A domain name is your website’s address. It is what people type into their browser to find you. It is as much of your identity as the name of your organization. Thus, picking the right domain name is critical.
Choosing a domain name can be difficult. You want something that has your business name in it or is otherwise descriptive to your business. It also should be something short and memorable. Avoid unusual spellings or unusual abbreviations. The more natural sounding the better. However, domain names have to be unique. Globally there is only one “pepsi.com.” Currently there are millions and millions of domain names registered. The odds are that your first choice may be already taken. When I founded Web Pyro we chose a domain name first and then named the business.
It is not uncommon to have multiple domain names. Many businesses will get variations (especially common misspellings) of their name. For example, “google.com” and “gooogle.com” will get you to the same place. You may also want multiple top level domains (TDL). A TDL is really the extension of the domain name, such as .com, .net, or .org. So, going back to the Google example, “google.com”, “google.net”, and “google.org” would all be registered.
Certain TDLs are restricted. These include government websites (.gov) and educational institutions (.edu). Most other common TDLs are open to use for any purpose. A business can use a .org address and a nonprofit can use a .com address.
Once you have somewhat of an idea of what domain you want, reserve it as soon as possible. Even if you are not 100% set on the name, reserve it. I have seen occasions where one day a name will be available but the client asks to hold off just in case. The next week when they are ready to go, the name was bought by someone else. The common TDLs such as .com and .org usually cost less than $20 a year, so it is a small investment if you get multiples before you are ready to choose.
Reserving domain names is easy. There are many, many places you can reserve a domain name. Common ones include: 1and1.com, networksolutions.com, and hostgator.com. My personal favorite is Google itself with their Google Domain service. Or you can have the web developer you are using to set up the site reserve one for you. Either way, it should be fairly straightforward.
There are cases in which a domain name is reserved but you really would want it. It is possible you could still obtain that domain name, but it will take more effort. Some people will reserve a domain name and decide not to use it. They also may be in the business of selling domain names. The ownership of domain names is public by default (however you can make that information private if you wish). If you want to find out who owns a domain name or when ownership of a specific domain name expires, go to a website called whois.org. Here you can type in the domain name and get that domain’s public record. Network Solutions also has a nice directory at http://www.networksolutions.com/whois.
It is important to spend some time considering your domain name. Not only is it your identity, but it will be difficult to change later. Registering a new domain name will take take seconds, but updating everywhere you advertised the old address, getting people to remember the new name, and making sure book marks, links, etc. all redirect to the new location will take time. Choose your name wisely!