Whether you’re starting a blog, showcasing your portfolio online, or opening an online store, your domain acts as the primary reference point for users looking to find your website, making it inseparable from your brand.
Registering a domain name doesn’t take very long, but that doesn’t mean you should rush through it. Domain names are hard to change once you’ve launched. Doing so can negatively impact your search engine rankings and make it harder for users to find your website.
That’s why it’s crucial to consider your domain name carefully, pick one with long-term potential, and make sure that you’ve registered it correctly.
If you’re looking to register a domain name for your website, here’s how to get started.
How to Register a Domain Name in 4 Steps
- 1: Choose a domain name
- 2: Make sure your domain is available in the domain name system (DNS)
- 3: Choose a domain name registrar
- 4: Purchase and register your domain name
- Registering a domain name with Shopify
- Registering a domain name with Google Domains
- Registering a domain name with GoDaddy
- Registering a domain name with IONOS
- Renew your domain name registration at the end of your term
- How do I register a domain name for free?
- How to register a domain name FAQ
1. Choose a domain name
If you don’t already have a name for your brand, it’s a good idea to merge the domain selection process with the process of coming up with a brand name. Your domain name will be inseparable from your brand, meaning they’ll both be more memorable if they’re alike.
If your company already has a name, your first-choice domain is likely YourBrand.com, but if that’s taken, you have a couple options for making sure it’s easy for users to associate your brand with your domain name:
- Use a suffix. Add a word to the end of your domain name to differentiate it. You could add the name of your primary product (yourbrandshoes.com), your location (yourbrandcanada.com), or something all-encompassing (yourbrandonline.com, yourbrandstore.com).
- Use a prefix. Add an action-oriented verb at the start of your domain that draws attention to your product (getyourbrand.com, wearyourbrand.com, eatyourbrand.com).
- Use a different domain name extension. A domain name extension, also referred to as a top-level domain (TLD), is the suffix that appears at the end of your domain. The most commonly used domain extension is .com, but there are also region-specific domain extensions (such as .ca, .us, or .eu) and a growing number of specialty domain extensions (such as .shop or .store). Keep in mind that specialty domain extensions tend to be more expensive.
2. Make sure your domain is available in the domain name system (DNS)
When users enter a URL in their browser, the browser sends a request to a global network of servers that are able to locate your website using something called the domain name system (DNS).
The DNS is a universally recognized, decentralized system for naming websites. This is what allows computers, phones, and any other device that can access the internet to find the webpage a user is looking for.
Checking domain availability only takes a couple of seconds, and nearly every registrar and hosting service has a free domain name search tool that allows you to do this. Here are a few tools for quickly checking the availability of a domain:
Remember that domain names are universal, so if a domain name is unavailable from one provider, it’s unavailable from all of them. What’s great about these tools is that they’ll often suggest similar domains that are available if yours isn’t.
If your domain name is unavailable, you might get a message back about brokering the domain. This means that the domain name is taken, but the registrar offers a service wherein they will negotiate with the domain owner on your behalf to try and get them to sell their domain name.
Although snagging your first-choice domain name might sound enticing, it’s important to understand the risks associated with attempting to broker a domain name.
Broker service fees are paid in addition to domain registration fees, even if the current domain owner is unwilling to sell the domain. The process can be time-consuming and delay the launch of your store. And even if the current owner does make an offer, it’s likely to be far more expensive than just purchasing an available domain.
Learn more: Domain Name Services: Which Hosting Provider Should You Trust?
3. Choose a domain name registrar
A registrar is a company that reserves and registers domain names on your behalf. When you purchase a domain name, either directly from a registrar or through a web-hosting service, it’s registered to the DNS for you.
Though there are more than a thousand accredited registrars, it’s best to stick with more well-known providers. Using a common provider will make it easier to find info on managing your domain and to troubleshoot issues you might have with syncing your domain to other services.
Domains can be purchased from a number of different types of businesses. You might choose to purchase one from a website-building platform (like Shopify, Squarespace, or WordPress), a web-hosting service (like HostGator or BlueHost), or directly from a domain registrar (like GoDaddy, NameCheap, or Google Domains).
How much does a domain name cost?
Domain names aren’t sold for a flat-rate. Instead, they’re paid for on a recurring basis (usually annually). When considering the costs of your domain, be mindful of the difference between the starting price and the renewal price.
Domain providers often offer discounted rates on domains for the first year or two, especially if the domain is purchased in addition to other services. The starting price is usually lower than the renewal price, so when budgeting for the long term, make sure you factor in the price of renewing your domain down the road.
On top of this, your domain extension can alter the cost of the domain. Specialty domain extensions like .store are usually more expensive than available .com domains.
While the price of domains is important, there are a lot of other factors to consider as well. If you’re looking for the domain provider that’s right for you, here’s a couple of questions to ask yourself:
- How easy will it be to point my domain to my website? The advantage of purchasing a domain from a web-building platform is that set-up tends to be fast and easy, since you’re only dealing with one company directly. Using services from different companies adds additional steps and tends to be more technical or confusing.
- Will I need domain privacy protection? When you register a domain, your contact info becomes publicly available in the global ICANN registry. Privacy protection is a feature that hides this information. Some providers (like Shopify), provide domain privacy protection for free on all domains, but some providers offer this feature at an additional cost.
- Which domain extension(s) do I want to use? A domain extension is the part of the domain that comes at the end. All domain providers offer .com domains, but if you’re looking for a region-specific domain extension (such as .ca, .eu, or .au), or a speciality domain (.shop, .store, etc.), you’ll want to make sure you choose a provider that provides them.
- Do I need any other services? Domain registrars usually offer additional services, like ecommerce hosting, website building features, and email hosting. Occasionally, domains are offered at what seems like a low rate, but only in addition to the purchase of other services.
To make it easier to decide, here’s a quick breakdown of major domain providers, their starting price points, and cost of WHOIS privacy protection:
- First-year price: Starting at $14
- Renewal price: $14/year
- WHOIS privacy protection: Free
- First-year price: Starting at $10
- Renewal price: $10/year
- WHOIS privacy protection: Free
- First-year price: Starting at $0.99
- Renewal price: $18.99/year
- WHOIS privacy protection: $9.99/year
- First-year price: Starting at $1
- Renewal price: $15/year
- WHOIS privacy protection: Free
- First-year price: Starting at $12.99
- Renewal price: $12.99/year
- WHOIS privacy protection: $11.88/year
- First-year price: Starting at $9.99
- Renewal price: $9.99/year
- WHOIS privacy protection: $8.99/year
- First-year price: Starting at $8.98
- Renewal price: $13.98/year
- WHOIS privacy protection: Free
- First-year price: Starting at $12.95
- Renewal price: $17.99/year
- WHOIS privacy protection: $14.95/year
4. Purchase and register your domain name
Once you’ve decided on a registrar and a good domain name, you’re ready to proceed with purchasing your domain name. Once you’ve purchased your domain, your provider will reserve and register it on your behalf.
Registering a domain name with Shopify
If you’re building an online store, the quickest and easiest way to add and register a domain is by purchasing it directly through Shopify. Setup is automatic, and having a Shopify domain allows you to edit your domain settings, set up subdomains, and create forwarding email addresses all in the same place you manage your ecommerce store.
To register a domain with Shopify, start by logging into your Shopify store and proceeding with these steps:
- From your Shopify admin, go to Settings > Domains.
- Click Buy new domain and enter the domain name you wish to purchase. As you enter your domain, you’ll see an auto-generated list of available extensions. Click the Buy button next to the domain you’d like to register.
- If you haven’t added a payment method to your store, you’ll be asked to do so now. Once you’ve added your payment method, you’ll be brought to the summary page, where you can edit your personal information, indicate whether you want the domain auto-renewed each year, and review the ICANN policy and the Domain Registration Agreement.
- Once you finish reviewing the information, click Buy domain.
- After you complete the purchase, a verification email will be sent to the email address associated with your Shopify store. Click the link in the email to verify your information and complete your domain registration.
After you verify your domain, registration is complete. Note that it can take up to 48 hours before the domain is working properly. Once you’ve completed setting up your domain, you’ll be able to edit your domain settings, set up subdomains, and create forwarding email addresses in the Settings > Domains section of your Shopify admin.
Registering a domain name with Google Domains
Google Domains is one of the most popular domain registrars. Google Domains is owned and operated by Google, and as such, has the benefit of being able to easily sync with other Google services.
For example, if you wanted to create custom email addresses with your domain name (info@YourDomain.com, for example), Google Domains has built-in integrations with Gmail and Google Workspace that make setup more seamless.
To register your domain with Google, start by going to the Google Domains registration page.
- Click the Find the Perfect One button and enter your domain to check its availability.
- Click the Add to Cart icon next to the domain you wish to purchase and register. If you’d like to purchase additional domains, you can select the Add to Cart icon next to them as well.
- Once you have added all your selected domains, click the Go to cart option that pops up at the bottom of your screen, or select the cart icon in the top right corner.
- On the next screen, indicate if you’d like Privacy Protection and whether you’d like the domain to renew automatically after the first year. Click Checkout at the bottom of your cart when you’re finished.
- One the next screen, enter the contact information you’d like associated with your domain and click Save and Continue.
- On the next screen, edit your payment information and select Buy.
After you’ve received confirmation that your purchase was successful, your domain has been reserved and registered with Google Domains.
Registering a domain name with GoDaddy
GoDaddy is one of the oldest and best known domain providers, so it’s very easy to find information on integrating your domain with all kinds of third-party services. If you’re looking to register your domain with GoDaddy, here are the steps you’ll need to take:
- Start by going to GoDaddy.com and entering your domain into the field and clicking Search Domain.
- If your domain is available, click the Get it button at the top of the page. You can also add more domains from the suggestions below by clicking the add to cart icon next to them.
- Once you’ve selected the domains you want to register, click Continue to Cart.
- One the next page, you’ll be offered a number of services GoDaddy provides in addition to its domains. These services include email hosting and website building. If you’re already using a website-building service, like Shopify or Squarespace, you’ll want to opt out of this service.
- Once you’ve selected the services you’d like to add to your purchase, click Continue to Cart.
- On the next page, you’ll see a break down of your selected services and their charges. You can remove items by selecting the garbage can icon. You’ll also be able to select the payment term. Typically, domains are paid yearly, but GoDaddy allows you to select a term of up to 10 years for .com domains. If everything looks correct, select the I’m Ready to Pay button.
- Next, you’ll be prompted to create a GoDaddy account or log in to an existing one. When you do this, you’ll be asked to provide billing and payment information. Enter your information and proceed to the Complete Purchase page.
- Review your information and click Complete Purchase if everything is correct.
Once you’ve completed your purchase, your domain will be successfully registered with GoDaddy.
Registering a domain name with IONOS
Headquartered in Germany, Ionos is one of the oldest players in the information technology industry, having been around since 1988. Ionos offers domain registration along with website hosting plans.
To register your domain with IONOS, go to the IONOS homepage:
- Enter your domain name in the field at the top and select Check.
- If the domain is available, click Add to Cart next to the domain. You can also add additional suggested domains by clicking Add to Cart next to them.
- One the next page, IONOS offers a number of services in addition to its domains, such as email hosting and website building. If you just want to purchase the domain without any additional services, select Continue with Domain Only.
- On the cart page, review your details and select Continue.
- On the next page, you’ll be prompted to create an account with IONOS or log in to an existing account. After doing this, select Continue to proceed to the payment page.
- Add your billing and payment information and click Continue.
- Review the details of your order and select Complete.
After completing your order, your domain registration is complete.
Renew your domain name registration at the end of your term
When you purchase a domain, you’re purchasing it for a fixed length of time, usually one year. While some domain providers offer longer terms (GoDaddy, for example, offers up to 10-year terms for .com domains), domain registration is never permanent.
In order to hold on to your registered domain, you’ll want to make sure you renew registration when your term is complete. Nearly all domain providers offer an automatic renewal, so it’s generally a good idea to have this option selected when you purchase.
Keep in mind that if your payment information changes, you’ll need to update your settings with your domain provider so they’re able to charge for automatic renewal.
Most domain providers will notify you when it's time to renew, whether you have automatic renewal enabled or not, but it’s important to renew your domain. If you don’t renew your domain, it will no longer point to your website and may be purchased by someone else. If you don’t want to lose your domain, make sure you renew it.
How do I register a domain name for free?
Domain name registration usually comes with a charge, but there are some companies that offer free domain names with the purchase of other services. These domains typically come with a lot of customization restrictions and limited features.
Free domains from website builders
Website builders typically offer a free domain name when you sign up to their services, however the website domain usually includes their brand name in the URL and, unlike paid domains, they are not transferable to other service providers.
For example, when you start a Shopify store, you’ll be provided a free .myshopify.com domain that can be used as your store’s primary domain. WordPress, Squarespace, Wix, and Weebly offer free domains that contain their own business name as well.
These default domains provide the same basic function as a custom domain, but come with a lot of downsides; they’re harder for users to remember, they look less professional, and they don’t come with features like email forwarding or the option to create subdomains.
You also won’t be able to use these domains outside the platform they’re affiliated with. That means that even if you wanted to use a third-party service provider to add features like email hosting, you wouldn’t be able to.
Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to purchase a custom domain. Domain registration isn’t too expensive, and the charge is worth it for the advantage of being able to customize, transfer, and manage your own domain.
Free domains from hosting services
Hosting providers like BlueHost and GoDaddy offer a year of free domain registration with the purchase of their other hosting services. If you’re looking to use one of these hosting services to build your website, then it’s definitely a good idea to take advantage of this option.
That being said, if you’re planning on using a website builder like Shopify, the cost of unneeded hosting services will be more expensive than purchasing a custom domain. On top of this, domain registration is only free for the first year. Renewing the domain in the years following will still come with the same costs.
Register your domain name to give your website the uniqueness it deserves
While registering your domain name may be a short-term task, it’s a long-term commitment. Whatever you’re building a website for, your domain will act as the anchor of your online presence and stick with you for years to come.
It can help your SEO, act as a pathway for users to learn more about your brand, and make it easier for customers to spread the word about your products.
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How to register a domain name FAQ
How do I register my own domain name?
To register your own domain name, you’ll want to select a domain provider and proceed with purchasing your domain from that provider. Check out the steps above for information on how to register with the most common providers.
Remember that domain registration is temporary; if you want to keep your domain registered, you’ll need to renew it at the end of your registration term.
Are domains free?
Some companies offer a free domain in addition to the purchase of other services. These domains typically come with a lot of customization restrictions and limited features, and commonly include the company’s brand name in the URL.
Other companies may offer a free year of domain registration with the purchase of hosting services, but these domains will still need to be paid for when renewing the domain registration.
Do domains need to be registered?
Domains need to be registered, but this is done by your domain provider when you purchase your domain. You will not need to personally register the domain, as long as you’ve paid and provided a registrar with all of your registration information.
How much does it cost to register a domain name per year?
Yearly charges can differ depending on the provider and the domain extension. Regional and specialty domains tend to be more expensive than .com domains. For a full breakdown of costs with major providers, check out the Choose a domain registrar section above.