Picking And Buying A Domain Name in 2018

An article by David Brooks. Last updated: November 2, 2018

“Good luck with that!” some might say. In a lot of ways, that would be an accurate representation of what about to come your way. The truth is, there are a lot of things to consider, and there’s a lot of stuff that you could file away as “garbage practices” around the web registration industry. But stick with me and I’ll help you get through the process of picking and buying a new domain.

Why Buy A Domain Name?

You might think that’s a funny question if you’ve been around the web for a while. But sometimes I work with people who would just use an obscure server name assigned by a web host.

d28300k.example.com is basically the same as davidnbrooks.com, right?

Can you use that weird subdomain of example.com? I guess you could. But don’t.

URLs like that are for testing your site before your domain name is purchased. Unless your product is selling d28300ks, whatever that is, it won’t represent you. And even then it more represents example.com than d28300k.

But yet friends of mine still use sites like myname.wix.com or whatever DIY option they choose.

Even if it’s not going to represent you as “business”, it doesn’t even look good for a resume or personal blog. And, if you continue to use it you could run into trouble. If a year later, you find that your content is great and your audience is growing, you’ll also realize that you have no power, or control over anything.

A domain name gives you power at the smallest level. Your site may still be reachable at d28300k.example.com, but nobody knows that. They know you by your name. When your site grows beyond the capacity of your host or your host isn’t acting responsibly, you can move your site without losing your audience.

Where Is The Best Place To Buy A Domain?

There are thousands of options on where you could purchase a domain. The two typical ways to buy a domain are to buy one as part of your hosting process, or from a company that specializes in selling domains.

Your friend Steve can’t just sell you a domain. There’s a process that goes with it. But any reputable purchasing option takes all of that out of the way for you. If you ever need to transfer a domain there is a bit of a headache there. But in buying a domain, it’s fairly straightforward.

Buying A Domain From Your Web Host

What is a web host? Well, quickly, a web host is someone who actually holds your site for you. A couple examples are Green Geeks and Digital Ocean. You’ll need a host to handle all the technical parts of running a site.

As I mentioned, most web hosts have options for purchasing and renewing a domain right in their interface. You just tell them what you want to buy, and then you pay for it. There’s usually a tiny waiting process while they grab it and point it at your account. But at the end of it, you’ll likely see a “placeholder” site that your host runs for you. (Later you replace the placeholder with your real site.)

The benefit of buying a domain through your host is convenience.

Everything related to your site is in the same place. So you only have to keep track of one account.

Buying A Domain From A Registrar

The other option is to visit a domain registrar like Network Solutions or Namecheap. Their primary business is to sell domain names. They do offer hosting services, but that’s not usually what they’re known for. Their hosting plans tend to be afterthoughts.

The benefit of buying a domain through a registrar is for security and control.

Let’s say you have a falling out with your host because they keep “repairing your server” and leaving it dead. (That happened to me a few times with one host.) You don’t have to keep your account with them open, you just need to update the settings in your domain and leave them behind.

Plus, if someone gains access to your hosting account, they can’t transfer your domain away too.

Who do I recommend? Namecheap.com. You could go around and around with options. But the things I like about them are:

  1. They aren’t my web host.
  2. They offer domain protection.
  3. Their DNS options are good.

How To Pick A Good Domain

Let’s face it, things like David.com are usually taken. My friend did manage to get his full name as a domain the other day, but almost nobody shares his first name. Most of us aren’t that lucky.

If you want a single word, you’re probably going to be looking for a long time. Most domains I register now are more like short sentences. And that’s okay really. I don’t need a single word for them. (I did get Elerien.com, but it’s a made-up word.)

Beware The Misspellings And Capitalizations

A friend of mine wanted to buy “Be A Revolution”, but after he did so, he realized it was going to read “BearEvolution”, too. Though I’m pretty sure he let it go, it wasn’t the worst accidental domain name that could have popped up.

Make sure that anything you are about to buy stands up to the elementary and high school kid test.

Will you get mocked for your new domain? Is it a big stretch to make something silly or vulgar out of it? Does any of this stuff really matter to you?

Finding And Buying Your Domain

Once you know what you want, generally, head over to a place like NameCheap and use their domain search feature to see if it’s available. At this point, you’ll figure out how much rethinking you need to do. If your first choice is available, grab it. It might not be there tomorrow.

Should I Get A .COM? What About These Other Endings?

Originally there were only a few choices. You could get a .com, .org, .net, .gov, .edu, etc. But after a while, people needed more options. Nobody wants to run example3020.com. Eventually, they started offering things like .limousine or .tattoo. Unless you run a tattoo parlor or limousine shop, they aren’t useful to you at all.

There are times when something like a .io is tempting. (Startups tend to love those.) They feel so light and free. But they’re also expensive to register most of the time. There was also a craze a few years back where people would snag .ly domains. Sometimes you’ll notice a .ca (or similar) for sale. Often things like .ca or .ru are reserved for people who live in specific countries. If you don’t live in Canada, I wouldn’t recommend buying a .ca account. Sometimes you can lose your domain if you falsely represent that kind of thing.

But let’s think about it for a minute. When someone tells you their site, you generally expect it to be a .com, don’t you? Most people do.

If you’re a non-profit, a .org might make sense. Sometimes companies hold a .net site. But when you say your site is example.io, people try to visit examplio.com. If you do choose a .org or .net domain name, you’re likely going to spend the next few years telling everyone you’re at example.org and emphasizing the “.org” bit. But it’s not much different than specifying a .com.

This may be a bias on my part, and I’m fine with that, but when my friends want to buy domains I usually try and talk them into a .com of some kind. By doing that it usually dodges copyright infringement stuff, too. But you should always do that research.

And while you’re researching, make sure you can get the standard social channels, too. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. Even if you don’t have an immediate need for them, it’s better than not getting them now and having to use some odd-named account in the future.

What About Domain Names With A Hyphen?

I’ve had a couple hyphenated domain names, and they always felt like tack-on or imposter sites. Most people won’t remember them either. So if someone else holds the same domain without the hyphens, expect that they will get some of your traffic. But if your content is good, you might beat them in the fight for Google rankings anyway.

What Should A Domain Purchase Cost?

At the time of writing this, I can buy a .com address for $10.98 at NameCheap. (I believe it goes to about $14 the next year. There’s a first-year discount.) One of my hosts would allow me to buy it right now for $14. Call me cheap, but I’m good with saving the $3.

Domain Protection (AKA Whois Protection). Domain Spammers and Scammers.

I was going to tell you to put that $3 into a domain protection service, but it looks like Namecheap is now offering that as a free service. (Sweet!) But why would you want domain protection if it costs extra? Take a look at this:

The public details of Apple.com

That information is available to anyone who cares to look. In this case, I looked at the records for Apple.com. Most people won’t care to do that, but bots, scammers, and spammers do. Now, imagine that this is your domain and personal information. I’ve had real information about me placed on the records of a site because my old registrar didn’t have a domain protection option. As a result, I would get these shady letters telling me my site was about to expire, and that I needed to pay them $30 – $120 to do that.

If you get a letter like that, don’t pay it any attention. Your real registrar will send you an email. You should go to your account in your browser and verify the details there instead. You can safely ignore letters you receive about your site unless it comes from your actual registrar. If that happens, verify the information. You wouldn’t want someone pretending to be your registrar to steal your domain. I’ve never received an actual letter from any host in almost 20 years of buying sites.

What About Expensive Domains And “Make An Offer” Options?

Now that I’ve told you a domain will cost about $12 – $14, what about those domains that go for thousands of dollars? This is where we get into the muddy subjects of domain registration, squatting, and domain strength.

Back in the day, people would grab something they knew would be of interest in the future. Maybe you were one of the first people on the web and you snagged CocaCola.com. In order to use that, the Coca-Cola company might make you an offer to sell the domain. Because they own the legal trademark on it, they could always just take you to court over it if they wanted. (At least that’s how I understand it.)

Sometimes those domain squatting schemes paid out really well, other times it meant that the “domain squatter” would just have a domain they didn’t need, that they had to renew every year for a few dollars.

When I bought DavidNBrooks.com, I could have bought DavidBrooks.com instead for $3000. I didn’t. The last time I checked they were pricing it at $10,000. Thankfully I don’t really want it now either. But there are cases where it might be beneficial for you to shell out the money.

Let’s say you want to buy ReallyOldBooks.com, but it’s $3000 to do that. What you might not know is that ReallyOldBooks.com was purchased 10 years ago as the blog of a guy who liked old books. (I’m making this stuff up, just so you know.) Since your business model is selling old books, it could be important for you to own that. Some people don’t update the links on their sites. So, you could find that a lot of people are still linking to that old blog that hasn’t been live for years. By grabbing that domain, you might get immediate traffic which turns into sales.

But if ReallyOldBooks.com was about collecting matchbooks, the people coming to your site from those links might not care about actual books. A domain with history can be a great thing. But you want that history to match up to your site’s purpose if possible. If it doesn’t, you might just be overpaying for a domain name.

How Long Do You Own The Domain?

You never really own a domain. Think of it more like a rental. Typically the money you paid to buy it will be due a year later. If you paid thousands of dollars, it will probably only cost you the standard registration price from here on out. But make sure of that before you buy it!

Some places allow you to auto-renew your domain. I recommend that if you don’t work in registrations a lot. It keeps your site from expiring without you realizing it. But it might mean that you get hit with a charge on your debit card in a year.

Transferring Domain Ownership

I don’t do this a lot, but sometimes you have to move your registration from one place to the next. The only reason I have had to do this was to put all my domains in one account for the sake of sanity.

If you ever want to give or sell a domain to someone, this might be a thing you need to do.

But never transfer a domain you still want to someone else. Any typical hosting necessities can be handled with DNS settings. Transferring your domain registration means the other person is the new owner of your domain, and you can’t force the return.

The general process like this:

  1. The owner of the domain unlocks the domain.
  2. The owner of the domain receives a code from the registrar.
  3. The owner sends the code to the new owner (or copies it into their own new registration account elsewhere.)
  4. The two services confirm details and shake hands.
  5. The domain is now registered with the new registrar.

That may sound complicated, but most services try to make this as easy as possible for everyone.

Now that your new domain has been purchased, or transferred to you, the next thing to worry about is hosting.


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