What Is a Domain Name and How Does It Work

Is a domain name anything difficult to understand or get in today’s site-building reality? Surely, it’s not. You can quickly obtain a domain name for your website for free or by purchasing it. Its essence and principles of work are also simple to get into.

The Importance of Domain Names in the World

Domain names were indispensable inventions at the dawn of the Internet era. It’s hard to imagine how we would use online sites these days if we had no domain names. Although many users understand the outline notion of a domain name and the principles of its work, their knowledge here still has many gaps.

Want to learn why choosing the right domain name is crucial for your online project? What mistakes do users tend to commit, and how to avoid making them? Where should you purchase custom domains? Find answers to all questions like these in our ultimate guide on domain names.

Understanding Domain Names

Whether you know what a domain name is or not, chances are you use it every time you surf the Internet. So, let’s finally clarify the notion of this must-have attribute of every website.

Defining Domain Names and Their Significance

When you wish to visit a specific website online, you enter a simple combination of this site’s “name” and, sometimes, its extension – like .org or .com – in your browser’s search line. This combination represents the domain name of your chosen site.

You may associate it with the site’s address on the Internet. Yet, you use only a tiny part of it since the actual address of the website you are visiting is much longer and may have a truly complex structure.

However, this is not all. Your targeted website was created and launched on a definite computer. This computer is one of millions of other computers that make up a global network. Each machine in this network has its own IP address – another combination of numbers. For instance, it may look like

Domain Names’ Crucial Role in the Internet’s Organization

Initially, only IP addresses were used, but it was soon discovered that searching for online sites using numerical abracadabras is extremely inconvenient. The same can be said about the full online URLs.

So, domain names were a brilliant idea. They have made the Internet a well-arranged area with all sites easily searchable and accessible. To find the needed website, you do not need to deal with its numerical IP or train-like full name. Instead of all this, you enter something like cats.io and immediately get to the necessary site.

Components of a Domain Name

Above, I called the complete form of URLs ‘abracadabra.’ However, URLs are well-organized structures, with each element playing its particular role.

Exploring the Structure of a Domain Name

Any site’s URL consists of several elements, one of which is the domain name of this website. Let’s imagine a typical website’s URL:


Here, you can see several sections divided by slashes. The list of elements is as follows:

  1. the website’s protocol: https://;
  2. the domain name: blog.cats.io;
  3. subdirectory: website;
  4. the path: funny-videos-from-all-over-the-world.

You’ll use only one element – the easy-to-remember “blog.cats.io” to find the required site. When you type it in the search line, your inquiry is sent to the closest DNS server. If it does not possess such a domain in its database or cache, it sends it to other DNS servers until the domain is detected and mapped to the needed website’s IP address.

This site’s IP is sent back to your closest DNS, and then you are redirected to the site you need. The whole procedure may take 2-3 seconds, though it includes several operations.

Breaking Down Subdomains, Second-Level Domains, And Top-Level Domains

In our example, the domain name also has a complex form. You can notice three attributes divided by dots:

  • the subdomain: blog;
  • the second-level domain: cats;
  • the top-level domain: io.

These are the main elements. A domain name’s structure may include other extras, but they are usually inserted into the main components.

How Domain Names Are Read

So, you see, domain names are not random. Every sub-element present in it takes a predefined position and serves to convey specific information to users.

Understanding the Order and Meaning of Domain Name Elements

Let’s explain the roles of subdomain, second-level domain, and top-level domain attributes. In our previous example, the “blog” element serves to create the subdomain name “blog.cats.io.” This is the name of a subsidiary website of our main “cats.io.” Such sites can represent galleries, online stores, and other extras attached to the leading site.

The second-level domain (SLD) is the name that usually conveys the general concept or purpose of the website (in our example, this generic name is ‘cats.’) The top-level domain (TLD) ends the structure and may have various forms: .me, .agency, .biz, .site, .online, etc.

How Users Interpret Domain Names

A domain name may have a more sophisticated composition. Yet, users can easily read all its elements. Imagine our model site could have alternative domain names:

  • blog.bigcats.us;
  • blog.bigcats.edu.

Here, we still deal with the blog sections of our chosen websites, and the subdomains inform users about it. The second-level domain shows that our topic has changed a bit.

Pay special attention to the top-level domain names in these examples. The first one, .us, reveals the website’s country and geographical audience. You can encounter loads of such country code top-level domains, for instance, .ca, .de, .uk, .in, .nz, etc.

The other top-level domain name in our example also makes a separate category of sponsored TL domain names. They are usually employed to indicate websites run by specific non-business organizations. The latter include governments (.gov), educational institutions (.edu), military administrations (.mil), etc.

Registering a Domain Name

In the site-building process, domain name registration is an essential step. Let’s overview how a standard procedure for getting a domain name works.

The Process of Acquiring a Domain Name

Every website has its unique domain name registered in one global system. So, when starting your own site online, you need to acquire a domain name that will serve to choose your and only your site. The process of getting it is pretty simple:

  1. Pick a registrar or a service that sells domain names.
  2. Choose your preferred domain name extension.
  3. Check if your ready-made domain name is not already taken.
  4. If everything is OK, purchase a domain (a yearly subscription is usually paid).

You’ll need to connect the acquired domain name to your website. It can be easily done in the name server settings of your website account.

Choosing a Registrar and Checking Domain Name Availability

Your choice of a service that offers domain names depends on what website you are building. There are plenty of popular registrars like GoDaddy (my review), DreamHost, NameCheap, and IONOS. Yet, you may prefer to buy a domain name right from your chosen host. This is especially workable if your future website will be based on WordPress (my review) or another self-hosted CMS.

Regardless of your choice of a registrar service, you’ll need to check if your domain name is available. Practically all services offer a checker right in the registrar section of their websites. You simply have to type in your domain name in the checker’s line and press ‘search’. In seconds, you’ll know if you can apply the name to your website or if you should create another one.

Domain Extensions (TLDs)

Top-level domain names (TLDs) are usually called extensions. These attributes are no less important than the second-level domain names of websites.

Investigating the Different Types of Top-Level Domains (TLDs)

These days, you have a choice of 1,500+ domain name extensions. Let’s list some of the categories available for buying:

  • Generic extensions: .com, .org, .biz, .net, .info.
  • Country code extensions: .au, .fr, .uk, .us, .ru, .cn, etc.
  • Internationalized (IDN) extensions – names in which signs from non-Latin alphabets are employed.

Your registrar will offer you a variety of TLD names. Each category will go with its own price, usually ranging from $0.99 to $20.00.

What to Consider When Selecting the Right TLD for Your Website

Surely, the top popular, as well as top-recommended, TLDs are .com, .org, and .net. They are widely recognizable and are easy to memorize.

More than half of all sites available in today’s cyberspace are registered with the .com extension. So, this is where originality does not work. The best way to let your clients get to your website is by purchasing this popular extension.

Domain Privacy and WHOIS

When choosing a registrar service, it’s also crucial to pick one with domain privacy offered. That is, it should belong to WHOIS services, and here are reasons why.

The Importance of Domain Privacy

A domain name registered online may technically open a way for fraudsters to hack your sensitive data. To prevent this, registrars that work with the private WHOIS database include your data in the database and protect it right after you register a domain name.

This ensures that only you can do all the available actions with your domain name. For instance, no one except you can claim ownership of your domain, renew the subscription, and so on.

How to Protect Your Personal Information with WHOIS Privacy

The simplest and most effective way to protect your sensitive data is to deal with registrars supporting WHOIS privacy right from the start. They usually represent all-in-one platforms with all the needed services included. If you purchase a domain name from such a registrar, you’ll scarcely need to do anything more. Your chosen service itself will do the job.

Domain Name Best Practices

Do not underestimate the significance of your website’s domain. Instead, take it as an important part of your project’s success strategy.

Tips for Choosing a Memorable and Effective Domain Name

How to ensure an effective, SEO-friendly domain name for your online project? The rules are anything but difficult:

  1. Use top-popular extensions like .com or .org.
  2. Include simple words in your SLD that are easy to pronounce, spell, and memorize.
  3. Choose a name relevant to your website’s topic or purpose.
  4. Explore the keywords most used in your business and try to employ them in your domain name.
  5. Make sure your domain is not taken by someone else.
  6. Use your brand’s name to associate the website with it.

One more useful hint is to purchase domains from reliable registrars. They should be able to protect your domain name and sensitive information against hackers, spammers, etc.

Avoiding Common Mistakes in Domain Selection

Although creating an impressive domain name does not require any special skills, many users continue to make one and the same mistakes. Let’s list the ‘do-not-do-it’ rules in this guide as well:

  • Never invent long, hard-to-remember domain names.
  • Avoid the usage of hyphens or other punctuation marks.
  • Do not use numbers to replace words (for instance, “4” instead of “for.”)
  • Never include homophones in your domain name.
  • Do not employ domain names that can be associated with inappropriate topics for your project.
  • Do not use the already taken names.
  • Do not experiment with unpopular extensions. They may be a couple of bucks cheaper than a generic TLD, but you’ll pay more with your website’s popularity in the long run.

Finally, I’d like to finish this ‘don’t’ list with one tip. Do not forget to renew your domain name’s subscription on time to maintain your website’s performance.

Domain Name Trends and Future

The domain name sector is an evolving system. It has its trends, and many specialists try to predict its future. Let’s overview the main paths of development for the sector.

Current Trends in Domain Names

At present, users tend to pick generic or country code TLDs thanks to their great visibility and easy retention in memory. Yet, many registrars offer new extensions like .shop, .store, .tech, .app, etc. They have promising potential and extend users’ possibilities.

There’s also a tendency to offer budget-saving TLDs. Today’s top-popular registrar services offer AI technology that you can use to generate SEO-friendly, showy domain names for your project. The companies pay special attention to the appliance of top-effective protection measures.

Predictions for the Future of Domain Name Technology

So, in the future, you can expect to use a broader range of domain names at a lower cost. Chances are high that you won’t need to invent a domain name for your project website in the near future. The AI-based techs will do it instead of you.

Conclusion: The Key Takeaways about Domain Names

So, a domain name is a must-have attribute for your website. You can easily purchase one from a reliable registrar or hosting service. However, you should be careful with your choice of a domain name. The key rule is to make it easy to memorize and type in.

It’s also important to deal with registrars working in the WHOIS system. This will ensure proper protection for your website’s domain name, as well as for your personal info. Although the .com domain extension remains the top-popular one so far, you can consider using relevant country code TLDs or extensions directly pointing at your website’s purpose, for instance, .store or .app.

You may also like to read my instructions on how to transfer a domain name: from WordPress to Wix and vice versa, from Squarespace to Wix, from GoDaddy to Wix.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *