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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."
Getting a domain name involves registering the name you want with an organisation called ICANN through a domain name registrar. For example, if you choose a name like "example.com", you will have to go to a registrar, pay a registration fee that costs around US$10 to US$35 for that name. That will give you the right to the name for a year, and you will have to renew it annually for (usually) the same amount per annum.
What’s easy to forget, though, is that Verisign have managed .com for the past 20 years without so much as a hiccup of disruption or downtime, and that there’s no guarantee that a more democratic or competitive process would have resulted in the 2 decades of .com stability that we’ve enjoyed. Internet governance is obviously important, but we should remember that the overwhelming majority of users don’t know or care what’s going on behind the scenes.
Sedo is where I bought my domain - over Escrow - and is a global marketplace to buy, sell, and park domain names. They've over 18 million domain names for sale, but the big part is that they're a huge, well-respected company. This may not be important if you're spending $150 on a domain, but in a $15,000+ purchase - which happens in many cases - you will be potentially buying from a foreign entity, that you don't know, and many of them will suggest an escrow payment. This means you put the money in an account owned by a third party that will hold it and only pass it on once the domain has been transferred over into their name (which in this case is what Sedo does). This can be quite disconcerting - but Sedo is well-known and has done many, many deals - and the process is about as full of hand-holding as handing tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars for a domain name can be.
Your domain name is how visitors easily find you online. It is often the first step in getting your website started because it is like establishing your website’s street address on the internet. If you did not have a domain name, you would have to give out your IP address to everyone who wanted to visit your website, which would get confusing and be easily forgotten.
You should also avoid words that have more than one spelling if your visitors are likely to be confused and mistype the name. Alternately, you can buy both versions of the name and direct visitors from the one you like less to the preferred name. While you do want a short name (see below), don’t go for something so cryptic that people have a hard time remembering it. Word of mouth is a powerful marketing tool and you want to make it easy for people to tell their friends about your site.
1and1 have terrible customer service and billing, quite possibly the worst ever encountered. Their billing/invoice system is all over the place, their staff untrained and unwilling to resolve and their pricing is literally plucked out of thin air. Beware, pay 12 months in advance (not monthly) then cancel the direct debit or Paypal auto payment, otherwise they will rinse your pockets when you’re not looking &/or unexpectedly take an extra payment because of an ‘oversight’.
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.