Your domain name is your online calling card. It’s the public identity of your brand and the way customers can find your website, so it needs to be just right—catchy, easy to remember, and indicative of your site’s purpose. But even if you create the perfect name for your site, that name may already be taken by one or more of the billions of websites around the world. That’s why checking the availability of your desired domain name should be the first step in setting up your self-hosted business or personal website. If you are wondering “Is my domain name available?” this blog post is for you.
Why you need a domain name
You don’t really need your own domain name to simply create an online presence. A variety of free services provide space for users to set up a blog or basic webpage and give it a name, but that name becomes a subdomain of the main site and isn’t a domain name you own. This means it appears online as something like _yoursite.hostname.com_ or _hostname.com/yoursite_. If the host site closes down, your site’s identity disappears with it—and it can’t be used in that form to create a self-hosted site elsewhere.
To set up a fully functional website with its own permanent identity, you need to own a unique domain name that remains yours under all circumstances, regardless of the hosting service you choose. Buying a domain name and registering it reserves the name for your own exclusive use as long as the domain registration fees are paid for periods ranging from one to several years. To keep rights to the name, you’ll need to continue renewing it. If a domain registration expires and isn’t renewed, the name can become available to others.
Checking domain name availability
A domain name can’t be registered if it is already claimed by someone else, even if it’s not actually being used, but it’s easy to find out if your domain name is available in the form you want. One quick way to check for the availability of a domain name is to do a simple web search. Type in the name you want to use, including the top-level domain, or TDL extensions, such as .com or .net. That can reveal whether the name is currently in use, and your search may even provide some suggested alternatives.
A more thorough and reliable way to check for the availability of a domain name is to run your desired name through a name search tool. Before you register a domain, you have to use a domain checker that can scan all unavailable names. These tools are available from every domain registrar, as well as web hosting companies that include domain name registration with a hosting package.
To check for availability, type in your desired name and add the extension you want to use. The search tool then returns a result: the name is available or it’s already taken. If your domain name is available, you can do a domain name registration immediately by paying the required fees for a selected period of time, typically one to three years.
What if the right name isn’t available?
If the domain name you want is already in use, most name search tools also provide multiple alternatives to choose from, using different word combinations, spellings, or extensions. Your ideal name may already be in use with .com, the web’s most recognizable extension, but it might be available with another less familiar one such as .net, .org, .us, .xyz, .co, or any of the many new TDL extensions that are now available, like .me, .photo, or .us.—it might also be available with a slight change in phrasing or spelling.
If none of these alternatives sound appealing, you can brainstorm a new name, or search for domain name variants using a variety of online name generator tools. These tools typically generate domain names based on the keywords or phrases you provide. If you decide to try one of these generated names, it’s important to run it through a domain name checker before you register it to be sure that it is actually available.
Acquiring an existing domain name
In some cases, the domain name you want may already be taken, but you can still acquire it. Existing domain names become available for purchase for a variety of reasons. Some may have been purchased as original names for websites that were never developed or were abandoned when a business closed or the user simply stopped maintaining the site. Others become available for sale because of a practice called “domain name flipping,” in which speculators create or buy up large numbers of available domain names and then sell them on marketplace and auction sites for high prices.
Related: Learn how to flip domains
Even if a name is being used on an active website, you still may be able to buy it directly from its original owner. Although it could take some detective work, you might be able to track down a domain’s registered owner through the site’s contact information or its WHOIS data and negotiate a sale. Buying an active domain can be helpful if the site attached to the domain name already has content and search engine traffic related to your business or niche.
Domain names can also be bought and sold through domain name marketplaces and auction sites that make lapsed and unwanted domain names available for bidding or outright resale. Prices for these domain names can range from a few dollars to hundreds and even thousands for a highly desirable, keyword-rich name. If you buy a name through any of these avenues, you’ll still have to register it through a domain name registrar or web hosting service and renew it as needed to retain your ownership.
Your domain name is the anchor of your brand’s online identity, and it’s an essential component of a self-hosted site that is under your control.
Choosing a domain name and making sure it’s exclusively yours is the key first step toward creating a permanent online home for your business or service. Once you find the perfect name for your website, it’s time to register your domain!
To learn more about the process or our hosting plans, contact our experienced team at Bluehost today.