Perhaps you haven’t taken the plunge of building a website yet but you want to. Or maybe you’ve set up shop on a third-party service like Etsy, Redbubble, Youtube, or WordPress.com. Do you need a domain name? And if you do, how can you pick a domain name that will look professional? Great questions. And good news, today’s post will be your guide to everything domain name related, including choosing, buying, using, and forwarding your custom web address.
What is a domain name?
Google gives us this super simple definition:
“A domain name (or just a domain) is the name of a website. It’s what comes after “@” in an email address, or after “www.” in a web address.”
So, for example, the domain name of Amazon is amazon.com.
The domain name of Apple is apple.com.
Can you guess what the domain name of Target is? Right! target.com.
But domain names aren’t just great for websites. They also have many other uses.
Why you need a domain name (even if you don’t have a website)
Custom domain names lay the foundation for solid branding and professionalism online, whether you have a website or not.
If you do have a website, then you’ll find owning a domain name essential. If you’ve started on a free website builder like WordPress.com (different from self-hosted WordPress sites) or Wix, connecting your domain name takes you leaps and bounds toward improving your online branding. Your audience will also find a custom domain easier to remember.
Or, if you’ve opened a shop on a site like Etsy, Redbubble, or Society6, you can use a custom domain to direct people to your shop (instructions on that below).
But even if you have absolutely no web presence outside of your personal social media, you still have significant reasons to pick a domain name for you or your brand.
Think long term
Even if you don’t have a website or a shop now, you may want one in the future. So buy your domain now.
Why not just wait until you’re ready to set up a site?
Because domains and real estate have many things in common. They both come in limited supply, and when at a popular location, their price skyrockets. So you had better buy early before severe inflation sets in.
For example, say you want to start an Etsy shop called Limoncello Design. You go to Google Domains and see that limoncellodesign.com is currently available to buy for $12 a year. Great! But, you hold off buying it since you’re using Etsy and don’t feel like you need a domain right now.
Two years later, you decide to expand your business onto Shopify. You go to buy the domain… and it’s not available. Someone else bought it. And they’re willing to sell it to you for $1000.
That is how domain names work. Some people make their living from buying domains they think someone will want eventually. Then, they will resell the domain to you, sometimes for thousands of dollars. Or, you’ll have to make do with a less ideal domain.
When to pick a domain name
So if you can get your business domain now for the regular price. DO IT. Even if you don’t need it right away, $12 a year isn’t much to pay to hold on to until you do. I highly recommend also buying your name as a web address, as in firstnamelastname.com. I’ll share what to do with extra domain names like that later in this post.
Also, with or without a website, you can use your domain name to set up a custom domain email address. One that looks like [email protected] This makes you look extra professional. Read more about how to setup up a branded email here. I go into free and paid email services.
Where can you buy a domain name?
You can buy domain names from domain name registrar companies. There are many, many to choose from.
You pay for a domain annually. And a .com domain usually costs around $12 a year to own. If your registrar charges considerably more or less than that, beware, something might not be right.
Some domain registrars charge extra for something called WHOIS domain privacy. When you buy a domain name, your personal information, including name, address, and phone number, become attached to it in a database. WHOIS domain privacy protection hides that information by replacing it with a third party company’s contact info. This protects you from spammers and unwanted attention. I would highly recommend getting WHOIS domain privacy protection.
There are two basic kinds of domain registrar companies I would recommend: web hosting companies and sites that specialize in domains.
Web hosts for domains
Can you guess what web hosting companies do? They host websites. Shocking, I know.
Many web hosting companies include a free domain with their annual plans. So, if you plan on creating a website or blog that needs hosting, this could be an excellent way to go.
The web host I recommend is Bluehost. They include a free domain in all of their plans, and some include free WHOIS domain privacy protection. I’ve used a LOT of different web hosts since I started creating sites 13 years ago. And Bluehost as by far been the best web host I’ve found in their price range for those just starting out. You can check out Bluehost’s current pricing here.
Domain specialist companies
You could also buy your domain through a site that specializes in selling domain names.
The one I HIGHLY recommend? Google Domains.
Why? Because they’re easy, fast, safe, secure, and intuitive to use since their user interface looks like all other Google interfaces. Since your domain account attaches to your Google account, it instantaneously verifies your site when you set up Google Analytics and Search Console.
They have very reasonable prices and don’t charge you more when your domain renews after the first year (watch out for this on other sites). And they include WHOIS privacy for free. They also make it super easy to create a custom domain email address with them. I buy all of my domains through Google Domains. You can check Google Domains out here.
How to choose a good domain name
Okay, now you know why you need a domain and how to buy one. But how can you pick a good website name? Consider these essential points:
Use a .com
In the domain world, .com reigns supreme. Domain registrars offer a lot of different endings from .blog .site .design. But really, those will only confuse your customers, clients or audience. Also, those specialty domains usually have a hefty mark up on them as well.
Pick a domain name consistent with your brand
Make your domain name as closely related to your brand name as possible. If your brand name is Limoncello Design, try to get limoncellodesign.com. If that is already taken, try limoncellodesigns.com or limoncelloshop.com. Whatever the case, go for what makes sense with your actual business name and won’t confuse everyone.
Make it easy to spell, remember and not too long
Your domain name isn’t time to get cute. Don’t spell cupcakes with K. Don’t leave out letters that belong there. And don’t try to spell out a full sentence. Think, if I told this domain to someone in a conversation, would they be able to remember it and know how to spell it later?
Check that it doesn’t say anything weird when combined
Domains names don’t have spaces or capitalization. So make sure it doesn’t say anything unpleasant when ran together.
Get more than one to be safe
I own elliedashwood.com and elliedashie.com and several others. After you pick a domain name, buy related domains and your own first and last name as a domain. Then forward them to your primary site’s Url (see instruction on how to do that below).
To see if your brand or personal name domain is available, use this handy tool from Bluehost:
Where to direct your domain when you don’t have a website
Okay, what if you don’t feel ready to sign up for a hosted website yet. What do you do with your domain once you buy it? You direct it to a web presence you do have. This could be your Etsy, Redbubble, or Society6 shop. Or it could be as simple as your Instagram or Facebook page. You can use this to point your secondary domains to your website too.
Now, this will not change the domain name of the website you are pointing your domain to. Your domain name will simply act as a forwarding service.
For example, if your Etsy store URL is limoncellodesign.etsy.com, it will not change. It will still be limoncellodesign.etsy.com. But when someone types limoncellodesign.com, the browser will instantly take them to limoncellodesign.etsy.com. It’s called domain forwarding.
So what’s the benefit of forwarding with your custom domain name? Your social media and business cards look extra professional with your custom domain name on them. People will also remember your web address easier.
How to forward your domain step by step
I’ll give you a quick tutorial on how to do this in Google Domains. Any domain registrar should have this same capability.
Step 1. Log into your Google domains account.
Step 2. Go to your “My domains” tab
Step 3. Click on the domain name you want to change.
Step 4. Once inside your domain’s screen, click on “Website” on the left side menu (on desktop)
Step 5. Select forward to an existing webpage
Step 6. It will ask you where you want to send visitors to your domain.
Enter the URL of the address you want the domain to forward them to here. If you don’t know it, you can open a different tab in your browser and go to the site you want to direct people to (for example, your Etsy shop, Youtube or Instagram). Select the URL of that site from the browser bar. Then you can copy and paste it into this step. Then hit forward.
Congratulations! You have successfully set your domain to forward to a website of your choice. Now, if someone enters your domain, it will take them to you where you want them to go!
Note: It may take up to 24 hours for your domain to start working. Usually, it works faster than that, but just a heads up if it doesn’t.
What to do after you pick a domain name
Awesome! Now you have a domain name and it’s all set up. What’s next? Here are some important steps:
Setup a custom domain email address
Essential to looking professional online.You can read my blog post on how to set up a custom domain name email address with Gmail here.
Update the website address on your different social media platforms. And after getting your custom domain email address, it’s time to design some great business cards with your new domain.
Congratulate yourself on being generally awesome
Okay, not entirely necessary, but still nice.
In the comments below, let me know what type of site, Etsy, Redbubble, and Instagram, you want to forward your custom domain to.
Thanks to Andrea Piacquadio and Ekaterina Bolovtsova from Pexels for the photos used in this post. Want to learn more about how to use mockups and stock photography in your business? Check out my post about the best mockup websites here.
This post was proofread by Grammarly.