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Getting a Domain Name

A domain name or "virtual domain" is a web address composed of unique word(s), name(s), abbrevianion(s), an acronym or number. It can be just about anything that would have meaning. A domain name always ends in an extension such as ".com" (dot com), ".net" (dot net) or ".org" (dot org). But there are many other extensions including dot biz and dot info most notably.

A domain name says "we have arrived". It is not a status symbol or true measure of success since anyone can get one. But having a domain name as your web address indicates the establishment of your online identity. It is possibly the most important decision you can make since it is generally the most forward representation you will display to curious web surfers. When people hear about or see a good domain name, that alone can be enough to make them want to look up your web site. In this day and age, having a business card without a domain name web address puts you at a disadvantage since your competitor is likely to have one.

You can establish a web site under someone else's domain and just have some pages on their web site. But unless there are good reasons to be under someone else's umbrella, your web address will be seen as merely a part of the larger web site. This is not a bad option. But it is almost always temporary and might tend to be looked upon as amateur. When you have your own domain name, web surfers know you will be there forever or for as long as your web site shall exist. A domain name is also easier to remember.

The permanence of a domain name web address is extremely important. Gradually, it helps your web site to develop a following that only increases in most cases. Since you will probably keep the domain name for life, fans of your web site will not get lost.

Even though most domain names are permanent, you gain more flexibility than you lose. For instance, all web sites require a server host, the Internet service provider (ISP) whose hard drives will serve your web pages to the world. When you have a virtual domain web address such as "MyWebSite.com" (hypothetical), you can move to a different area or change service providers without changing your web address. Thus your audience will not lose track of you.

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The best purpose of a domain name is to make an impact from the moment someone first sees it and every time they see it again. On today's Internet, just about everyone has a domain name. Therefore, if you expect to make an impression, you may need help in thinking up a smart domain name that is not already taken. There is a creative mental process required to think up a good domain name. It helps to be good with words. It also helps to know how the Internet works.

Some domain names, such as "ABCNews.com" become household words in the public consciousness by virtue of their popularity that existed before the domain was obtained. But in most cases, the unknown or smaller concern relies on a domain name to give their web site a boost in popularity.. This is not simply a matter of people being attracted by catchy wording. Search engines also pay attention to the words in your domain name. If your domain name is "ColoradoArtWorks.com" then people searching for art who punch the keyword "Colorado" or "Colorado art" into a search engine might have a better chance of finding your web site. There is also much clever competition in choosing domain names. This competition decreases your chance of being noticed or even found on a search engine. Therefore it is all the more important to be smart about naming your domain name. And always consult a pro who knows how these things work.

When the Internet first began, simple one-word domain names like "Wine.com" were registered for less than a hundred dollars just as they are today. But there's hardly a one-word domain name left in the universe. Therefore you have two choices. You can brainstorm to come up with a new catchy domain name or your unique business name. The second choice is to buy the domain name from whoever holds the name you want. Names like "Wine.com" have sold for vast sums of money. I'm talking seventy five million dollars. You don't have that kind of cash. Buying a domain name is just like buying real estate. There's a limited supply of choice domain names and a frenzied demand. But you still have the opportunity to register your unique domain name for less than forty or fifty bucks. If you register a smart domain name, its value may very well increase. But you will not want to sell it unless you no longer need it.

Registering a Domain Name
Getting a domain name is a relatively simple matter. Typically it is often done with the help of your Internet service provider. Ultimately, either directly or indirectly, a "domain registrar" is where domains are registered for a fee ranging from twenty dollars to fifty dollars per year. The average web designer has nothing to do with your registering a domain name and does not offer this service. Nonetheless, you can expect valuable advice from your web designer before you proceed.

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Domain Name Availability - Using a WHOIS Portal
The availability of the domain name you want can be checked using any online "WHOIS" lookup portal. It does not cost anything to use one of these portals. You can use them as often as you like. But each WHOIS portal operates slightly differently. Some portals will look through the entire WHOIS collection of names. Others are unable to provide data regarding domains registered through certain particular domain registrars, and they will usually tell you so when you look up a domain name in that situation. Also some WHOIS portals will tell you that a domain name is taken or not taken but decline to reveal who has taken the domain. And some WHOIS portals will come back with an answer that may seem ambiguous such as "no data available, the domain you entered may not exist" meaning that the domain name you want is probably available. And finally, when you use a WHOIS portal, you normally must be careful with punctuation and extensions. Most WHOIS portals will do a lookup such as "FordMotors.com" and tell you it is taken or "unavailable". But if you enter "www.FordMotors.com" you will get an error message because you are not supposed to type in anything but "FordMotors.com" (without the www dot prefix). Also if you happen to accidentally type in a comma instead of a period, you will get an error message.

Following are a few good WHOIS portals. Use any one of these to see if the domain name you want is available:

* VeriSign WhoIs - Tends to be comprehensive.
Register.com -
WhoIs.com -
APlus.net -

Whatever you do, don't assume a domain name is available without looking it up on a WHOIS portal. Many people will just look for a web site by typing the domain name on the URL line of their web browser. If no web site comes up they may mistakenly assume it is available. But in truth, many domain names are registered and not yet being used. Or some speculator has registered them with no intent of using them in order to sell them to the highest bidder.

Third Party Domain Registration or Assistance
Some web masters are willing to help you bypass the minor complexity of domain name registration by either registering the domain for you or guiding you through the process. The process varies. But overall, you only need to deal with it once and then pay the domain registration bill from the registrar once every year or two.

Hosting a Domain Name
Unless you're a Unix nerd or well-off corporation with your own server machines, chances are you will need an Internet Service Provider (ISP). Once you have a registered domain name, you cannot use it as a web address until it has what is called an "active host". This simply means an ISP from whose hard drives your web pages will be sent out to web surfers 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Typically the web designer or "webmaster" uploads pages to the ISP where they are made available online to the world. If you have a registered domain name and it is not actively hosted, it is said to be "parked". Most domain registrars prefer you have an ISP before you register a domain name although some registrars will forego this requirement.

Each domain name has what is known as a domain name server (DNS). The DNS is simply the server location on the Internet which is expressed as a long number with a bunch of dots in it (not the same as a web address). Each ISP has a unique DNS number. Each domain name has a DNS number identifying the ISP hosting the domain name either actively or simply parked. In most cases these complexities can be handled by your web designer and your ISP. So don't let the technical terminology and procedures intimidate you. Once your domain name is registered and set up for active hosting on an ISP server, it becomes the web address of your web site. Then each time someone punches in your web address on their browser, your web page is sent to them from the hard drive of your Internet service provider.

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Multiple Domain Names
In many situations, someone may choose to have multiple domain names for the same business or organization. This is usually not recommended until you get rolling. But reasons vary. For instance, if you have a really valuable trade name and you are afraid someone may take it, you might want to register every variation you can think of including "MyTradeName.com", "MyTradeName.net", etc. But normally this is a waste of time unless the domain name is hotter than molten gold. The dot com (".com") version of any domain name is usually the best and good enough.

Multiple domain names are sometimes useful when you may have divisions of a business and each division is very different in its mission. Typically you would not use a different domain name for each department. That would be self defeating. But there are exceptions. A large corporation may have a nonprofit foundation which will usually be a different business entity and thus have a different web address.

More commonly, multiple domain names are used when a business or organization has a long and short version of their name such as "InternationalBusinessMachines.com" and "IBM.com". Anyone has a right to buy multiple domain names for one purpose but the extra names may not be worth the extra annual registration fees.

Directing Domain Names
There is great flexibility in the way a domain name can be directed to a web address. Typically, your ISP is in charge of this. Your domain name will direct to the home page of your web site, meaning that anytime a web surfer punches in your domain name web address (URL) in their web browser, your web home page will come up. But you can also have multiple domain names directing to the same home page if you wish. And your webmaster can make any web page redirect to any other web page on Earth. For instance if you own a summer camp and a winter retreat with two different web sites, your webmaster could place a notice that the summer camp is closed for the winter and the page will redirect in ten seconds to your other web site for your winter retreat. Normally these are simple matters and require no changes from your ISP if it can be done in the web site itself.

Domain Name Extensions
Dot com domain names are the most common and thus the best ones in most cases. There are also dot net, dot org, dot biz, dot info, dot edu, etc. If I were looking for IBM online, I would try "IBM.com" first because that's likely to be their web address. If that failed, I'd try IBM.net or IBM.biz. Likewise, people who lose your business card and think they remember your domain name will assume its a dot com before they try dot net or something else. Thus, in most cases you should register a domain name what ends with a dot com extension. Also there is every chance that an unrelated party may register essentially the same domain name except for the extension. In that case the dot com web domain will have an advantage over the nearly identical domain name having the dot net or dot org extension. Extensions like dot biz are good. But the dot coms will long remain the best because they were most popular since the Internet became a major trend in 1995.

Gentrifying a Domain Name
In most cases, time only improves your domain name. Your audience knows where to find your web site. Eventually even the most reluctant search engines will have your site totally indexed for all content, thus making you more visible. Your domain name achieves "brand identification" meaning it is like a familiar brand. Your web site becomes an honored member of the online neighborhood or the world. It represents the services or product you offer. Anyone can see it even when you are sleeping at night or they are too far away to call. Your domain name is "out there". It is not a swift process to be seen. But once you have pegged your domain name online for a length of time, your web site has no way to go but up in popularity and audience interest. Having a simple and intelligent domain name is in fact the first big step in making your web site a household name.

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