Just like street addresses in the physical world, the internet needs a unique identifier to manage website addresses. Technically, a website address consists of a series of numbers and dots, known as an IP address – which doesn’t look great, is meaningless to most people and is almost impossible to remember.
Enter: domain names – a representation of the IP address in the shape of keywords that are meaningful to you and me. The translation of these human-friendly domain names to their respective IP addresses is controlled by the Domain Name System (DNS) and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). The most common top level domain (TLD) has the .com suffix – initially reserved for commercial websites, but internationally grown to become the most widely used domain for all kinds of websites. Other top level domains include .org (specifically for non-profit organisations), .biz, .info and .net. Country code top level domains (ccTLD) are domains that are reserved to specific countries, such as .co.za for South Africa, or .de for Germany.
It is expected that ICANN will be introducing close to 2,000 new generic top-level suffixes (gTLD) – such as .bet, .web. .news – later this year.
A domain name is the first thing you want people to remember about your website, so make sure it is easy to remember – and not difficult to spell. Multiple domains can point to one and the same website. It therefore makes sense to register more than 1 domain. If you’re worried that people may get your domain’s spelling wrong, register more than one variation, even the incorrect spellings. If you want to avoid that while you own yourdomain.co.za, someone else registers yourdomain.com, register multiple suffixes of your domain, including .com. .co.za. .net etc. No need to get carried away though. Seeing that most people browse for websites via a search engine like Google’s, it is safe to assume that your website will come up in the search result pages – regardless of its spelling or suffix.
Domain ownership is based on the “first come, first serve” principle. According to this principle, anyone can register virtually any available domain – with the exception of trademarks and suffixes that have been reserved for certain categories, like .gov and .org. This has lead to a thriving business on the internet, whereby people register domains and offer them at inflated prices, a.k.a. cyber squatting.
To check availability of a domain, or see its current owner, go to who.is. Nothing stops you from contacting a current domain owner, and offer a transfer price. There are many websites that offer new domain registration. Tucows.com and godaddy.com are just two that spring to mind. Alternatively, most hosting companies offer domain name administration as part of their hosting packages – which includes annual renewals. A .com domain would typically cost just over R100 per year, a .co.za domain just below R100 a year.