How to Buy a Domain Name

When I purchased my first domain name, I did everything wrong. There wasn’t a whole lot of information out there, and I didn’t even know that I could buy a domain and build a website in the same place. All I knew was that I was going to start a new business, and I needed to be on the World Wide Web.

I didn’t know:

  1. Where to buy a domain name 
  2. The difference between a domain registrar and a web host
  3. The various costs associated with buying a domain name
  4. What to do if my domain name was taken
  5. That I could buy an existing or expired domain name
  6. What to do after I got my domain name

The good news is that I struggled with all of this already, so you don’t have to!

Need to choose a domain name?

Read our article What’s a Domain Name?. Think through your options. Follow the do’s and don’ts. And when you’ve found your domain name, read on…

Where do I buy a domain name?

A domain name can be purchased from:

  1. An ICANN registrar – like our friends at Domain.com (based in the US) and BigRock (based in India). The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is the group that regulates domain names and keeps the internet secure.
  2. A web host – a business that hosts websites and often offers domain registration as one of their services, such as Constant Contact, HostGator, Bluehost, Ipage, and Sitebuilder.com.
  3. A domain marketplace – where domain names are bought, sold and auctioned to the highest bidder (every domain name has a price, even if it doesn’t exist yet).

Within these three options, some have auctions, and some don’t. Some sell premium names, while others don’t. And don’t get me started on extensions/generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs)!

Don’t worry—we’re here to walk you through it all.

Domain registrar vs. web host

There’s a lot of info out there about this, much of it convoluted and confusing — mostly because most registrars provide web hosting services, and most web hosts also register domain names. And you don’t have to get your domain from your web host (although sometimes it’s just easier). The hardest part is keeping everything straight.

So keep this in mind…

A domain name is an address on the World Wide Web. And a website is like the “building” at that address. You can usually get both in the same place, but not always.

An image showing how you can buy a domain name and host your website with Constant Contact.
At Constant Contact, you can purchase and host your website in one convenient location.

Costs associated with buying a domain name

As I mentioned, domain name prices may vary based on whether you’re purchasing from an ICANN registrar or a web host. And although I’ve found that most often, they’re all pretty close as far as basic domain costs go, sometimes prices can vary widely.

The most expensive type of domains are those considered Premium domain names, such as martialarts.com, or golfshop.com. These are domain names that are short, extremely easy to remember, and a snap to find.  If you think you might want to invest in a Premium domain name, you can check out more at BuyDomains.com.

The point is, there are different prices for different domain names and different extensions. Shop around for the best prices and the gTLD (remember—that’s the extension at the end of your domain, such as .com, .net, etc.) that suits you.

In addition to purchasing the domain name itself, there are a few other expenditures you’ll need to decide on:

  1. Web hosting. Who’s going to host your website? Here’s what to look for in a hosting company:
    • Reputation. What is being said about them? Are their customers happy or frustrated?
    • Customer service. Is it available when you need it? And is it easy to contact them?
    • Do they provide an option for a personal email address? 
    • How much do they cost each month?
    • What do they provide as part of their hosting service?
  2. Secure Socket Layer (SSL). This is security over the internet, and if you have it, it lets people know that your site can be trusted.
  3. Domain Privacy. Also called Privacy Protection, and ID Protection (among other things). This keeps others from seeing who owns your website and can help to keep you from getting spammed. Basically, it protects your privacy.
  4. Site/Registrar Lock. This will lock your domain so the settings cannot be changed. This makes it so someone can’t hi-jack your domain and redirect it to another web site.
  5. Email. This allows you to have one or more email addresses associated with your domain. E.g., gino@ginospizza.biz.
Domain charges including web hosting, SSL (Secure Socket Layer), email, and site lock.
When purchasing a domain name,
this is what a typical shopping cart may look like.

Pro Tip:  Make sure to auto-renew. Besides ensuring that you don’t lose your domain name to a competitor because you forgot to pay your annual fee, signing up for auto-renewal may be the only way to get some of the aforementioned extras.

auto-renew domain button
Here is an example of one way to make sure you’re set-up to auto-renew.
Different plans for purchasing a domain.
Constant Contact makes buying a domain and hosting a website easier with two simple plans.

What if my domain name is taken?

The most important thing is not to panic. You don’t have to start all over. At least not yet.

Your first option is to pick a different extension. If Ginospizza.com is taken, think about using Ginos.pizza, or Ginospizza.biz instead.

When a domain name isn't available, Constant Contact suggest other options, such as .biz instead of .org.
As seen here, If your first choice is not available, most domain registers will automatically provide several options that are close to your initial choice.

If that doesn’t work for you, you can always go back to the drawing board. It’s okay; you might come up with something better!

Here are a few tricks to help:

  1. Use a thesaurus to find similar words to what you were going to use.
  2. Use a catchphrase that’s often used for your line of work/business. Think about things like “LocationLocationLocation,” “PlumbersCrack” (yes, that’s an actual domain name) or “HorsingAround.” Just make sure it doesn’t have any of the “don’ts” in it.
  3. As a last resort, use a domain name generator to see if it can come up with something that you never would have thought of, but that fits perfectly.

If those don’t work, you can always try to purchase your domain from the current owner. Look them up using Who.is. Who.is, is a directory of who owns what domain name. Every domain owner is listed there unless they’ve purchased Domain Privacy through their registrar or web host. In which case, you can reach out to the listed registrar and work through them to try and buy the domain name from the current owner.

You may also be able to secure an expired domain via backorders and/or auctions.

Buying an existing or expired domain name

Take caution when thinking about purchasing an existing or expired domain name.

It’s a good idea to use the internet archive, Wayback Machine, to check out what that domain led to in the past. Basically, it gives you a snap-shot of the website that was up at a given domain at various points in time. It doesn’t have every domain and website, but if you’re looking to spend the extra money to purchase an existing domain, it’s worth a look.

While purchasing an existing or expired domain name could potentially help with traffic and Search Engine Optimization (SEO), that traffic may not be the kind you want. You never want to purchase a domain that has a bad reputation, may send “bad” traffic or might be banned in Google Analytics. While you’re checking out the archives, it’s a good idea to also check the domain’s status at bannedcheck.com and ismywebsitepenalized.com — to be sure you really want that site.

How do I decide which domain name provider to use?

Think of domain retailers (registrars, web hosts, and market places) like grocery or big box stores. Prices, quality of service, and offerings differ. It pays to shop around and pick the one that suits your needs the best.

If you like to have everything in one place, your best bet may be an all-inclusive type of service, like that offered by Constant Contact, where you can purchase and maintain your email marketing, domain name, and website all in one place. 

Or perhaps you prefer to keep things separate. In that case, you might want to purchase a domain from Domain.com, have Bluehost.com host your website, and manage your email marketing campaigns via Constant Contact.

Or maybe you’re somewhere in between.

Whatever you decide to go with, make sure your chosen providers have the products and customer service that will not only help you to get started, but also help you to grow.

What’s the next step? 

Now that you’ve secured your domain name, make sure that you reserve your business name on social media sites as well. If it’s taken, add prefixes or suffixes. An example would be FoCoLaundry.com. The first choice for social accounts would naturally be @FoCoLaundry, but it could easily become @TheFoCoLaundry, @YourFoCoLaundry, or @FoCoLaundryCO. As long as you make sure to brand your social accounts in the same way as your website, there will be little room for confusion.

After that, you’ll want to build your website and your social media pages. And don’t forget to send out an announcement email, to let everyone know about your new domain name and website.

But first things first — buy a domain name today and start building your online presence!

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