Website 101: How to Register a Domain

Many non-web professionals are still slightly mystified by all of the parts and pieces that go into getting a website up and running. To complete a basic website launch, you need three elements:

  1. A domain (ie. yourwebsitename.com), which is your address on the web
  2. A host where your site will live
  3. The actual site itself, consisting of files and possibly database(s)

In this article, we’ll focus on registering a domain.

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What is a domain name?

Registering a domain name is the first step in establishing your online presence and reaching visitors. A domain name is the address people type into the URL bar of their browser.

Your website sits on a server that could be anywhere (physically); its address consists of a series of up to 12 numbers separated by three dots. These number addresses aren’t especially user-friendly or easy to remember; so, a corresponding domain name of your choosing, registered through official channels, becomes your “web address.”

When you type a domain name into your browser’s URL bar, this information gets sent to a Domain Name Server (DNS). There are a series of DNS throughout the internet that help your computer track down the domain name you enter, to its location via those number addresses. Watch this fun short video for some visuals about how DNS finds the address for you.

How do I get a domain?

A domain can be obtained through a registrar. You will select a domain name you like that is available. How do you know if a domain is available? Visit whois.com, and type in the domain name you would like to register. If the domain is shown as already in use, you’ll need to come up with another.

Registration will require a fee that varies depending on a few factors, such as how long you decide to register the domain, and who you decide to register it with. The fees are generally low at approximately $15 per year.

Where to register a domain?

Let’s start with where not to register. Although well known, we cannot in good conscience recommend goDaddy. They’ve had many reported security glitches, slowdowns, and outages in recent years — not to mention that their CEO likes to kill elephants. How uncool is that?

Not to worry, there are tons of other legitimate registrars out there — many with lower prices, like Dynadot, Namecheap, 1&1. Or go here for a full list. Just be sure to choose an ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) accredited registrar.

Hosting your website

Now that you’ve registered and own a domain name, you will need to secure a host server from which to house and run your website. Some savvy tech heads set up their own host servers, but that is a complex and costly option and not practical for most people. Generally, securing a host server involves getting an account at a web hosting company, and building your website in the space they allot to you. We’ll go into more depth on choosing a web hosting company in future posts. Stay tuned for that piece from us soon.

Once you’ve built your website and placed it on the host server, your hosting company will provide you with an IP number (another ~12 digit numeric address) or a set of addresses to plug into your account at your domain name registrar.

Once that setting is made, you may need to wait up to 24 hours before your domain name points to the correct place, but don’t worry, it will. And voila, you have a live website. With a friendly name. (Note that you can have more than one domain name pointing at the same website, if you wish.)

Trivia time

You might be wondering… how long of a domain name are you allowed to have? There are limits! The full domain name (including subdomains, http, the .com/.org, etc. may not exceed 253 characters. Of course, we recommend something a bit shorter.

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