A domain name is effectively the address of your website, generally made up of the name of the site, plus a domain extension. Choosing the right domain name can have a huge impact on your site, building brand recognition and even driving traffic. That’s why it’s so important to understand the theory before you buy.
Where can you find a domain name?
Domain names can be found in the top search bar when you enter a page. They are part of the URL that identifies each site and page within a search engine.
What does a domain name look like?
Within the top search bar, a domain name will come after the protocol identifier. For example, the Hypertext Transfer Protocol or HTTP is commonly seen before a domain name. The structure of a domain name typically consists of the name of the site or page, followed by a domain name extension such as .co.uk or .com.
The difference between a domain name and a URL
Domain names are often mixed up with URLs – but they’re not actually interchangeable terms in computer language. Instead, a domain name is part of the URL, which contains other useful information too. Here’s an example:
In this URL, www. fasthosts. co.uk is the domain name, while HTTPS is the protocol identifier. Bonus fact – the protocol identifier is essentially responsible for signalling how information is communicated between the host and a web browser.
How does a computer find your domain name?
Domain names have a ‘secret’ full stop at the end of them. You may be familiar with google. com, for instance, but its complete domain should be expressed as ‘google. com.’ (with a full stop at the end). This is an often forgotten and seemingly insignificant point, but it’s an important part of how a computer finds a domain name.
Computers read domain names right to left. So if we take the example of ‘support.fasthosts. co.uk.’ computers will break it up and read it as ‘.’, ‘.uk’, ‘.co’, ‘.fasthosts’, ‘.support’. The full stop at the end of the domain name (or at the start if you’re a computer) tells the computer that the information can be found at the ‘root servers’ located at the top of the domain tree.
How do domain names work?
Each domain name is linked to an associated IP address, which enables the browser to request information from the specific web servers where the site is hosted. Let’s look at what happens when you search for a website online:
- An internet user types a domain name into a web browser.
- The browser searches through the network of Domain Name System (DNS) servers for the relevant IP address.
- Once the DNS server with the right information is located, it sends the information about the IP address to the web browser.
- The browser then asks the domain’s hosting provider for data about the site - like the database and HTML code - which is stored on a web server.
- The hosting provider sends the web browser all the necessary information.
- Now the web browser can convert all these details into a usable webpage.
What is a domain host?
Domain hosts, such as us, look after every domain name under their control. This control consists of connecting domain names to the correct websites, and the personal information of the domain name owner via a Domain Name System or DNS.
What’s the difference between a domain and web hosting?
A website requires both a domain name and website hosting to function. It can get a little confusing, so here’s a helpful analogy often used to explain the difference between the two: if your website is a house, then think of the domain name as the address, while web hosting is more like the land that the property is built on.
What is a domain name extension?
At the end of a domain name is the domain name extension, it’s an extra piece of information that is used to inform users about a site. Depending on your preference, there are multiple different extensions to choose from. Domain extensions can signify a particular country or a certain type of business, and they’re an essential part of a domain.
Top-level domains (TLDs)
There are a few different components which make up the domain name structure. As domain names are read from right to left, let’s start with the piece of text that comes after the dot at the end. This is known as the domain extension and these come in several different categories of their own.
A top-level domain is another term used for a domain extension, and they come in many different forms. Such as:
- gTLD - a generic top-level domain, for example .com
- ccTLD - a country code top-level domain, like .fr (France)
- sTLD - a sponsored top-level domain, like .gov
As domain names are in such high demand, the amount on offer is growing exponentially. This means there is a wide variety to choose from, which makes personalising a domain easier than ever.
Generic top-level domains, gTLDs
Generic top-level domains or gTLDs are some of the most common forms of TLD on the web. These include:
- .com domain – for commercial companies
- .org domain – for organisations
- .biz domain – for businesses
- .info domain – to provide information regarding a subject or topic
- .net domain – for networks and associations
Country code top-level domain, ccTLD
As well as generic domain types, two digit domain names are assigned to individual countries, providing more versatility in the domain name structure. Some of these country codes are regulated. For example, you won’t be able register a .eu domain name unless you’re based within the European Union.
Most ccTLDs are instantly recognisable, while others are less common. Here’s a few examples:
- .uk – United Kingdom
- .eu – European Union
- .us – United States
- .ca – Canada
- .fr – France
- .je – Jersey
- .gg – Guernsey
- .cn – China
- .gi – Gibraltar
- .fm – Federated States of Micronesia
Sponsored top-level domain, sTLD
As the distinction between types of domain names became blurred, some industries started sponsoring their own generic top level domain names. This enabled them to keep domain name integrity and regulate who could register a domain name. For instance, governments began to use a .gov sTLD, whilst education institutions used .edu.
Let’s run through some more examples of a sponsored domain name:
- .aero – reserved for the aerospace industry. This was the first generic top level domain name to be reserved for a single industry.
- .mobi – websites need to be mobile friendly, this domain is sponsored by Google, Microsoft, Nokia, Samsung, Ericsson, Vodafone, T-Mobile, Telefónica Móviles, Telecom Italia Mobile, Orascom Telecom, GSM Association, Hutchison Whampoa, Syniverse Technologies, and VISA.
- .jobs – specifically for recruitment, intended for companies and organisations to advertise their positions in a standardised manner. This domain was sponsored by Employ Media LLC.
What other domain extensions are there?
While the most popular top-level domain by far is .com, followed by .org and .net, there are plenty of other options that are actually better suited for specific projects. For instance, did you know there are over 250 different country code top-level domains out there? Choosing a ccTLD like .wales as your domain extension can attract local customers and even help with your search rankings.
Similarly, you might choose a .shop domain extension for an ecommerce store, .biz for a business or .org domain if you’re running a non-profit organisation, charity or foundation – tell them what you’re all about before they even land on your site!
As well as the top-level domain, there’s also the second-level domain (SLD), which is the portion of text that comes before the last dot in the domain name. This can look slightly different in every URL - let’s go back to the example we used earlier.
In our domain name – fasthosts. co.uk – .co is the SLD, because this is the section directly before the final dot. But if we look at google .com instead, then google is the SLD, because the domain extension is different.
Subdomains aren’t in every domain name, but when they are, you’ll find them directly after the protocol identifier. They’re mostly used when a company wants to run a secondary domain (or child domain) under the umbrella of the main domain name - like when you want to create a mini-site under your main domain.
A good example that a lot of the top dogs use is help.domain, like Netflix has:
In this domain name, help is the subdomain, indicating that this is the Help section of their site, netflix is the SLD, and .com is the TLD.
Another example of a well-used subdomain is blog.domain. HubSpot is a good example:
In this case, you can see that that blog. is the subdomain - and it’s dedicated to the blog section HubSpot's site. There are plenty of other subdomains that could be handy for a company like this, like https://careers. or https://shop.
Who creates domain names?
Behind the scenes, there is an organisation called the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN for short, and they take care of the creation of both domain names and their assigned IP addresses. There are also certain companies that provide gTLDs, such as .com and .co.uk, to domain hosting companies. For example, Verisign is responsible for all .com gTLDs.
How to choose a domain name
Picking the perfect domain name first time around is essential, as it’s not an easy change to make once your website is up and running. The best domain name for your brand will consist of both a TLD and an SLD, and these will represent your site so pick them with this in mind.
Our blog post on how to choose a domain name goes into much more detail for you.
How to buy a domain name?
Buying a domain name is easier than it sounds. Let’s walk through the process of purchasing one with us:
- Choose a domain name provider
- Use a domain checker tool
- Add a domain name to your basket
- Purchase your selected domain name
- Now enjoy your new domain name
It is also important to renew your domain name after a set period of time, usually one year. So, keep an eye out for when this time approaches.
Why it’s important to register multiple domains
When a customer types your domain into their search bar, it’s very possible that they could misspell your name. Now, usually this will still bring up your site, but if someone has registered this domain name typo, then you could lose precious traffic to another site. Not only that, but it may be a scam site using a misspelt version of your domain name to draw in buyers. We call this typosquatting, and it can seriously affect your online credibility and the bond you’ve built with your customers. That’s why you should register domain name typos, as many as you can, to protect your business and your customers from scammers.
Why are domain names important?
A domain name is a unique identifier for your business, and can form the very foundation of your online presence. Still not sure if you need one? We've got plenty of ways a domain name can benefit not only your site but your brand:
- Builds brand awareness. A simple domain name which includes the name of your brand or its core product/service will help to build brand recognition.
- Drives traffic. An engaging domain name could increase user interest and even drive traffic directly to your site.
- Provides custom email addresses. Investing in a unique domain name also gives you the opportunity to create custom email addresses with Email Hosting, like email@example.com (sorry Bob).
- Increases credibility. Choosing a domain name and extension suited to your site makes your site appear more professional and trustworthy to users.
- Helps with SEO. They may not be a significant ranking factor, but domain names can certainly contribute towards your performance on search engines, especially if you opt to include target keywords alongside your brand name.
Still not sure about choosing a domain name? We’re home to over 1.2 million domains, including the newest TLDs like .monster domains. So if you have any questions we’ve got you covered – just get in touch! And if you’re looking for a reputable registrar with expert support available around the clock, we’ve got that too.
Still not got enough of domains? Check out our state of the web report for the latest trends in the world of domains.