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How to buy a domain name for your business or personal website, and 5 things to watch out for

Dave Johnson   

How to buy a domain name for your business or personal website, and 5 things to watch out for
  • You can buy a domain name from a domain registrar if you're thinking of launching a business or personal website.
  • Most domains should only cost a few dollars, though you need to renew it annually.
  • Here's an overview of everything you need to know about buying a domain.

If you're starting a business, launching a website, or publishing a blog, you might be in need of your own domain, like

Having your own domain makes it easier for people to find you and makes you seem more professional and credible. It also affords you the opportunity to have an email address that's built on your custom domain rather than having a free Gmail account.

What is a domain name?

Your domain makes it easy to find your website - it's part of the URL (Uniform Resource Locator) that people type into the address bar of a browser to go there. In reality, the domain is a user-friendly, plain-English representation of the website's IP address. When someone enters a URL into a web browser, the browser looks up the IP address using a tool called a Domain Name Server (DNS). The DNS is like a phone book used by every web browser.

As a general rule, though, you don't need to worry about most of that. The important thing to know is that you can purchase a domain name from a domain name registrar (or through your web hosting company, which can buy the domain name from the registrar on your behalf). As long as you renew the domain name when it comes due (usually every 12 months), it's yours to keep and will allow people to find your website.

How to buy a domain name

First of all, don't procrastinate. You might be inclined to wait to purchase a domain name until you really need it - such as when your business is launching or you're almost ready to publish the website. But the longer you wait, the more opportunity there is for your ideal domain name to be purchased by someone else.

In fact, there are people and organizations known as cybersquatters that buy potentially attractive domain names and hold them for the specific intention of trying to sell them at an inflated price to businesses who want them. If you were hoping to acquire a simple conceptual domain, odds are it's already gone. So buy your domain now and hold it for when you eventually need it.

To purchase a domain name, simply visit a domain name registrar, use the site's search tool to find a domain you want to use, and then follow the instructions to purchase it. Common registrars include,, and

How much domain names cost

Domain names vary dramatically in price. The price for a .com domain is about $10 to $18, but you will find that prices vary by registrar, domain name, and extension. Many registers will deeply discount the domain (or even offer it for free) but you will need to pay full price in subsequent years.

You may also find a list of domains which cost more than the standard fee. These are domains being held by cybersquatters, and you can purchase a domain from them if the price is acceptable - they vary from slightly above standard price to stratospheric, depending on how valuable the domain is perceived to be.

Remember that when you purchase a domain name, it is generally for only one year (though you may be able to pay for several years at once or set up auto-renew payments using your credit card). If you do not pay the fee at annual renewal, you lose the domain and it can be purchased by someone else. Cybersquatters often quickly purchase lapsed domains under the assumption that the owner neglected to renew by accident and will then need to pay an inflated fee to reclaim the URL.

How to choose a domain name

You can purchase any domain name you like as long as it's not already owned by someone else and doesn't violate the technical rules of creating a domain name. Specifically, domain names can't include spaces or any kind of punctuation or special symbols with the exception of hyphens.

When you buy your domain name, you need to choose what domain name extension (also called top level domain, or TLD) to associate it with. You're familiar with .com, but there are about 1,600 others including extensions for countries (.ca for Canada and .uk for the United Kingdom) as well as .info, .net, .mil and hundreds of generic extensions suggestive of various industries like .auto and .health. You are free to choose any extension you like, though many websites tend to stick with a more common TLD like .com for the simple reason that it's more common, and hence easier to remember.

From there, the sky's the limit. You'll probably want to choose a domain name that matches or is very similar to your business name, and most experts suggest keeping the domain name as short as possible.

There are a few commons dos and don'ts:

  • Avoid hyphens, because if someone forgets to enter the hyphens they will end up on the wrong website.
  • Avoid using numbers because it adds ambiguity to the URL: Are you meant to enter the number symbol or spell out the number as a word?
  • Make sure it's easy to type and memorable.
  • For search engine optimization (SEO), try to create a domain that matches your business name or features important keywords that reflect your website.
  • Find the right combination of domain name and extensions for your needs. This is often a compromise. If the domain name you really want isn't available at .com, for example, you may be able to get it with a different extension. Be careful, though - keep in mind that many people may type [] out of habit when your domain name is really []. It might be worth it, though, if the alternative is a much less attractive .com domain.

5 things to watch out for when buying a domain

  • Beware of fees. While domains are often inexpensive, web-hosting companies and registrars sometimes add substantial fees to increase the cost. Some are valuable - for example, you can pay a small privacy protection fee to mask your personal information - but it's even better to find a registrar that offers privacy protection for free. Review the invoice carefully before making a purchase to ensure you're not paying for unnecessary features.
  • Make sure you know what the renewal fee will be. If you're getting the first year for a deep discount, make sure that subsequent years won't feature a domain renewal fee that balloons to a rate you don't want to pay.
  • Avoid buying several similar domains. Web-hosting companies sometimes suggest buying multiple variations of the same domain with different extensions with the intention that you can redirect them all to one URL. While a good idea in principle, it's rarely necessary and is likely a waste of money.
  • Don't work with registrars who only want to upsell you. The support staff of your registrar should be able to genuinely address technical support issues and solve your problems. If the company appears to offer a thinly disguised sales staff who can only upsell you to new products and services, look elsewhere.
  • Make sure it's possible to transfer your domain. It's common to need to transfer your domain to a different registrar, so make sure that the registrar you are about to work with makes this process easy - ask about the process or check the online help files for details. If it's extremely convoluted, or the company charges a fee to do this, look elsewhere.
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