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A Beginner's Guide to Domain Name Management

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Your domain name is one of the most important parts of your web presence. It's your "address" on the internet, and points to your digital home base: your company website.

The domain name system is not terribly complex, but it's just complex enough that not everyone understands how it all works. For this reason, many organizations turn over all control of their domain name to an agency or web firm to manage.

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This has some pros and cons, and depending on your unique situation, it might be the best option. However, for those looking to learn a little more about domain name management for themselves, let's dive into some of the basics ... 

What's a Domain Name?

A domain name (like "spinweb.net") is an address that defines a "realm of authority" on the internet. It can be thought of like a physical address for your office. Your address is where mail is sent and where people drive if they want to visit your office.

A domain is similar. If someone wants to visit your website, that person will use your domain name to access it. Your domain name "points" to your website just as your physical address "points" to your office. This is 101 stuff, but hang with me as we get into the details.

A Basic DNS Glossary

DNS (Domain Name Server or Domain Name System): A server that translates a web address into one or more IP addresses.

Registrar: If you want your website to be called MyTastySandwich.com then that domain must be registered with an entity called a "registrar." A registrar is a company that issues and manages domain names. Examples include:

  • Lean Domain Search: Simply enter a word you want your domain to include and Lean Domain Search will turn up domain names that are available based on different variations of that word. 
  • Domainr: This handy tool gives you a quick snapshot of what is available for your domain, as well as alternatives. 
  • Whois.net: Look up information on a domain name to see who owns it, when it expires, and much more. 
  • GoDaddy.com: Find the perfect domain name, register it, and set up your hosting all in one place. 

(Check out this list for even more options.)

IP Address: Your website lives on a web server and has a specific address assigned to it, called an "IP address," which stands for "Internet protocol address" and is made up of four segments separated by a period, like 123.456.789.123. This IP address points to your website.

Name Servers: These are machines that are set up specifically for the purpose of routing domain names to the proper IP address. When a domain name is delegated to a set of name servers, that gives authority to those name servers to point the domain name anywhere.

Name servers are usually set up by the company that hosts your website. For example, SpinWeb's name servers are identified with the names "ns1.spinweb.net" and ns2.spinweb.net". This means that if a domain name is delegated to our name servers, we can point the domain anywhere we need to.

Who Should Control Your Domain Name Registration?

Imagine this scenario: Your IT guy set up your website, registered your domain name, and manages all of the DNS stuff for you. Convenient, right? Yes, very … until said IT Guy moves to Barbados and forgets to tell you. Now, your domain name is expiring and you don’t know how to login, where to log in or update your information. Maybe you don’t even find out about this until your domain has already expired. What a nightmare.

Many organizations turn over control of their domain names to an agency simply because they don't understand how it all works. Or, if they need a new domain registered, they will ask their agency to do it for them. In most cases, I am heavily in favor of outsourcing many things to a digital agency. However, when it comes to domain names, my preference is always for our clients to retain control over their own domains.

Why? Your domain is the most critical component of your online presence. It controls who can get to your website, your email, your blog, and any other online properties that you own. Aside from that, it's not difficult to control. Most registrars have a pretty easy-to-use control panel that will allow you to make updates to your domain name, specify who in your company is in control of it, and what nameservers it points to.

At the end of the day, the ball is in your court. However, when it comes to something as sensitive and significant as your domain, I'd encourage you to remain involved in the process -- at least to some extent.

What other domain name management questions do you have? Share your questions in the comments below.

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