So you’ve decided that you want to do business online. The very first thing you need to do is get and register a domain name so your new website will have an Internet address.
Under the Domain Name System (DNS), domain names are composed of four elements; a server prefix, a domain name, a domain suffix (or extension), and a country code (the only optional element). For instance, www.susanward.com is an example of a domain name where “www” is the server prefix, “susanward” is the domain name and “com” is the domain suffix.
“Dot-com” is an example of a Top Level Domain. There are both generic top-level domains (gTLDs) and country-code top-level domains (ccTLDs). Currently, there are 239 country code top level domains. Canada’s ccTLD is dot-ca.
Important Points About Domain Names for Businesses
1. You need to register a domain name of your own.
Many ISPs (Internet Service Providers) and web hosts offer free or cut-rate domain services that essentially make your domain name an extension of theirs. For instance, if my ISP is the fictitious “youneedweserve”, my resulting domain name could be www.youneedweserve/susanward/index.html.
As a business, you need to register your own domain name. An extension name such as the one in my example makes you look like an amateur and will lose you business.
Also, with an extension domain name, every time you change your ISP or host, you will have to redo all your business cards and promotion materials.
2. Domain names matter.
Just as when you originally named your business, names on the ‘Net matter. (For more on how to create a winning business name, see 5 Rules for Choosing a Business Name.) You need a domain name that not only identifies your business but is easy to remember, as so many people type names or partial names into search engines to find the site they’re looking for.
Remember my example of www.susanward.com? It’s actually a poor choice unless I’m famous or have established a brand or product under that name.
For instance, if I’m a well-known designer of “Susan Ward” clothing, then this domain name is fine. But if my online business consists of selling gift baskets and I’m not well-known, I would do better to choose a domain name such as www.giftbaskets.com.
The problem, of course, is that so many of the best or most obvious names are taken. I may need to use a name such as www.susanward.giftbaskets.com for my new online business. Or even something such as www.giftbasketsbysusan.com.
You may need to think deeply and explore many different possibilities to come up with a good domain name unless you are already running an established company off-line and are just giving your established business an online home. (In that case, the name of your established company is your best choice of domain name for your online business – if it’s not already taken.)
3. Dot-com or dot-ca?
Should you register a generic top-level domain (gTLD) or a country code top-level domain (ccTLD) for your online business?
In my opinion, that depends on the market for your product or service.
If you are selling strictly to Canadians, or if being known as Canadian is an important feature of your product or service, then you are better off with a dot-ca domain.
However, if you are marketing a product or service internationally, you may wish to register your online business as a dot-com (or a dot-biz or whatever other generic Top Level Domain is appropriate). Many people who remember a business’s name try to access the business's site on the Web by typing a name directly into their browser, and dot.com is most people’s first “guess” as to what a domain name might be.
4. Protecting your domain name
You might want to register the dot-com and dot-ca versions of your domain name, as well as any other alternatives (such as dot-biz) to protect your domain name. Otherwise, someone could register and use one of them, negatively affecting your online business.
For example, if I register www.susanward.com and someone else is using www.susanward.ca, traffic to (and sales from) my website could suffer. Registering alternative versions of your domain name doesn’t mean that you have to have two or more websites; registering a domain name just prevents anyone else from using it.
5. How to register a domain name
Once you have decided what domain name you want (and several other possibilities, in case the domain name is taken), you need to register your domain name with an accredited registrar.
There are thousands of accredited registrars to choose from and costs for registering a domain name vary. I advise you to take service into account and ask others for their recommendations rather than choosing a registrar based solely on price.
CIRA, the Canadian Internet Registration Authority, maintains a List of Accredited Registrars. If you wish to register a dot.ca domain name, you must do it through one of these accredited registrars. You may also register generic top-level domain names through many of these Canada-based registrars.
You can also use the Accredited Registrar Directory on the InterNIC site to find a registrar for either type of top level domain.
Once you’ve chosen one and gone to the registrar’s website, look for the “search domain availability” feature. Sometimes it’s called something else, but it’s usually prominently displayed on the site’s homepage. Entering the domain name you would like to register will tell you whether or not that domain name is available.
Once you’ve found a domain name that’s available, it’s just a matter of following the procedure outlined on the registrar’s website to register the domain name.
Note that you have the choice of registering the domain name for one year or for periods up to five years. Registering the domain name for a longer period is often a better deal.
Now that you’ve registered a domain name, you have a home for your online business on the Web. To actually turn it into a functioning website, though, you need to find a web host for your website, the next step in starting an online business.