A guide to domain names for small businesses

account_circle Web.com Team

As a small business owner, a website is no longer just an option; it’s a virtual necessity. More people than ever are looking for businesses in online directories and making purchases using the internet. In fact, shoppers have spent $52 billion more online since the beginning of 2020 as compared to the same timeframe the previous year. While online shopping has been trending upward for years, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a dramatic increase in internet purchases.

While you may be ready to build a website and establish an online presence for your business, you might not know where to begin. After helping over 3 million small businesses get up and running online, we're here to offer some friendly guidance. Your online journey begins with a domain name. Let’s take a closer look at what a domain name is, how you use it, and why it is an important element of your business and brand. 

What is a domain name?

In simple terms, your domain name is your web address. This is the address people will type into a web browser when they want to visit your website. Your domain name is unique to your website, and once you buy and register it, no other company can claim it – but you need to renew it at least each year. A good domain name is reflective of your business name and brand. This is important because that name is also typically in your email address and will clearly identify your communications to your customers. 

We’ve assembled a list of helpful articles to get you on the right path to purchasing the perfect domain name for your business. In this post you will find:

  1. Importance of a domain name for your small business
  2. How to choose a domain name
  3. How to register a domain name
  4. Does it matter if your domain name is different from your business name?
  5. What to do when the name you want is taken
  6. How to buy and sell domain names and make a profit
  7. Domain name FAQs

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Importance of a domain name for your small business

A domain name is the starting point of building an online presence for your company. It will help to set the tone for how your customers find your website, think of your business, and engage with your brand.

How can you put a domain name to work for your business and stand out in a crowded online market? Let’s take a closer look at what a domain name is, how it works, and how you can select and register the one that's right for your business and brand. 

Why are domain names so important?

A domain name gives your business instant credibility and puts you in the same online marketplace as your largest competitors. It says that you mean business and helps online shoppers and customers see you as a forward-thinking company that is conveniently accessible online. It is the pathway for people to visit your website, learn more about your business, and purchase your products and services.

The right domain will build your brand by creating a strong image for your business, and it can mean the difference between establishing a vibrant online presence and getting lost in cyberspace. If you publish your site through an internet service provider (ISP), your web address could end up like ISP.com/SuperiorAutoRepair (not very professional), as compared to SuperiorAutoRepair.com. See the difference? Your customers will, too. 

Also, search engine optimization (SEO) is critical to your business being found via search, so you need to consider if your chosen domain name is SEO-friendly and includes keywords that will help with your site’s ranking. 

Read more: Establishing your brand with off-page SEO

Connecting the dots: Domain names, websites, and web hosting

Domain names, websites, and web hosts are different elements of your web presence, but they work together to help people find you online. When someone types in your web address, a web browser sends a request to a network of web servers throughout the world that is part of the Domain Name System (DNS). After a quick search, these servers locate your website address and request access to your web page. 

The server that receives this request and houses all your website files is managed by your web host. In addition to giving your website a secure online home, your web host has a system in place to gather the data associated with the requested web page and send this information back to the browser that initiated the process. In a matter of a few brief seconds, your web page opens and is ready for viewing. 

Read more: Debunked: 6 myths about web hosting providers

How to choose a domain name

Remember when Google lived under the URL google.stanford.edu? Or when Twitter was twttr.com? Neither do we! And there’s a reason for that. The old domain names weren’t catchy, clear, concise, or memorable. That’s exactly why the founders decided to change the domain names.

If you’ve ever tried to find an available domain name for your business, you know exactly how challenging it can be to find one that is clear and catchy. It’s no wonder – the first quarter of 2021 closed with 363.5 million domain name registrations across all top-level domains (TLDs).

So how do you choose a domain name that both exemplifies your business and is memorable to customers? Let’s dig into the why and how of picking the right domain name.


Step 1: Start brainstorming and do your research 

Before you get to the point of purchasing anything, your first big decision is to choose a domain name. You’re going to want to have more than one choice, as you don’t yet know which domains are available for purchase. 

Brainstorming with family, friends, or colleagues is a great starting point. Bounce your ideas off real people who will be honest about your choices. 

Next, use Google to see if there are any business domain names like the ones you’re considering. Choosing something like saratheflorist.com could be confusing (and lose you business) if there is already someone operating under the domain name of sarahtheflorist.com. 

When choosing your domain name, consider the following:

  • Does it make sense for your brand? As the calling card for your brand, your domain name needs to work with the products or services your business offers. If possible, choose a domain name that includes common keywords for your industry and makes it clear what type of business you run. 
  • Is it short and simple? Avoid using a domain name that can cause confusion, such as numbers, hyphens or other characters. Domain names made up of a long string of words and characters are going to be hard for the average consumer to remember. 
  • Is it clear and concise? People want things easy, so choose something with basic language and avoid using slang. If the words in your domain name have a tricky spelling, that may result in people having difficulty finding your site. 
  • Is it creative and memorable? A unique and catchy domain name will stick out in people’s minds and set your business apart from the competition.
  • Is it unique? If your intended brand name is too similar to someone else’s, chances are people will mistake one for the other and the other company would be able to take your brand name as a defensive domain strategy, especially if the name is trademarked.

Step 2: Check your preferred domain name availability and extensions

Now that you have options for domain names, you need to see what’s actually available. There are a multitude of places you can go to do your domain search.

Most businesses favor a domain name that ends with .com, as it’s the easiest one for people to remember. Approximately 44% of all domain names use the leading .com domain name extension, so it’s very possible your first choice may already be taken. 

The good news is that with the ability for anyone to create a website, the .com extension can lend some credibility to your business. It shows you’ve made an investment in your business and lends some authenticity.

Most people automatically assume that website names end in .com because that’s what they’re most accustomed to. But there are now a multitude of domain extensions to choose from that might work for your business. Just make sure that the extension is relevant to your business (.lawyer makes sense for a lawyer, but not a plumber) and do your due diligence to avoid any confusion with another brand who has secured a .com.  

Read more: Protect your brand name in 5 steps

Step 3: Determine cost and look at domain auctions 

Domain name costs can vary widely, starting as low as $0.99 all the way up to thousands of dollars. The price will depend on where you purchase the domain, along with other factors.

When considering the overall cost of your domain name, you need to consider additional costs, such as yearly renewals and accessory fees. You should also be aware of any charges for auto-renewing or transfer out fees. Always read your domain registrar’s Terms of Service in full so you completely understand the true cost of the purchase. 

When a domain name already in use isn’t renewed by the registrant, it will go up for auction. If there’s a domain name you are interested in but isn’t available, it could come up for auction at some point. A domain auction lasts for a set period of time (usually seven days), and people can bid on the name at any point during the auction period. 

Proxy bids are often accepted, meaning you can set the maximum amount for your bid and then the system will automatically keep upping your bid until your maximum limit is reached. If you win the domain auction, you then have a specific period of time to claim and pay for your new domain. 

Step 4: Choose your term for purchase

Depending on the provider, domain names can often be initially purchased for terms longer than a year. Take a look at your business goals before deciding on a term. If you have plans to change your business name or offering at some point, locking yourself in for a decade may not make sense.

The primary advantage of buying a domain name for a longer term is that it’s locked in, and there’s no chance your competitors can buy your domain name out from under you. Some registrars offer discounts for buying longer terms, such as two or five years at a time. You also don’t have to waste time renewing every year or risk issues and losing your domain registration. 

If your business is in flux, or you’re unsure what the future looks like, it makes sense to purchase your domain name for a year or two and then re-evaluate when the time comes.

Should you choose to register only for a year or two, your number one priority is avoiding losing your domain name. Be sure to have the correct email and payment information on file with your registrar and be aware of your key dates for renewal. Otherwise, you may be putting your domain name at risk. 

Although most providers will warn you when your domain name is expiring or payment information needs updating, it’s a good idea to put the renewal date on your calendar so you remember to update the payment method on file, if necessary. 

If you lose your domain name, it could potentially damage your brand and greatly impact your customers’ experience. Plus, losing your domain name can result in losing search engine placement. It also gives competitors and other players a chance to scoop up and lock down your domain name for a number of years.

Step 5: Get ready for hosting

Now that you’ve secured your domain name, you need a host to be able to go live on the Internet. Think of your domain name like the address for your house and your hosting like the lot you build the house on. 

hosting provider supplies the server that delivers your site to Internet users and also acts as a storage facility for all the data that goes between your browser and your website.

Most hosting plans have key features including: 

  • Disk Space: You will need to determine how much space you need based on what you have, like emails, databases and web files, all of which take up space.
  • Email Accounts: POP3, forwarding accounts and alias accounts all fall into this category. 
  • Bandwidth: Since bandwidth is the capacity for your site to deal with data, depending on the amount of traffic your website sees, in general more traffic equals more bandwidth needed. 

A reliable hosting provider is critical to the successful functioning of your website, so you’ll want to do some research and find out their track record for key considerations, such as average uptime. 

When evaluating potential hosts for your site, assess their support options and response times for hosting issues (like your website is down or is having issues for visitors). As a small business, your website is critical, so you want to have a host that can work with you to quickly resolve any issues should they occur. It’s good to know that once you own a domain name, you have the right to move to whatever host you choose.

Read more: Eight Features to Look for When Choosing a Web Hosting Provider

How to register a domain name

Registering a domain name is quite simple once you know how to do it, and it can be done in a matter of minutes. 

1. Choose a website to get your domain name from. You can register through a webhosting service provider like Web.com or resellers.

2. Use that website to check that the domain you want is availableIf it’s available, you can move forward with the transaction.

3.  At this point in the process, you might also add additional products and services to your cart. Services such as private registration, a hosting package, and additional years on your registration (up to 10) can be very beneficial to your small business website.

4. Pay the registration fee.


When is the best time to register a domain name?

The moment you have an idea for a business, product or brand, you should register a domain name for it. The right time to buy a domain name is when you have a business idea and you are ready to make it a reality. If someone else has the same idea as you, they can register the domain name before you do. Then, if you still want it, you will probably have to pay them for it, and domains on the domain aftermarket aren’t always cheap.


What does it cost to purchase a domain name?

Domain names can range from free — though always with an asterisk related to later costs — to tens of dollars to millions of dollars. There are many factors that will determine how much it costs to register a domain name, including the following:

  1. What is the TLD? The cost of new registrations and renewals are is regulated by ICANN and the respective domain name registries that set the prices (e.g., Verisign manages .com/.net and Public Interest Registry runs .org) . Registrars will have to pay that cost whenever a domain name is registered through them, which is why prices and special offers may differ from one registrar to another. *.com, *.net and the other popular TLDs are usually less than $40 per year, while some newer TLDs like *.ceo cost hundreds and *.rich cost thousands.
  2. Is this a new registration or does someone else already own it? As previously mentioned, new registration costs depend on those domain name registriesICANN and your registrar. However, if someone else already has your preferred domain names, you may have to pay them for it.
    Note: if someone else owns a domain name that violates registered trademarks you own, you have a clearer path to securing it. At that point, it becomes a legal matter. We recommend referring to ICANN’s Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy for what options are available to you.
  3. Are there additional products or services you need with your domain name? Services like domain privacy that keep your WhoIs information private from public databases and website and email hosting may drive up your costs, but these types of add-ons usually only do so by relatively small margins. 

Over the lifetime of the domain name, you will also need to pay for registration renewals every year, a process that is also regulated by ICANN. Conveniently, you can register a domain name for up to 10 years at a time. If you forget to renew your domain name, you will be in danger of losing it. 

Unfortunately, losing a domain name is a very common scenario. Ensure you keep your contact information with your registrar up to date so you don’t miss renewal notices, and consider adding a renewing event on your calendar to remind you to renew.

Read more: How much does it cost to start an online business?

Did you register your domain name somewhere else but would rather have it with us?

Easy. And it doesn’t cost any more than the cost of the renewal. As long as your domain name has been with its current registrar for at least three months and isn’t already registered for 10 years (per ICANN regulations), you shouldn’t have a problem transferring your domain name.

Does it matter if your domain name is different from your business name?

With just about every business worldwide boasting a website these days, it's gotten a lot more difficult than it used to be to find the website domain name you want. Does it matter if your domain name is different than your business name?

Of course, the ideal situation is to have your domain name match your business name. If you're just starting your business and haven't yet decided on a business name, you may even want to adjust your business name to match available domains. For example, suppose you were planning to name your business Rinaldi Pizza, but the domain name RinaldiPizza.com is taken. If RinaldiPizzeria.com is available, you could change your business name to Rinaldi Pizzeria.

The situation is a little trickier if you’re the owner of an established business but are just now getting around to creating a website. When you start your search for domain names, there are a couple of situations you may run across:

  • YourBusinessName.com is taken, but the owner of the domain is not currently using it. You may be able to buy it from them. Do a WHOIS lookup  to find contact information for the owner of the domain and/or for their domain registrar. Contact the person and see if they are interested in selling the domain.
  • YourBusinessName.com is taken, and the owner of the domain has built it into a website. If you’ve trademarked your business name, have been in business for a while and there’s a good chance people could confuse your business with the other one, you may have a legal case for getting control of the domain name. Keep in mind, however, that this can be expensive and time-consuming, so you'll have to decide if it's worth it.

Changing your domain name in the future can be costly and time-consuming, so make the decision carefully. Once you've chosen your domain name, protect it by using a domain registrar that offers Domain Locking services. This protects your domain name from unauthorized transfers or hijacking, ensuring that the name you've worked so hard to come up with stays yours.

Read more: 5 reasons your business needs its own email domain

What to do when the name you want is taken

Earlier, we discussed what makes a domain name great for your business – from keyword inclusion to geo-targeting to finding something that fits your brand and is easy to remember. It’s like striking gold when you come up with a domain name that includes everything you need. But with hundreds of millions of domain names already registered, there is a strong chance that the domain name you want is already taken. So now what do you do?

Make minor changes

The first thing you need to ask yourself is if you can make minor changes to the name and still have it work for you. Can you adjust the geo-target? Can you swap the order of any of the words in the name? Can you use a different extension?

Try adding an additional word to your domain name to see if you can get the .com extension. For example, if you want sarabakescakes.com and it’s not available, you could try something like sarabakesgreatcakes.com instead. You could also choose a domain name with a more well-known extension like .co or .net.

There are always emerging trends in the realm of domain extensions. Even though most people would prefer the .com extension, it is worth looking into .net or .biz versions of the domain name you want. Some of the current ones gaining traction are .tech, .health and .photo. Keep yourself up to date on what’s becoming popular, especially in your industry. 

Determine if the name is active

If you don’t feel comfortable going with a different variation of the name you want, you have options. First, you need to find out what is happening on the domain name in question. Type the domain name you want into your web browser to see if there is an active website and online business. If so, the owner will not likely be open to selling it to you, and you should consider letting go of this one and choosing a new domain name.

If there is no active website, it’s very possible that the owner is just sitting on the name until it expires, or because they know they can make money re-selling it. In these cases, you can use a domain name aftermarket service to get more information about the name, and possibly get it as your own.

Backorders

If you have some time to wait and don’t feel the need to aggressively pursue the particular domain name, placing a backorder would be the best idea. This doesn’t cost anything. It simply means that you would get your aftermarket service to secure the name for you if the owner did not renew, and let it expire. You will only be charged if you acquire the name. If another person, or several people also placed backorders on this same name and your domain name aftersmarket service acquires it, you then go into a private auction, and the name goes to the highest bidder. It is a good idea to think about the maximum amount you are willing to pay for this name should it go into auction or require you to make an offer to the current owner.

Make an offer

Chances are, if you went through the process of picking the perfect domain name and discovered that it was taken, you’d rather not wait to see if it gets renewed by the owner, in order to acquire it. You have the option of making an offer to purchase the name outright from whoever owns it. However, contacting the owner of a domain name on your own can prove to be tricky, or lead to a dead end. Even though you can often look up the domain owner’s information on WhoIs, the information may be outdated or could be masked through a private registration service. Additionally, a domain name owner may not take a random email from a stranger seriously, or may never see it due to their own spam filters in their email. It’s best to use a professional domain name broker to navigate through the contact process and see what the asking price is for the domain name.

Know your limit

If you find yourself in the position of having to buy a domain name from its current owner, you need to think about what it is worth to you. Domain names that someone already owns can cost a bit of money, and only you know what you can and cannot spend on a domain name. Set your limit and stick with it. Keep in mind that there are tools out there to help you determine the value of a currently registered domain name, and they take several different factors into consideration. In this regard, it can be most helpful to have a domain name broker on your side who can help negotiate a fair price on your behalf, based on fair market value.

Even if you find yourself in the frustrating position of thinking up the perfect domain name for your business, and finding that someone already owns it, there are options to consider and steps you can take to help make that domain name yours!

Read more: Protecting yourself from domain hijacking

How to buy and sell domain names and make a profit

While most people are familiar with the term “house flipping,” they may not be as well-versed on the phrase “domain flipping.” In layman’s terms, “domain flipping” means the buying and selling of a website domain (web address) for a profit. Done right, buying and selling domain names can be a lucrative side hustle or small business. 

The most expensive domain name ever was business.com, purchased by RH Donnelly for $345 million. While you can guess that this is far from the norm, there are ways to make a profit buying and selling domains. Here are some domain flipping tips to get you off to a successful start.

Understand the value

A domain name is much more than just the website address for a company, organization, group or individual. It is an important part of a business or personal brand. Domain names help people remember websites and serve as representations of a person or company online. A web address can be as important as the website it is associated with – it's a highly valuable asset. 

Manage expectations 

Buying and selling domain names can be fun and profitable but you should know the risks of domain investing. Keep things in perspective and have the right mindset. People are making a living buying and selling domain names but the selling of high-priced domains is rare. Don't expect to make a lot of easy money.

Narrow your focus

When buying domain names for resale, start by focusing on industries you are familiar with. It is much easier to sell a domain you know would be valuable to someone in a specific business category. While many .com domain names have been registered in virtually every category, there are still many new domain extensions Available. 

Domain extensions like .app, .io and .club help to increase your options. Do you know a lot about pets? Try registering animallovers.pet. Are you interested in real estate? Look for something like homebuyers.realeastate. Focusing on industries you care about and looking beyond the .com options is a great way to get started.

Think big, start small

Domain flipping is probably a side gig for you right now. You can only invest what you can afford to lose. Slow down and take some time crunching the numbers. Whether it is buying and selling domains or another enterprise, you need to know your budget. This can sometimes be hard to pinpoint, but over time you will learn the value of domain names based on what buyers are willing to pay for them. While you are thinking big, start small. Use your best judgment and register a few names to see how well you can market them. 

Do your homework 

Seasoned domainers develop an instinct for calculating a domain’s value. They can look at the price tag of a domain and tell you if it is undervalued or overvalued. In an industry that requires several skills, this one is probably the most important. To develop the instinct for calculation, do your research and become familiar with the process.

Check out NameBio, which has a database of more than 500,000 domain sales. They also have an app called The Domain Game. It provides you with a domain and you have to guess whether it sold for three, four, five or six figures. In addition, you should consider looking into domain valuation companies like DomainIQ and Estibot, so you can get an appraisal to use as a reference point. 

Rely on proven resources

Most people in the domain game say there is a learning curve when reselling them. Learn from others in the domain space and ask them questions. Most domainers are happy to help. Check out DomainSherpa, which is a great resource for new domainers, or look into the online community and paid domainer training program at DNAcademy. Other forums include WebHostingTalk.comNamePros.com and DomainState.com

When you are ready to buy and register a domain name, we have you covered. But we are more than just proven domain registrars; we feature one of the easiest drag-and-drop website builders around. We also have helpful resources like web hostingprofessional email accounts, search engine optimization (SEO) resources and eCommerce options to help build your domain business. You can use these resources to promote your domain name inventory online and connect with buyers who are looking for the specific names you have to offer. 

You should also look into auction platforms like SnapNames and NameJet, which offer more popular extensions. While these may come at a higher cost than a normal registration, they also offer a higher potential return, making them a better option for domain investing.

Domain name registration FAQs

  • What are domain name extensions?
    Domain name extensions are the text that comes after the dot in a website or email address, such as *.com and *.net. Domain extensions are also commonly known as top-level domains or TLDs.
  • How to change domain name servers?
    If you need to change your name servers, which affects where your DNS is hosted and mapped, you will need to go through either your registrar or the company you registered your domain name through,
  • Do I need a website to register a domain name?
    No.
  • How do I connect to domain hosting?
    If you need to access domain hosting, you will need to go through the company you registered your domain name through. 
  • How do I search for available domain names?
    You can search for domain names here.

Purchase a domain name for your small business

When you’re ready to purchase and register a domain name, we have you covered but we don’t stop there. More than just proven domain name registrars, we offer one of the easiest drag-and-drop website builders in the business. You’ll also find helpful resources like web hostingprofessional email accountssearch engine optimization (SEO) resources and eCommerce options to help you generate online sales and build brand loyalty. 

Why not start by selecting a domain name with Web.com right now? It’s fast and easy. After helping over 3 million organizations get up and running online, we are recognized as America’s favorite small business online resource. We understand your challenges and we’re always ready to turn them into opportunities by working with you to develop specific online solutions. Our expert team is always here for you and your business – let us know how we can help.

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