How to choose a domain name for your website

KerryAThompson.com blog: How to choose a domain name for your website

A domain is the unique name by which your website is known on the Internet. If you think of your website as the contents of a house, the domain is the sign in front of your house, indicating to visitors that they’ve found the right place. No other website in the world has the same domain name. The domain is maintained separately from the files that make up your website, but it must be connected to those files to allow your website to be found and used. If you’re getting ready to create your first website, read on to find out what domain names are, how they’re related to your website, and how you can claim that perfect domain name for your website.

You can purchase your domain in the process of creating your website

On Squarespace and Weebly, you begin to create your website and then when you're ready, you can purchase a domain that connects it to the Internet. You can research domain names in advance, which I recommend, to get an idea of pricing and choices, but you don't need to purchase the domain until you've made a start on designing your website.

A domain costs about $20/year, sometimes a bit more, depending on the name you choose. You purchase a domain name registration for a time period of one year or more. To keep your website active, you must keep your domain registration current and never let the registration lapse. Squarespace and Weebly give you a free domain for a year and it also includes privacy, which you should have to protect your personal contact information from being available publicly.

If you're creating a new website on Squarespace or Weebly, it's convenient to register a domain with the same company to make renewals easier. But if you’ve already purchased your domain from another company like GoDaddy, 1and1, or Google Domains, don't worry. You can keep your domain registered with that company, build a website on Squarespace or Weebly, and then connect the old domain to your new website when it's ready.

The parts of a domain name

KerryAThompson.com blog: Parts of a domain name

Every website domain name has two parts separated by a period. The first part is usually the name of your business or organization. The second part after the period is called a top-level domain, whose name is authorized by a central organizing authority called Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

There are over 1,500 official top-level domains, but the ones we're most familiar with in the United States are .com, .net, .org, and .edu, which historically corresponded to domains used for a commercial business, an online network, a nonprofit organization, and an educational institution. More recently other top-level domains you might have noticed are named .co, .biz, .info, and .us, but .com is still the preferred top-level domain to use for a business.

Sample domain names with different top-level domains

  • kerryathompson.com

  • freecycle.net

  • celebrationofreiki.org

  • umass.edu

A domain name is part of a full web address

The http:// or https:// and the www. part of the web address (the URL) that you type in your browser are not part of the domain name that you choose. They are added automatically by the company that hosts your website and can vary depending on how your website is set up. But you can usually type in just a domain name to open the website you want to see.

So, for the web address https://www.celebrationofreiki.org, the domain name is celebrationofreiki.org.

Checking to see if your domain name is available

To prepare to create your website, you'll need to find a domain name that is not already in use or owned by someone else. Most do-it-yourself website platforms have a way to look up domain names and buy them. If you use something like Squarespace or Weebly, search for a domain name, but don't purchase it yet. If you go to Weebly.com, for example, click the Search Domains link at the top of the page. You'll be directed to a field where you can type in your preferred name. If you don't see a domain name available for your ideal name, try some other combinations of words, add a prefix or suffix, a location abbreviation, or choose a top-level domain other than .com or .co. Don't purchase the domain until after you've started your site though.

What makes a good domain name?

For business websites, I prefer using a domain that has .com at the end of its name if the name is available or .co if your preferred domain name isn't available as .com. But what's most important is the first part of the domain name, the name of your business. That's the part of the domain name you want people to remember and to be able to type and read easily. If you already have an established business name, your first choice will be to use that for your domain name if it is available.

KerryAThompson.com blog: Best practices for domain names

Rules for domain names

  • Use only letters. You can't use most punctuation marks and although hyphens are allowed, it's hard for people to type them, so avoid them too. The same holds true for numbers.

  • Use typical spelling. Don't try to be clever with the spelling of your website domain. People often tell someone about a website verbally. Make sure you and others can speak the name of your website and the listener will know how to type it without special instructions about spelling.

  • Try to keep the business part of your domain name between 6 and 14 letters, the shorter the better. If you can't come up with an ideal short name, then try to use words that will be memorable as your "brand" when typed together. If at least one of those words is a word that someone might search for, even better. The domain name CelebrationofReiki.org is an example of a slightly longer name that is memorable as a phrase and also uses the search word "Reiki."

  • Make sure the name looks good when typed in all lower-case letters too and doesn't have any unexpected combinations of letters that might form other words you wouldn't want your potential clients distracted by, such as salesexcellence.com. Some people might see "sex" before they see "sales," you know, or is it just me?

  • Check that the name you want to use isn't already trademarked or used on social media. You can look up the domain name on Knowem.com to be sure.

Connecting your website to your domain

With do-it-yourself websites, you don’t have to do much to make sure your website and your domain are connected. Most of the work is done by your website host, such as Weebly or Squarespace, and the company that holds your domain if it’s another company. There are three different scenarios for connecting your website and domain.

You purchase the domain as part of designing your website

With Squarespace, you design your website and then purchase the domain. You have two weeks of a trial subscription before you need to purchase a website plan and a domain. With Weebly, you can either purchase a domain as you start to design or you can postpone the decision and use Weebly’s domain (for a domain name like myfirstbiz.weebly.com) and purchase your domain later. Both Squarespace and Weebly give you a free domain name for one year with the purchase of an annual website plan.

You transfer the domain from another company to your website host

You can tell Squarespace or Weebly you want to use a domain purchased elsewhere and have it transferred so that future renewals will be part of your Squarespace or Weebly bill. With this scenario, Squarespace suggests making the transfer before you create your website, but it can be done afterwards too. Weebly only allows the transfer of domain names that use the top-level domains .com, .net, and .org.

You keep the domain with a separate company

This method is a two-step process:

  1. First you tell Squarespace or Weebly what domain will be connected to your website.

  2. Then you send a request to your domain registrar to have your domain records changed so they connect to Squarespace or Weebly.

Have fun with the process

Your website’s domain name is something you will use for years to come—it will be on your business cards, your social media profiles, and your brochures and you’ll mention it at many networking events. It’s also the name you hope will show up on the first page of Google results as your business becomes established. Enjoy the process of imagining, researching, and deciding on the perfect name that captures what you and your business have to offer!


Kerry A. Thompson

I offer stress-free design and writing help to get your website launched or updated on Squarespace and Weebly. If you’re struggling to get your website going for your new business or passion project, see the Services page for the types of help I offer and then take me up on a free 30-minute no-obligation consultation. I’d love to hear from you. - Kerry