Domain for a startup. What is it, how to choose it and where to get it from? | KISS digital

Przemysław Ćwik

Senior Editor.

30 July 2020

Domain for a startup. What is it, how to choose it and where to get it from?

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I'm starting a new business! On the Internet, of course, so I'll need a website. This will be handled by the professionals, but first I have to give the business a name. And register an Internet domain. It's easy, right? Sure. You just need to know how to do it and how not to do it.

The Internet domain is a simple construct. A name, a dot and an extension. For example, kissdigital.com or kissdigital.pl. The extension sometimes consists of two parts, e.g. .com.pl, but more often – of one. For many people this knowledge is sufficient. Especially if they don’t start a new business or name it. If they start (or name) a new company, they should know a little more about domains. Alternatively, you can rely on the support of those who have such knowledge. However, you should never transfer the control of your domain to anyone. Under no circumstances.

dns construction

From zero to million. Why are some domains offered for free and others cost an arm and a leg?

Internet domains are a very broad subject. It’s difficult to exhaust this topic within one article, so we will discuss some issues on future occasions. We will first focus on the essentials. Let's start with what usually arouses the greatest interest in the context of Internet addresses, i.e. their prices. Well, why some of them cost 0 PLN and others 10 million dollars?

The reason for this discrepancy is not only the quality of individual domains, i.e. their market attractiveness, but also their uniqueness. The situation can be illustrated most easily by analogy, e.g. with the art market. For example, if you buy a daub from a street painter, you'll pay, say, 100 bucks. Vincent van Gogh's "Farmer in a field" was sold at auction in 2017 for a bit more, 81.3 million dollars. If Van Gogh's works, identical to the originals, could be mass produced, their prices would “lose” several zeros.

With domains it's similar. Addresses like Voice.com ($30 million), Sex.com ($14 million) or Fund.com ($9,999,950) are unique and impossible to duplicate. Although there are ways to "counterfeit" some domains by using IDN characters, it works only in the short run (usually for phishing purposes) but this is a topic for another occasion.

In practice, each domain is unique. If it is attractive from a market point of view, it is most likely already registered and may – no guarantee, though – be available to buy at a high price. Just like the works of art.

An address you can't own

It's much easier with domains that aren't already taken. You can register them. In some cases even for 0 PLN - as such "prices" can also be found in the offer of domain name registrars. In practice, it is a marketing trick, where the client saves on registration costs, but pays higher renewal fee in the following year.

As the domain has to be renewed. You'll never own it, you can only subscribe to it. Most often, you need to pay the fee each year, although in the case of the .pl extension – Polish country code – the names can be paid for as much as ten years. It makes sense as you don’t have to remember about renewing it every year. A non-renewed domain expires and may be taken over by someone who will not want to give it back to you.

In practice, however, it is not easy to lose the active domain under which the website operates. Registrars remind several times about the need to renew it in their e-mail correspondence. Even if the notice escapes your attention, you will probably find that your website is not working. Fortunately, you will still have plenty of time to renew the address. We will not go into the details of the whole process here. If you are interested in the domain life cycle, you can see its graphic presentation on DNS.pl.

Attention, technical details! What are the components of a web address?

Before we go any further, we need to discuss technical details. This has to be done to avoid the ambiguities that have probably already emerged. For example, regarding terminology, like: what is a domain, what is a name, what is an address, what is an extension, and who are the registrars? But let's take it easy.

Internet domains are, to put it simply, the components of the DNS (Domain Name System). It's a hierarchical and distributed "universe" that allows you to translate hard-to-remember IP addresses composed of numbers into mnemonic names (easier to remember) such as kissdigital.com.

The DNS structure, or more precisely – dependencies between domains that are part of the system, has the form of a tree. Its top is the so-called root zone. It is from here that successive branches "grow" in the form of top level domains (TLD), often referred to as extensions or endings. In turn, second level domains, i.e. names, "grow" from TLDs.

dns hierarchy

For example, in kissdigital.com ".com" is a TLD, i.e. a top level domain, and "kissdigital" is the second level domain – the name. "Name", "extension" and even (in some cases) "domain" are common terms used in marketing. They are often ambiguous because, depending on the context, the name itself, the ending or the whole address may be called a domain. The whole address, though, in the strict sense, is the URL (Uniform Resource Locator). A URL referring to a web page includes the HTTP(S) protocol, the server address (name and extension) and, in the case of subpages, the path leading to the resource (the part of the address after the slash "/"). It may also contain other components, but let's not complicate things even more...

Let's get back to the domain name system. According to professional terminology, each of the DNS "tree" levels is a node. The textual representation of the node is a label, separated by a dot from a higher level label. Therefore, the label is both “.com” and “kissdigital”, with the former being the top level node/domain label and the latter being the second level node/domain label.

In the case of addresses with compound extensions, such as .com.pl, ".com" is the second level node label, but is not a domain name. It is a (sub)domain reserved by the registry and made available for registration of names only in the examplename.com.pl format. In a similar way we can create a subdomain in our own domain, e.g. blog.kissdigital.com. In this construction, the .blog part would be a third level domain.

How many domain levels can be created? It depends. The maximum number of ASCII characters of a domain is 253 including dots. Theoretically, 127 levels of the address can be created. But these are nuances we don't want to get into now.

Why are we boring you with this information? Because understanding the above dependencies does not require great effort, but it helps understand how domains work and make more accurate decisions as to which of them to choose.

Domain extension: country code or generic?

Now let's go back to the practical issues and discuss them according to the DNS hierarchy, i.e. starting with TLD. The extensions are divided into country code (ccTLD) and generic (gTLD) ones. There are other types and ways of classifying them, but they are not relevant in this context. The former are assigned to individual countries or dependent territories. An example of such a domain is .pl.

Generic domains are for example .com, .net, .biz. This category also includes so-called new domains such as .top, .site, .online, .tech and others. These extensions started to enter the market in 2014. The full list, together with data on the number of registered names and many other statistics can be found at ntldstats.com.

The selection is huge. The key question is: how do you sift the grain from the chaff and choose the best extension for your business? The answer is short: on the global market the most valuable TLD is .com, on the Polish market – .pl. The ideal solution for business is to create a name that is available in both extensions and to register it with both of them. When we have these two extensions in the bag, all the others are of minor importance.

What if "my" name is not available for registration?

This is a perfect option – but often unavailable. Almost all valuable dictionary names have long been taken in both extensions. A way out of the situation may be:

The latter seems to be the simplest solution, yet it is the most risky one. If there is a competing brand using the address with a similar name, but in a more valuable domain, choosing another TLD can be a shot in the foot. For the sake of clarity: we wouldn't decide on kissdigital.co or kissdigital.io if there was another tech company with the same name using the .com extension. On the other hand, if the address is parked or listed on the exchange, it may fall into the hands of a buyer who wants to use it for purposes contrary to our interest.

Therefore, it is best to get a name in the best domain from the point of view of the business. In the case of a company operating on the Polish and foreign market, the optimal TLDs are .com and .pl. This is a perfect solution in our situation, that is why we decided to use the addresses in the .com and .pl domains. The latter was redirected to the global TLD.

However, businesses operating in a narrow sector or on a small scale can successfully use other extensions. For example, there is nothing to prevent a local bicycle shop from creating a company website with the .bike extension.

The perfect address. How to choose the ideal domain name?

Now let's move on to level two. But let's skip subdomains understood as two-part extensions like .com.pl or .biz.pl. In most cases they are not worth considering. These are low value extensions which are usually avoided, partly for the reasons described above (there are, however, "spectacular" exceptions where this shortcoming is "lesser evil", like the case of Pekao.com.pl, which is a bit more complex).

The most common exception to this "rule" are national extensions, where the second level is blocked by the registry (until recently, this is the way the UK ccTLD registry worked). In principle, however, the second level of the address should contain the name or brand. But how to create it?

This is where things get complicated. The issue of brand creation goes beyond the subject matter of this text. However, it is worth mentioning a few rules applied by domain investors when looking for valuable addresses for investment purposes. The fact is that nowadays a brand is strongly associated with an Internet domain, and TLD quite frequently constitutes integral part of the company's name.

According to the practical guidelines of the domain naming, a valuable address is the one that:

The last provision concerns letters such as "ą", "ę", "ó”, "ü", "ö", "ä" etc. Of course, they are not forbidden and are not considered as serious malpractice. In general, however, names that do not contain them are more suggestive and easier to "digest", especially for foreign users. However, when you decide on a name with a national character(s), the so-called IDN domain, it is essential that you register a variant of the same name without national characters. For example, when choosing the ąę.pl domain, you also need to get an ae.pl address. Without the latter variant, there is no point in creating a website or developing a brand.

There is one more point to clarify. Domainers prefer dictionary names, especially the so-called generic ones, referring to specific products or services. In the case of domains for brands this option does not seem to be the best.

Well, should the software house that deals with application design be named Applications and operate at the address Applications.com? Not necessarily.

How to register an Internet domain?

Once you know, more or less, what you can register and what you should not, it is worth explaining briefly how it is done. For this you need a registrar. It is a partner company of the registry, which is accredited to register addresses on behalf of the client, i.e. the end user. The registry itself is an institution managing TLDs and usually does not deal directly with subscribers (NASK, .pl domain registry, stopped doing so in 2015). This obligation, or rather a privilege, is transferred for a fee to private entities that meet certain requirements.

Of course, we will not name registrars that are worth setting up an account with to register your domain. Let us just suggest that before choosing a service provider, it is worthwhile to pay attention to several factors, including:

But relax! For a subscriber who intends to keep only the company address or a few variants of it, most of the differences in the offers of registrars will be of marginal importance. Especially the last two criteria are intended for more "ambitious" users, who want to take advantage of a wider spectrum of possibilities offered by the domain market.

However, it is certainly worthwhile to read the opinions on the registration service provider. We also advise you to use more experienced and recognizable companies that care about their reputation. Just in case.

Last but not least, it is also worthwhile to read the details of the hosting offer. It is more convenient to use both services, registration and hosting, with one provider.

One final remark: after registering a domain, it is advisable to enable HTTPS protocol for it. It will make your website not only more secure, but also give it a higher position in Google results. But this is really a topic for another article.

If you are looking for a partner experienced in implementing complex Internet projects, who will support your business not only on the technological level but also with utmost care for your brand image – let's talk!

Przemysław Ćwik

Senior Editor.