If you’re a small business owner, you’re no doubt aware of the benefits of launching a website to promote your brand, sell your products, and handle customer relations.
If you lack a dedicated IT department or technical wizard in your organization, however, you'll probably have numerous questions relating to hosting and domain name registration.
While our guide to the best web hosting services can help with acquiring hosting for your business, this step-by-step guide walks you through the key legal, practical, and creative considerations you’re likely to encounter when selecting, and registering, a domain name for your company.
Registering a domain name: Preparation
Before you begin with registering a domain name via the official registration process, the main preparation you need to undertake is likely to be conceptual, rather than practical. In order to design and build a successful website, you’ll need to be clear about the type of content you’ll be publishing.
You should ask yourself a number of questions. What will be the purpose of your site? Will you include an online shop? How long do you intend on operating the site under its original domain name?
Once you’re armed with this information, you’ll be in a much stronger position to begin the relatively simple process of selecting and purchasing your domain name.
Step 1: Choose the right name
In an increasingly digital age, your domain name could be the first interaction a customer has with your business. It’s therefore essential that the name you choose provides an accurate representation of the services your company offers.
You should also select a name that distinguishes your company from others in your industry: otherwise potential customers could mistake you for one of your competitors.
Other points to bear in mind: try to find a name that is short, snappy, memorable, and easy to spell. From a search engine optimization (SEO) perspective, it also makes sense to choose a name that employs keywords relevant to your industry.
For more on the steps to take in choosing a domain name, you can read our step-by-step guide explaining how to choose a domain name for your website, which also discusses the three types of domain name types: tld, cctld and exotic.
Step 2: Research potential registrars
Put simply, your domain name provides an online identity specific to your business. Once you’ve registered your name, your business should receive protection for your copyrighted and trademarked material, as well as enhanced SEO positioning.
As the name suggests, a domain name registrar is a company with the authority to sell and register domain names under a range of extensions, including (but not limited to) .com, .net, or .org.
Although all domain name registrars should be accredited by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), it’s essential to do your research and find the right provider for your business’s needs.
Not all registrars, for example, have a license to sell all top-level domains (the part of the domain name after the dot). This is especially true in the case of country-specific extensions, which may prove problematic for businesses with a global presence.
It’s also vital to check the levels of technical support available: if you’re a small business owner and encounter a problem with your domain registration, robust technical assistance services could be invaluable.
Step 3: Check your name’s availability
Almost all of the major website registrars offer tools to automatically check if your proposed name is available for registration. Should find your chosen name is registered to another user, these tools typically contain name generator functions to suggest alternatives.
You may, for example, discover you could modify your name by changing the extension from .net to .com. Be aware, however, that this approach could result in your business being confused with others of a similar name.
Step 4: Consider bundling registration with your web host
A number of companies, such as Bluehost, offer free facilities for registering a domain name if you also choose their web building services. This option could be especially suitable if you would prefer the convenience of an all-in-one platform. Find out more about Bluehost's services, features and more in our Bluehost review.
Step 5: Watch out for hidden fees
If you’re a small business owner, price is likely to be one of the most significant considerations when registering a domain name. However, it could be a mistake to simply choose the registrar with the lowest headline cost.
At this stage of the process, it’s vital you check for any hidden costs or add-ons on your plan. Some registrars charge a discounted fee during the first year and then include costly renewal fees for subsequent years, while others vary their costs depending on the extension you choose.
Most registrars, however, will include free email addresses linked to your domain name as part of your plan.
Step 6 : Get your privacy right
Privacy is another key point to consider, especially when it comes to cyberspace. When you’re registering a domain name, you can include privacy protection to protect your identity, which is known as Whois protection.
This feature prevents the personal details required to register a domain name, such as your name, phone number, and email address, from being visible to those browsing the internet. Without such protection, anyone could find your information in cyberspace and contact you in a manner that makes you uncomfortable,
Although some registrars such as Hover offer this feature for free, others charge an additional fee.
Step 7: Choose your registration period
The next thing to consider is the length of time you’ll need to own your domain name. At present, you can’t permanently buy a domain name, but many providers permit you to register your name for up to 10 years.
Although you may assume you’ll need the maximum registration period, this may not be the case if, for example, you’re planning to sell your business in the future.
Step 8: Understand the transfer policy
When registering a domain name, it’s vital to consider the future. The domain registrar you choose now may not necessarily be the most appropriate option several years down the line.
For example, you may sell your business and need to transfer your domain name to another provider to reflect the new owner’s preferences.
In general, you can change your registrar if your name has been registered with your current provider for 60 days or more, although both companies will normally need to approve the transfer. A number of providers, however, will charge costly fees if you’d like to move to another registrar.
Step 9: Check for suspension clauses
When checking the fine print on any potential deals, make sure you scrutinize your contract for terms and conditions relating to your company’s operations. Most registrars include a clause in their contacts stating that they can revoke your domain if you conduct your business in a manner they deem inappropriate.
Certain registers may revoke your domain name for actions such as alleged spamming, which could prove problematic if your business operates a mailing list or email newsletter. In certain cases, the registrar may withdraw the name with little (or no) notice.
Step 10: Complete the purchase
Once you’ve found the right domain name and provider, the purchase itself is likely to be the simplest part of the process, and take just minutes. As discussed earlier, it’s sensible to double-check that options for expensive add-ons are not pre-checked when you make your purchase, as these can significantly increase the cost of registering a domain name.
Registering a domain name is likely to be the first step in your business’s online journey. What next?
Depending on the nature of your business, level of technical expertise, and budget, you may want to create site with one of the best website builders. Alternatively, you could hire a professional website designer to promote your online presence.
Either way, you’ll have wasted your time and money unless you attach a website to your domain - a website that will generate sales, raise your profile, or create goodwill with your customers.