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What's Your Handle? -- Getting a Domain Name
http://firefox.org/news/articles/1643/1/What039s-Your-Handle----Getting-a-Domain-Name/Page1.html
Leva Cygnet
 
By Leva Cygnet
Published on 07/16/2008
 
If you want to have a professional presence on the web, I strongly recommend registering your own domain name ...

Domain Names -- Where Your Site's At
Truthfully, you do not need a domain name to blog. All you need is your words and an account with a free blog host.

You can go to Livejournal, or Blogger, or Bloghost, or Myspace, or Vox, or any one of a few hundreds (perhaps thousands) of blog farms that will be happy to host your blog for you. There is something to be said for joining the hive -- for example, if you get a Livejournal account other Livejournal users may friend you and read your work. If you're just looking to be read or for publicity, and you are not worried about making money from advertising, a blog host may be the way to go.

However.

This series of articles is aimed at people who want to blog professionally and make money at it, or who want more control than a social networking site can offer. And, if you want to have a professional presence on the web, I strongly recommend registering your own domain name. It looks better.

Advantages to registering a domain name also include:

  • The address is yours, even if you have to change hosts. Conversely, if you decide that you're not happy with Livejournal and you want to move to Blogger, you need to get all your readers to go to the new address -- and you'll lose some in the process.

Problems happen with hosts. You cannot assume that they'll be around forever, even if they're big and well known. My first web site in the early 1990's was at www.primenet.com/~leva. Don't bother visiting that link. Primenet went bankrupt and was purchased by another ISP and the new ISP promptly did away with the domain -- which meant my site went away too. I had zero warning of this. I simply woke up one day and my site (and e-mail address) were gone. They didn't even offer redirects.

Then I purchased the domain firefox.org, and hosted it at a small company. That hosting lasted, oh, about a month. They promised me they'd put me on a linux server but instead hosted me on a Windows box. My apps didn't work in Windows. I told them to move me to the linux server they promised, or I'd leave. When the linux server didn't materialize, I left. In the second move, however, my domain name remained the same, which meant the move was far less of a headache.

  • Being www.yournamehere.com is more professional than, say, anyblogger.livejournal.com. Also, it lets you establish an identity of your own -- for example, failblog.org would be just one more blog out of a million if it was failblog.bloghost.com.
  • In many cases, you cannot monetize your blog with advertising on a blog host. A few -- Blogger comes to mind -- let you run Adsense ads. However, most blog farms only permit you to have a blog on their site for non-commercial purposes. You can't put your own ads on a Livejournal blog, or a Myspace page, no matter how much traffic (and money!) it's earning for the host.
  • You have more control when buy a domain and point it at an ISP of your chosing. With the right host and plan, you can run the applications you want. You can modify your apps. You can add hit tracking bugs, a chat room, a bulletin board, a mailing list, or a shopping cart. And if your host won't let you run the application you need, or you need PHP5 and they have PHP3 installed, you can also pick up and move to a new host and your users will still be able to find you at the new address.
  • A software company might name their best known product after your site. For real, this actually happens sometimes. I swear. Honest.

So, if you want a domain, how do you go about getting one?


Reputation matters when choosing a host ...
In a nutshell, it's pretty simple: You just find a name that's not been registered, pay between approximately $7 and $25 for a year to a registrar, and voila, you have yourself a domain name.

So, how do you pick a name?

The general criteria I use for choosing a name are:

  • It does not contain any words which might be a trademark infringement.
  • It is short, memorable, and easy to type.
  • It is available as both a dot-com and dot-org TLD. (TLD -- Top Level Domain. It's the "com" part of anydomain.com.)
  • It can't be confused for a similar site.

As I mentioned in my previous article I will be starting a blog about hiking and exploring Arizona. Since I have some health issues, I use a goat as a pack animal. I figure that the goat will be the thing people remember most about my new blog, so I want something to do with the goat in the blog's domain name.

To register the domain, I went to Namecheap.com.

A quick word on registrars: reputation and customer service really do matter.

I chose Namecheap not because they're cheap, but because I've never heard much of anything bad about them. As an example of what can go wrong, on the extreme end of the really-bad-registrar spectrum there was a registrar called Registerfly that was going out of business -- but they defied court orders to allow customers to transfer their domains to other companies even as they were circling the drain. Millions of domains were tied up in the mess. By regulation, you're supposed to be able to transfer your domains at any time to another registrar. So reputation (and solvency) does matter.

Other reasonably reputable registrars include Dynadot.com and Moniker.com.

Back to picking a domain out: My first thought was that I would call it Goathiker.com. While "goathiker.com" isn't registered, a quick search of Google turned up a guy who also hikes with goats and uses that handle on Youtube. Plus, I'm pretty sure I've seen him posting around the various goat packing sites and mailing list. Since I don't want to risk confusion with the other Goathiker, I decided I'd choose a different name.

Other options that I came up with after a few minutes of brainstorming:

ArizonaGoats.com
hAZagoat.com
Hoofandboot.com
Sunnywethers.com

I like hAZagoat. Sunnywethers also strikes a chord with me, but it has the problem of being longer and harder to remember. People (even goat people) have a seem to struggle to remember how to spell "wether" -- which is a neutered male goat. They often spell it "weather" or "whether" or "wither." And "sunnyweather" is already taken, so I couldn't buy that to set up a redirect to send people back to my blog. Of the other two, ArizonaGoats sounds like a good name for a forum or farm site. Hoofandboot doesn't flow well when I read it.

I decided I would get hAZagoat.

Now, a quick word on domain registration:

Under no circumstances do you want to search for a domain until you're ready to buy it. I checked for domain names with a credit card in hand. If you search for a domain, find one you like, and then wait, you may come back and see that someone else has purchased it. There are people who have access to lists of domain searches that you make and if they see a tasty looking domain they'll register it. I've had this happen twice to me, enough to convince me that it's a real possibility.

If you change your mind later, domains are relatively cheap at around $9 each. That's lunch, or a new manga.

However, I do see one problem with hAZagoat. People will typo it as "hasagoat." And if the blog takes off, I'll end up with a scaper sitting there making money off of people's typos. I'd much rather collect that traffic for myself, and help my readers find me in the process. I've checked and both domains are available so I'll buy four domains -- hAZagoat.com and hAZagoat.org, plus hasagoat.com and hasagoat.org.

I'm not going to bother with other TLDs. Nobody really goes to other TLDs by mistake, and they have little value. Plus, some are very expensive to register.

Now, a quick tip that applies to lots of different online vendors. Namecheap (and most other domain registrars) ask for a coupon code. If you don't have a coupon, you can register for more money. However, why pay the full price when you don't have to?

Namecheap offers coupons to affiliates who make commissions from Namecheap by sending buyers their way. (Annoying, I tried to apply to Namecheap to be an affiliate for this article, because I'm cheerfully capitalistic and like making money, but I couldn't figure out how to sign up. Oh well.)

To find one of the handy affiliates with the handy coupon codes, I went out to Google and typed "Namecheap" and "coupon."

The first site to come up was called "Retailmenot.com" and yep, they've got a coupon for me. They tell me that the code "Glowingsky" will save me a little bit on domain registration for the month of July 2008. Instead of $9.29 it'll be $8.41. They'll get a commission from my purchase since I clicked on their site to go back to Namecheap and I'll save a few dollars. Everybody wins! Yay!

So now I go off to pay around $33 for my four domains.

Note: There's no real need to buy four domains like I did. You can certainly just buy one. If you do, I recommend getting the dot-com tld for your blog. However, if you become popular, even just moderately, there's a high likelihood of scrapers or worse squatting on the other tlds and typos of your domain. This happens even to very small sites -- the bulk domainers who buy large quantities of domains are paying less than a dollar a domain. It only takes a couple of ad clicks to make that domain profitable. If they have 1,000,000 domains and make an average of fifty cents a month off each domain ... well, you do the math.

To buy my domains, I needed to register on Namecheap using valid contact information. This is very important -- you must give Namecheap correct information for you. You can potentially lose your domain if you use false information to register. (This is true at any registrar.)

And voila! After registering and plugging in my credit card number, Namecheap registered the domains for me. I now have an account with Namecheap with my domains in it. However, this does not mean that I can see a web site at my domains. To do that, I'll need to get a host and point the DNS for the name at my new host. We'll cover that process in the next blog post.

I will not be getting hosting with Namecheap, nor would I do the reverse and register a domain through my host. My personal feelings are that your registration for your domain and the company you host your site with should always, always, be separate. The reasons for this include:

  • If your host goes under either because of bankruptcy or a disaster, if your domain registration is elsewhere you can simply go to a new host, fork over a little cash, and start over. You'll still have your domain because it's registered elsewhere. However, if the servers are down and nobody's answering the phone and you've registered your domain with your web site host, you're screwed. If you can't access their servers, you can't repoint your domain to a new site.
You will probably be able to get the domain back -- eventually -- with a lot of hassle. However, by the time you do, your readers will have lost the habit of visiting your site, and you may have lost your search engine rank and even many of your backlinks.

  • Your host decides you've done something naughty with your account. This may or may not be your fault; I know of one major site that lost their hosting with no warning because they identified and outed a scam artist and the scam artist called their host and was abusively nasty to the host's employees. The host decided they didn't want to deal with it, and terminated the site's account.
  • You're in a financial dispute with your host. They say you owe more money than you think you do. If you're registered with your host, they have you by the short hairs. They can shut down your site and hold your domain hostage until you pay whatever they claim you owe.These may or may not be legitimate charges.

If you've registered your domain elsewhere, and your host hits you with unfair charges, you can say, "Nanny nanny boo boo, see me in small claims court!" and point your domains at a site with their competition and have the site back up and running the next day.

(Having good backups help, incidentally, in all three scenarios.)

So, we've covered domain registration and now I have a name for my new blog. In my next article, I'll cover finding a host and getting my new domains pointed at the right place. Look for an article here every Wednesday.