How to Buy a Domain Name: Domain Registration Guide

What you need to know about domain names, how to choose the right one, and the steps to take to check if a domain name is available and to register your domain.

If you want to start a blog or a new online business, you’ll need to register a domain name, the name for your website. Getting the right domain for your needs might sound technical at first, but the process is pretty simple.

This domain registration guide will tell you what you need to know about domain name extensions, how to choose the right one for your needs, and the steps you’ll need to take to check if a domain name is available and to register your domain.

What is a domain name?

Every website on the internet has an IP address. These addresses point to a website’s location — think of them like GPS coordinates. The IP address, which is generally a set of numbers, usually resembles something like this:

216.27.61.137

Unfortunately, trying to remember all of those numbers in order to navigate to a website can be challenging. That’s where domain names step in and lend a hand.

A structure called the Domain Name System (DNS) translates those IP addresses into names that are (hopefully) simple to remember. Those names are called domain names.

Your website's domain is what people enter into the address bar on their browsers to point it toward your website. In the simplest terms, if an IP address is your website’s GPS coordinates, the domain is its street address. Some examples are mailchimp.com and google.com.

When someone types a domain into a browser, it gets routed through a DNS server. That server translates the name to figure out which IP address it points to. Then it grabs the data for that website and delivers it to the browser. This process happens in a matter of seconds, letting you find and view a website fast.

Types of domains

According to Verisign, there were over 360 million registered domains in 2019. The types you can buy vary greatly. To make the best choice, you need to first understand the anatomy of a domain, which is made of two main parts — a second-level domain (SLD) and a top-level domain (TLD).

Second-level domains (SLDs)

A second-level domain is what most people think of when they think of the name of a website. It’s the unique name that you choose to represent your brand because it’s the part that people will remember the most.

In a web address, an SLD appears just to the left of the extension, or top-level domain. It can contain as many letters, numbers, and special characters as you want, but it’s best to keep them short and easy.

Top-level domains (TLDs)

Top-level domains (TLDs) are also referred to as domain extensions. They’re the series of letters that appear at the right of your SLD, after the dot. The most popular ones include:

  • .com: Short for “commercial,” this was the first TLD launched, initially meant for business and commercial use. It’s still the most popular.
  • .net: Short for “network,” this was created for technology organizations, but it has become another common option for business website owners of all types.
  • .edu: Short for “education,” this TLD was created for universities, colleges, and other educational institutions. Today, it’s mostly associated with U.S. schools.
  • .org: Short for “organization,” this was developed for non-profit organizations but soon became popular among schools, communities, and for-profit enterprises.
  • .gov: Short for “government,” this was created strictly for U.S. government agency use.
  • .mil: Short for “military,” this TLD was developed solely for use by branches of the U.S. military.

There are also TLDs for different countries (.ca for Canada, for example) as well as niche domains like .coffee, .cheap, and .ninja. In all, there are more than 1,500 different TLDs to choose from, and the list continues to grow. But the cost for different TLDs vary. Some carry more "weight" than others, which should impact your decision when buying a domain.

How much does a domain name cost?

When you buy a domain name through domain registrars, you register it for one year with the option of a multi-year registration. You will be able to renew your domain name registration when the initial period finishes, and will usually be alerted by the registrar to do so. Domain names are also sometimes included in your web hosting plan and if not, usually offered by your hosting company.

Domains purchased through Mailchimp are priced based on the TLD you choose, such as .com or .net.

A domain name with a common top-level domain, such as .com, can be had for as low as $12.99 per year, and promotions are often available. Internet domains purchased through Mailchimp also come with free WHOIS privacy protection and a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate to provide your website with free verification and encryption.

You do need to have a web hosting plan to put your site online, but you don’t need to have hosting to purchase a domain. Assuming you have a business or blog name in mind, it’s possible to reserve your brand’s name for the future by purchasing and registering your domain name now. Then you’ll have plenty of time to consider how to build your website.

How to choose a domain name

Since your domain name can have a major impact on your online presence, what you choose is a vital first step in building your brand. Finding the perfect domain name, however, can be challenging.

While it’s true that there are millions of domain names available, many of the popular domain names that are easy to remember are taken. Fortunately, you can still get what you need if you go through a simple process and use a bit of imagination.

Make it brandable, not generic

Creative, memorable domain names are always better than generic ones. After all, your domain name is how people will find, remember, and spread the word about your business on the internet. It’s much better to have something that aligns with your brand instead of a domain name that’s made up of a bunch of general keywords.

For example, can you tell the difference between cheapcarinsurance.com and affordableautoinsurance.com? Which one would you trust when it comes to buying insurance? Probably neither. Both sound a little spammy, and they’re terribly generic.

On the other hand, you’ll probably know where the domain names progressive.com or geico.com are going to point you to. Those companies have invested in their brands, and they’ve used them in their domain names. You can trust that these sites are legitimate.

Even if you haven’t built up trust and loyalty yet, you can start by choosing a strong domain name that fits your brand.

Choose the right domain extension

When picking the extension or TLD for your domain name, “.com” is still the best choice unless you have a reason to choose something else.

While Google confirms that your choice of TLD will not impact rankings, it does affect consumer perception. Many people view other TLDs as less trustworthy.

That said, .net or .org extensions are not uncommon, so they can be good secondary options if you find the perfect name and the coveted .com isn’t available.

But if you do decide to go with an extension other than a .com, make sure you take a look at what type of website is currently on the .com extension. Someone is bound to go there accidentally while looking for your brand. If the site holds fishy or offensive content, you might want to steer clear of that name altogether.

Watch domain length

When it comes to domain name length, shorter is better. Search engines — Google in particular — give preference to easy-to-understand and simple domain names that deliver what they promise. URLs that are filled with numbers and special characters can hurt search engine rankings.

Your domain name should be as short as possible while still capturing the concept of your website. Short domains are easier to read, take up less room on marketing materials, and have a better chance at sticking in visitors’ memories.

The downside to short domain names is that there are fewer of them available. But, if your brand name is 100% unique or has some other creative element to it, you might be able to find something to fit the bill.

So, what is an acceptable length? Aim for 6 to 14 characters with a focus on the shorter end of that range.

Make it memorable

Whatever domain you choose should also be memorable. It should be simple enough for anyone to spell and type.

Provided your chosen domain name passes that first test, make sure it’s also easy to pronounce for the sake of word-of-mouth promotion. Use that same “10 friends” test as a guide. Write the domain name down and ask your friends to pronounce it. If no one struggles, you have a winner.

Think about some popular websites like Yahoo, Amazon, Reddit, and Twitter. Each is short and easy to spell. If you choose poorly, there’s a good chance that many of your visitors are going to end up on someone else’s website.

Avoid numbers and hyphens

Imagine asking your 10 friends to spell or pronounce a domain name filled with numbers and dashes. It won’t work.

If you choose a domain name with these elements, you’re likely going to lose traffic to people who can’t remember your domain or effectively tell someone else how to find it. We probably wouldn’t have Facebook today if you had to go to Face-Book.com to reach the site.

Check for trademark infringement

Both major and minor brands alike take issue with others using their trademarked names. Even if you’ve just made an innocent mistake, the legal hassle involved in a lawsuit and having to rearrange your web presence could be costly.

You can avoid these situations by using a trademark lookup tool before you finalize your choice.

Future-proof your domain name

Domains and websites are long-term investments. That means you should avoid choosing a domain name that includes a year or the latest trendy catchphrase.

Think about where your business or brand might be in five or ten years. If you provide basic SEO services now, you might end up expanding your offerings as your business grows. So, using the words “marketing” or “digital marketing” might be better descriptors than “SEO services.”

Use a domain name generator

If you’re not the creative type, you can use a domain name generator to help spark some ideas. Simply enter in some words or phrases that describe your brand or website, and these tools will give you a list of ideas that you can then check for availability.

Steps to buying a domain name

Let’s assume you have a list of catchy, memorable, branded, and short domain names, and you’re ready to buy. Here are the steps for buying and registering your domain name.

1. Choose a reliable domain registrar

To get a domain name, you should first find a registrar that is accredited with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which is the nonprofit organization responsible for coordinating all of the numerical spaces on the internet. Mailchimp offers domains governed by ICANN.

2. Find a domain availability checker tool

The next step in your journey is a domain name search and should involve a domain availability checking tool. This will tell you if the domain you want, such as tinysgarage.com, is available or not.

Mailchimp’s domain availability checker tool can be found on the domains page.

3. Choose the best domain name option

When you’re checking for available domain names, you’ll often find that your first, second, and tenth choices are already taken. Some of the different approaches you can take when this happens are:

  • Keep searching. Let your creative juices flow, and continue to search until you find something you love — or at least like.
  • Choose another extension. If the .com isn’t available and you’re set on a certain name, consider the .net or .org if you think it will work.
  • Reach out to the owner. Maybe the domain is already owned, but it’s not being put to much use. You could reach out to the owner with an offer.

4. Purchase your domain name and complete its registration

Once you settle on a domain name, it’s time to purchase it. When you buy through Mailchimp, we’ll let you know the annual cost of the domain name as well as any available discounts.

During the checkout process, you’ll be required to enter your contact information, including an email address, to register the domain.

5. Verify ownership of your new domain

Paying for your domain might seem like the last step in the process, but you also need to verify your ownership. This step lets you send email using the domain (myname@topnotchsales.com, for instance) and keeps other people from using it without your permission.

If you purchase your domain through Mailchimp, this process is simple. You’ll receive a verification email after you complete your purchase. Simply click on the Verify Domain button in the email and follow the instructions on the next page, and you can start using your domain to build your brand. You’ll only ever have to complete this step once.

Buying a domain from another person

If the domain name you want is already owned, it might still be available. Assuming you find a name that you simply must have, here are the steps to complete a purchase:

1. Find the owner’s contact information

Locate the owner of the domain by looking up their contact information through the WHOIS directory. If it isn’t listed, you may be able to contact them from information you find on the domain’s website.

2. Negotiate a fair price

Once you make contact, offer a fair price for the domain. If you aren’t sure about a price, do some research. You can even hire a broker to facilitate the deal on your behalf if you want the domain badly enough.

3. Complete the sale using escrow

Avoid wiring money to a stranger on the internet. It’s just a bad idea. Instead, use an escrow service to ensure that both parties are satisfied and your sale is as low risk as possible.

Connecting your domain name to Mailchimp

Whether you’ve bought your domain through Mailchimp or a third party, you can transfer your domain name and connect it to your Mailchimp account. Once connected, you can use that domain with a custom landing page or Mailchimp-hosted website. If you don’t already have a website, Mailchimp offers a free website builder that you can use to make your brand stand out — with no coding skills required.

Find a custom domain for your site

Whether you’re working on a blog, an online portfolio, or an online shop, Mailchimp offers custom domains that can make all the difference to your online presence. And there’s no reason to stop there. Use Mailchimp to build your website and connect it to our all-in-one marketing platform to really make your offerings stand out from the rest.

Learn more about how to get a free domain name from Mailchimp and how our offer compares to the competition.

Domain name FAQs

Does a domain name registration expire? And what happens if it does before I renew it?

When you register a domain name, you’ll see the registration date as well as the expiration date. Every domain name expires at some point, whether that’s in a year, a couple of years, or a decade. You can save time by buying a domain with a longer expiration date. In any case, you’ll need to manually renew your domain when that expiration date is approaching.

The good news is that you can renew your domain name registration before it expires, which allows you to keep your domain name. This is especially important if you have a very simple domain name that’s highly sought after. Typically, you’ll receive your first reminder to renew your domain about a month before it expires. If you still don’t renew your domain name after receiving this message, you’ll get another reminder about a week before your domain expires.

So, what happens if you forget to renew your domain name before it expires? As long as the domain name hasn’t been registered by somebody else, you can reactivate your domain name after the expiration date. Keep in mind that some domains are in much higher demand than others, and there are even some bots out there that automatically register high-profile domains when they become available.

Another thing to keep in mind is that some domain registrars (companies that allow you to register a domain name) offer an autorenewal option. When you turn on this autorenewal option, your domain registration will automatically renew when you’re approaching your expiration date. Different registrars may have different policies when it comes to autorenewal, so make sure you read them before enabling autorenewal. In many cases, your domain will auto-renew when you’ve got about a month left until it expires, so it’s important to make sure your payment information is up to date.

Something else to remember when it comes to how to buy a domain name is that not all domains are in high demand. If your domain name uses a made-up word or a very specific business name, chances are nobody is going to squat on your domain name if you let it expire. If you want to find out more about the demand for your domain name, you can use a domain price checker to see what it’s valued at. The higher the value of your domain, the more likely people are to squat on it if you let it expire.

Does the country I live in effect my domain name?

While there are country domain names you can use to tell people where your business is based, your location has no real effect on your domain name. When you’re buying a domain name, you can choose country-specific domain names such as .it for Italy and .ir for Iran. However, you don’t need to know your country’s domain extension or use it to create a website. No matter which country you’re from, you can create a website using one of the standard domain extensions, including .com, .net, and .org.

One thing to remember is that certain country-specific domain extensions are only available to residents of that country. For example, you can only register a .it domain if you’re a natural or legal citizen of the European Union, so you can’t have an Italian domain for an American business. When it comes to .us domains, things are a bit different. Any company or individual that’s licensed in or a citizen of the United States can register a .us domain, but these domains can also be registered by certain foreign organizations that have an interest in the United States.

In addition to country-specific domain extensions, there are also domain extensions that are designed for specific types of websites. Schools and other educational organizations often use .edu domains, while official government organizations use .gov domains. While these domains aren’t all restricted from being used by other organizations, it’s best to stick to a simple .com domain, so you don’t confuse your audience.

All across the world, .com domains are the most popular and memorable domain names. That being said, many business owners choose to register several different domain extensions, as well as any typos or misspellings of the .com domain. Choosing the right domain and making sure you keep up with domain registration helps you build a strong online presence.

While .com domains are the most popular, that doesn’t mean they’re the only domain names you should purchase. Part of learning how to buy a domain name is knowing which domain names to buy for your business. If you want to cover all your bases, this means buying the same domain with a .com, .net, and .org extension. You can also purchase misspellings and typos of your domain name, that way, you can redirect people to your website even if they don’t type your domain right.

What do I do once I have bought my domain name?

After buying a domain name, you can connect your domain name to a website to publish it to the world. When people type in your connected domain name, they’ll see the website you’ve built. Of course, you’ll also need a server to host your website on.

First, make sure you write down your login information for your domain registrar of choice. This login information is important when it comes time to connect your domain to your website or renew your domain registration. You can always contact your registrar for help logging in to manage your domain, but it’s easier to store your login information somewhere safe. You can use a secure password manager if you want to store this information on your phone or computer, or you can simply write it down on a piece of paper and keep it somewhere safe.

When you use a website builder like Mailchimp, you can easily connect your domain name in just a few minutes. You’ll also need to choose a web hosting provider, which essentially acts as a server to store the files that make your website work. You can purchase both your hosting package and your domain name separately and connect them to your website using a website builder. However, you also have the option of purchasing a domain name directly through Mailchimp when you build your website.

Part of learning how to buy a domain name is knowing when your domain expires and how to prevent domain expiration. Look at the domain expiration date when buying a domain, and make sure you renew your domain before that date to prevent cybersquatters from stealing your domain. You might want to consider turning on auto-renew to make sure your domain registration renews before it expires. Alternatively, you can purchase a 10-year domain registration so you don’t have to worry about renewing your domain for the foreseeable future.

After buying a domain, you might also want to look into similar domains. Some domain registrars will offer similar domain names when you purchase your domain, including .org and .net versions of your domain. Then, you can set these domains up to redirect to your .com domain. Owning different domain extensions ensures that even if people don’t type the right domain extension, they’re redirected to your website.

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