This piece is a quick, non-technical introduction to domain names.
When I set out to write this article, I did not expect to write several drafts only to completely throw them away.
As I planned the outline of the article, I began to realise the depth and complexity of the topic. It was a challenge not to turn this into a technical write-up on DNS and nameservers in my attempt to elucidate the jargon and economics surrounding domain names.
So I decided to take on a consulting mindset for writing this article. I began with the question “What is the first thing that a small business owner would ask about his/her domain?”
The first thing that comes to mind for any small business owner is cost. It is only natural—even expected—that, as a (potential) business owner, you want to keep costs low as much as possible.
So let's start with that.
There are two types of costs you need to be concerned with: the acquisition cost and the renewal cost.
The acquisition cost is based on the domain name you want. For available domain names (names not yet claimed by anyone), the cost is very affordable - less than a hundred Sing dollars. You can purchase available domains on-the-spot easily with a credit card.
Then there are domain names that are held for sale. These domain names are kept for no other purpose than profit. This practice is known as cybersquatting.
I have not had to purchase a domain from cybersquatters before but the lowest price you are looking at is typically a four-figure sum. For comparison, a fresh .com domain costs around US$15. This huge price difference is why all my clients and friends have chosen to brainstorm for a fresh domain rather than to shelve out large sums of money to get an existing one. If cost savings is important to you, this is what I would recommend as well.
For a new domain, the renewal price is usually the same as what you paid for. That has changed now—there are tiered price domains that are sold at a higher price than what it costs to renew them.
So if there is a domain name that you very much want, but comes with a higher price tag, take a look again. The difference might be small enough (some might be a few hundred dollars) for you to stomach the one-time acquisition cost if the renewal cost is nominal. (See next section for examples.) Just chalk it off as a capital expenditure. 🤷🤷♂️
The renewal cost of a domain is usually based on its top-level domain (TLD). In simple terms, the TLD is the right most part of a domain name.
You should be familiar with .com - it is the most common TLD. Together with it, .net and .org are among the earliest TLDs introduced to the domain name system (DNS).
There are others, but I will only go through the types that are of relevance to this article in the next section on…
Types of Domain Names
As mentioned in the previous section, .com, .net and .org are among the earliest domains introduced in the DNS. Coincidentally, they are also the cheapest to renew.
Acquiring them is not easy though. Being the earliest TLDs, they are also the most used. I think it is safe to say that any English word you can think of, the .com domain is probably taken.
If you can think of a new word or phrase (like I did for snaffybear.com) then you will be able to get the .com easily without paying a premium.
To combat this shortage of names, ICANN has created other TLDs such as .app, .tech, .club, etc. For these TLDs though, some unclaimed domains already command a premium right out the gate. As mentioned previously these are tiered price domains. Below are a few examples of them:
My friends and customers target primarily the Singapore market. For them, either a .com or .sg/.com.sg TLD works fine. However, I do think that a .sg/.com.sg domain removes the ambiguity altogether for your target audience. In a way, it acts as a filter for traffic coming to your website, and for your audience, an implicit assurance that you are operating in Singapore.
Domains that end with a country specific suffix like .sg have country code top-level domains (ccTLDs). A ccTLD domain is likely more expensive than a generic TLD like .com, the reason being that the ccTLD has to be administered by a country-specific intermediary called a Network Information Centre. For Singapore, this entity is called SGNIC.
To have an idea of the kind of price difference, a typical .com domain costs around S$18 (US$13). A typical .sg/.com.sg costs around S$45.
Domains ending with .com.sg can only be registered by a Singaporean company entity. Domains ending with .sg may be registered by anyone residing in Singapore. To get a Singapore ccTLD, there is an additional verification of identity implemented by the VerifiedID@SG scheme. Singaporeans can access this scheme using their SingPass accounts.
Getting the Domain Name
Most of you reading this would probably leave it to your appointed vendor to register the domain for you. This is totally fine, if your vendor is reliable.
As mentioned in the previous article, it is important that the registrant information is registered as your own.
The following scenario that I am going to describe is a worst-case scenario that I have not had to deal with yet.
Suppose your vendor registered his/her own information for all four pieces of information (billing, tech, admin, and registrant) for the domain (probably for no other reason than for convenience). If your vendor is a solopreneur/freelancer, all formal records would show that he/she is the sole registrant. In the event that he/she is not contactable for whatever reason, imagine how would you recover your domain?
Now, I am not saying that having your name lodged as the registrant will guarantee that you can recover your domain. But not having your name in any of the records will definitely not help you at all.
Therefore, you have to emphasize to your vendor/developer to make sure to enter your information for the registrant. Incidentally, if you are getting a .sg or .com.sg domain, you are required by the VerifiedID@SG scheme to verify your identity using your SingPass account. Note that this is in addition to the registrant info, so be sure that both are in order.
If you are inclined, it is perfectly fine for you to register the domain name by yourself. But be aware that at some point, you will need to map the DNS records for your domain to the server where your website resides. Alternatively, rather than doing it yourself, you may also pass your credentials to your vendor to make those changes for you.
What I recommend though (if you registered the domain name yourself) is to have your vendor change those settings in front of you. On the day when you “go live” (i.e. putting your website online), have the vendor come to your office. Sign in to your registrar's control panel, and let him/her change the DNS settings on the spot. This way, you need not reveal your password and worry about potential security issues.
I will not be describing the DNS settings in this article. It is too complex to describe in a reasonable length. You should leave this part to your vendor/developer to handle.
WWW or not?
The last thing to mention is the www prefix. Unbeknownst to many, the www prefix, known as a subdomain, is an optional part of the domain name that is determined by your DNS settings.
From what I understand, this prefix also has an impact on your search rankings. Depending on configurations, it is possible to have your website served on both the www and naked domain (i.e. without the www). Google seems to frown upon this though - it considers them to be duplicate content. How it affects your website's ranking in the search results, I'm not exactly sure. All I know is that Google recommends not having the same content at different URLs. The naked domain and the www subdomain are considered different URLs.
My recommendation is that you ask your developer to redirect traffic from one to the other. It is usually a matter of preference whether to serve your website on the naked domain or the subdomain. My stance is that having a www subdomain makes it absolutely clear that what you are referring to is a website. This is all the more important if your chosen TLD is not a .com (e.g. www.example.app, www.example.tech, etc.)
Note that I am recommending the www prefix for your website, not your email address. It is absolutely unnecessary to have the prefix for your email address. In fact it is cumbersome to include the prefix for your email address. (Compare firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com)
This article has gone on long enough already. If the opportunity arises, I will discuss domain transfer and other topics in another article.
(Also posted on [Medium] and [LinkedIn].)