Why register a domain name?
A domain name makes your website unique. It gives it a name of it's own. A domain name looks good on your business card. A good domain name spells out "I'm a serious website" and "I'm a serious business".
A domain name shows that you're serious about the website, that it really means something to you. Sure, with the low price of domain names today it's no longer such a marvelous thing to have a domain name for you, for your business and for your cat and dog too.
That's why by using a subdomain or a directory from your host you're doing yourself a big disservice. It doesn't matter if your website is the best, provides the most innovative and up-to-date information or if your business is among the best in its field. If your website doesn't have a domain name of its own, its credibility instantly decreases and so do its chances to do its job successfully. Why? Because web surfers are smarter these days. They know more about the Internet and they know that websites with a domain name of their own are often more credible.
Another benefit of having a domain name for your website is that no matter which company hosts it, the URL of the website is the same (e.g. www.yourdomain.com). The links to your website will always work because the address of your website doesn't change. Also, a URL like "http://www.yourdomain.com" is much easier to remember than "http://www.hostdomain.com/yoursite"" or "http://yourssubdomain.hostdomain.com".
What makes a good domain name?
A good domain name is easy to remember. That generally means it must be short - one or two words - with as few characters as possible - generally under 12 characters. It should also be easy to spell.
A good domain name is catchy. It can be funny, it can be smart, it can be weird, but it can just as well be your company's name, which has the benefit of making the domain name easier to associate with your company. That can help when it comes to branding.
A good domain name is descriptive. It tells something about your business. It creates interest. It demands attention. It describes and identifies your business.
Good domain names are easy to spell and pronounce. They are joyful, rhythmic, melodic. That makes them easy to memorize and makes them stand out.
How many domains for a single business?
Once you made up a list of good domain names that would suit your website nicely you have two options: register only one of them (the best) or register as many as you can afford.
Huh? Register more that a single domain? Well... yeah! There are reasons for doing so. For example you might want to register .com but also .net and .org versions of your best domain name idea so that none of your competitors get them. For the same reason you should register the other valuable domain names that you have on your list.
A business should register as many good domain names as it can afford. Good domain names are getting harder and harder to find, so getting them now ensures that you'll have them and not your competitors.
You don't have to use all of the domains that you register. In fact, usually it's good to use just one domain. You register the rest just to make it harder for your direct competitors to find a good domain name.
Domain names - extensions
The most common domain name extensions are the following top level domains (TLDs): .com, .net and .org. If your company deals worldwide, a .com domain is a good choice.
If your company provides internet connectivity, web hosting or other Internet related services, a .net domain can be good. If your organization is non-profit or provides a valuable free service you could go for a .org domain.
However, if you target only customers/visitors from a certain country or region, you might want to go for a country specific extension like .ca for Canada or .au for Australia etc.
Deleteddomains.com is a website where you can see domains that were recently deleted or recently registered. Various statistics about domain names are also available along with the day's registrations. Some may also find useful the so called "power search" that they feature.
Many flock to register domains that were not re-registered by their owners because usually some work has been put into making that domain (website) popular. Some were even included in the DMOZ and Yahoo directories, which makes them rather valuable. Some of those domain names may even have intrinsic value. One word domain names are generally very valuable with free market values ranging from a few hundreds to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Search engines and domain names - hyphenated domains
Hyphenated domains became very popular after people noticed that the search engines were taking keywords from the domain (and the URL in general) into account.
Search engines take into account only the keywords that are separated. If a domain looks like keyword1keyword2keyword3.com the keywords will not be noticed by the search engine because it will think it's a single word. If the domain name is keyword1-keyword2-keyword3.com, each keyword is noticed by the search engine.
Keyword rich hyphenated domain names became quite popular, but their glory days are over now. The search engines took note of the fact that people started to abuse this feature of their algorithm. That's why they no longer put so much weight on keywords found in the domain name. The main benefit of using keyword rich hyphenated domains is reduced nowadays.
Generally though, the keywords in the hyphenated domain still have some (very light) weight. On the down side, hyphenated domains are hard to spell: "keyword1 dash keyword2 dash keyword3" is not as easy to tell to someone as "keyword1 keyword2 keyword3" is.
Also, domains containing dashes look slightly less professional than the ones without dashes. How many big, successful companies have hyphens in their website's domains?
Also, for the average user, typing the hyphenated version of the domain is harder than typing the un-hyphenated domain.
Using dashes in the domain is not a very wise decision and it never was actually. Unless you have other serious reasons for using a dash, such as your company name having a dash in it, I strongly believe that *not* using hyphens in domain names is the best choice. You register the domain to be used by people, not to serve other means. The domain must be optimized for people, not for search engines!
Register through the host?
It's a common thing for hosts to also offer domain registration services. It's a great opportunity for them to upsale their clients who don't have a domain name yet.
Unfortunately some unscrupulous hosts register the domain under their name, which makes them the owners of the domain for which you pay. When you decide for some reason that you want to change your host you'll be surprised to find out that you're stuck with your current host because they own your domain name.
Sometimes a host will register the domain under its name in good faith, doing so because many of their customers complained about privacy issues (whois information is publicly available). So they register the domains under their name by default, but they will change the information if the customer so requires.
Domain hijacking was a lot more common sometime ago than it is now, but it does happen even today. Generally I recommend using a specialized and widely known registrar rather than your host for domain registering services. Sure, most hosts would not agree with me, but from a customer's point of view, I think it's the best decision.
Does a higher price guarantee quality?
Unlike in most other businesses, the "you get what you pay for" saying is not that true in the domain registration business. A strange but true fact! The really expensive domain registrars don't usually provide higher quality services. In fact they are often reported to be worse than the cheaper ones. How come? Well, there are other reasons for the higher prices.
For example, the registrars who were among the first to offer such services online are more expensive than those who are newer on the market. The reason is that they get lots of customers even at those high prices simply because they're widely known.
Another reason is that they already have a significant number of domains registered through their service. Because a domain registration has to be renewed at specific periods of time and because people tend to renew with the same company through which they initially registered their domains, they'll get a significant number of renewals even at those relatively high prices.
If we do a little bit of math we'll see how things work. If a company gets about $2 profit out of a domain registered for $7, then, if it would register it for $20 it would then have about $15 profit. A company that is already using the $20 price would have to register more than 7 times the current number of domains in order to maintain the current total profit.
Any marketer would tell you that isn't achievable by simply lowering the price at $7. It's a complicated process that includes positioning and salesmanship.
Also, a company that is currently "on the expensive side" would have a tough job to reposition itself as a "budget" registrar. Besides, all marketers know that the fight over price shouldn't be the main focus. At anytime some other company could go cheaper than you. It's the image that you're selling, it's special technology, value added services, other things that you can use to more than compensate for the higher prices.
This is why once a company positions itself as expensive or higher class, it rarely changes it's image to go for the "cheapest on the market" kind of image. Extremes are niches; expensive is a profitable niche.
The real trouble is that these expensive, often older registrars, are usually worse than the cheaper, newer ones. They are also slower to change, sometimes simply because the inertia is bigger in larger companies.
An expensive registrar is not necessarily a better registrar. To find a good registrar you have to find out which ones have a good reputation, which are the ones that treat their customers fairly. The price should always be the second criterion, not the first.
I can't say that I've done a very serious research on domain name registrars, but I've heard good things about Namecheap and www.GoDaddy.com . I've also heard the not-so-good-things about Godaddy, but my general impression based on what I've read and have experienced first hand is that they're OK for the average end user. You can use the search engines or the various hosting/domain names forums out there to find out what other people think about certain registrars.
A domain name is a must for any serious website. At today's prices you have no excuse. Before registering though, you need to put serious thought into choosing the right domain name. Good domain names are short and easy to remember. Keep in mind that people will see and use that domain name. Domains are there for the people, not for something else.