at purchase. That seems to be the case with .com domain names.
The practice of higher renewals fees may be particularly prevalent with many of the newer TLDs. The owners of the TLDs know that if you set up a successful site using one of their TLDs, you will have to keep renewing year after year, so a low initial fee could lead to greater long term profits for them.
There’s nothing wrong with that, but make sure you’re aware of the ongoing renewal costs before you buy.
Are you a domain hoarder?
In case you’re one of those people with an itchy trigger finger when it comes to browsing sites selling domain names, this is for you.
Cloudflare, a company that helps protect websites from attacks (we’ll get to them later) have another service.
Cloudflare Registrar (https://www.cloudflare.com/products/registrar/) sells and renews many TLDs at cost price. You have to use Cloudflare’s service for any domain names bought through them, but if you’re just parking domains, then there’s nothing to set up.
If you’ve got a lot of domains you’re not using, it could be worth looking into transferring them to bring the costs down.
How to transfer a free domain
If you received a domain name for free when you bought your web hosting, in most cases you should be able to transfer with little trouble. You are reliant on your web host in this matter, but as long as you don’t owe any money to the hosting company, all reputable companies will comply with your request. It is possible there may be a fee to pay depending on your web host.
The exact process for transferring a domain may vary a little depending on the TLD. I’ll focus on transferring a .com domain name as those are still the most common.
Before pressing ahead, you want to check that your domain wasn’t registered or renewed less than 60 days ago. Most domains cannot be transferred during the first 60 days after being registered or renewed.
If you’re unsure about this, enter your domain name into the search form at https://www.whois.net/. The results page will show you the creation date of the domain name and the last date it was updated.
You also need to check that the domain’s status isn’t locked, information again you can see on the Whois page.
Assuming your domain is outside the 60 days period, contact the support department of your web hosting company, explain you want to transfer your domain to your own registrar’s account and ask them to supply you with an Auth Code or EPP Code to transfer the domain. Depending on the current status of the domain, you may also need to ask for the domain to be unlocked.
When you have the code, go to Namecheap and click the Sign Up link at the top of the page and register your new account.
After signing in, go to the Transfer to Us menu item and click Transfer Domains. Enter your domain name into the input field and click Transfer.
On the next screen, confirm that Registrar Lock isn’t locked before continuing. Assuming it’s showing Active or OK, check the Domain Contact Information box and enter the Authorization Code. Click the Verify Auth Code button and if the verification is successful, you can continue and click the add to cart button.
Once the payment is complete, it may take up to 5-7 days for the domain to appear in your Namecheap account. Namecheap will send an email to you when the transfer is complete.
Note that there should be no downtime when transferring a domain, as Namecheap will automatically use the same nameservers your site was using.
Note that most TLDs will extend the previous expiry date for the domain for a further year, so you don’t lose out on the previous registration period.