Thursday, June 10, 2010

Get Your Own Domain Name

Ever since 1998 when I first started doing websites, friends and acquaintances have come to me saying they think they'd like to have their own business or ministry websites. Although I quit doing websites for other people about seven years ago because it takes too much time away from my writing and because I don't want to have to keep current on the latest flashy website design or search engine optimization (SEO) for other people, the topic keeps coming up.

As a result, here is a blog post so everyone may read why they should get their own domain name sooner rather than putting it off until later along with some tips for how to get one.

(If you are one of those writers who doesn't want anything to do with having a website for your writing endeavors - and there are successful writers who eschew the entire concept of having a presence online whether it be a website, blog, Facebook, MySpace, or Twitter - please feel free to click away now and not waste any more of your time when you should be busy writing.

Yes, you! You know you're procrastinating by reading blogs instead of writing! If, however, you've read or been told you need to have a website and think you might agree, please read on.)

The first objection to getting a domain name now is that you're not ready for it. Deep down inside, you know you'll have your own website eventually, but not just now. You don't want the expense, you don't know precisely what you'd put on a website, or who will design and maintain it for you if you don't learn to do it yourself.

That's okay.

There are two components to having a website and the web host - where the website will reside - won't matter until you're ready to put up content.

However, the domain name - the URL, the address that tells everyone where your website is, for example, mine is - may be considered a prime piece of real estate in cyberspace and should be obtained as soon as you know what you want it to be to prevent someone else from getting it because, like real property, once it's gone, it may be gone for the rest of your lifetime and beyond.

It happened to a man I knew who was starting a ministry. He selected the ministry name and proceeded to set up his organization but ignored my urging him to get the domain name saying he wasn't ready for it. After several months, he was ready, but in the meantime, it had already been registered by another ministry with the same name in a different state.

It's more important for writers to get a domain name that matches their real or pen name since that's the first URL readers will try before resorting to a search engine to find an author's website. For example, back in 1999, I typed "" into the address bar of my browser and landed on a cybersquatter's website because, evidently, nobody in Grisham's corner was 'net savvy enough to have registered his domain name for him before the cybersquatter got it. To this day, if you try to visit his official website, you can't use; you have to use instead.

It may seem like a small matter, but really, it isn't a good idea to inconvenience your readers and potential fans by making them use a search engine or locate their copy of your book that has your URL in small type on the back cover in order to visit your website. If you decide later that you're absolutely certain that you don't want a website, you can always release it by letting the registration expire.

The second objection is the expense. What expense? Sure, if you're a starving artist living in a garret, the US$10-35 may be hard to come by, but if you're a writer who kept your day job, simply skip a couple of pizzas or dinners out and the registration fee for your domain name will be covered for an entire year. Or, hint to your friends and family that you'd like your domain name as a birthday or Christmas gift.

A related objection might be that you're not willing to pay the registration fee year after year with nothing in return on the purely speculative notion that you're going to need a website. Sure, the arts are highly competitive and there is the possibility that you won't make it big, but your domain name may be used as your email address while you're waiting to finish writing your current book or, if you're an artist, attain the level of artistry that will sell enough to pay for your domain name and web host and then some.

By setting it up in your registrar's control panel to forward your emails to your current email addy, a simple task that's a free service at many registrars, you can have a single, permanent, easily-remembered, individualized email address that will work no matter to what ISP you may decide to switch in the future and your contacts will never again have to change their address books.

Now that you have more info to mull over, you may be inclined to type your name into your browser's address bar with ".com" appended just out of curiosity. If you don't land on someone else's website, go to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), read the info for first-time visitors and the FAQs at InterNIC that is operated by ICANN, then register your domain name with one of the accredited registrars on the ICANN list or a reseller. (Here is a list organized alphabetically by country.)

What will you do if someone else's website comes up? You have several options:

1. Wait and hope that the owner forgets to renew the registration or changes his/her mind and releases it so it may be registered by someone else, hopefully you rather than another person - which may never happen.

2. Offer to buy it - which may be more expensive than your wallet can bear.

3. Register your name under a different generic top-level domain (gTLD), such as .net or .org, instead of .com. For example, John Sandford's domain name is

You may also choose to use your country's two-character country code (ccTLD) such as .us for the U.S. or .de for Germany.

If you're a licensed professional, .pro may be the best TLD for you especially since it's use is restricted. Just by seeing the .pro, clients will know you're a licensed professional.

If you want to put up a website to disseminate information about your area of expertise, consider using .info as your gTLD.

If you're a private individual who wants a non-commercial domain name, .name is designated for personal websites and email addresses. However, please note there is no email forwarding available with the second-level domain name (example: and no email SMTP sending capability with the third-level domain name (example:, only email forwarding, i.e., you can receive email using your third-level domain name but not send. To send, you'll have to use the address you set up with your email provider.

4. Pick a different name - entirely do-able especially if you intend to use a pseudonym - or use a different form of your name. For example, instead of firstnamelastname, try firstinitiallastname like John Grisham has with his Or, use only your last name like Janet Evanovich did: You might also use a hyphen as in firstname-lastname although hyphenated domain names aren't commonly known.

Many registrars have a search tool for you to check on availability of the domain name you have in mind that also displays a list of suggested alternatives in case the one you want isn't available.

Other tips I want to pass on are:

* Understand that you don't actually own your domain name. When you register it for your use, it's more like leasing office space.

* Use an ICANN-accredited registrar. This alone will greatly eliminate potential issues.

* When you're ready to register your domain name, be sure you will be the registered owner by examining the fine print of the registrar's policy. Some registrars or resellers register the domain you select and take your money, but put it in their own company's name so you can't take it with you should you decide to transfer to a different registrar. Be careful of the policy also, if you get a hosting package that includes a free domain name because some tie the free domain name to the hosting package which means you can't take the domain name with you if you decide to have your website hosted elsewhere.

* Don't ever let your domain name expire until you're ready to let it go!!! Many registrars charge oodles to reinstate an expired domain name registration. Depending on your circumstances, it might be safer to sign up for auto-renewal on a charge card so you won't be caught off-guard by an expiration date as one person was when he had a long-term disablement. His domain name registration expired while he was recuperating from surgery and it was a hard pill to swallow as it matched the name of his business.

* Geocities is closed, but there are other free web hosts or blog hosts if you want to forward your domain name to one of them. URL forwarding, typically a free service provided by the registrar, is useful for those who can't yet afford paid hosting but want to start establishing an online presence and who, rather than paying someone else, may want to learn how to create their own website perhaps using their word processing program's ability to save in HTML. A simple website is all a writer really needs until hitting the New York Times Best Seller list with translations in umpteen different countries.

Plus, an email address using your own domain name, with or without a website's URL, looks great on your business or contact card.

It's something to think about, eh?


No comments: