How to Register a Domain Name for Your Small Business Website

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In order to set up a website for your small business, one of the first things you need to learn is how to register a domain name. Fortunately, the act of registering a new domain name is far easier than trying to come up with the right domain name in the first place. Learn what to keep in mind while brainstorming domain names, how to register a domain name and the costs associated with a small-business website.

Benefits of a Small-Business Website

Are you on the fence about whether a small-business website is worth it? Having a small-business website opens the door to many digital marketing opportunities (such as search-engine optimization, email marketing and e-commerce) and makes it possible to reach many more customers. A small-business website is worth doing right so that you don't give a half-baked impression. Maintaining an online presence is expected of every small business at this point.

Instead, put a confident foot forward and claim your small business's place on the web with a beautiful site and a catchy domain name. The right domain name will be memorable and professional and will lead to an easy-to-use website that will help win customers. Although your web design and web content ultimately play a crucial role in converting visitors into customers, your domain name gives people their first impression of your business. When chosen carefully, it can also help you with your search-engine optimization (SEO) efforts.

In short, a small-business website will help you stay competitive, so flex that creative muscle and start brainstorming domain ideas.

Brainstorming Domain-Name Options

Take your time when choosing a domain name. It needs to have a few important characteristics so it aids your marketing efforts. For example, consider adding at least one relevant keyword to your domain name to help with search-engine optimization (showing up with good placement on Google), especially if your business name is not descriptive. The keyword can describe your service, such as "plumbing" or "car repair."

Next, make sure your domain name is easy for people to read when all the letters run together. Sometimes, inappropriate words get created by accident. Avoid using numbers, homophones and dashes so anyone who hears the domain can type it correctly on the first try.

Finally, don't use a domain name that could easily be confused with a competitor or that uses a trademark. Even if your site is devoted to the Greek goddess Nike, you may expose yourself to legal action from the shoe company of the same name if your domain is something like "aboutnike.com." Until you gain significant traction in your industry and enjoy instant brand recognition, your small-business domain name should clearly describe what the site offers.

Choosing an Available Domain Name

Once you have a list of your favorite domain-name options, it's time to see which ones are for sale to begin the domain registration process. Use a site like name.com to find out if your preferred domains are already taken or are up for grabs. If someone already owns the domain you want, these sites typically list similar domains for your consideration. However, stay away from exact domain matches with a different top-level domain (.com versus .net, for example) because you'll inevitably confuse customers who use the wrong one.

Just because a site is taken doesn't mean the owner is using the domain. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is the official domain registrar and maintains a database of all domains. You can go to lookup.icann.org (formerly WhoIs) to type in a domain name and see information about its owner. Then, you can contact the domain owner to ask if the domain is for sale. However, domain owners can choose to hide their contact information for privacy purposes, so it's not always a guaranteed method.

Choosing a Top-Level Domain

The domain name itself isn't complete without a top-level domain (also called a domain extension) at the end. Common top-level domains include .com, .net and .org. However, ICANN has released numerous alternatives that allow you to get even more creative when choosing a domain name for your small business.

For example, you can choose .music, .agency, .biz, .farm or .realtor to reinforce what your small business is all about. If you operate in a country outside of the U.S., a country code top-level domain (like .au for Australia) can assure visitors that you're local.

However, some drawbacks exist when it comes to alternative top-level domains. Most people default to .com when trying to remember a domain name. Because alternatives are still relatively new (they were first released in 2014), some research suggests that site visitors may distrust websites with uncommon top-level domains. If it's available, it may be wise to stick with the .com version of your preferred domain.

How to Register a Domain Name

Learning how to register a domain name isn't hard because registration occurs at the time of purchase. You have plenty of choices when it comes to choosing where to buy a domain name. If you have a preferred hosting company or content-management system in mind, such as GoDaddy, NameCheap or Squarespace, you can typically streamline the process by purchasing your domain name and setting up your web presence with the same company. Each platform will have its own step-by-step tutorials laying out how to register.

Find a domain seller that you trust, select your domain, verify that it's available through ICANN (domain sellers shouldn't let you continue with your purchase if the domain isn't available because they verify it automatically), select how long you want to pay for the domain (you'll often get a significant discount for the first year), enter your payment details and complete the purchase. The registration will automatically go to ICANN.

Costs Associated With a Small-Business Website

Unfortunately, any free domain names are going to incorporate branding from a different business, which is not ideal. An example would be using a free domain via Wordpress hosting.

A domain with just your branding will cost, though it's usually between $10 and $20 per year. Once you've purchased a domain name, you'll need to continue to pay for its registration in order to keep the domain in your name. Take care to keep your billing information updated and to budget for domain-name renewal so it doesn't take you by surprise. ICANN also needs to be notified if any of your contact information changes.

However, the cost of purchasing the domain name is just the beginning. Other costs associated with a small-business website include hosting, design, maintenance and marketing. Creating, maintaining and promoting a small-business website can easily turn into a full-time job, so you may want to hire an in-house expert or outsource the work to a web agency.

Web hosting in particular is something you can't DIY, so even if you plan to start the rest of your web journey yourself to stay under budget, be sure to at least account for web-host payments. Domain.com, Bluehost.com and GoDaddy.com are examples of popular hosting services.

Best Content-Management Systems

You'll also want to research and choose a content-management system for your website. A CMS gives you the ability to customize your website and edit its content. They range from beginner-friendly but limited in functionality (like Squarespace, Wix and Weebly) to highly functional but geared more toward experienced users (like WordPress, Joomla and Magento).

Whether you plan to have an e-commerce site can also influence the CMS you choose. Shopify is a popular choice because it's a CMS that focuses exclusively on e-commerce. However, e-commerce stores can be set up with a different CMS too. Ultimately, your choice of CMS should come down to desired functionality, ease of use and price.