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Perhaps you’ve already got a Facebook page, a Twitter profile, and a presence on LinkedIn—that’s child’s play. To really display a professional work portfolio, share information about a club you’re part of, or host a thriving online community, you should buy your very own domain name.
With a little bit of cash, you can stick your name (or any other combination of letters, numbers, and dots) after a “www” prefix and build a unique domain that stakes your claim to a portion of the web. And it doesn’t have to be expensive—you can snag one or two domain names for less than you might think.
How to buy a domain name
The only way to buy domain names is through a domain name registrar. There are several of these sites, but before you pick one, make sure it’s accredited by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN)—the organization charged with keeping the web’s domain names in order. ICANN looks after the Domain Name System (DNS) protocols that make sure you get to the right website when you type a URL into your browser’s address bar.
Domain name registrars are all broadly similar in terms of the features they offer and the prices they charge. A domain name typically costs just a handful of dollars a year, but the price can quickly go up if you want something that’s popular and very recognizable.
A quick web search should reveal plenty of companies ready and willing to register your domain name, but there might be some variation in price. It’s always a good idea to shop around before you make your purchase. Other factors to consider before making a decision include extra features such as domain name privacy (so no one else can see who owns your site) and free email addresses to go along with your domain. Be wary of introductory rates that only apply for the first year, as they may radically increase after that time period has passed.
To get you started, some of the best-known and most reliable domain name registrars include GoDaddy, Bluehost, Domain.com, and Google Domains. Domain name registrars typically offer other internet-related services, including web hosting and e-commerce features. You’ll need the former if you don’t have your own server to store and manage your website’s files and apps, while the latter can be helpful if you’re setting up an online shop. These additional options can help you pick the registrar that’s best for you.
How to choose a domain name
Most domain name registrars will let you look for domain names before you register any details, and the search function should be visible on the front page. Type in a few words related to the domain name you want and run the search. When deciding which words to search for, think about why you’re building a website: If you’re planning to showcase your professional portfolio, you can use your own name (or a variation of it) and profession, or you can type in the name of the company or online store you want to set up a website for.
The search results will show a plethora of options to pick from, together with their prices. On the right end of a domain name or website address, you’ll find the top-level domain: something like “.com” or “.org”. You’ll notice that the most common top-level domains will cost more, but you can cut costs by going with something a bit less recognizable, like “.xyz” or “.info”.
[Related: Build your own website, no coding required]
The rest of the domain name is up to you. As long as the website address is available and hasn’t been claimed by someone else, you can register it. But before you commit, spend some time playing around with more specific search terms and variations. Sometimes one version of your desired domain name may already be taken, while another one might not be, or you may be able to find a cheaper price for a name variation you’re satisfied with.
Once you’ve picked a domain name (or two), you’ll need to enter your personal details and some payment information. The registrar you’re using will ask you how long you want to register the domain name for—as with most services, signing up for more years usually means a lower annual price. At this stage, the platform might also offer you some paid-for extras, such as enhanced security for your domain and email addresses matching your domain name.
You have your domain name: now what?
It’s important to know that a domain name doesn’t come with a website. If you want to actually put words, images, and anything else on your domain, you’ll also need a web hosting package. Your registrar will likely be able to sell you one, but it will cost substantially more than your domain name did—anything from a few dollars to several hundred dollars a month. Prices will vary depending on a number of elements, like the expected amount of traffic—big businesses with lots of traffic every day will likely pay more than, say, a portfolio website that only expects a couple hundred visits a month from potential clients. You’ll also spend more money on web hosting for features like email addresses with your domain’s name, 24/7 technical support, and the ability to host more websites.
There are less-costly options, but some won’t allow you total creative freedom over web design. Blogging platforms like Blogger and website builders like Ucraft provide free web hosting options and let you use a domain name with your blog at no cost. Tumblr will host your site for free too, but you’ll only be able to use your own domain name if you get it through them. You can also attach domain names to WordPress blogs, sites built through Wix, and portfolio pages made in Carrd, but you’ll need to be on a paid-for plan with the platform you’re using.
Those are only the most popular choices. Just about every website builder, blog platform, and landing page maker will let you use your own domain name (usually at a cost), so if you find one you like, visit the platform’s support page to learn how to set everything up.
The good news is that your registrar of choice should make it easy to connect your domain name with whatever hosting service you want to attach it to—it’s just a question of filling in some details to let the site know where you want the web address to point to. Likewise, blogging platforms and website builders should provide comprehensive instructions for making the connection. And after that, all that’s left is for you to make your site shine.
This story has been updated. It was originally published on April 6, 2022.