Choose the right domain name and registrar for your web site after weighing factors such as budget and goals for organizational identity.
Choosing a new domain name for a web site can often seem like shopping on the last day of an end-of-season sale at a popular clothing store. The best choices were long ago snapped up by the early shoppers. Like a picked-over pile of extra-small beige golf shirts, the remaining choices may not be a perfect fit for your planned web site.
Check the registrar of your choice to see if the domain name you want is already registered. Assuming for a minute that you will not be able to acquire your first choice (or second, or even third), here are some guidelines to consider when registering a brand new domain name:
Consider using your company or organization's short branding message or marketing slogan as your domain name. For example, if Wal-Mart's deep pockets and legions of lawyers were not able to wrest ownership of walmart.com from a hypothetical cyber squatter, they might consider alwayslowprices.com an acceptable alternative.
Try to come up with an action-oriented phrase or common aphorism that dovetails with the mission of your web site, and build your web site around that domain. For example, a site that promotes good health through good diet might register anappleaday.com.
Try adding your city, state, or other local identifier to your already-taken first or second choice to find an acceptable alternative that you can claim for your own, such as austinwebdesign.com or youngstownyoga.com.
Avoid using hyphens and long acronyms in your domain name. You might be tempted to register an alternative domain name by tweaking your already-taken first choice with hyphens between key words, or by reducing your business name to an alphabet-soup acronym of unrelated letters. Don't do it. A fair share of your potential site visitors will trip over these grammatical stumbling blocks, leaving your web site lost in cyberspace. For example, wsj.com works; the-wall-street-journal.com does not.
Consider registering a domain name from the ever-growing list of new top-level domains (TLDs)(see Table 1-1).
Table 1-1. Top-level domains: past, present, and future
May be registered by anyone; operated by VeriSign Global Registry. Available since 1995.
May be registered by anyone; operated by VeriSign Global Registry. Available since 1995.
May be registered by anyone; operated by Public Interest Registry. Available since 1995.
Reserved for U.S. educational institutions, such as universities or high schools. Operated by EDUCAUSE. Available since 1995.
Reserved for U.S. government use since 1995.
Reserved for U.S. military use since 1995.
Other sponsored top-level domains (sTLDs)
Sponsored by the Societe Internationale de Telecommunications Aeronautiques SC (SITA) and restricted to organizations within the air transport industry. Available since 2001.
Operated by NeuLevel, a joint venture between NeuStar, a Virginia-based telecommunications company, and Melbourne IT, an Australian domain name registration service. Must be used by businesses for commercial purposes. Available since 2001.
Sponsored by Dot Cooperation LLC and the National Cooperative Business Association, based in Washington, D.C. It is restricted to cooperative organizations. Available since 2001.
Registrants must be an intergovernmental organization. Operated by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA). Available since 1998.
Sponsored and administered by the Museum Domain Management Association, a nonprofit organization founded by the International Counsel of Museums and the J. Paul Getty Trust. Restricted to accredited museums worldwide. Available since 2001.
Offered to individuals for personal web sites and email addresses; operated by Global Name Registry. Available since 2001.
Marketed to professionals, such as accountants, doctors, lawyers, and engineers. Operated exclusively by RegistryPro. Available since 2002.
Proposed, pending, and recently added TLDs
Proposed by DotAsia Organisation Ltd. in early 2004.
Approved by ICANN in September 2005, but it is not for feline aficionados. From the applicant's web site: "Why do we want .cat? Because the Catalan language and culture are a community that wants to be identified with its own domain on the internet." Who's next? Klingons?
Sponsored by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM); approved by ICANN in late 2004.
Proposed by the Spamhaus Project and others as an antidote to spam.
Sponsored by Mobi JV, a consortium of Microsoft, Nokia, and Vodafone and other heavy-weight multinational corporations. Geared toward web sites to be viewed on mobile devices, such as PDAs and cell phones. Approved by ICANN in July 2005.
Sponsored by the Switzerland-based Universal Postal Union; approved by ICANN in late 2004.
ICANN approved Telnic's application to run a TLO for managing corporate and individual contact information in July 2005.
Sponsored by the Travel Partnership Corporation; approved by ICANN in late 2004.
In August 2005, the Bush administration expressed its opposition to the creation of a new TLD specifically for the porn industry.
Notable country code TLDs (ccTLDs)
Originally for use by the eastern European Republic of Moldova; now marketed to physicians.
Administered by the .tv Corporation, a subsidiary of VeriSign. This TLD hit the free market in 2000 thanks to the South Pacific island nation of Tuvalu.
Commonly used for city, county, and state web sites in the United States, now sold for commercial use to web sites with domains in every other TLD.
Proposed to ICANN by EURid for use by businesses and individuals in the European Union.
With your domain name chosen, it's time to claim it as your own by registering it. To make sense of the often complex and overlapping roles of domain name registrars and web site hosting providers, consider this great analogy (related on numerous sites on the Web) that recasts the process as one that should be familiar to car owners everywhere.
Imagine for a minute that your web site is an automobile—say, a red Lexus RX 330—and its domain name is a personalized license plate. To get a license plate for your Lexus, you register it with your local department of motor vehicles; to get a domain name for your web site, you must register it with an accredited domain name registrar. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) keeps a list of accredited registrars on its web site (http://www.icann.org/registrars/accredited-list.html). If the registrar you want to use is not on the list, they are likely a reseller of an approved registrar's services. Many web hosting companies (more on them later) offer domain name registration in this way.
Most Lexus owners, it's safe to assume, keep their cars in a garage, be it semi-detached in a suburban subdivision or underground in spot C219. After you have registered your domain name, you have to find a place to keep it. Web hosting companies typically provide domain name service (DNS) and disk space on a web server where web site designers "park" their web sites.
But where the rubber meets the road, so to speak, is where you as the web designer draw the line between registration and web hosting. Many—if not most—registrars can host your site, and a growing number of hosting companies can register your domain name when you sign up for one of their hosting plans. But few Lexus owners would grant the clerks at the DMV the dual role of parking attendant for one of their most valuable assets (their car). For your domain name and web site, you would be wise to abide by the same separation-of-powers principle, choosing one company to handle your domain registration and a different one to do the hosting.
Why? Here are some gotchas to beware of and avoid when choosing a registrar and host for your domain name and web site:
Hosting companies that offer to register your domain name have been known to list themselves as the owner of your domain name. Although this practice is less common than it once was, and by no means widespread, clearing up this administrative wrinkle in your DNS record can be a real headache if or when the time comes to relocate your web site to a new hosting provider. Bottom line: if you choose to register and host with the same company, read the fine print in your service agreement.
Registrars that offer no-cost, or low-cost, registration in exchange for you also choosing them as your hosting provider may be doing so in hopes of collecting high fees when your domain comes up for renewal. Expect to pay $10 to $35 for a one-year registration. Bottom line: assume that you're getting what you pay for and make sure you know who's responsible for what.
ICANN-accredited registrars are listed at http://www.icann.org/registrars/accredited-list.html, and whois.net is another good domain lookup service, at http://www.whois.net/.
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