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Domain Names Explained

A domain name is an address on the Internet. Just as your street address must be unique so that the post office can deliver mail to you, and your telephone number must be unique so that customers can call you, your domain name must be unique so your e-mail reaches you and customers can visit your Web site.

An international address system, called the Domain Name System (DNS), was developed to ensure that every computer connected to the Internet has its own address. In the DNS system, however, that address is actually a set of numbers such as 164.223.161.99, which is called the computer’s Internet Protocol (IP) address. Because these numbers are difficult for humans to remember, DNS allows you to assign a domain name, such as google.com, to your IP address.

Now, when you want to visit Google’s Web site, you can type www.google.com instead of 164.223.161.99.

Top-Level Domain (TLD)

Every domain name is composed of two parts: a TLD (top-level domain) and a second-level domain. In the domain name amazon.com, the .com part is the top-level domain, and the word amazon is the second-level domain. While there are an almost infinite number of second-level domains, there are a limited number of generic TLDs, some of which are shown in the following table.

.aero
Restricted for use by the international aviation community.
.biz
Restricted for use by businesses; .biz was added because .com is being used by some groups and individuals that are not businesses.
.com
Not restricted. This is the original TLD for businesses, but it has been used by many non-business groups.
.coop
Restricted to use by cooperatives.
.edu
Restricted to use by accredited educational institutions.
.gov
Restricted to use by the U.S. government.
.info
Not restricted. Intended for use by organizations that provide useful reference information.
.int
Restricted to use by organizations involved in running the Internet and organizations established by agreements among international governments.
.name
Restricted to use by individuals who want to register their own name as a domain name; this allows people to have their own personal Web sites without using .com or other TLDs.
.net
Not restricted. Intended for use by organizations who contribute to the construction or maintenance of the Internet.
.mil
Restricted to use only by the U.S. military.
.museum
Restricted to use by museums.
.org
Not restricted. Intended for use by organizations such as non-profits.
.pro
Restricted to use by professionals, such as lawyers and doctors, who can pass credential checks.
.tv
For use by the television industry, particularly broadcasters.

In addition to generic TLDs, there are a growing number of country code (cc) TLDs which associate Web sites with a particular country. For instance, .us can be used by companies in the United States . If you are an international company or do extensive business with another country, consider registering a domain name with the appropriate country code. Note that rules vary by country; some require your business to be incorporated in that country to qualify for their cc TLD. More than 130 country codes are currently in use; the following table lists a few.

.au
Australia
.ca
Canada
.cn
China
.co.uk
The United Kingdom
.de
Germany
.hk
Hong Kong
.it
Italy
.jp
Japan
.us
United States

Deciding which TLDs are right for you is a balancing act. Remember that business1000.com is an entirely different address than business1000.biz, business1000.pro, and business1000.us. If you own two of those names and someone else owns the other two, there is a real danger that your customers will end up at the other company’s site, and vice-versa. You may want to own several TLDs to prevent this from happening. However, each TLD costs a separate fee to register and maintain, and new TLDs are introduced regularly.

For small businesses, the .com TLD remains absolutely necessary, and many companies also purchase .biz.

Second-Level Domain

The second-level domain is what most people think of as their company’s domain name-it is the verio in verio.com, the google in google.com. The second-level domain is how your company will be known and remembered: think of it as a vital extension of your brand. You are free to create any second-level domain name that you want, as long as no one else is already using it. Here are several additional factors to consider:

  • Part of your business name: In many cases your domain name will include your company’s actual name or an abbreviation of that name. For instance, the domain name for The Lady & Sons restaurant in Savannah is ladyandsons.com.

In certain cases, however, it may be better to choose a domain name that reflects the product you sell or the industry you serve. The Bed & Breakfast Associates of Bay Colony helps customers make reservations at bed & breakfasts in the Boston area. Their domain name is bnbboston.com.

  • Incorporating key words: When customers use a search engine to locate a business, they use keywords to describe what they are looking for. Some experts believe that incorporating a relevant keyword into your domain name helps ensure that it is listed near the top of customers’ search results. So if your company’s name is Hannah’s Internet Café and you sell fresh coffee beans from around the world, you might incorporate the keyword coffee in your domain by registering hannahcoffee.com.

  • Short, memorable, and unique: Your domain name should be easy for people to remember: this usually means making it short and unique. For example, if your company’s name is David’s Lawn and Landscaping Advice, you might choose a name like davidlawn.com. However, if there is already a davidlawns.com or a davidlawngrass.com, you should probably chose a different name because yours is no longer unusual; customers may confuse it with your competitors’ sites and go there instead.

Domain names such as amazon.com and monster.com have nothing obvious to do with their businesses, but the names are unusual, memorable, and effective. If you want to build a new brand with your domain name, however, be aware that common words like monster and amazon are much more difficult to trademark. Training customers to associate an unusual word with your business usually take a lot more marketing muscle.

  • Misspellings: If your name contains words that are commonly misspelled, you might consider registering those misspelled versions, as well. For instance, if you own a plumbing company and your domain name is plumberfriend.com, you might also register plumberfreind.com so that people who misspell your name still find your Web site.

  • Be aware of trademarks: Under U.S. law, domain names are intellectual property. If your domain name includes someone else’s registered trademark, you can be held liable for damages in civil court. Under the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act of 1999, you can also be held liable if you register a domain name that contains someone else’s trademark, even if you don’t actively use that domain name. This same law protects you: if someone else has registered a domain name that contains your trademark, and they are using that name for commercial purposes (including trying to sell it to you), you may be able to pursue legal action.

Before finalizing your domain name, go to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (www.uspto.gov) to perform a free trademark search. You can also review relevant laws and regulations at this site, including the Anticybersquatting Act. If you are uncomfortable dealing with these legal issues, consider seeking an attorney that specializes in trademarks.

Registering a Domain Name

Registering a domain name is similar to calling the telephone company to arrange for phone service. You can think up a great phone number, but if the telephone company doesn’t set it up, you can’t use it.

The actual process of registering a domain name is about as simple as going to a Web site, indicating the domain name you want, and paying the registration fee. Hundreds of Web sites offer registration services, but some are more reputable than others. Here’s what to look for:

  • Domain name search: The only reliable domain name search is called WHOIS; all reputable registration companies have a WHOIS search on their Web site. At a minimum, this search will tell you whether or not a domain name has been registered. You might also learn who owns the domain name and their contact information, the IP addresses associated with the name, when the name was registered, and when it expires. This information, however, can be made private by the domain name owner.

    Make sure the registration Web site allows you to search for an available domain name, and confirm that it is available, before you pay. Never fill out a request form that simply indicates the domain name you want and your billing information. Also, only register a domain name with a company that allows you to pay by credit card. Tens of thousands of domain names are registered every day; when you find one that’s available, you want to pay for it immediately and know it’s yours.

  • Compare prices and features: There is a wide variance in how much companies charge for domain name registration. Sometimes prices reflect the level of service. For instance, some inexpensive registration services only offer domain name parking, which means you register the domain name so that you own it, but you can’t actually use it for anything (no one can visit a Web site or send you e-mail at that domain). Look carefully at the services offered.

  • Trusted business partner: How your domain name is managed is of utmost importance to the success of your Web site: if problems occur, customers may not be able to reach your site. If you need to make any changes to your domain name, you want those changes to be made quickly and reliably. Partner with a company that has a high level of professionalism and expertise, robust and reliable technology, and a range of services so that they can advise you as your business grows.

You do not have to register your domain name with the company that hosts your Web site. You can register your domain name with Company A and tell them to forward customers to Company B (the company hosting your Web site, or your own Web server) where your actual Web site is. To do this, the company that you register your domain name with must offer a forwarding service (also called URL forwarding).

If you register multiple domain names, you can forward them to the same Web site. For instance, you could point hannahcoffee.biz and hannahcoffee.us to your actual Web site at hannahcoffee.com. Another way to handle this situation is by using a CNAME record, which is discussed in the next section.

When you register your domain name, you are doing so for a fixed time period (most companies allow you to register for a maximum of 5 years). You must keep good records and remember to renew your registration; if you allow it to expire, someone else can register your domain name and gain control of it.

Using Your Domain Name

Remember that the Domain Name System (DNS) has two components: an IP address and a domain name. Before using your domain name, you must point it to the IP address of the computer that is hosting your Web site. If you hired a Web hosting company, they will tell you the IP number to use (note that some Web hosting companies will give you a name server address, such as ns0.verio.net, to use instead of an IP address).

Pointing your domain name is easy. Simply go to the Web site of the company you registered your domain name with, and select their DNS management tool (if you hired a Web hosting company, go to their site to manage your DNS). Many companies, including Verio, will point the domain to the IP address if you buy the domain and hosting together.

After selecting the DNS management tool, you will need to create a record, which is basically an entry in a database that is used to manage all Internet domain names. There are three primary types of records, but the only one you absolutely need is an A Record, which is used to route Web site traffic to your Web site and e-mail to your e-mail server.

Inside the A Record you will create a Web (www) entry by typing in your Web site URL and the IP address of the computer hosting your Web site. You can also create an e-mail entry if you want to use your domain name as an e-mail address; this entry must point to the computer that hosts your e-mail server (the company hosting your Web site will give you this information).

Following is a sample A Record for the domain name hannahcoffee.com; it points to a computer with the IP address of 192.168.0.1:

A Record for hannahcoffee.com

Host
www.hannahcoffee.com
mail.hannahcoffee.com
Numeric IP
192.168.0.1
192.168.0.1

To use your domain name as an e-mail address, you will also need to create an MX Record, which simply contains the name of your e-mail server (your Web hosting company will give you this information). In our hannahcoffee.com example, the accompanying MX Record might simply be:

MX Record for hannahcoffee.com

Mail Server
mail.hannahcoffee.com

If you registered multiple domain names but want them all to point to the same Web site, you can create a CNAME Record. Think of the CNAME Record as describing an alias for your primary domain name. For example, your primary domain name is hannahcoffee.com, but you also registered hannahcoffee.biz, hannahcoffeebeans.com, and hannahcoffebeans.biz. You must create a CNAME Record for each of the three alias domain names to point them to hannahcoffe.com. Following is a sample CNAME Record for hannahcoffebiz that points it to hannahcoffee.com:

CNAME Record for hannahcoffee.biz

Alias
hannahcoffee.biz
Refers to Host Name
hannahcoffee.com

Note that you should always refer aliases to your primary domain name, which is the one listed in your A Record. When editing DNS records, be patient. The changes you make can take anywhere from 2 hours to several days to take effect. Also be very careful: fixing problems takes an equal amount of time.

Creating records is the final step in managing your domain name. You are now ready to build your Web site and get your business online.

About Verio

Verio is a leading global provider of web hosting and cloud services. As a part of NTT, one of the world's largest telecommunications companies, we offer the stability businesses need in a long-term technology partner.

Domain Name Registration Verio offers Domain Name Registration. Every domain purchased through Verio includes a FREE 3-page website. Our Web Hosting Plans include FREE design and marketing tools and a FREE domain name to help you start your business online.

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