Even if you do not have a website, if you have any online business or professional presence, you should have a domain name.
You can have a website through services like WordPress.com with or without your own domain name, but having a domain name is inexpensive branding. A domain name allows you to move a site from one service to another, without changing the site name. Owning a domain name also lets you use that name to have a branded or personal email address, instead of a generic Gmail address, or an address that includes the name of your internet service provider – and that needs to be changed if you switch to another provider.
Domain names are not expensive. Prices vary, but are generally $10 to $20 a year. As with other things, you get what you pay for. For example, domain names ending with .com make public the name, address, and phone number of the person who registered them. If you don’t want your contact information displayed to the world, you can request that the company you buy the name from, the registrar, substitute their information. Some registrars offer this for free, while others, especially low cost registrars, charge extra. Similarly, sometimes the name registration includes a small amount of web space or some email services, while other times it does not.
You can buy your domain name from the same company that you purchase your website hosting space from, and if you have a WordPress.com site, you can buy your domain name from WordPress. Some hosting companies include domain name as part of a package. Buying a domain name and hosting services together is easier, but buying them separately gives you more flexibility if you later want to purchase hosting from one company and domain registration from another. Not all name types are available from all companies.
For example, WordPress.com does not sell some country specific extensions, such as .ca.(Update – WordPress now sells .ca names.)
That brings us to the question of what extension you should have. There are many to choose from. The most common and widely known is .com, and that should probably be your first choice. People may assume your name is .com, and choosing another extension such as .net when .com is not available can lead to confusion. Using your country extension helps identify your location, which might be beneficial, and there may be a greater choice of names available. Country extensions are usually well known within that country. Different countries have different rules on who can use their extensions. For example, .ca is only available to people with some connection to Canada.
As for the name itself, be flexible. You want something that is available, descriptive, memorable, not too long, easy to type, and unlikely to lead to lawsuits from other people or companies with a claim to that name. Particularly if the domain name is for a business or other organization, getting legal advice on the name should be considered.
Your personal name is a good choice for a professional, especially if you use your full name, or some combination of your name and initials, or name and profession. You could also use your business name, but be aware that it might not be unique online, and need to be modified, perhaps by adding your city. Generic terms such as Florist or FastFlowers are rarely available, and do not offer brand recognition. Name registration companies can tell you if a name is available, and may suggest alternatives if a name is not available. You should test minor variations of your proposed domain name, especially if the spelling is unusual, to see where you end up if your name is typed incorrectly.
Domain names are not case sensitive, so a name composed of more than one word can use capitals for clarity. BobsPlumbingVancouver is easier to read than bobsplumbingvancouver. However, try different combinations of capitalization: ChildrensWearHalifax might be mocked as ChildrenSwearHalifax.
You can have more than one name. Your registration company can arrange for one name to forward to another (for free or for a charge), and your email can also be forwarded to another email account. A domain name change can be phased in over a year or two by forwarding from one to another while printed items and contacts are updated. Multiple domain names also allow a site to have domain names in more than one language.
Finally, don’t sweat the name too much. While a business or a job seeker should have a respectable domain name, remember that many people are not going to get to your web site by typing in the name. Instead, they will click on links in search results, other sites, emails, or social media posts.
If all this seems like too much work, it can be tempting to let someone else buy the domain name for you. If you have hired someone to build a site for you, they could also take care of the name registration. However, you must ensure that they register the name on your behalf, and not under their own name. Even the most attentive and careful web person can get sick, or busy, and if they are the only contact, you may find yourself not only unable to renew the name or update the site, but unable to get anyone else to do it. If a name expires, the site disappears. Retrieving a domain name can be a long and difficult process. If someone is registering a domain name for you, make sure you are registrant.