A domain is your identity online. It separates you from everyone else – once yours, as long as you keep renewing it, no one else may have it.
There are two parts to a domain – the domain name itself, and the TLD (top level domain) extension.
The most popular TLD is the .com extension – it is synonymous with online business. But due to its popularity, getting a good domain name with ‘.com’ is hard – most have been bought and are not available.
Most TLDs have a meaning behind them – .EDUs are used by educational institutes, and .ORGs are supposed to be used by non-profit organizations. A domain with a TLD of ‘co.uk’ is very likely British-based. There are other TLDs too, such as .cc, .tv, and .tk. These are all associated with either a company or with a country.
Many hosts will register a domain for you if you do not have one (it must be available though). You need to be careful that the domain is registered in your name and not theirs. Also make sure that they are not overcharging – some hosts charge over twice the average.
There are quite a few companies that will register your domain for you. The biggest and oldest is Network Solutions, which is also known as VeriSign. Personally, we use and recommend DirectNic. At $15.00 per year, they are much cheaper than Network Solutions ($35.00 a year), while offering better support and full features. We have a list of hosts that register domains for you.
For most domains, the minimum registration duration is one year. Some TLDs such as .US require a minimum of two years. However, most TLDs only require a one year commitment.
The information related to you when buying a domain is publicly available. It is illegal to put in false information, so your personal information can be traced back. If you are worried about that, some registrars like Go Daddy will register for you as a proxy – your information will not be public. Be prepared for some spam to be sent to that address.
Once you have registered a domain, as long as you remember to keep renewing it, no one will be able to take the domain. You may sell the domain to someone else (or even buy somebody else’s domain), but no one will be able to just take the domain.
Having your own domain is very important for your business. It sets you apart from everybody else, and gives you a brand to work with. Other resources for more information include Domain Name Palace and Domain Information Center.