When choosing a domain name for the first time, it isn't always easy to know what's right and wrong. itscrap(dot)com may seem like a great choice for a company selling scrap IT components, but depending on your brand proposition, this domain name may (or may not) be appropriate!

Now you may be wondering “how do I ensure my domain name is valid?”. To make a valid domain name you need to meet a strict set of naming conventions and a name validation process. Then, and only then, is a domain name truly valid.

Fortunately, having a valid domain is the easy part. It’s picking the right one and ensuring it doesn’t clash that makes it tough – but fear not. In this guide, we’ll dive into what a domain name is, the components that make a domain name, domain naming rules, and how to choose a domain name.

What is a domain name?

A domain name is so much more than a unique address of your website. It signifies your online presence, so picking the right domain name is crucial.

So what is a domain name? A domain name generally consists of a website name and a domain name extension. Having a memorable or relevant domain name will strengthen your branding and allow your audience to find you easily online.

Behind the scenes, the addresses for websites are a long string of numbers known as  IP addresses (e.g. 245.53.536). Fortunately, through a process called DNS lookup, we’re able to attach human–friendly domains to the IP address, and be routed to the website via its domain name. If it wasn’t for this, we’d probably all be reluctant experts in binary–like code by now.

What are the components of a domain name?

There are three main parts to any domain name, each of which is separated by a dot. Reading from right–to–left, the first component is known as the top–level domain, or TLD. This section contains the generic TLDs such as ‘.com’, ‘.net’ and ‘.org’, but can also include country–code TLDs (ccTLDs) like ‘.esp’ and ‘.uk’. Since then, we’ve seen the birth of an entirely new phenomenon: new TLDs.

The next section (left of the TLD) is the second–level domain (2LD) and if there is anything further to the left of the 2LD, then you’re looking at the third–level domain (3LD). Let’s take a look at the examples below for some extra clarity:

For Amazon’s US domain name, ‘Amazon . com’:

  • ‘.com’ is the TLD (most general)
  • ‘.amazon’ is the 2LD (most specific)

But for Amazon’s UK’s domain name, ‘Amazon.co.uk’:

  • ’.uk’ is the TLD (most general)
  • ’.co’ is the 2LD
  • ’Amazon’ is the 3LD (most specific)

What makes up a valid domain name?

A valid domain name is one that belongs to a real person or organisation and can be used to identify a website.

Technically speaking, all registered domain names are "valid".

To find out who owns a domain:

  1. Open a window on your browser, enter “whois” and the domain name in question, and hit search. 
  2. If the domain is registered you’ll get a variety of details about the domain including the registration contact information, name servers, domain statuses and the sponsoring registrar.

In order to ensure your domain name is legitimate, you need to check that it’s not already registered. You can see which domain names are available with our handy domain search tool.

Domain names are also required to meet a set of strict naming protocols, they must:

  • Be made up of a minimum of 3 and a maximum of 64 alphanumeric characters (letters, numbers or a combination).
  • Have between 3 and 4 characters used to identify the domain extension (such as .com).
  • Neither begin with nor end with a dash (–), or contain a dash in the third and fourth positions (e.g. www.ab– –cd . com).
  • Not include spaces (e.g. www.go ogle . com).

Additional limitations

When it comes to making sure your domain name is valid, it's important to know that domain names are subject to restrictions due to trademark and copy laws. If the owner of a registered trademark feels that a domain name infringes their trademark they can contest its ownership. With this in mind, we recommend that you’re careful not to register domains that infringe on registered trademarks.

Safety and security

For safety and security reasons, it’s important to go through the domain validation process. This is especially important if your website collects data from its users or processes payments, as those users will understandably want to be sure that your business is legitimate. With this in mind, as soon as your new website goes live you should get your domain validation certificate, otherwise you’ll risk losing out on customers.

Applicant checking

Luckily, domain validation is a relatively straightforward process and, once you’ve been validated, you’ll also be able to apply for an SSL certificate.

To confirm that you have complete control over your domain name, all you have to do is review an email containing a confirmation link inside. In a matter of minutes you’ll be confirmed as the registered owner of the domain name. Simples.

SSL certificates

Once the domain validation is completed, next, your sights should be set on acquiring an SSL certificate. In short, an SSL certificate SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) is one of many internet certifications that offers a secure and encrypted connection from a user’s web browser to the website they wish to access. It’s crucial for enhancing data protection and can typically be identified with “https” in the URL. It’s so important, that our Web Hosting packages include them for free! 

Say you’re transferring a domain or you’re registered with another provider and don’t have an SSL certificate, you’ll need to prove to the issuing company that you’re the registered owner of the domain. While the process can change depending on your domain host, it’s likely that you’ll need to provide the issuing company with identification such as a copy of your passport or driving licence. In some cases, you may also need to verify your domain by pasting a validation code into your website’s code.

How to choose your domain name

Your domain name is a crucial part of your online presence, so it’s important that you choose the right one. Here’s a few top tips to ensure that you do just that.

1. Be creative

Creative domain names make for good branding because they stand out from the crowd, compared with generic domains which do the exact opposite. 

For example, the comparethemeerkat.com domain will always beat generic domains for price comparison websites such as pricecomparison.com or comparemyprices.co.uk, as they are unremarkable and unmemorable.

You could take this a step further by registering a different TLD from the rest. Not only are they different, but they give you tons of starting points for domain names. Here are just some that we offer:

2. Avoid hyphens and numbers

Although you can use them, we wouldn't recommend using hyphens and numbers unless absolutely necessary, as they make it harder to remember. Plus, customers may not know whether they need to spell out the numbers as digits or words.

The goal is to make your domain name slick, catchy and relevant to your brand. Hyphens and numbers will not facilitate this.

Learn more: Should you use hyphens in a domain name?

3. Use relevant keywords

Relevant keywords are going to make your brand memorable. Plus, they’ll make you recognisable to customers you’re trying to target in your niche. For example, if you sell homemade rugs online, you may want to include tufting keywords!

4. Shorten the brand name

But still make it understandable by potential customers. For example, the app DeepL, one of the most accurate translators online, literally uses Deep Learning technology, but with its use of “L” in the brand and domain name, it can also be interpreted to mean “language”.

This step may involve a bit of mind mapping, but the effort is worth it, as rebranding further down the line will be way more of a headache!

Ready to register a valid domain?

Now that you know the ins-and-outs of what makes a domain name valid or not, it's time to create your own and buy a domain name. Or, if you've still got some questions, get in touch with our sales team.