What is a domain name? In the simplest of definitions, a domain name is your website’s address on the internet.
However, while technically correct — the best kind of correct — there’s actually a lot more to the story you need to know!
First off, the power of domain names goes far above their ability to ‘address websites on the web’. In fact, selecting the right domain name can have a very serious impact on your website’s — and, therefore, your brand’s — success.
But let’s start with the technical details of what a domain name is (we kind of need that part to explain that other stuff).
What Is a Domain Name from a Technical Point of View?
Like I mentioned above, a domain name is your website’s address on the internet. Exhibit A:
In other words, if you want to find your way to WinningWP, all you need to do is fire up your web browser and put the site’s address — the winningwp.com domain name — into the address bar.
But there’s a lot more cool stuff going on under the hood with domain names, so to speak.
First of all, a domain name consists of two parts:
SLD (Second Level Domain): When registering your domain name, this part can consist of any number of alphanumeric characters (a-z, A-Z, 0-9) and hyphens (permitted if surrounded by other characters or digits). No spaces are allowed.
For example, if your business is called Joe’s Extra Diner, you may want to make your SLD
TLD (Top Level Domain): Back in the day, this part used to indicate the purpose of the whole domain name, or the entity that the domain belonged to. There’s only a finite number of TLDs you can choose from (you can’t input your own as you can with an SLD).
The most popular TLDs to choose from, along with their originally intended purposes, are:
.com — all commercial purposes
.org — organizations (often non-profit)
.net — network projects (whatever that means)
.edu — educational institutions
.gov — the US government
.biz — everything business
.info — universal
Right now, though, no one pays too much attention to those intended purposes for TLDs, and there’s surely no one forcing you to use a
.org when launching a website for a non-profit. There are no rules you need to adhere to when picking a TLD — you can go with whatever seems to fit your future website. That being said, except in exceptional circumstances, it’s no longer possible to get your hands on
In the end, however, what everybody wants is a
.com: It’s the most recognizable and the most prestigious TLD.
Alternatively, there are also hundreds of local/regional TLDs, such as:
.uk — for the UK
.ca — Canada
.pl — Poland
.it — Italy
You can consider using one of these instead of
.com if your website will only operate locally. (Note: Always try to own the .com as well if possible — primarily because a lot of people will assume your domain name is a .com when typing it into their web browser, but also because you don’t want your site being confused with another. You can then redirect the .com to the alternative domain that you’ve chosen.)
Just to recap this part of our answer to what is a domain name:
The SLD and the TLD, when combined, make up the complete domain name. So, for the site you’re reading right now:
winningwp is the SLD,
com is the TLD, and together we have
winningwp.com as the complete domain name.