If you’re still with me then you might be wondering who came up with all of this. The answer is ICANN — the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. ICANN is a non-profit whose role is to coordinate all the names and numbers that keep the Internet online. They outsource a lot of the heavy domain name lifting to registries like Verisign, who pay ICANN for the privilege.
During the 32nd International Public ICANN Meeting in Paris in 2008, ICANN started a new process of TLD naming policy to take a "significant step forward on the introduction of new generic top-level domains." This program envisions the availability of many new or already proposed domains, as well as a new application and implementation process. Observers believed that the new rules could result in hundreds of new top-level domains to be registered. In 2012, the program commenced, and received 1930 applications. By 2016, the milestone of 1000 live gTLD was reached.
In order to register any domain, you must provide certain personal information that you may not wish to be publically searchable in the Whois database. Signing up for WhoisGuard is a great way to keep your registration data private. WhoisGuard acts as a "shield" for your searchable information, displaying the address, phone number, and email of the domain registrar (Namecheap, e.g.) instead of your own. Keep in mind that WhoisGuard is an optional security add-on that must be renewed separately when you renew your domain.
For the most part, you can pick whichever TLD you prefer, though a few have restrictions -- you can't buy a .edu domain unless you run an accredited post-secondary school. Many, but not all, country-specific domains (.us, .uk, .jp) are restricted to citizens of the country in question. Unrestricted country domains are often used for "domain hacks," where the extension becomes part of the title, such as YouTube's alternate address, "youtu.be."
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Domain names are often seen in analogy to real estate in that domain names are foundations on which a website can be built, and the highest quality domain names, like sought-after real estate, tend to carry significant value, usually due to their online brand-building potential, use in advertising, search engine optimization, and many other criteria.
Domain names are organized in subordinate levels (subdomains) of the DNS root domain, which is nameless. The first-level set of domain names are the top-level domains (TLDs), including the generic top-level domains (gTLDs), such as the prominent domains com, info, net, edu, and org, and the country code top-level domains (ccTLDs). Below these top-level domains in the DNS hierarchy are the second-level and third-level domain names that are typically open for reservation by end-users who wish to connect local area networks to the Internet, create other publicly accessible Internet resources or run web sites.
Domain name registrations are priced on a subscription-like model that allows a person or business to register that domain name for a certain period of time (usually in annual increments). At the end of the registration period, you (the domain name registrant) have the option to renew the domain name registration for an additional period of time, or let it expire. It is important to renew your domain name registration, or you may find that all of your work building traffic and views to your site ends up benefiting someone else (in the instance that someone else registers your domain name after you let your registration expire), and potentially costing you more in rebranding.
While looking at domains, you might come across the name "ICANN" -- the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. This organization accredits some registrars that agree to a set of operational standards, but ICANN accreditation isn't required to sell domains, nor is it necessarily a sign of a company with good customer service. In fact, ICANN plays no role in the sale of many top-level domains, including country-specific domains.
Premium domains (also known as aftermarket or pre-registered domains) are short domains, often just one word or even just 3-5 letters. Most of them have a .com extension but many premium domains end with .org, .net, and .biz. These domains include common words and are generally the most memorable. Because companies value short domains that match their company name or products, these domains are typically the most desirable. Additionally, certain domains sold by different registries are considered premium and therefore have a higher price point. In some cases, the renewal costs of these higher-priced domains are also quite expensive. Some high-priced premium domains, though, renew at a regular (lower cost) rate, giving you a better value in the long term. Make sure to research the overall cost of the domain plus renewal to find the right domain for your budget. You can browse Namecheap's premium domains in our Marketplace.