Think of a domain name as Internet real estate. By registering your name, you can safeguard your online identity. In the information age, that's a critical factor for business success.
This BizConnect guide will help you to choose a good name, check its availability and register the name:
What is a domain name?
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A domain name is a unique Internet address. Having your own domain name is the first step towards creating an online presence. It's what you see in the address bar after "www." in your web browser and it's what comes after the @ sign in an email address.
How does it work?
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Each computer connected to the Internet has a unique IP (Internet protocol) address. The IP address consists of four sets of numbers, for example, 262.342.77.301.
To be able to connect to a computer via the Internet you need to know its IP address, but because numbers are hard to remember, domain names are used instead. The domain name system (DNS) automatically translates the domain name you enter into your browser into the correct IP address.
A domain name comprises two parts. In "name-of-company.co.za", the ".co.za" is known as the top level domain (TLD), and "name-of-company" is the second level domain and is the actual name of the organisation.
The same name, which can be up to 63 characters long, can be used with different top level domains, such as .com, .org and .net. A domain like .co.za is country specific.
Why do you need a domain name?
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Just about every business today requires an Internet presence. Having your own domain name increases the name recognition of your business and makes it easier for customers to remember your address.
A web page on a free site is not recommended, and many search engines won't list pages from free sites. Having your own domain name indicates that you have a serious Internet presence and adds a level of trust and integrity to your business, helping to build your brand in the process. In addition, domain names containing keywords help to get your business higher up in search engine rankings.
Once a domain name has been registered, it is no longer available. The most popular and easily-remembered domain names are being reserved daily. That's why it's becoming more and more difficult to register common names. You'll have to bear that in mind when registering a domain name for your business.
When you have registered the name you want, it's protected and no-one else can use it. You can also change your email provider and still keep the same email address if you have your own domain. This means that your Internet investment is safe regardless of what happens to your Internet Service Provider (ISP).
Where do you register?
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- You register your domain name with a registrar. If you want to see whether your preferred domain name is available, you can check at www.whois.com or www.whois.co.za. If you are fairly familiar with the online environment, you can register a domain name yourself. If not, it's advisable to pay an Internet service provider to register it on your behalf.
- Once you have a domain name, you can use your domain address (www.your-company-name.com) and email addresses ([email protected]) on your business cards and letterhead.
- Once your domain name has been registered, the location of your website and email service are recorded so that they can be found when someone types in your domain name in a web browser or sends emails.
- A domain name is registered for one year at a time and must be renewed annually. Most people who register a domain name will make use of their registrar's hosting and email services. Often the web hosting company offers a package where the domain name fee is included.
You can change web hosts and move your website and email to a new one at any time without having to change your domain name. Among the most popular web hosting companies in South Africa are Hetzner, Web Africa and Internet Solution.
- Remember that there is a difference between web hosting and domain names. A domain name is the actual name of your website and it points to your web hosting account. Web hosting is the space that you buy on a remote computer to store your website files. When you purchase web hosting you are basically renting space on a high-powered server provided by a web hosting company.
- Some companies register domain names in their own name, for convenience, they say. In practice, this means that you cannot transfer your domain names to another hosting company without their permission. Ensure that your domain name is registered in your name.
How to select a domain name
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The best domain names are:
- as short as possible
- easy to spell
- easy to say
- easy to brand
- distinct from other domain names
- distinct from existing trademarks
- directly related to either your business name or your industry
It's worthwhile registering several domain names, including names that are similar to yours to prevent competitors from confusing your customers. It's also a good idea to register any misspelling of your domain name for the same reason.
.com vs .co.za
There used to be a perception that a domain name with a .com top level domain (TLD) was superior - not only more professional, but also appealing to an international audience.
However, today there are a number of benefits to be had from a domain name with a country specific TLD like .co.za. This is especially true if you conduct your business primarily in one particular country:
- Most large search engines will give you a higher search ranking for a site that has the TLD of the searcher's country. If someone in South Africa is looking for kitchen cupboards, the search engine will usually rank kitchencupboards.co.za higher up than kitchencupboards.com.
- A country-specific TLD gives buyers greater confidence because the site is local and therefore subject to the same laws as the buyer. It's also easier to follow up with the company when it comes to customer service issues. Buyers also like to see a business address that they recognise when having to part with cash.
Sometimes the best policy is to purchase .com and South African TLDs. This allows you to attract both international and national customers. This gives you an opportunity to bring in extra customers, simply by adding an extra name that points to your main domain name.