by Craig Grannell

A domain name is an important component when creating a website:

It's your text-based link to the world. The thing people type into a browser's address bar to access your site (such as google.com, or apple.com). The best domain names are memorable and straightforward, and therefore superior to the URL you may be given with some free web space, which typically includes your ISP's domain and your broadband or dial-up user-name (such as nameofisp.com/~username).

When choosing a domain, avoid complexity. Imagine yourself reading it out over the phone-if you have to say things like "hyphen" or "the numeral two" or if your spelling of a word is awkward or non-standard, think of a different name. As millions of domains are already in use, it pays to be armed with at least a half-dozen alternatives. For example, try being more specific with your name: there's no chance that you'd be able to buy gardening.com, but if you added "in" and your location after "gardening" (such as "gardeninginsomerset.com"), you might.

To find out if a domain is already in use, do a search. The majority of domain resellers have a search form, which enables you to search domains with various suffixes (such as .com,.net,.org, and so on more on those later), but a decent, impartial resource is at www.hetzner.co.za.

If you're on a commercial site doing searches, you might be presented with alternatives should your first choice already be taken. In such scenarios, only settle on alternatives if they're exactly what you're looking for. Don't be tempted by strange word combinations or unusual suffixes. People remember "dot com" or their local equivalent (such as ".co.uk" in the United Kingdom). This is less often the case with awkward combinations like ".uk.com" or newer suffixes such as ".info". Also, if someone else has a domain with a more popular suffix, you run the risk of losing traffic to them.

Note that even if you're creating a personal site or blog, it pays to grab a memorable domain. For example, friends and family will find it easier to find your site if it's based on your name, and domains also make associated email accounts more useful, enabling you to use name@yourdomain.com, rather than a borderline random collection of characters prior to your ISP domain and your broadband or dial-up username (such as nameofisp.com/~username). Also, domains have the advantage of being a constant-should you move ISP and "lose" you're free web space, you will have to start from scratch. However, with a domain name, the address is always the same, meaning that even a move between entirely different web hosts typically only leads to a couple of days of down-time for your site.

When it comes to buying a domain, you have the option of buying it on its own from one of myriad resellers, or buying it alongside a web-hosting account, all from the same organisation. If you're a beginner, I strongly recommend buying your domain and hosting at once. It means you only have a single company to deal with for support issues, and the company's system will likely know what's going on, enabling you to "attach" a newly acquired domain to a hosting account you've purchased via an online administration panel. If you decide against this, you can buy a domain name from one company and "point" it at hosting purchased elsewhere. To do this, you will need to update your domain's name-servers and IP address (things that enable the domain to "know" which site it should be pointed at) in line with the requirements of your web host.

Note that pitfalls can occur during the domain buying process. Some sellers inflate prices to make more profit (which is absurd in the current market), and some at the cheaper end of the spectrum, charge when you want to move your domain at a later date. Therefore, prior to buying a domain, always check to see whether you can freely move it. Also, don't be bullied into buying extra domains unless you really need them-if you have your chosen name and a .com, you won't need a .biz or a .info equivalent as well, so save your money. Finally, if you're offered private registration during the buying process, it's worth consideration. By default, your details (name, address, telephone number) will be available when people investigate ownership of your domain; however, for a few bucks, most domain name resellers enable you to "hide" your details, only showing generic details for the registration organisation.

About the author

Originally trained in the fine arts, Craig Grannell became irrevocably immersed in the world of digital media over a decade ago, and he's never looked back. Along with designing sites for a wide range of clients, he's written for various design-oriented publications, penned books on web design, and continues to be creative in the fields of music and photography. Regarding web design, Craig is a stoic cheerleader for both web standards and engaging, simple design.

Find out more about Craig's design and writing via Snub Communications. Craig also regularly writes for his blog Revert to Saved, and occasionally finds the time to release music via Project Noise.


If you are serious about you're new web site, you understand that your domain name is going to be your brand name, so think twice before you register one.

Your Domain Name is your Image to the World!

Domain names can be used sensibly, practically, cleverly and creatively to deliver a clear and accurate branding message and facilitate business or even personal communications.

Below is a list of some simple Does and Don'ts that should enable an individual, whether they are starting a new business, registering a business or business concept, or just improving the branding of an existing company to select an appropriate domain name.