With a little bit of cash, you can stick your name (or any other combination of letters, numbers, and dots) after a “www” URL prefix and build a unique domain name that stakes your claim to a portion of the web. And you can snag one or two for less than you might think.
Once you’ve secured a name, you can use that web address to display a work portfolio, information about a social club you’re a part of, or host an online community—there are plenty of possibilities.
How to start buying a domain name
The only way to buy domain names is through a domain name registrar, which must be on the books of 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.
There are lots of registrars to choose from, and they’re 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, though there might be some variation in price. Other differentiators to look out for include extra features such as domain name privacy (so no one else can see who owns the domain) and free email addresses to go along with your domain. Be wary of introductory rates that only apply for the first year—make sure you check the ongoing cost of the domain name too.
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 a whole host of other internet-related services too, including web hosting and e-commerce features, so those additional options can help you pick the registrar that’s best for you.
Choose the name you like best
Most domain name registrars will let you look for domain names right away, 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—perhaps your own name or the name of the company you want to build a website for—and run the search.
You’ll be met with a plethora of options to pick from, together with their prices. On the right of a website address is the top-level domain: something like “.com” or “.org,” and you’ll notice that the most common top-level domains will cost you more. If you’re happy with something a bit less recognizable, like “.xyz” or “.info,” you won’t have to pay as much.
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. Still, you might have to make your search terms a bit more specific, because while one variation on your name may already be taken, another one might not be.
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Once you’ve picked a domain name (or two), you’ll need to enter your personal details and some payment information. You’ll be asked how long you want to register the domain name for—more years usually means more money, but a lower annual price—and your registrar will probably offer some paid-for extras too, such as enhanced security for your domain and email addresses matching your domain name.
What to do with your domain name
It’s important to remember that a domain name doesn’t come with a website. If you want to actually put words, pictures, 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 a month to several hundred dollars a month if you’re a business getting thousands of website visits each day.
There are less-costly options, though. Blogging platforms like Tumblr and Blogger let you use a domain name with your blog for free, as does the website builder Ucraft. Domain names can also be attached to WordPress blogs, sites built through Wix, and portfolio pages made in Carrd—though in those cases you will need to be on a paid-for plan with the relevant platform to attach a domain name.
Just about every website builder, blog platform, and landing page maker will let you use your own domain name, but it’s usually an extra that will cost you money. Whether you go for one of these options or a custom web hosting package really depends on what you want to put on your domain and how much traffic you’re expecting.
The good news is that your registrar of choice should make it easy to connect your domain name with whatever service you want to attach it to—it’s just a question of filling in some details about where you want the web address to point to. And if you’re using it with a blogging platform or website builder, you should find similarly comprehensive instructions there for making the connection. All that’s left is for you to make your site shine.