How to Register Domain Names

This is another basic article in my domain guide. It shall explain what is important to consider when choosing a domain name and when ultimately registering domain names. Then I also briefly note what you should be paying attention to when managing your domain registrations. Although the tutorial is targeted mainly at those new to domain names, it may also contain the one or other information interesting to experienced domainers.

Structure of the article:

- Where to register a domain name?
- Cost of registering a domain name
- Choosing a domain name
- Checking availability
- How to register a domain name
- Manage your domain registrations

Where to register a domain name?

Firstly, as already posted in my Introduction to the Domain Name System, the domain registry is at the top of the domain system. It manages the different domain extensions. VeriSign, for example, is responsible for the .com top-level domain. However, you usually won’t register a domain directly at the registry, but you will go to a specialized company functioning as middle-man. This company is the domain registrar. The registrar will register the domain with the registry on your behalf, and it provides you with a user interface for the management of your registrations.

Today, there are quite a lot of registrars you can choose for your domain registrations. Some registrars are better, some are worse. (Go to: Recommended Domain Registrars.) But you usually can’t do much wrong when registering a domain at one of the bigger domain registrar companies. These are, for instance, Moniker, Fabulous and GoDaddy among others.

Cost of registering a domain name

Domain registrations are not free. The end-user price you pay for your domain registrations varies among the different registrars. In today’s market an annual registration fee between 7 and 10 US dollars per .com domain is a fair price.

This annual registration fee includes the registry cost (which is $6.86 for .com domains as of this writing), the $0.20 ICANN fee as well as a markup for the registrar to cover its costs and make a profit.

Most registrars also offer value-added services you can buy together with your domain registrations. These will come at an additional costs specified by the registrar. This way it’s possible to purchase email forwarding, URL forwarding, domain whois privacy or other services and privileges you wouldn’t otherwise get with your registration.

Choosing a domain name

Maybe you already have a unique name in mind that you want to register for your website or for investment. Unfortunately, all the best .com domains have already been registered long ago and are no longer available for registration. This is especially true for generic keyword domains.

That leaves you with different options. You can try to acquire the domain from its owner, you can come up with other domains, imagine made-up terms that may be brandable and so on… In short, be creative.

For businesses, I always suggest to first of all register the company name in as many variations and under as many extensions as possible so that it won’t fall into the hands of cybersquatters. Then it also makes sense for companies to buy keyword domains describing their products and services. To give an example, General Electric owns GeneralElectric.com, GE.com, General-Electric.com, GeneralElectric.net and lots of other variations of its trademark. But it also owns a portfolio of quite valuable generic or semi-generic domains including TransportationServices.com, Coincidence.com, Ecomagination.com and others. Such domains are perfect to complete a company’s domain portfolio and hence make it easier for customers and business partners to find your products and services on the web. (Fun fact: GE’s domain portfolio consists of almost 15,000 domain names.)

All in all, it’s most important to have your target audience in mind when choosing a domain name. If you’re going to register a domain for your personal website, maybe choose your name as I have done. Or come up with something original, with a slogan or anything else that will be easy to type in and remember.

If you’re going to register or acquire a domain for your business website, make sure to buy your company name and also try to use domains that will support your company’s professional online presence. Choosing suitable and valuable domains is a very important task that should be part of any company’s marketing strategy. (Also see: Benefits of Generic Domains.)

Checking availability

Once you have chosen which domain you want to register, the next thing to do is to check whether it is still available for registration. Checking a domain’s availability is pretty easy.

For this, you can go directly to the domain registry and look up the domain in the registry’s whois database. Let’s say you want to register a .com domain and want to see if you can still register it. VeriSign is the official .com registry, so you’ll go to VeriSign.com. The direct link to VeriSign’s whois lookup tool is http://registrar.verisign-grs.com/whois/. Then type in the domain you want and viola, VeriSign will give you an answer. If it doesn’t find a match, the domain is still available.

But you can also go to a third-party whois tool such as the popular DomainTools.com or iWhois.com.

Even easier, you can go to the domain registrar company where you would like to register your domain. The registrar will automatically check all domains you’re about to order during the checkout process.

Sometimes you might want to check the availability of more than one domain. Say you want to register 100 domains. Then it would be tedious to type in one domain after another. For such tasks, there are a couple of bulk whois tools which you can use to fasten this process up a little. DomainTools.com offers a bulk checker at http://www.domaintools.com/bulk-check/, into which you can copy and paste large lists of domains. Most registrars should be offering a bulk whois tool, too.

How to register a domain name

Since you’ve read the domain guide up to this section, the process of registering a domain name should be self-explanatory by now.

Choose the domain you want, and then choose a domain registrar you trust and where registration fees seem reasonable. Then go to the registrar’s website where you will find an empty box for you to type your domain into. If you want to register more than one domain, use the registrar’s bulk registration tool. After hitting enter, the registrar will check if the domains are available and if yes, you can add them to your cart and go through the check-out process.

Maybe I should elaborate on the whois information at this point. The whois information are stored at the domain registries. These information include a domain’s creation date, the date when it was last updated and its expiration date. The whois also includes information and contact details for the owner of the domain name.

There is usually an administrative contact, a technical contact and a billing contact listed in a domain’s whois. These contacts can be the same person or they can be different contacts, depending on who is responsible for the management of the domain and who should keep the whois info up to date (administrative contact), who may make technical changes to the domain such as DNS changes (technical contact) and whom all bills or other messages shall be sent to (billing contact).

Some people are tempted to provide false information in the whois, because they want to stay anonymous for some reason. But be advised that it is prohibited to provide false whois information. Registrants using fake or outdated contact details risk losing their domain names.

There is a legal and easy way to be anonymous, though. It is possible to purchase whois privacy as an additional service with your domain registrations. If you have your whois protected, your domain registrar will list its own contact details in the domain name and you will therefore remain anonymous. Your contact details given to the registrar must still be correct and up to date, because they will be stored by the registrar in case a third party has claims against the actual owner of the protected domain name. It is then possible that the registrar will reveal your contact details to the third party, but you will still stay anonymous for everyone making a whois lookup for the protected domain.

Manage your domain registrations

After you have successfully registered your domain name, you have become the owner of that domain name. That means you must now manage your domains. Domain management tasks include forwarding the domain to an URL of your choice, pointing it to name servers, setting up email addresses under the domain, keeping the whois records up to date, and renewing the domain.

This last task is very important. If you fail to renew your domain at the end of the one-year registration period, it will expire and eventually be deleted from the registry database. Big companies have already forgotten to renew their valuable domains, which then dropped and were snapped up by competing companies or cybersquatters. Getting their expired domains back has often been a grinding and expensive task for those companies, but those costs can be saved by making sure you always know when your domain names will expire.

The good domain registrar services allow you to set your domains on auto-renew. The registrar’s system will then automatically renew the domains for you when the expiration date comes near. You will still have to make sure your billing details are correct or that you have an account balance sufficient to cover the renewal fee, though.

It is also possible to advance-renew domains for up to 10 years so that you won’t have to think about the renewal of your domains in the near future. This is also useful if you want to save money, because domain registries and registrars may decide to increase domain registration fees. For example, VeriSign has increased its registry cost by almost one dollar within the past three years. Most price hikes are expected soon.

As much as renewing domains is a must-do for every domain owner, it is equally important that your domains are secured against loss or theft. Always have your domains locked at the registrar, unless you’re going to transfer it out to another owner or registrar. Also keep your registrar login details secret and use unique passwords that are difficult to hack.

Choosing a domain registrar with a proven track record is already half the battle. Moniker and Fabulous, for example, are known to go to great lengths when it comes to protecting their customers’ valuable domain portfolios. More details on recommended and secure domain registrars can be found in the next article in this series.

3 thoughts on “How to Register Domain Names”

  1. Very useful article!

    The only thing is I'd warn you against checking domains with third-party whois tool. Some online whois tools harvest requests and register queried domains, so there is a chance of loosing your domain name.

    I'd suggest to use only official whoises like verisign/internic [...]. So you can be sure nobody will grab your domain name.

  2. Hi,

    Thanks for this great post.
    This post is really nice if you don't know where to begin,especially for newbies.
    With your post you can learn the basics of the domain name business.
    I look forward to read of these posts.

    Regards,
    Richard

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