An intro to web accessibility: building a digital world for everyone
Discover accessible web design, its impact on users and its business benefits. From WCAG 2.2 to key accessibility features, here’s an intro to inclusive sites.Read More »
Craig Greenup 03/01/23, 09:00
Every website needs a domain name. These are unique, easy to remember addresses that are linked to your website and are what will distinguish your site from all the others online. They work by being mapped to a numeric IP address that is unique to your site, allowing users to type (or copy and paste) your domain name into a browser and then they will be connected to your site via the client software.
IP addresses are complex numerical identifiers that would be impossible to remember for every site you want to visit, so your domain name acts as a human-friendly alternative that is stored within the ‘phonebook of the internet’, or domain name system (DNS). The process of connecting you to a site’s IP address via the domain name is called a DNS lookup, and it is an efficient way to convert human-readable information into something that is readable by machines.
There is some confusion about what a domain name is and many people use ‘domain name’ interchangeably with ‘URL’, though they are not the same. URL stands for uniform resource locator and it does feature the domain name, among other information. To make the distinction easier to understand, we’ll look at our own domain name and URL. You can access our website via our URL which looks like this: https://radicalwebdesign.co.uk/.
Our domain name is ‘radicalwebdesign.co.uk’, the ‘https://’ section is the hypertext transfer protocol which is a secure way to send data between a web browser and a website, and anything that comes after the ‘.co.uk’ part is called a pathway which takes you to a specific part of our website such as ‘/blog/’ to visit our blog page.
On the other hand, domain names are read left to right and are made up of different sections separated by a dot, and when they are read from right to left the sections go from most general to most specific. These work a little differently depending on how many sections there are in the domain name. For example, the online retailer Amazon has several country-specific stores such as Amazon.co.uk for the UK market and Amazon.com for the US market – let’s break these down.
Going from right to left with Amazon.com, the ‘.com’ part is the top level domain, or TLD, and is the most generic part of the domain name. The next section to the left is ‘Amazon’ and this is called the 2nd level domain, or 2LD, and is the most specific part. The Amazon.co.uk domain consists of three parts. The ‘.uk’ is the most general but location-specific part of the domain name, ‘.co’ is the 2LD, and ‘Amazon’, being the most specific in this domain name, is the 3rd level domain, or 3LD.
As a website owner, choosing a domain name is one of the most important decisions you’ll have to make in the early days and there can be a lot of pressure to get it right. The wrong domain name can have serious consequences for your business, including damage to your company’s reputation and going viral for all the wrong reasons. Luckily for you, it is entirely possible to avoid all the negative implications of a poor domain name by doing some research before putting your money down.
Aside from serving a practical purpose, your domain name is also how your customers will remember your company and will form the basis of any first impressions new users have when encountering you online for the first time. Because it can be very difficult to change your domain name once you’ve established one, it’s best to get it right the first time. Here are our best tips for choosing a domain name that will carry you from strength to strength as your business grows.
As we’ve already covered, your top level domain, or TLD, is the bit that sits at the end of your domain name. Globally, the ‘.com’ extension is the most popular because it is one of the most general and comes with a certain air of credibility. Due to its popularity it can be tricky to find your preferred domain name with your preferred ‘.com’ extension, and if this is the case you may have to consider the alternatives. For UK based companies, the ‘.co.uk’ TLD is a clear contender, as are ‘.org’ and ‘.net’. Ultimately, the right TLD will be one that signals that your site is credible and is recognisable to users.
Search engines look for more than 200 ranking factors to help them give your site its rightful place in results pages, and some of the most important factors are your keywords. If you are familiar with search engine optimisation then you’ll know that keywords need to be distributed throughout your web content, but they also have a role to play in your domain name. Keywords can be branded by including your brand name, or representative of your industry – or both.
To use our own domain name as an example again, we have branded keywords and industry relevant keywords in Radicalwebdesign.co.uk. This is a good example of a compromise between brand positioning and including targeted keywords for an SEO boost. Try not to include more than one or two keywords at most because using more means your domain name runs the risk of looking spammy.
It might seem pretty obvious, but your domain name should be on the shorter side and should be easy to remember – you get extra points if it’s also easy to spell and pronounce! It can be tempting to come up with your own spellings of words, especially if the proper spelling is not available with the TLD you prefer, but this can cause confusion and can make word-of-mouth advertising more difficult. Keep things as short, sharp and simple as you can because this makes it much easier for your users to remember your domain. Aim to keep your domain name length under 20 characters and use acronyms if necessary, and avoid numbers unless they’re part of your company name.
For obvious reasons, every domain name needs to be unique. This can make choosing a domain name tricky because there is usually a good chance that your first choice of domain name will already be taken, unless you are using something unique. If you find this to be the case, try to avoid the temptation to use an alternative TLD to prevent your site running the risk of encountering legal complications. It’s usually perfectly fine to use the expired domain name of another brand, just be sure that the pre-owned domain name doesn’t come with any unwanted baggage such as search engine penalties and sanctions.
Even if your first choice of domain name is available, you should consider buying variants to protect your business and make it easier for users to find you online. For example, if you are lucky enough to bag your preferred ‘.com’ TLD, see if you can also get your hands on a ‘.co.uk’ or other variations. You can then set up redirects to your main site from these domains to make sure you’re not losing out on any traffic.
If you are planning to make use of social media channels to reach and engage with your audience then you’ll want to make sure your social handles are aligned with your domain name. When choosing a domain name, you should also take time to check the availability of your preferred social handles. Don’t worry too much if your exact match isn’t available, you can always use a variation.
Still with us? Good! The next thing you need to know is where you can find a domain name to buy and how they work. Businesses that specialise in selling domain names are known as registrars, and they are responsible for assigning IP addresses to the domain name you have chosen. They’ll usually supply a range of TLDs so you will have the option to register a ‘.com’ domain name or something location-specific like a ‘.co.uk’. To help you navigate the process you’ll want to be familiar with the following terms:
Registrars do not generate domain names so they are more akin to a salesperson, and it’s the registry operator that acts as a ‘manufacturer’. As well as registrars, there are also lots of resellers you can find online who will be able to provide you with domain names. Some of the most popular sellers are Google Domains and GoDaddy, but they all do a similar job.
It’s important to note that domains are also available directly from Cloudflare and this would be our personal recommendation. When you choose Cloudflare to source your domain name, you will know exactly what you are getting from a trusted supplier and what it will cost. Sites such as GoDaddy like to entice their users in with attractive deals for their first year before ramping up the costs for renewal so are best avoided where possible despite their popularity.