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What is a domain name?

If you’re building a website for your brand or business, one of the first things you’ll need to do is register a domain name. But what exactly is a domain name, and why is it so important for your online marketing? In this guide, we’ll explain everything you need to know about domain names and how to choose the best one for your business.

Woman with Roses, Wearing a Hat

Shakespeare famously mused whether a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. When it comes to domain names, the answer is nuanced.

What’s in a (domain) name?

A domain name is not just a label but a critical component of your online identity, serving as the digital address where your brand lives on the internet.

Long, long ago, the only way to access locations on a network was via an internet protocol (IP) address. An IP address is a string of 12 (or more) numbers that identifies a device (like a server) on an internal or external network. Since remembering long strings of numbers is neither easy nor practical, the Domain Name System (DNS) was introduced in 1983 as a solution to the impracticality of memorizing IP addresses. This system allows us to use distinctive web addresses, or domain names, to access websites.

After all and, which are much easier to remember than or, respectively.

The Original Top Level Domains


for commercial organizations


originally for non-profits, but open to everyone today


originally for networks of sites or distributed computer networks, but open to everyone today

.edu, .int, .gov & .mil

are tightly governed and only available to specific organizations

The Parts of a Domain Name

Domain names are generally composed of two or three parts.

1. The Top Level Domain

The last part of the domain name, commonly .com or .org, is the Top Level Domain (TLD). There were only seven TLDs originally, but today, there are many more—from .academy to .zone. (our favorites? .ninja, .wtf, and .yachts)

We recommend sticking with .com unless you have a strong strategic plan in place for getting, off the ground.

2. The Second-Level Domain

 The second-level domain (SLD) is the part you usually think of when buying a domain. For example, this site’s SLD domain is getdirigible.

3. Subdomains or Third-Level Domains

 The most common third-level or subdomain is www, but you can use a subdomain for lots of other things, too. We use for our knowledgebase site and for our website builder dashboard.

Tips for choosing a domain name

Which factors should you consider when choosing a domain name for your business or website?

Your domain name is your online identity, so it’s important to choose one that:

  • accurately represents your business
  • is memorable
  • is easy to spell
  • doesn’t contain symbols or numbers
  • doesn’t violate copyright or intellectual property laws

Need a hand finding a domain name?

If you’re having trouble coming up with a domain name, check out This site allows you to see if the domain you want is available, or you can plugin in keywords and ideas to generate a unique name. If you need expert help, your marketing agency should be able to assist you in finding that perfect domain.

Choosing a domain name guide cover

Download our guide to choosing a domain name for your brand.

Get the domain name guide

Where can you buy domain names?

Every domain name must be registered with a domain name registrar, such as GoDaddy or Network Solutions. There are a ton of options, but our favorite, hands down, is Their customer service is excellent, as is their interface and documentation, which we can’t say for all their competitors. At Dirigible, we’ve used them for more than a decade.

How much does a domain name cost?

Most domain names cost around $9-15 per year to register. However, using a specialized TLD will cost you more. Buying a premium domain name at auction from someone who already owns it could cost several hundred to millions of dollars.

If you can afford to purchase your domain name for a long period of time, you’ll save money and reap SEO rewards.

Tips for managing and protecting your domain name.

When you register your domain name, make sure that you:

  1. Provide different domain contacts for the Registrant, Administrative, Technical, and Billing Roles. This means that if someone drops the ball or doesn’t receive a renewal notice, you’ll have built some redundancy into your system.
  2.  You or your business should fill the Registrant or Owner role—not your web designer, host, or anyone else. Trust me, you want to have the keys to your castle.
  3.  If you move, make sure to update this information.
  4.  DNS scams are rampant. Do not respond to any emails, text messages, letters, or phone calls about your domain. If you want to check and see if you need to take any action on your domain, log into your registrar and complete any renewal or security actions there.

Next steps

Now that you know the basics, it’s time to buy a domain and start building your website. This is a simple process, but it’s an essential one if you want to establish an online presence for your business or brand. Use our tips to make sure you get the most out of your purchase and then get started on creating a site that will help you reach your target audience. Are you ready to take the next step? Buy a domain and start building your website today!