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All About Domain Names

What is a Domain?

In computer technology “domain” can refer to different things.  Our focus is what it means for websites, hosting and email. Simply put, your “domain” name is the Internet address of your website (eg. www.MyWebsite.com) Once you secure your name through a registrar, you can use it for your professional email addresses (eg. john@MyWebsite.com or joan@MyWebsite.com.)

Why do we need Domain Names for the Internet?

There are two reasons – for marketing and for computer technology.  

For marketing it allows your company to be identified on the web and in print by a name that represents your business.  That explains the easy part.  The technology requirement goes deeper. 

Computers communicate through numbers not words.  Words are part of the language of people.  So how do we use letters (words in our domain name) to represent computer numbers?

Computers work in binary which is a numeric system of 1s and 0s.  The IP Address is a decimal equivalent identifier of that binary number for a specific computer or other device on the internet.  

The following demonstrates things nicely as they all refer to the same computer.  To help get the point, which one of these website references is easier for you to use and remember?

  • Binary: 10111000.10101101.00111101.10110110 (Computer Language)
  • IP: (Internet Language)
  • Domain: WebSOA.com (People Language)

Hosting IP and Cell Phone Number

Here is an illustration that can help you understand the relationship of your domain name, internet address and where your website is hosted.  

How many of us remember even a handful of phone numbers. Unless we’ve had them for a long time and the person is close to us, we will rely on our contact list of names.  The names we recognize translate into the numbers the phone carriers recognize and the person we want to connect to is found.  In this example:

Name of the person = the domain name
Cell phone itself = your website design
Cell phone # = IP Number of the computer
Cell phone carrier = Which company hosts your website

The person’s name stays the same but you can change your cell phone, cell phone number and change your carrier.  So you can move around a city, state and country and your cell phone operation stays the same. 

Where your website domain name stays the same. You can change the design, change where it is hosted (specific internet address) and your website can be found anywhere in the world.  

A difference in the cell phone / website analogy comes into play with the phone # and IP address.  Years ago when you physically moved from state-to-state you had to obtain a new phone number.  This is like what happens when you change companies hosting your website.  Since IP addresses refer to a specific network of computers owned by the web host company when you change web hosts the IP address will most probably change. Even so, your website domain name and design stay the same, they just move to a new host.  But with cell phone technology, your phone number is not fixed to a carrier like the IP address is fixed to a web host.  The cell phone number can stay the same.

Deciding on Your Ideal Domain Name

Since a domain name is used as your Internet address, its important to choose a website name that is in alignment with your business. The name should readily identify who you are and what you do.  This way when someone reads your domain name in print or in an in an email it gives them a first impression. It should be as short as possible, easy to remember and not too long to type.

What Name? .com .net .us .biz .org ...

Some of many Top Level Domains (TLD) that can be used

When someone thinks of a website address for business they first think of using the extension .com (dot com) also called a TLD or the Top Level of the Domain. This is the best and most desirable extension to use. However, your .com name may already be taken. In that case you can just as well use .net, .biz or one of the many other extensions available. This alternative may be the only way you can reserve a domain name that speaks about your business.

Some businesses to protect their brand secure domain names across many extensions. As an example pull up these websites and you will see the all go to the same place IBM.comIBM.netIBM.us, IBM.co and IBM.biz.

While the above domains go to IBM’s english website, IBM.it goes to IBM’s Italian website. And IBM.de goes to their German website.

For non-profits the .org extension is reserved.  So as you would expect, IBM.org is used in support of their non profit organization.

Also of interest, since IBM is not a government agency they left out securing IBM.gov.

Other Uses for Domain Names

Doman names can also be reserved and used for special purposes. For instance Ed Woods uses MrEdWoods.com as the web address that points to his LinkedIn profile. Ed is not a business but makes it easy for others to go directly to his profile. This is also called a Vanity Domain.  This is similar to a person registering a Vanity Plate for their motor vehicle.

Or you could use a separate, simpler website address to point to a long website address.  For instance ABC.com could point to www.LongWebAddress.com/Learn-Your-ABCs-here.  

Another purpose to use a domain name would be to have the name point (or forward) to another website like an eBay, Squarespace, Shopify accounts or such.

The Domain Name Extends to the URL

Your domain name forms the basis for another Internet term, the URL.  The URL (Uniform Resource Locator) is a complete address to something specific on your website. It’s the address of a page, document, graphic image or other element of your website.

Here are three example URLs for a PDF, a graphic image and a web page.