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What is a domain ?

web development

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What is a domain ?

A domain is the realm or area of control and ownership of a person or organisation on the Internet. A space that you control. It is a main constituent in the way the Net works, as it allocates a friendly name to a numeric address. We now tend to use the terms 'domain' and 'domain name' as interchangeable.

What is a domain name ?

What is a web domain ?
What is a domain for ?
A domain name is the entitlement to establish a website with that name, and has the preferred version of the wording, chosen by the owner. You buy the domain name of your choice, if available, and that allows you to make a resource of that name available on the web.

A domain name is a license, in exactly the same way that a title deed is the license to own property. The title deed is the license for the property, and a house may be built on it. A domain name is the title to space on the web, and also a 'permanent' friendly address (real addresses are numeric and changeable). A website may be built with that address as you have the entitlement to do so.

A domain name has value but a website does not, because it can only exist with the correct domain name, and with space to reside on. A website is a movable item but a domain name (wherever it may be hosted) stays the same. Again, a parallel may be drawn with property - a domain is a solid piece of property, though virtual. A website is more like a caravan or trailerhome, it is almost worthless without somewhere to place it. The domain is the property with the value. A domain name has been sold for $2.75m ( - two and three-quarter million dollars), but the website on it has little value in comparison.

Essentially, the business is the domain.

How to own a domain

A domain name cannot be bought, it can only be rented. However most domains can be rented for long periods in advance, e.g. ten years. This is advised for all business domains. There are exceptions such as UK domains, which can only be rented for two years at a time.

If you 'own' the domain, i.e. registered the name first and bought it, then you are entitled to keep it as long as you wish. It cannot be taken (rented) by another unless you let it lapse, or for legal reasons. Due to its importance you should manage it and protect it carefully. It is part of your IP portfolio (intellectual properties) and as such has a value closely related to the value of your business now and in the future.

On this page, the words 'domain' and 'domain name' are usually interchangeable, because that is the way they are used in common speech. There are some technical differences that are not relevant to us. And here, we use the term 'to buy' a domain, but of course they can only be rented. However, if you are the registered keeper of a domain, you can rent it in perpetuity as long as you don't let it lapse. It cannot be rented or 'owned' by another.

How to choose a domain name

When choosing a new domain name, you have two distinct choices:

  • Choose a name that is a search term, as that will automatically place you higher in the SERPs.
  • Choose a name with a good brand image, as that will assist in sales.

These two choices cause some problems in the choice of a good new domain name. It would be good if they can be combined, but this is not normally possible.

If you go for choice #1, then your site will be placed higher in search results for the keyword that is contained in the domain name. This is for two reasons: the search engine will see your site as being more relevant to a search that involves that term; and if the domain name is exactly the search term (called an 'exact-match domain'), then they have to place you near the top, or even at position #1, since there is a possibility that the searcher is looking for your exact site. This choice is always valid, and can never be disputed - and it is especially useful in Year 1 to Year 2, when you have less organic traffic.

With choice #2, a good brand name as the domain, then image impact is maximised but traffic is ignored. This is a good choice in Year 3 onward as by that time you should have good organic traffic, and the brand becomes more important.

We should mention that choosing a domain that is neither a search term nor a good brand choice cannot be considered a good decision. Likewise the use of domains that are very long, or have words all run together - these are the worst of all choices.

We can assist with domain management, an important factor in online business

What is a domain registrar ?

What is domain name registration ?
A domain registrar is a business that organises domain name purchases, storage, and management for you. Domain name registration therefore is interaction with a registrar in order to buy a domain. Domains are purchased from the central Internet name authority, ICANN, through a domain registrar. Most domains are freely available to all, but some have restrictions in the form of residence conditions and so on.

What is a top level domain ?

What is a TLD ?
A top level domain or TLD means two things. Firstly, the strict meaning is that it refers to the original main domain groups of .com, .net, and .org. However, it is much more commonly used now to simply mean any real domain, as against a subdomain which can only be rented on someone else's website. A real (aka top level) domain looks like:, but a subdomain is in the form of:

A subdomain like this has a strictly temporary value and cannot be transferred, as it is part of the main domain. No business site should use a subdomain of this type.

What is domain hosting ?

What is domain name hosting ?
What is a parked domain ?
Domain names, as bought, have no webspace with them. They are a title deed but have no property attached, just the right to operate property once purchased. Web property is provided by hosts, who operate computer centres (or datacentres) that are connected to the Net. They host or hold and operate your web presence for you.

A domain name gives the entitlement to open a proper website for business but you don't have to do that - you can simply have a one-page site. If you don't do this, your domain goes unresolved -which means it appears not to exist. Web enquiries for that domain will fail.

Domain name hosting is where a domain registrar provides a 'holding page' facility so that you can set the domain live to the Net without having a website. It's the best plan because otherwise the domain has no history, and even if ten years old, is still rated by search engines as new. Older domains have more rank.

Most domain registrars automatically supply this facility but you need to ask. The better ones also allow you to change the page content or even have adverts on it.

A parked domain is one that has this type of facility, and appears on the Net as a single-page site, thus gaining history and weight.

What is DNS ?

What is the domain name system ?
The domain name system or service (DNS) is the mechanism by which the real numeric address of a resource (a website) is allocated a friendly name (the domain name). Enquiries for that friendly name are routed to the correct real (numeric) address or IP.

Nobody could remember a name like or type it correctly each time, so a 'friendly' name or human-readable name is given, such as However the Internet could not function with millions of names such as this, so they are mapped to the real address by the DNS or domain name service.

The DNS servers that your own browser / computer asks for 'directions' are maintained locally by your ISP. An ISP has its own DNS servers therefore. This means they control how you reach your destination, and may also act as an advertising channel, especially in the case of incorrect enquiries. Many ISP's DNS servers are also up to three days out of date, meaning that a website may change its location but that information will not be available to you as it has not yet changed at the DNS server.

The OpenDNS service bypasses your ISP's DNS servers and provides a far better service in all respects. The OpenDNS servers are updated every 15 minutes, so website locations are correct. In addition, known harmful sites that host malware attacks on browsers are blocked, and you cannot inadvertently visit them. Many users will be better served by replacing the ISP-controlled DNS IPs on home and office routers with the OpenDNS IPs.

What is a nameserver ?

What is a domain name server ?
What is a domain server ?
A nameserver or domain name server is a local server, at the hosts, that routes enquiries for the real address of a domain property to the correct computer at the host's facility. It tells the Net where to actually find a domain, ie a website, at the datacentre. The nameserver computer is registered as the location of the website, and is the last stop on the route for an enquiry about where to actually connect to the website. The domain, at the registrar, is pointed at the nameserver, at the host, which then gives the real numerical address (the IP) of the resource, ie the website.

If a person with a web browser on a computer connected to the Net wants to visit a website, their computer asks the central computers where to find it. They reply with the address of the nameserver where that site can be found, and the browser is sent to the correct datacentre. The person then sees the required website. This process is transparent and takes a fraction of a second.

What is a domain alias ?

A domain alias is another way to find an existing website / domain. If the site is at, another domain such as can be 'aliased' to it, so that enquiries for both and both end up at the same website. We don't advise that extensive use is made of this facility since in practice there are negatives.

What is a Windows domain ?

What is a network domain ?
What is a computer domain ?
A Windows domain, network domain, or computer domain are all local network realms - spaces or groups with a local address on the network that have rules as to who may connect.

What is the public domain ?

There is no such thing in Internet use, it is an unrelated concept, meaning that something 'in the public domain' is of public record, widely known, or available to all.

Are your domains held by an independent domain registrar - they should be

Bad domain name mistakes

There are some hilarious examples of poor domain name choices. It is always preferable to use a domain name that is hyphenated: with words separated by dashes. This is because it is easier to read and understand, it is easier to remember, it is easier for search engines to parse (understand), and it's far less likely to give your enterprise a comedy rep like the ones below:
- a service to be avoided, surely
[a therapists' directory]
- might be better suited to a baked beans wholesaler
[an art and pictures company]

Domain names with a series of joined words are only used by those without even basic technical knowledge of how a computer works. Google has finally decided to make this clear, in order to prevent the situation worsening - they clearly state that you should not use joined words or underscores on a website or in connection with domain names.

In brief: choose a domain name that contains a search term and/or is a good brand name, and space the words with dashes.

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