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."
Next, someone has to tell the rest of the Internet that google.com points to 22.214.171.124. This is done by a “registry”, which is also the wholeseller that provides domains to registrars. Each top-level domain (TLD) — .com, .net., .org etc — has a registry that manages it. The .com TLD has been managed by the same registry since the beginning of time — an extremely profitable monopoly called Verisign. More on that later.
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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.
The way that competition is supposed to work between registries, is that lots of companies go to ICANN and say “We think we can reliably manage .com, and we think it would cost us [$5] per domain.” ICANN reviews these bids and awards the .com contract, which lasts for a fixed period of time, to whomever they deem best-suited to the job. In this time, other companies can think of ways to manage .com better/cheaper, and try and win the next contract. This, in theory, would provide an incentive for registries to innovate, a big part of which would be in lowering costs.
Registrars offer a wide variety of registration durations—one year, three, five, and even ten. Be careful about registering for more than a year, though. First, there might be restrictions on your ability to transfer the domain name should the registrar give poor service. Second, the registrar could go out of business, leaving your domain name without a host. Check the policies closely.
Registering a domain name lets you create a personal presence on the web. With your own web address, you can control your online identity by linking to any other site with more information about you. For example, you can register a domain name and forward it to a website, blog, or social profile page like your Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter pages. A domain name can protect your personal brand and help your career.
One of the most important decisions in establishing an online presence is choosing a domain name. The right domain name for your website is important, for both your target audience and search engines. Ignore the trends and fads of the day and choose a name that makes sense for your business or subject matter now and will still make sense 10 years from now. Here are 10 tips to help you make a good domain name purchase.
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.