If you’ve ever wanted to know how to buy a domain name, our comprehensive guide will answer all your questions…
The IP Address
It’s easy to forget that website domain names are an artificial device, created to simplify the process of remembering and entering web addresses. Every website has a unique numerical address, used by computers and other devices to identify it. This IP address is easily broken down into binary code, a language that computers can understand.
However, IP addresses are unintuitive and hard to remember. If you enter 188.8.131.52 into your web browser’s address bar, it will load the UK2 homepage. Entering www.uk2.net into your address bar will also bring you to our homepage, but it’s far easier to remember than the numerical alternative. Domain names like ours were developed so websites could have memorable or relevant addresses. Few companies launch a website without their name appearing somewhere in the address, since customers wouldn’t be able to find them as easily.
The Domain Name
Entering a domain name involves your web browser carrying out a degree of translation. This means domain names have to be linked to the IP address of the related site. An entire industry has been created around buying and choosing domain names, which may be previously unclaimed, expired or already under third-party ownership. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (or ICANN) was founded in 1998 to govern what had hitherto been an unregulated and unethical marketplace, with official registries around the world maintaining ownership details and registrars organising sales on clients’ behalf.
Over The Top: the New Top Level Domains
One of ICANN’s earliest priorities involved launching new generic top level domains, also known as gTLDs. This was done to alleviate pressure on the over-subscribed .com domain, and to prevent people having to buy expired domains to secure the address they wanted. Since 1998, the number of gTLDs has expanded from around 200 to over 1,500. This year will see .web and .brand being launched, following 2016’s high-profile unveiling of .store and .shop.
ICANN has also adopted responsibility for country code top level domains, (ccTLDs). The .uk suffix is often preceded by a second level domain like .co or .gov, which respectively denote companies and Government departments. Generic and country code TLDs are by far the most common form of suffixes, despite other domain name categories such as sponsored or infrastructure TLDs. Ongoing expansion has resulted in the domain marketplace combining plentiful choice with strict regulations.
How to Buy a Domain Name
In this feature, we consider how to buy a domain name. We look at the steps required to buy expired domains or taken domain names, including the registrant transfer process used to grant ownership to a site’s new owner. We also have practical advice and recommendations on securing your preferred domain name, regardless of any obstacles that may arise…
Buying and choosing domain names.
There’s a great deal to consider when establishing a new business venture, and the availability of relevant domain names should be on any entrepreneur or company director’s priorities list. Websites act as digital shop windows, sometimes providing a company’s only visible presence to the outside world. Maximising their profile is essential to any business’s long-term viability. From social media accounts to email addresses, customers expect to see a web address corresponding to the company’s name. If the domain relates to an unrelated company, a significant percentage of web traffic could mistakenly end up on the wrong website.
Knowing how to buy a domain name begins with determining whether your preferred domain name is available. There are plenty of websites that will perform a comprehensive search of registered web domains, though few will deliver results as quickly as UK2. The importance of this research is reflected in the presence of an address search box on our homepage, where prospective website addresses can be entered. Within seconds, we will list any available top level domains currently available, as well as indicating those already claimed.
Should I choose a classic TLD?
If you’re an experienced plumber, for example, Plumbing Wizard might be a good name for your business. That would naturally suggest plumbingwizard as an appropriate web address. The .com and co.uk. TLDs of plumbingwizard have already been acquired, but numerous suffixes remain available, including .site, .me and .org. However, people often assume websites in the UK will end in.com or co.uk, and they might type these top level domains instinctively.
If you choose an unusual or niche TLD like .biz or .site, website traffic could end up on the pages of established competitors with classic TLDs. In our hypothetical plumbing scenario, the co.uk and .com sites have both been registered, but neither is presently being used. As a result, the damage wouldn’t be too great if someone ended up on these URLs by accident. If a rival plumber decided to build a site on the parked co.uk platform, it’s easy to see how they might end up capitalising on your own efforts to generate traffic. This is why choosing a domain with a co.uk or .com domain is always preferable, and it’s why these TLDs command such a premium over less popular domains.
Nevertheless, there are advantages to selecting a niche top level domain. For one thing, they’re typically much cheaper. There will be far greater availability, since most gTLDs were launched many years after co.uk and .com hoovered up much of the market. Some TLDs are industry specific, such as .catering or .photography, while others relate to a particular service like .sales and .rental.
A growing trend has seen gTLDs or ccTLDs being used to spell out the end of a word, phrase or brand name. Examples include best.buy or rad.io. Indeed, the former British Indian Ocean Territory ccTLD of .io has now been reclassified by ICANN as a generic TLD. This means it can be used by IT and tech companies who are more familiar with IO as an abbreviation of input and output, rather than as the ccTLD of a British colony.
Choose a Customised Email Address to Match Your Domain
If your chosen address and TLD are available, the process of buying a domain name is relatively straightforward – through UK2, at least! Once you’ve added a domain (or domains) to your shopping cart, we will invite you to add an email address that matches your domain. That’s a very sensible step for the reasons below:
(a) Matching website and email addresses reduce the risk of audiences typing either one incorrectly.
(b) While some companies rely on generic email providers like Google’s Gmail, a proprietary email address looks far more professional – and trustworthy.
(c) Every mention of your email address reinforces your web address and vice versa, raising brand awareness and generating free publicity. When you think about how many places your email address might be displayed, these benefits are compelling.
(d) An email address can contain pretty much any prefix before the @ symbol. They can therefore provide a call-to-arms, like enquire@ or priorityreservations@.
Of course, you can add up to a hundred unique email mailboxes if required – one for each staff member, or one for each service your business provides. In truth, a generic “hello” or “info” address is often fine when a business is first launched. Additional email accounts can be added over time, as and when required. Accessible through a browser-based webmail service, and compatible with email packages like Microsoft Outlook, email remains an essential communications tool even in the age of social media and chatbots.
Another decision involves the level of email provision you’re likely to need. If you send and receive large files, UK2’s Professional package will be optimal with its 10GB mailbox and 25MB attachment capabilities. A Personal account should suffice for standard enquiries and responses, though Professional services are similarly affordable.
UK2 also offers additional facilities like a website building platform. That’s great if you’re not planning on employing a professional development company or using a template tool like WordPress. Remarkably, a quarter of the world’s websites are powered by WordPress alone, and we recommend it as a great way to create dynamic sites without the need for any programming skills or technical expertise.
ICANN Universal Domain Ownership Database
When ICANN was founded, it set about creating a universal database of website ownership. In the same way car owners have to register acquisition or disposal of a vehicle with the DVLA, website domain owners need to formalise any purchases by completing some paperwork. Specifically, they have to register basic personal and contact details on a global database. This can be interrogated through a query-and-response protocol called WHOIS, which stores ownership details for each domain name so any issues or queries can be directed to the relevant person.
Registering with WHOIS is an essential administrative step, organised in partnership with your chosen domain name buyer. Each TLD has one official registry, responsible for every web address within that domain. The .uk domain name is handled by an organisation called Nominet, and it’s their database that feeds into the wider WHOIS platform. Confirming ownership details is often as simple as approving the contents of a pre-prepared email sent by your web hosting company, but completing this process is vital when learning how to buy a domain name.
(Because we know there’s a lot to organise when creating a new website, UK2 will use information from your previous domain purchases for future registrations. This saves you having to supply identical contact information every time you launch a new site for a specific product or service.)
If contact details haven’t been provided within fifteen days of a site’s new owner being notified, the domain will be temporarily suspended. Any uploaded content will be replaced with a notification message about pending ICANN verification, and email services may be interrupted. Once formalities have been completed, the site should be reactivated within 48 hours. That’s not important if it hasn’t been properly launched yet, but it becomes a major issue if the site is already online and generating traffic. Any downtime can potentially lose traffic and custom, so keeping up with these administrative responsibilities is vitally important…
Expiration of domain names
There’s a common assumption that buying a domain name grants lifetime ownership. In truth, the word ‘buy’ is used rather confusingly throughout our industry. Domain names are leased for a period of one to ten years, and they can be surrendered at the end of each agreed time period. Nobody can take a domain off you if you want to keep it, but ownership will eventually expire if it’s not periodically renewed. This gives other people an opportunity to buy expired domains, rather than leaving them languishing in cyberspace where they’re no use to anyone.
As we explained earlier on in this article, allowing a domain name to expire is inadvisable if you want to maintain your online presence. However, websites may cease to be of value to their owners for a number of reasons:
(a) The company rebrands and no longer needs its original address.
(b) The company goes out of business or is taken over.
(c) A change in focus means other domain names become more relevant or valuable.
(d) New TLDs are launched that suit a particular industry, product or geographic location.
At UK2, we’re keen to take the stress out of managing your web domains. Auto-renewal is selected by default to ensure continuity of service, but it can be turned off by logging into your account and editing the Renewal settings in the Account section of this portal. We’ll also keep relevant registry agencies (such as Nominet for .uk web domains) informed about what’s happening. This prevents their automated system of notifications and suspensions kicking in, which would typically involve five stages:
(i) A notification prior to the domain’s expiry date – the anniversary of its registration or last renewal.
(ii) A 30-day grace period, during which time the site remains publicly visible. After 23 days, a warning will be sent out about impending suspension.
(iii) Suspension of web access or email through the domain. Although the site will be offline, ownership is unaffected for another 30 days.
(iv) The domain is scheduled for cancellation when 60 days have elapsed. A final reminder is sent 83 days after the expiry date.
(v) Once 90 days have elapsed from the expiry date, the domain name is released back into the open market. Its original owner can re-purchase it, but they will be competing against anyone looking to buy expired domains or launch a new site.
If your domain is only needed for a certain period of time, releasing it back onto the market makes a lot of sense. You’ll save money by not renewing it, there’ll be less administration involved, and you’ll enable another company to take advantage of an address you no longer need. Although subsequent domain owners will get a small SEO benefit from the site having been in existence for a while, they’ll have to rebuild its profile through effective keyword usage and link building. Nobody else will be able to benefit from your historic SEO efforts if different content is uploaded under a new owner – especially after a period of time spent offline.
Taken domain names.
While millions of domains remain unclaimed, and others have expired, a third category of domain names deserves consideration if you’re planning to launch a new online venture. These are addresses that have been registered but which aren’t in use, often featuring a prominent “domain available for sale” message on their homepage.
It’s been estimated that 88 per cent of .wang domains have been parked awaiting development, while a remarkable 97 per cent of .xin domains are reportedly lying dormant. Owners may hope these new gTLDs will experience a boom in popularity at some point, driving up prices and enabling websites with these suffixes to thrive. For now, most sites with recently-launched gTLDs are almost entirely devoid of meaningful content. They’re likely to stay that way until high-profile platforms featuring these suffixes become high-profile enough to build public confidence across the board.
Taken domain names might be parked for a variety of reasons:
(a) A speculative investor could have purchased them to try and make a profit later on. Numerous company names and potentially popular domains were snapped up prior to ICANN’s launch in 1998, and history is repeating itself with .wang and .xin.
(b) Incorrect spellings of a company’s name can be bought up cheaply, with homepages redirecting traffic to the correct URL. If redirect levels from a particular domain turn out to be negligible, it may not be economically viable to maintain this site.
(c) A company could have bulk-bought a load of domains before choosing the most appropriate ones and sitting on the rest. Releasing them can generate extra income at some point in the future.
(d) The domain might have been paid up in advance for a longer period of time than its owner needed. The average website has a lifespan of just over three years, yet it’s possible to reserve a domain for a decade.
(e) A domain name may have been acquired for a specific reason, such as a member of the public buying TLDs similar to those of a company they have a grievance with. Once any issues are settled, the domains can be sold to another unhappy customer!
If you’re considering purchasing parked or taken domain names, begin by investigating whether the seller is a reputable organisation. Many domains are advertised through resellers, but some will be marketed by the company or individual that originally acquired them. Do a quick search to establish legitimacy, and consider what you’d be willing to pay. With UK2 currently selling domains for just £1 a year, it’s hard to justify considerable expense for a second-hand .com or co.uk domain. Nonetheless, if someone has already registered the domain you really want for your business, it can be worth making an enquiry.
What Does the Future Hold?
The .uk domain was released in 2014 with a five-year moratorium for people with an existing variant already registered. That means the owner of anyrandomdomainname.com has an exclusive opportunity to purchase anyrandomdomainname.uk until 2019. Thereafter, the .uk suffix will be released on general sale, at which point anyone can purchase it.
Two-letter country code TLDs are normal in other countries, and the United Kingdom is unusual in persisting with second level domains like org.uk and co.uk. The American market is unusual for a different reason, since the .us suffix hasn’t been taken up in significant numbers. Instead, the global TLD .com has been commonly adopted by American companies. Attempts to popularise .us as a TLD have largely failed to date, though Stateside companies are beginning to adopt more unusual domains, like generalmotors.green.
The potential phasing out of second level domains could make finding a correct UK-based web address more difficult from 2019 onwards. In reality, many companies will exercise their exclusive right to acquire the .uk domain, before switching over to it and gradually transitioning from their existing second level co. prefixes. This process has already occurred in India, where businesses organically transitioned away from co.in towards the shorter and simpler .in. However, if you’d rather not use a fringe TLD like .biz or .site, it’s worth investigating whether the .uk version of an otherwise taken domain name might become available two years from now…