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What Is a Domain Name?

Alex Tree
Updated May 17, 2024
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A domain name is the address of a website; for example, wisegeek.com is a domain name. Simple and everyday names are often in high demand and sell for incredibly large amounts of money, if they are ever sold at all by the owners. Many people believe these names are very important to a business and spend weeks attempting to choose a name that is easy to remember and hints at the business’s purpose. In fact, there are services available specifically to help companies choose domain names based on the information and keywords they provide. A person can use a certain name after registering it with a domain name registrar and paying for the name servers to host it on.

Choosing a domain name is often seen as a big deal, especially for large companies. The potential owner may spend months searching for the perfect name in addition to hiring professionals to help. Large companies with a lot of money to spend on a domain name are often not limited to unregistered domain names. They can deal with people who are domain parking or who are actually running a website with the desired name. Many people end up transferring their names after a generous buyout offer or the threat of legal action for holding onto a domain for the purpose of getting as much money as possible for it when someone truly wants to use it.

Some people make a living by buying and selling names for domains. They usually seek out potentially popular but unclaimed names, register them, and attempt to sell them. For example, certain names experience a flurry of buying and selling activity after major events, like terrorist attacks and major political scandals. Sometimes the names are even put to use by building a website and, once the seller proves that the website is popular, he or she sells it to the highest bidder.

Domain names are relatively cheap and must be paid for every year. If he or she desires, the owner can pay several years in advance, sometimes making the overall price even cheaper. This fee is for the use of name servers, not the right to the name, because domain registers do not own the names of the domain. If the owner lapses in payment, the domain is listed once again as unregistered and can be claimed by anyone with enough money and an acceptable payment method.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Alex Tree
By Alex Tree
Andrew McDowell is a talented writer and WiseGeek contributor. His unique perspective and ability to communicate complex ideas in an accessible manner make him a valuable asset to the team, as he crafts content that both informs and engages readers.
Discussion Comments
By anon976458 — On Nov 03, 2014

Can someone tell me how it relates to businesses going online?

By adol — On Sep 28, 2011

Registering a domain name is the easiest part. Before knowing to how to registering a domain name, we need to know what is a domain name and where to buy a domain name? And select a good domain name registration company for the domain name.

By TheGraham — On Jul 28, 2011

@Hawhorne - I don't really look at photographers' web sites, so I'll have to take your word on that one, but I have seen lots of artists with portfolio sites that have their full names as the domain name.

When you're planning an art portfolio or other such web site, go ahead and reserve the domain name ahead of time. It would be a bummer if you designed an entire webs ite with "www.janejuliasmith.com" printed in the graphics and such and then found that that domain name wasn't available!

If you're worried it might already be taken, or just want peace of mind, do a quick domain name check.

Most sites that sell domain names will have a box you can type the domain name into to see if it is available, but by far the simplest way is to type the domain name URL into your browser's URL bar and see if it leads to anywhere. If the browser says that a page cannot be found, it's not taken!

By gimbell — On Jul 27, 2011

@manykitties2 - Sadly, when somebody buys a domain name they have the right to do whatever they please with it for the length of time they have paid for it. Those people who were sitting on popular domain names weren't utilizing them, but they paid the money to reserve that name for them, so technically they have as much right to the domain as anybody else.

Now, for free web sites, on the other hand, things are a different story. I used to make fan sites, myself, and I suspect you were talking about free domain names and hosting since that's what many fan sites use.

If somebody else has reserved the domain you wanted and it's been sitting for ages unused, I can agree that that's frustrating and feels unfair. Unlike the paid domain names, the people who reserve these free site domain names and then don't use them are just making it tougher for people who actually want to utilize free domains and hosting -- like you -- and clogging up the whole system.

By Hawthorne — On Jul 27, 2011

@MrSmirnov - I agree wholeheartedly -- getting a domain name is a great way to establish your business as more legit and less "working out of my living room".

I'm a photographer, and I wanted to mention that for people in my field and also in art, domain names that are the artist or photographer's first and last name are extremely popular. They're simple and straightforward, easy for clients to remember because they literally just have to type the artist or photographer's name in, and look great on business cards to make you look more official.

For anybody who has a more common kind of name, such as "Jane Smith", you may want to choose either a working pseudonym that is more unique and use that as your domain as well as on your business cards, or to abbreviate some part of the name in the domain name so set yourself apart.

For "Jane Smith", for example, you might shorten both names to make a domain called "www.jansmi.com". Or you could include your middle name, resulting in something like "www.janejuliasmith.com".

By SkittisH — On Jul 27, 2011

@manykitties2 - That "domain name parking" you're referring to is actually a business tactic. See, many people buy up domain names that are made up of words related to popular topics, then they resell those domain names to whoever actually wants that site address.

If the buyer comes along and tries to reserve a domain name only to find it is already taken they must pay the price the previous buyer is asking (which is bound to be more than the domain is actually worth) if they want that exact domain name.

I find this irritating, too, but since there's a way for somebody to squeeze extra money out of the Internet, I'm not surprised that it has popped up.

By manykitties2 — On Jul 26, 2011

I remember when I was looking for some domain names for a fan website I was making and was surprised to see how many people were parking on popular site names. While there was clearly no site up under the name, and there hadn't been for some time, they still kept the names as to prevent any one else from using them.

I really think that parking on domain names shouldn't be allowed. They need more regulations in place that limit how long you can keep a domain name without putting anything up. I believe that everyone should have an equal chance of using a domain name and a few people shouldn't be allowed to hoard website addresses for some possible profit years down the road.

By MrSmirnov — On Jul 26, 2011

Buying a domain name is one of the best things you can do for your small business. There are a lot of free websites available, but in order to come across as truly professional I really think you need to show customers and clients that you are working under your own name and have made the investment to have your own website.

Besides domain names you can also buy web mail that will allow you to use your domain name as part of your e-mail address. This service usually isn't expensive, as it comes out to about $25 a year or so. This is a good investment that adds to your business branding.

Alex Tree
Alex Tree
Andrew McDowell is a talented writer and WiseGeek contributor. His unique perspective and ability to communicate complex ideas in an accessible manner make him a valuable asset to the team, as he crafts content that both informs and engages readers.
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