Everything You Need to Know About Website Domain Names (and Then Some!)

The Guide to Domain Names

Without domain names, the internet would be a very different place. In the 30-odd years since domain names first became a thing, the internet has exploded in popularity and is now part of all of our lives. There are over 300 million active domain names, with this number growing by 9% each year.

The domain name industry is growing like never before, especially after the release on many new top-level domains. The introduction of new top-level domains has flooded the market with hundreds of new extensions. When you are registering a domain now, you are no longer limited to .com, .co.uk, .net or .org, for example. You can now have domains such as .song and .app. For example, a marketing company could use .marketing or a law firm .law. The possibilities are now endless.

This, paired with the advent of specialized WordPress hosting makes site building, branding and promotion much easier. The possibility to target specific areas and groups of people with the very domain name of your site has potential that is yet untapped.

The domain name industry is expected to grow even more and see another explosion in growth as people accept and embrace new trends associated with domain names; it is the responsibility of a business owner to understand how domains work.

What is a Domain Name?

A domain name is a way that something on the internet is referred to, with a recognizable string of words such as ‘google.com’. The internet is set up so that typing in a domain name will send the user to a website’s dedicated server IP, which is much easier to remember than a string of numbers. This is called DNS (Domain Name System).

A domain name is a string separated by dots; it is read from left to right, but has a right to left hierarchy. The top-level domain is the farthest to the right (.com), the mid-level domain is the subdomain part of the domain name (google) and the machine name is the leftmost part (www.), used to indicate the purpose of the website.

For example, ‘www’ tells the website’s server to bring up the main website, whereas ‘ftp’ would tell the server you want to transfer some files.

When you purchase a domain, you are buying the exclusive right to point the sublevel and top-level domain to your website and, through the code, a website’s owner can assign other subdomains under the domain she owns.

Domains have a specific set of rules associated with them, too. They do not allow you to use spaces, so to represent a space, a dash or underline is usually used. Also, they are not case sensitive, and you can have a combination of dashes, numbers, letters and underscores, but special characters are not allowed. A domain can have as many as 63 characters, too!

History of Domain Names

The first-ever registered domain name was symbolics.com, on March 15th, 1985. It belonged to the no longer active Symbolics Inc. At this time, there was less than one .com registration per month until the Spring of 1986, and only 300 domains were registered between 1985 and 1988.

Before 1995, domain registration was completely free and anybody who wanted to register one could do it without having to pay any money or go through a domain registrar. That was all changed when Network Solutions was awarded the right to charge money for registration. So, in that respect, Network Solutions can be regarded as the first ever domain name registrar.

Up until 1998, the DNS had been controlled by the US Government, but US President Bill Clinton helped campaign for it to be partially privatized through ICANN, a not-for-profit organization which still acts as the go-to organization for oversight and promotion of policy regarding domain names. It is completely separate from the government and this helped the industry pick up speed.

Here are some major events in the introduction of new top-level domains:

1985: .us, .uk and .il were introduced.

1986: .ca was introduced by UBC volunteers.

2000: over 21 million domains are now registered in the world.

2001: hotels.com sells for $11 million.

2003: the ‘Truth in Domain Names Act’ was introduced.

2013: ICANN approved the first new gTLDs since the early 2000s.

2014: 500+ new gTLDs were created to respond to the demand for them.

Costs of Domain Names

The price for domain names varies greatly, but it’s usually quite affordable. A typical domain name will usually go for between $10-20, but it can be more if it is a particularly valuable name, or if somebody is reselling a domain.

When you buy the domain, you have to pay for it each year. You can think of it as a yearly subscription; domain names are not owned like property and you must renew it every year if you wish to keep it.

Want a domain name which is already taken? There are lots of ways you can go about purchasing it. You can find out if it is expiring soon (you can do this by performing a WHOIS search), play the waiting game, and snap it up as soon as it becomes free. If it’s currently inactive, chances are it won’t be renewed when it expires and you’ll be able to get a hold of it.

You can also submit an offer to the owner. This has made some people very rich when they bought lots of popular domains in the early 1990s. This is the only option you can use to obtain a domain name if it is not up for sale already or is due to expire. Be aware that it is rare to purchase a domain name this way as the owners usually will demand a super high price for it, as they will know it is something you want and may be willing to pay for.

If you want to learn more about domain names, some history and find out some very interesting facts, check out our infographic below.

Article by guest blogger, Karthik Reddy

Karthik Reddy, Community Manager at Webmastersjury, is the author of India’s Number 1 travel blog. Boasting an MBA in computer science, he once decided to get away from the office desk life and take a breathtaking journey around the world. He is eager to use the power of the global network to inspire others. A passionate traveler and photography enthusiast, he aspires to share his experiences and help people see the world through his lens.

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2 years ago

Very informative article! It’s definitely helpful to understand how domain names work as they are a necessary part of business in our times. Thank you for sharing!

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