Finding and Purchasing a Domain
This post is part 1 in a series on Starting Your Own Website on the Cheap.
If you're going to have a professional presence on the web or get that million dollar idea off the ground, you're going to want your own domain name. But how do you start? Do you randomly type in domain names in the address bar of your web browser to see if anything shows up? Sure you can do that, but you'd be surprised how many domains have zero content. Here's how I went about it.
Determine what Top Level Domain (TLD) is acceptable for you. There's more to the web than just ".com". There are currently 280 TLDs available. You can see the full list here. For personal use, a relevant domain name with a less common TLD will be cheaper and easier to obtain. In fact, the TLD ".name" now exists specifically for that purpose. For professional use, a ".com" TLD may be more desirable. However, should you desire a ".com" be prepared to pay someone for it other than a domain name registrar for it, as almost every reasonable combination is taken.
Choose a name. This part should be easy other than the fact that most everything decent is already registered. Be original. Did you know the name "Lexus" never existed till Toyota decided they needed a luxury brand? They combined the terms Luxury and Elegance into one term. Invent a new term. Sites like Twitter, Spotify, Digg or Google all made up their names. Think license plate. Gadgetry.com was taken. Gdgtry.com was not. If you're having trouble coming up with decent options you could always let a website generate a name for you. Sites like Wordoid or NameStation will generate you a list of gibberish names that sound good in english and tell you if that domain is currently available.
Determine if the name is taken. The most reliable way to determine if a domain name is taken is to do a "WHOIS" lookup on that domain. (A note here: Many companies that sell domain names also offer this service. I heavily recommend not using their services until you are absolutely ready to purchase a particular name. Many of these sites will instantly purchase a name you merely search for, assuming you will buy it later. Then you can't buy it from anyone else and they may hold it for more money.) Sites like Domain Tools allow you to search for a specific name and see to who a site is registered to, if it is registered. Searching though names one by one can be tedious. Sites like Domain Name Soup allow you to search through listings with all kinds of combinations. Including alphabetically listing every possible letter combination.
Purchase the domain. A note: If you're going to pay someone else to host your content you should probably purchase your name through them as well. Many hosting services will purchase the domain for free assuming you sign up for hosting with them at the same time. I looked at the various registrars when purchasing my domain and decided on GoDaddy. Their prices are good to average and they almost always have some sort of sale going on. I suggest checking RetailMeNot for discounts no matter who you decide to purchase through. When you start the process of purchasing do not stop! As soon as you begin the process the registrar will purchase the domain. This means if you drop out halfway through the process you can end up without the domain and you can't get it from any other registrar.
Now you have a domain... only it doesn't go anywhere.