To establish an online presence, one of your first steps is to register a domain name. This is akin to your digital ‘street address,’ and represents the primary way for people to identify your business or project online.
There are three main steps to take. You’re going to need to choose a domain registrar, find an available domain, and consider ways to protect your privacy.
In this article, we’ll walk you through the process of registering a domain name step by step. If you’re on a budget, we’ll then discuss ways in which you can get a free domain name. Let’s get to it!
How to register a domain name (in 4 steps)
1. Choose your domain name registrar
For the uninitiated, registrars are companies that manage the reservation of domain names. They are responsible for leasing the name to you for an agreed upon period and price. You can think of them in a similar way to hosting companies but solely for domain names, although there is some crossover we’ll discuss later.
To choose one, first look at the company’s pricing structure. Most offer a year’s domain registration for a certain price and discounts over a longer period. They may also offer a cheaper price for the first year and raise their rates thereafter. Typically, you should expect to pay ~$10 per year for a .com domain, while other domain extensions vary in price.
In addition, consider how easy it is to transfer your domain name to another registrar, what add-on services are available, and the expiration policy.
Some companies offer a grace period on your domain if you forget to renew or there’s a glitch. For example, Namecheap has a 27-day grace period on .com domains, which means you won’t lose your domain name right away just because you forgot to renew:
For the purposes of this guide, we’re recommending Namecheap for its efficiency and customer service. Furthermore, it’s one of the easiest to use domain name registrars available and it offers competitive prices.
2. Find an available domain
Once you’ve decided on a registrar, you’ll want to brainstorm some name ideas. Your domain name will be used in your website’s URL as an identifying marker, so it needs to be memorable and distinctive. It can be practically anything as long as it is not already taken, although simpler names tend to be more memorable.
Choosing a domain name can be a challenge, given that it’s a first impression as well as a branding opportunity. A shorter name may be more memorable, but you can also consider incorporating keywords to improve your search engine optimization (SEO).
To use it, just type in a few words that relate to your desired domain name and the tool will spit back a huge list of creative suggestions.
Best of all, it only shows you results that are currently available, and not ones already registered by others.
We’ve briefly mentioned it already, but your TLD can also become key to your choice of domain. This is the ending to your website, such as .com, .biz, .org, .io, and hundreds more.
Many people choose .com because it’s the most popular. However, you may be more likely to find the exact domain name you’re looking for using one of the other options.
This also provides an opportunity to create ‘clever’ domain names, such as National Public Radio (NPR) leveraging the TLD for Puerto Rico in their n.pr domain.
3. Protect your personal information from becoming public knowledge
When you register a domain name, your owner information is added to the public registry. This means anyone will be able to see your name, address, phone number, and email address. This can be a problem for your privacy – at best you’ll be targeted with spam, and at worse you could be a victim of identity theft.
To hide this information, you’ll need some form of ‘domain ID’ protection. These add-ons essentially mask your information to the outside world and use placeholders instead. While mail is still forwarded to your inbox, there’s a protective layer between you and the sender.
If you use Namecheap, you’ll get free access to WhoisGuard included with your purchase. WhoisGuard will mask your personal information to ensure it’s not publicly available.
4. Renew your registration on time
At this point, you’ll have a domain name registered and ready to go. However, your registration is only valid for the time period that you selected, which is usually one year by default. After that year expires, you’ll need to renew your domain name to continue using it.
Some registrars hold onto your domain name for a period of time before auctioning it off. As we mentioned, NameCheap offers nearly a month grace period to renew. Most domain registrars will notify you by email at the 30- and 7-day mark before expiration, and you should think carefully before letting a renewal period lapse. Domains can be difficult (or impossible) to reclaim once they’ve expired.
The best way to keep on top of this is to set up automatic renewals. In fact, you’ll often find that it’s set by default. In our opinion, you probably don’t want to auto-renew all of your domains, but for the most important and permanent, letting your registrar handle renewals is going to save you a potential headache down the line.
How to get a domain name for free
Of course, the previous steps have all assumed you’re willing to pay to purchase and maintain your domain name. However, you can also legitimately register a domain for free if you look in the right places.
One of the easiest ways is to sign up for a hosting plan that offers a free domain name, like Bluehost. If you want to make a website, you’ll need to pay for hosting anyway, so why not get a free domain name as part of the process?
Some registrars also offer some domain extensions for free for a set period to entice people to buy them. Common free domain extensions are:
Freenom is a good place to start for free domain names using those extensions.
While you’re unlikely to get a free domain longer than a year, this could be enough for small projects. You can always purchase your domain name once your website grows.
Another way to get a free domain name is to choose a hosted platform to build your website, such as Shopify, Wix, Squarespace, or WordPress.com. These companies offer full-featured packages for building a website – even .com domain names in some cases – but with less overall control. For instance, you may need to agree to host ads on your site.
You have a domain name – now what?
If you’re ready to move on to that next step, we have plenty of articles to help you out:
- How to make a website with WordPress 👈
- How to create a blog with WordPress 👈
- The best website builder tools (if you prefer an alternative to WordPress) 🏗️
If you need hosting for your website, we’ve also collected some of your best options:
When you need to register a domain name, there’s more to it than just cracking open your wallet. Protecting your personal information and choosing a suitable registrar are just as important as simply finding a domain name that fits.
Once you’ve completed the four steps we’ve outlined above, you’re ready to start building your website. Let’s recap them quickly:
- Choose your domain registrar – Namecheap is a great option.
- Find an available domain using Domain Wheel.
- Sign up for Domain ID protection, usually through your registrar.
- Set up auto-renewals to make sure your domain remains yours.
Do you have any questions about how to register a domain name? Ask away in the comments section below!