What is a domain? We’re often asked this by beginners interested in building their very first website. You may have heard about domain names and know you need one for your own website, but what exactly are they and how do they work?
In this beginner-friendly guide, we’ll answer these questions and more. In fact, by the time you’re done reading, you’ll know all about domains and how to pick the right one for your site.
Here’s a quick look at some of the questions we’ll answer in this guide:
• What is a domain?
• How does a domain name work?
• What is the difference between a domain name and hosting?
• Are there different types of domain names?
• What is the Domain Name System?
• How do I choose a domain name?
• How do I buy a domain name?
You’ll also learn all about subdomains, registering a domain name, domain privacy, and more!
So, if you’re ready, let’s get started.
What is a Domain?
A domain name, or simply domain for short, is your website address. It’s what people type into the URL bar of their browser in order to visit your site.
People wouldn’t be able to find your home without an address. The same is true for your website. Without a domain, people won’t be able to find your site.
Of course, this is a little simplified. To better grasp what a domain actually is, we need to get into a little more detail.
To identify all of the different computers connected to the internet, each one is given an IP address. An IP address is simply a series of numbers that help pinpoint a particular computer on the internet.
Here is an example of an IP address:
With nothing more than a bunch of numbers and dots, an IP address is difficult for most people to remember. Now, imagine if you had to remember a similar series of numbers to visit a website? Worse yet, what if you had to remember 100 of them in to visit all of your favorite ones?
It would downright impossible. This is why domain names were invented.
Thanks to domain names, there’s no need to type in a long series of numbers to visit a website. Instead, you can visit a site simply by entering a unique and much easier to remember domain name, such as skyhighhikes.com or bigandbeautiful.com. These are domain names.
How Does a Domain Name Work?
When a domain name is entered in a web browser, it sends a request to the domain name system, or DNS. This global network of servers then looks up the name server or servers the domain name is associated with. The request is then forwarded to these name servers.
For example, if you choose Bluehost as your website hosting provider, then Bluehost’s name server information would look like the following:
Your hosting company, which in this case is Bluehost, is responsible for managing the name servers, so it will forward the request to the computer used to store your website. This computer is known as the web server.
Your web server is installed with special software, such as Apache or Nginx. It uses this software to fetch the web page being requested and all of its information. Then, it sends this information back to the browser.
Domain vs. Hosting – What's the Difference?
A website consists of website builder software, HTML pages, images and other files. If a domain name is your website’s address, then hosting is the actual house your website lives in. It’s the actual computer where the files of your website are stored. Known as servers, these computers are owned and operated by hosting companies.
You need both a domain name and hosting to create a website. However, it’s important to note they are two completely separate services.
You can buy a domain and register t with one company, and you can choose another company for your hosting and simply connect the domain to your hosting account. To do so, you simply need to enter your hosting company’s name server information, which they will provide, and edit your domain settings.
While you can purchase your domain and hosting from two separate companies, we recommend using one service provider for both. This will allow you to manage them much easier under a single account.
What’s the Difference Between a Domain and a Website?
If you’re still a little confused about domain names, don’t worry, we’ll break it down for you a little better.
A domain name is sort of like a phone number. A website, on the other hand, is like your phone. Although they are connected, each are very separate things.
You can get a different phone at any time and keep your same phone number. This is true for domains and websites.
You can change your website whenever you want and keep the same domain simply by connecting it to your new website. You can also move your domain name to a different registrar and keep your website connected to it, just like you can switch phone service providers and keep your same phone and phone number.
Still with me? The key thing to understand is that the domain you choose is not permanently tied to any specific website. You can move it to any other website you create, but you can only connect to one website at a time.
Types of Domain Names
There are a variety of domain name extensions to choose from. The most popular extension is .com. While there are other options, such as .net, .org, .info, .io, and .tv, we recommend going with .com.
What is a .biz or .io domain? Good question, but if you have to ask, chances are others do to, so it’s smart to avoid them.
Here’s a closer look at domains and the different types available:
• Top Level Domain (TLD)
Top level domains, or TLDs for short, are the highest level domain extensions in the DNS. There are dozens of TLDs, but .com, .net, and .org are by far the most popular. Although there are many other TLDs to choose from, they aren’t as well known or professional, so we don’t recommend them.
• Sponsored Top Level Domain (sTLD)
A sponsored top level domain is a type of TLD that represents a sponsor for a specific community. Some examples of sTLDs include .mil for the U.S. military, .gov for the U.S. government, and .edu for universities and educational organizations.
• Country Code Top Level Domain (ccTLD)
Country code top level domains are domain names specific to individual countries. They end with a country-specific extension, such as .au for Australia and .us for the United States. As such, these domains are used to target people in a specific country.
What is a Second Level Domain?
A second level domain is the part of a URL address or domain name to the left of the .com, .org, or another extension. Therefore, every domain name contains both a top and second level domain. They simply refer to the individual aspects of a domain name.
What is the Domain Name System?
The Domain Name System, or DNS, is a database where all internet domain names are located. It’s also where the domain names are translated into IP addresses. Basically, the DNS maps the domain name used by an internet user to locate a website to the actual IP address used by a computer to locate the website.
I know, it can be a little confusing. So, here’s an example to help you out:
Let’s say someone enters bestexample.com into their internet browser. Behind the scenes, a domain name server will map bestexample.com to the corresponding internet protocol address, which might look something like 188.8.131.52.
Who is responsible for it?
The DNS is managed by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, commonly called ICANN. This non-profit organization is responsible for creating, implementing, and managing domain name policies.
ICANN allows domain name registrars to sell domains and manage domain name records and renewals. They’re also able to transfer domains to other registrars at a domain owner’s request.
As a domain name owner, you’re responsible for renewing your domain and telling your registrar where it should send requests.
How Do I Choose a Domain Name?
Currently, there are 300+ million registered domain names, and thousands more are registered every single day.
In other words, it’s slim picking these days. Most of the good or obvious domain names are already taken, and the ones that aren’t yet registered will be very soon.
This means, more than likely, you’ll need a bit of creativity when choosing a domain for your site.
Here are some helpful tips:
• Play it safe with a .com domain.
• Make it short, sweet, and easy to remember.
• Avoid using numbers, hyphens, and symbols.
• Make sure it’s easy to spell and pronounce.
If you’re having trouble coming up with good domain names that aren’t already taken, try using a domain name generator. There are some great free ones that will provide you with several great domain name ideas based on certain keywords and criteria.
How Do I Buy a Domain Name?
That’s a great question! You can purchase a domain name from GoDaddy, Domain.com, NameCheap, or any other domain name registrar. Most domains cost around $15 a year, so you’re really leasing it, not buying it.
When you find a domain you like available at one of these registrars, you simply enter your payment details and voila, it’s ready for use.
However, you must first connect the domain to a hosting service, which is needed to take your website “live” and able to be viewed by the world.
Fortunately, many hosting companies also offer domain registration. We recommend going this route as it will allow you to manage both your domain ad hosting services from one platform and account. Doing so will also let you avoid having to change your name server settings.
As far as hosts go, we recommend Bluehost. Bluehost is a large and respected hosting provider offering both domain and hosting services. They also have great discounts on many of their hosting packages. Some even start as low as $2.75 per month!
Frequently Asked Domain Name Questions
We’ve helped thousands of people create their first websites, and over the years, we’ve heard every question regarding domain names you could imagine. Chances are you may have many of the same questions, so here’s a handful of our most frequently asked questions and the answers to each.
What is a domain URL?
Domain names act as a fill-in or replacement for a website’s IP address. An IP address is a unique string of numbers that identifies the computer server a website is hosted on. it’s a lot easier to remember a name like google.com than it is a random series of numbers.
A domain URL, on the other hand, is a resource locator that includes every piece of information a computer needs to pull up the specific page, document, or image on a website. You enter the domain URL into the address bar at the top of your browser, and while a URL contains a domain, the two aren’t the same thing.
For example, your domain name may be doghero.com, but the URL of a blog post on your website may be doghero.com/why-I-love-dogs. If you type in the domain, it will take you to the home page, but if you type in the URL, you’ll be sent to a specific page on the website. It could be the home page, or it could be one of the other dozens of pages on the site.
What is a subdomain?
A subdomain is used to create a secondary or “child” site under the primary domain. For example, blog.doghero.com or store.doghero.com are subdomains of doghero.com. When you register your domain, you’ll be able to create any subdomains you want to make your website eve more functional and robust.
What is a domain name registrar?
A domain registrar is a company, such as GoDaddy, with an accreditation from the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN. This accreditation grants them the ability to register or “sell” domain names.
“Sell” is in quotation marks because you can’t actually buy a domain name. Rather, you’re able to register an available domain through the domain name registrar and receive the right to use it for a year. To renew your rights to the domain and keep using it, you must pay a yearly fee to the registrar in order to re-register it.
What is a domain host?
A domain host is a company that manages your domain. Using DNS records, it connects your domain with websites, email, and other internet-related services.
What is a domain name server?
A domain name server is kind if like a phone book, if you can remember them. It maintains a domain name directory and translates each domain into IP addresses, which is needed due to the fact that computers access websites via IP addresses.
What is a domain administrator?
A domain administrator is a user account with special privileges, such as the ability to edit Active Directory information. The domain admin can modify the Active Directory servers and the content stored in them. This includes the ability to create and delete users, manage their permissions, and so on.
What is a domain Active Directory?
A domain Active Directory is a Microsoft creation used to manage user permissions, including search functionality and login authentication. In other words, it stores directory information and manages user interactions with the domain. It verifies access to the domain whenever a user tries to sign in or connect to the network server.
What is a domain certificate?
A domain certificate serves as evidence that a domain and the credentials of its registrant have been validated. Since domain certificates are equated to security and trust, they’re particularly useful for business and ecommerce websites that handle transactions.
What is a domain extension?
A domain extension is a top level domain, or TLD. While there are literally hundreds of extensions available to choose from, so you should have no problem finding a domain, some of the most common extensions include .com, .org, .net, and country-specific extensions like .us or .uk.
What is a domain email?
A domain email will boost the professionalism and credibility of your website. In addition to giving your visitors a custom email domain linked to your website, which looks like this – John@example.com, it allows you to communicate with them via your website rather than Gmail or Yahoo Mail. While these are fine for your personal email address, you definitely don’t want to use them for your business.
What is a domain worth?
Did you know you can sell your domain for $100 or even $100,000?
Yes, it’s true. Domains are basically internet real estate, and like real estate, good domain names are in huge demand.
That’s why smart entrepreneurs are always on the hunt for great domain names with good domain authority scores to add to their portfolio.
What is a good domain authority score?
The authority of a domain is scored on a scale from 1-100, with 100 being the best and 1 being the worst. The higher the score, the more likely the domain is to rank.
The scoring algorithm was developed by MOZ, and since it’s logarithmic, it’s much easier to improve a low score than it is a higher one. If you want to sell your domain for good money, or your website for that matter, you should shoot for a domain authority score of at least 70 to 80.
How do you use the Whois domain tool?
The Whois domain tool contains the details of every domain name, including its owner and how to contact them. As such, the tool is extremely helpful if you find a domain you really love but it’s already registered by someone else. You can contact them and make an offer. Who knows, they might accept.
To use the Whois domain tool, go to http://whois.domaintools.com. Then, simply enter the domain name you would like information on and select “Lookup.” That’s all there is to it.
What is a domain transfer?
A domain transfer is the process of transferring a domain from one registrar to another. A domain can only be transferred if it has been registered for at least 60 days.
What does it mean when a domain is parked?
A parked domain is a domain that isn’t associated with hosting, email, or any other web services. People usually park domains while their website is being built or when they simply want to hold the domain while they boost its authority in order to make a profit.
What is a good domain name?
A good domain name should be short, brandable, easy to spell and type, not contain any hyphens or numbers, and use the right domain extension. If you’re stuck coming up with a good domain name, a domain name generator may help.
What is domain privacy? Is it important?
People are required by ICANN to provide a physical address, email address, phone number, and other personally identifiable information. This information is made public for anyone to see.
However, domain registrars offer domain privacy as an add-on service. With domain privacy, proxy information will be showed in place of your real personal information.
While it is completely optional, if you’re concerned about your privacy, you can purchase domain privacy for a small additional cost.
Where can I purchase a domain name?
You can purchase/register a domain through any domain name registrar. One of the most well-known registrars is GoDaddy, but there are several out there to choose from.
Many hosting companies also domain registration services. Going this route will allow you to manage both your hosting and domain from a single account.
How much does domain registration cost?
Most domains are available for $15 or less per year. However, an in-demand domain with high domain authority can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
Some website builders like Wix, Weebly, and Squarespace also offer free custom domains for a year when you sign up for one of their plans. These are actual domain names of your choosing, not subdomains.
If you use one of these website builders, which is a smart move, you can take them up on this offer and enjoy instant savings.
Should I get a domain name from a website builder or domain registrar?
You can do either. The choice is yours to make. However, there pros and cons of each, which we’ll go over here.
Pros and Cons of Using a Website Builder:
• Pro – Many website builders provide a free custom domain for a year when you sign up for an annual plan, providing you with an instant savings of $10-$15 or more.
• Pro – Getting a domain name from a website builder will streamline the entire connection process, allowing you to connect your domain to your website in just a few clicks. Connecting your domain via a registrar isn’t difficult, but it’s a little more involved.
• Con – When the first year is up, you must renew your domain, which will cost up to $20. This is slightly higher than the annual renewal fee of a domain registrar. So, while you’ll get the first year free, you’ll pay a little more in subsequent years.
• Con – If you decide to switch website builders for any reason, you’ll need to transfer the domain from your old builder to your new one. Once again, this isn’t difficult, but it will require a little more administrative work.
Pros and Cons of Using a Domain Registrar:
• Pro – If you decide to move your website to another website builder, you’ll be able to keep the domain with your same registrar and simply connect it to your new site builder. There’s no need to deal with exporting and importing anything, so this can generally be done in no time at all.
• Pro – The annual renewal cost with a domain registrar is usually a little cheaper, saving you a few dollars each year.
• Con – Connecting a domain name requires a little more work with a domain registrar than with a website builder.
Where Can I Learn More About Domains, Hosting, and Creating a Website?
Right here! We’ve been helping people get started online for years, making us a top resource for beginners. We have articles, guides, and tutorials covering every important topic, so there’s no need to venture into the exciting world of website creation alone!