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15 Jul 2020

The What, Why and How of purchasing a domain name - a guide for small businesses

Having a meaningful domain not only represents your brand online but allows potential customers to find you. Digital Growth Programme consultants Ian Lockwood and Rob Gregory explain it all here, using simple terminology they answer some useful questions, and explain - What a domain name is, What it is used for and Why you should use one.

Why do I need a business domain name?

Simply, professionalism. Using an email address like mike71@btinternet.com or a website URL like derbyplumber.wix.com gives the appearance of a small, amateur business and this erodes customer confidence. It also presents problems if you ever want to switch email or website provider, because you can’t take those addresses with you. For many companies, their domain name is essentially their brand (think ao.com).

What exactly is a domain name?

DNS cubes

A domain name is simply the “human” address that a customer uses to access your website via a web browser. For example, to access Facebook you type facebook.com into your web browser. There is a clever addressing system behind the scenes called DNS (Domain Name System), which routes traffic to a website from the domain to the numeric IP address of the server hosting that website (the underlying communications protocol of the internet is entirely numeric, but it’s unlikely people will remember your website address as 212.74.234.98!) A domain name is also used for email, for example mark@facebook.com, with email servers communicating with each other using the same DNS system. Having a meaningful domain name is vitally important, as it represents your brand online.

But my website already comes with a domain name

It's true that many website builders provide you with a domain name when you create your website on their platform. Something like https://bonsaigrowersacademy.wordpress.com or https://bga-test.wix.com. Whilst these are valid domain names and can be used to direct people to your website they are a poor choice for a number of reasons.

These free domains are in fact sub-domains, meaning they fall under another domain i.e. wordpress.com. This isn't a good idea as it means your website isn't seen as a standalone website, rather as a small part of the wordpress.com site. This is a poor choice for your branding as it mixes brands together. It's poor from a user's point of view as the domain is hard to remember and looks a little strange. Finally, but by no means less importantly, using these free domain names is poor for Search Engine Optimisation, as sub-domains can suffer from association with other sites hosted on the same parent domain name. Google wants to see a site that is clearly focused on a particular topic, but if you lump together all the sites hosted on wordpress.com sub-domains, it’s an incredibly diverse amount of information!

Free domains are fine to use for building and testing your website but when it's time to launch, you really must have your own domain name.

How to choose a domain name?

Back at the start of the web you could easily buy a short, category-matching domain name really easily. In 2020 things are little more tricky as most short, easily memorable domain names have been sold already. The key things to consider when choosing a domain name are:

  • Does it match my business name?
  • Does it describe my services or products well?
  • Is it memorable?
  • Is it easy to write down or type into a browser?

image of lady on the phone

You might have to get creative and think about how you could use a phonetic spelling of your brand name or add something to your name to get something that is available. Try and avoid numbers and hyphens as they can add confusion especially when reading out your email address to someone.

You might be tempted to buy lots of variants of your name or multiple extensions. That’s fine, but you should only use one for your website and email so any others that you buy are owned to protect your brand and not used. Remember each domain you buy comes at a cost now and each year for renewal. Effectively, you are “renting” domain names, you can’t own them outright. However, as the registrant, you always have the first option to renew to prevent anyone else taking control.

If someone has already registered the domain that you want, it is possible to approach them and offer to buy it (more likely to happen if they’re not already using it!) You cannot demand that someone gives you their domain name just because it’s the name of your business, but if you have a registered trademark and believe someone is “passing off” by using a domain name matching your trademark, you may have a case to claim the domain from them.

Which TLD should I use?

There are tons of Top Level Domains (TLD), meaning the extension such as .com, .co.uk, .org etc. The advice on which TLD to choose is nuanced but if you are a company in the UK then .co.uk is for you. If you are looking to do busines globally then maybe .com is for you. If you are a not for profit or charity .org or .net are good options as well.

You can choose to go with a more obscure extension like .io or .tv if it makes sense for your brand, however wherever possible stick to the most common top level domains. The less well-known extensions tend to be used by big brands or start-up technology companies with the budget to market their domain name and get it known; this is much harder to achieve for a small business.

Where is the best place to buy my domain name?

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Everyone and their dog will try and sell you a domain name these days. Using a well-known domain registrar like 123-reg or Fasthosts in is a good idea. Both offer good prices, have been selling domains for years and offer simple domain name setting (DNS) admin tools.

Some website builders will offer to sell you a domain name as part of their packaged service. This has the benefit of them handling the DNS settings for you however that isn't too onerous and it’s sometimes nice to separate things a little in case down the line you have a new website developed off-platform.

Remember, your domain name is completely independent of your website hosting, email provider or web developer. You do not have to buy a domain name from the company hosting your website or the person developing it for you. If you do, make sure that they register the domain in your (or your company’s) name, so that you have legal control of it.

How much will a domain name cost me?

Costs vary depending on the TLD you choose but you can expect to pay around £12 per year for a .co.uk and £16 for a .com. Often you'll see offers for the first year as low as 99p. Domain names are pretty cheap and the value they bring to your business and its marketing is huge.

Final words...

There really is no excuse not to have a domain name registered and in use for your business. It’s simple, cheap and adds a significant level of professionalism to your operation.

 

If you want to learn more about digital marketing techniques like these, join us at our next webinar. To see a full schedule and dates take a look at our events page

The Digital Growth Programme is managed by East Midlands Chamber (Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire). It is a programme part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund, the Chamber and Leicestershire County Council designed to help SMEs located in Leicester and Leicestershire embrace new digital technology to improve productivity to aid growth. 

For the latest information and recommendations from East Midlands Chamber in relation to coronavirus – please click here