If you're having trouble finding a domain name (whether because of crowding or cyber-squatters), check for a help facility on each registrar's site. Domain registrars typically house search engines that return a listing of available names similar to the one you want. When you search for a domain name at Namecheap, for example, you get both the status of that name and a list of suffixes available for that name. Maybe [Sitename].com isn't available, but [Sitename].biz or .org is.
The hierarchy of domains descends from the right to the left label in the name; each label to the left specifies a subdivision, or subdomain of the domain to the right. For example: the label example specifies a node example.com as a subdomain of the com domain, and www is a label to create www.example.com, a subdomain of example.com. Each label may contain from 1 to 63 octets. The empty label is reserved for the root node and when fully qualified is expressed as the empty label terminated by a dot. The full domain name may not exceed a total length of 253 ASCII characters in its textual representation. Thus, when using a single character per label, the limit is 127 levels: 127 characters plus 126 dots have a total length of 253. In practice, some domain registries may have shorter limits.
Some domain name registries, often called network information centers (NIC), also function as registrars to end-users. The major generic top-level domain registries, such as for the com, net, org, info domains and others, use a registry-registrar model consisting of hundreds of domain name registrars (see lists at ICANN or VeriSign). In this method of management, the registry only manages the domain name database and the relationship with the registrars. The registrants (users of a domain name) are customers of the registrar, in some cases through additional layers of resellers.
Before you sign up for Web hosting and start building a website, you need to buy the domain name where visitors will find your site. Hundreds of different registrars sell domains, so first and foremost, know that domain names work the same no matter which registrar you use. You don't need to buy your domain from the same company that will host your site. Aside from picking a registrar -- and, of course, your site's name -- you also need to pick a top-level domain like .com or .org.
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.
A domain name is, quite simply, the name of your website. The domain can be found in the URL and is used in order to locate the website of a specific person or organization. Each domain name or URL directs users to a specific IP address. Domains are easier to remember than a long and complicated IP address, which takes the form of a series of numbers. A domain can be divided up into three different elements: a subdomain, a domain name, and a top level domain (TLD). Take about.1and1.com as an example: the 'about' element is the subdomain, the '1and1' element is the domain name itself and the '.com' part of the URL is the top level domain. It is also possible to have multiple subdomain levels, info.about.1and1.com for example, which you can use to segment your website into separate categories. The length limit of a complete domain name is 255 characters. With 1&1, you can choose a domain name that best suits you or your business, or you can transfer an already existing domain over to 1&1. Next, customers can select a TLD from a wide variety of domain extensions on offer. When choosing a domain name, it is important to select something that properly reflects the ethos of your business in a concise and catchy way. A good domain should be memorable, brandable, and should have a suitable extension.
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.