What is a domain name? This seems to be such a basic thing, but it’s not always THAT easy especially if you’re a beginner.

When we decided to build our first website a few years ago, we had no idea what a domain name was, and what issues we needed consider so we can set things up properly.

We were concerned about privacy, how to connect / disconnect a domain name from a website, if a .com or .net is better, costs, etc.

Are these some concerns you share as well?

Sure, it all sounds very basic to people who have experience with building websites. But for a beginner, it all can feel a bit uneasy.

There are plenty of resources out there telling you in technical terms, what a domain name is.

But that’s the problem, it’s a bit more technical and may not always be in plain Englishthat normal people can easily understand.

You’re probably not too interested in the technical ins and outs of how a domain name actually works.

You’re probably more interested in how to practically manage the domain name, and what potential issues you should be aware of.

This short guide is written to go over the basics of what you need to know about domain names – in plain English.

Let’s get going!

1. What is a domain name?

Simplistically, a domain name is the address that you type into a website browser address bar, to get to a website.

For example, the domain name for Google is https://www.google.com

The domain name for this website is https://www.websitebuilderexpert.com

A domain name is unique to your website (just like a fingerprint), and cannot be shared between different websites.

2. Are domain names and websites separate things?

Think of a domain name as your phone number and a website on your phone. While they are connected, they are separate items.

You can change your phone (website) at any time, and still, keep your existing phone number (domain name), and just connect it to your new phone (new website).

Or, you can move your phone number (domain name) to a different phone service provider (domain name registrar), and still keep it connected to your existing phone (your website).

Confused yet? Let’s do a simple illustration:

  • I can purchase a new domain name (let’s say www.brandnewdomain.com) and connect it to this website you are on right now. All the content on this site will not change at all.  But the website will have a new domain name of www.brandnewdomainname.com, instead of www.websitebuilderexpert.com
  • I can build a brand new website elsewhere, and disconnect www.websitebuilderexpert.com from this website, and reconnect it to the new website I’ve built elsewhere. So when you type in the web address, you will be taken to the new website.

The key is that your domain name is not permanently stuck with any specific website.  You can disconnect it and reconnect it to any other website you want. But keep in mind that the domain name can only be connected to 1 single website at a time.

3. Free vs Paid Domain Names

There are free domain names you can get from various website builders that you use, such as Wordpress.com, Wix, Squarespace, Weebly, etc.

To be more specific, these website builders give you a “sub-domain”.  So if we were to use our website name as an example again, a sub-domain will look something like:

  • websitebuilderexpert.wordpress.com
  • websitebuilderexpert.wix.com
  • websitebuilderexpert.weebly.com

A free sub-domain name is not always good – especially if you want to build a long term business with your own unique branding.

You want to avoid using free sub-domains because of these two important reasons:

  1. You don’t own the sub-domain. While it is free to use – you don’t own it. The website builder owns the sub-domain name. If you ever decide to switch to another service provider, the domain is not portable.
  2. A sub-domain is an extension to the service provider’s own domain.  At the end of the domain name, it will have the name of the service provider. For example, if we used Weebly, our web address will be websitebuilderexpert.weebly.com rather than websitebuilderexpert.com.

This is why I always recommend spending a few bucks to get a proper domain that you fully own. It will also help your branding.

4. Where can I buy a domain name?

There are a lot of different domain name registrars out there.  A couple of well-known ones include GoDaddy and NameCheap.

Note that when you buy / register for a domain name, you actually pay an annual fee to the domain name registrar so that the domain name remains registered under your name.

When your registration period expires and if you don’t renew, you will lose the domain name as it will be made available for other people to register in the open market.

Fortunately, domain name registrars will email you to remind you that your registration period is about to expire, or they provide you with an auto-renewal option so you don’t have to remember.

PRO TIP: It’s always helpful to set up a calendar reminder ahead of the expiration date, to remind yourself to double check whether you want to renew the domain name, or that the auto-renew option is set up properly. You wouldn’t want someone else to end up registering your domain name, especially once you have your website up and running for years!  Imagine if one of your business competitors end up taking your domain name! So set up a reminder right away every time you renew your domain name.

5. How much does it cost to register a domain name?

Generally speaking, a domain name will cost you around $10 – $15 per year.

But if a domain name is highly demanded then it can cost hundreds, all the way up to thousands of dollars for you to make the initial purchase. The annual renewal fee should be normal afterward ($10 – $15 per year).

The reason why it is expensive to make the initial purchase is that someone may already own the domain name, and is holding it for resale.  Or, the domain name registrar knows that the domain name is highly demanded so they increase its price.

What’s a popular domain name?  Think of something like www.fitness.com or www.insurance.com

The majority of the time, if you are using your unique company name as the domain name, you will not have to worry too much about paying a hefty price

6. Can I purchase a domain name directly from a website builder?

Yes, you can.

Some website builders, such as Wix, Squarespace, or Weebly give you a free custom domain name for one year – if you sign up to their annual plans.

(Note: These are not sub-domains like what we discussed above. They are custom branded domain names like www.websitebuilderexpert.com)

After the first year, you will have to renew the domain name at their listed price.

With Wix, the annual renewal fee is around $14.95 per year ($24.85 if you include privacy registration).

With Squarespace, the renewal fee is $20 (includes privacy registration).

So with these website builders, the pricing is more aligned with domain name registrars (such as GoDaddy or Namecheap).

With Weebly, the annual renewal fee is $19.95 (or $29.95 to include privacy registration) – just slightly more expensive than what Wix, Squarespace or other domain name registrars offer.

The benefits of getting a custom domain name through a drag & drop website builder include:

  • You get one year for free (assuming you subscribe to their annual plans)
  • They make it easier for you to connect the domain name to your website, as they’ve streamlined the process of connection within their platform

Here are some drag & drop website builders that offer you free custom domain names for your first year.

Specifically, here are the links to more information about domain names being offered to you from:

  • Wix
  • Squarespace
  • Weebly

Keep in mind that if you subscribe to a month-to-month plan with the website builders, you will need to purchase the domain name.  But if you subscribe to an annual plan, you get the first year of a domain name for free.

7. Can I transfer my domain name if I change website builders?

Yes, you can – so your domain name is not locked into one specific location.  

You can take it with you as your own the domain name (as long as you keep paying the annual fee).

The receiving domain registrar / website builder (the location where you want to transfer the domain name to) will provide you with instructions on how to do this.

For instance, if you want to transfer your domain name from NameCheap to GoDaddy, then GoDaddy will have tutorials showing you how to do that.

If you want to transfer a domain name from GoDaddy to Wix, then Wix will have tutorials on how to accomplish that.

Why would you want to transfer your domain name?

One popular reason is that if you decide to switch website builders, then you should transfer your domain name out of the website builder you are leaving.  This assumes that you purchased your domain name from the website builder, and not with a domain name registrar.

But if your domain name is purchased through a domain name registrar, you can just sever the connection to your previous website builder, and reconnect your domain name to the new website builder. You can keep your domain name in your current registrar.

8. Should I purchase a domain name through a registrar or a website builder?

There are pros and cons to each approach here.

Purchase a domain name through a website builder:

  • Benefit – If you subscribe to an annual plan with a website builder (such as Wix, Squarespace, or Weebly), they give you a free domain name for one year.  So you save 1 year’s worth of domain name fees (around $10 – $15)
  • Benefit – It’s easier for you to connect the domain name to your website (as the website builder streamlined the connection process to just a few clicks). With domain name registrars, you have to do a few configuration edits (it’s a bit more work).
  • Drawback – After the first free year, you will need to renew your domain name at around $15 – 20 per year for Wix and Squarespace, and $19.95 with Weebly. These are not inclusive of privacy registration for your domain name. With domain name registrars, the annual renewal fee is usually around $10 – $15. So the trade off here is free for one year and slightly more expensive in subsequent years.
  • Drawback – If you were to switch website builders, you will need to transfer your domain name out of your old website builder. This has to be done as you will no longer be using the old website builder. Just a bit more administrative, if you were ever to change builders.

Purchase a domain name through a domain name registrar:

  • Benefit – If you switch website builders, you can keep the domain name with the domain name registrar, and connect it to the new website builder. This can usually be done within a day.  So there is no need to go through the export / import process, which can be technical and usually takes a few days.
  • Benefit – The annual fees are usually cheaper by a few dollars per year.
  • Drawback – Since the domain name registrar is outside of the web builder, connecting the domain name is a bit more technical and administrative.
PRO TIP: If you have a few different websites, you might want to consider registering all the domain names with a domain name registrar such as GoDaddy or NameCheap.  It’s just easier to manage all of them under one single roof, especially if you are using different website builders. Also, you will have the ability to quickly disconnect and reconnect a domain name without the hassle of transferring it out of one website builder and into another. It’s more of an administrative hassle, and can take a few days to process. 

9. Are domain names with .com always preferable?

Generally speaking, we feel that people tend to prefer more popular Top Level Domains(“TLD”), such as .com, .org, .net.  Or even TLDs that are country specific (such as .ca for Canada, or .com.au for Australia), which is good for businesses that are targeting local customers.

We’ve heard some people tend to distrust some TLDs such a .biz as they look a bit scammier.  But at the end of the day, it’s the website itself that’s dishonest and not the domain name structure.  So there is definitely some sort of subjective bias favoring typical TLDs (such as .com).

One case study to consider is that Google set up a new parent company and used the domain name ABC.xyz for the parent company.  It doesn’t end with a .com, suggesting that Google doesn’t really have any biases against non .com domain names.

So don’t over-think this selection process.  Try to match the domain name with your business name, as this helps with branding.

PRO TIP: If your business is more established, consider registering your domain name across all TLDs (or as many as you can find). For instance, if your business name is ABCDE.com, try registering for the other TLDs (such as ABCDE.net, ABCDE.org, etc.).  The idea is that you don’t want someone else to register those domain names, in order to help protect your branding online.

What if a competitor registered ABCDE.org?  This will most likely lead to some sort of brand confusion.  So it’s not a bad idea to take precautionary measures ahead of time.

Yes, it’s a bit of financial commitment on a yearly basis, but it’s well worth the investment, especially when your business becomes a bit more established.

10. Should I protect my personal information with private registration?

Did you know that anyone can look up the ownership and contact information of a domain name owner by using WHOIS?

So if you feel strongly that you don’t want your contact information to be disclosed publicly, most domain name registrars offer you the ability to privately register your domain name, so your contact information will be shielded from public eyes.

The privacy registration fee ranges.  But generally speaking, it’s around $10 – $15 per year.

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