It's best to think about your domain name before you get started but, even if you have already established a domain name, it's possible to either change it or establish a second, more effective name that links to your primary site.

Domain name 101

A domain name is the address that is used to access your website. Your actual address is an IP or Internet Protocol address, a string of identifying numbers; the domain name is an easier way to remember an address. The entire area of domain names and IPs is governed by a body called ICANN. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.

Every domain name is accompanied by an extension, .com for commercial sites, .org for not-for-profit sites, .gov for government sites, .edu for educational sites, .co.uk for UK commercial sites, .org.uk for not-for-profit UK sites and so on. There are other extensions for commercial enterprises such as .biz and .net which are often used if a .com domain name has already been claimed, e.g., there's a scrapbook.com and a scrapbook.net.

Domain names can be top level (TLD) or secondary level (2LD). A top level domain name sits at the top of the domain naming hierarchy with a name and extension such as www.amazon.com. A secondary domain name is represented by a second extension such as www.amazon.co.uk , representing amazon as a commercial enterprise in the UK.

Some domain names are actually subdomains, names that are attached to already existing domains. Subdomains are typically established by the domain owner to represent a separate function or content area such as eBay's www.shop.ebay.com. Or, they are created by a hosting service that adds websites as subdomains.

A domain name must be registered by one of the on-line businesses that keep track of domain names such as www.oneandone.co.uk. Please note you don't have to host your website with the company from which you purchased the domain name. You can register your domain with one hosting company (eg the one offering the cheapest domain name prices), but host your actual website with a different company. This can be easily setup by changing the DNS settings of your domain name to your hosting package DNS settings (ask your hosting company for assistance on this matter if required).

Domain trademark infringement

A number of countries including the UK and USA have passed laws to prevent 'cyber squatting', that is, infringing on a trademarked name by including that name as part of a domain name. For example, you would not be able to use the domain name, www.reebok-fashions.com.

Domain name selection

When choosing a domain name, you should make every effort to be sure that your domain's name is descriptive of your product or service. Even if your company's name is Toby Jones and Sons, Ltd, you may not want to name your site www.tobyandsons.com because that name does not help product seekers to know that you sell fly fishing equipment. It makes more sense to select a domain name that search engines will identify easily as a sports equipment site.

Using Toby and Sons as an example, you may want to think about words such as sports, equipment, fly fishing, reels and tackle. It is of course, reasonable to add Toby to the name list, especially if your company's name already has recognition. (Paul Newman's website for his line of food products is www.newmansown.com it works for him but you probably shouldn't try this approach.)

The best way to select a domain name is to enter your wordlist into a domain generating tool such as www.makewords.com, www.bustaname.com or www.instantdomainname.com. These tools will generate alternative domain names for you as well as identifying which names are available to register. A word of caution here. These tools often generate hyphenated domain names in order to include as many keywords as possible. However, you need to strike a good balance between name relevancy and ease of use. Many people simply don't remember hyphens and you can end up driving a would-be user to a competitor site if the only difference in domain name is your use of a hyphen. In addition, while domain name counts as s search engine tool, it is only one of many factors so don't make the mistake of overcomplicating your domain name to attract more traffic; this strategy can easily backfire.

Name purchase and registration

Once you find a name you want to use for your website, you must purchase and register that domain name. There are plenty of registrars, many that also offer a variety of other services including web hosting, website design services and so on. You can find a complete list of registrars that have been approved by ICANN at their website, www.ICANN.org.

Bottom Line

Your domain name is your first introduction to users; name it well.