Domain Name Purchases

This is the fifth in our WordPress and Web Development series. Click here for the previous article and here for the next one .

S o you want to buy a domain name to represent you - perhaps, one that matches your full name. Perhaps, you have heard that it’s best to use the “.com” ending for the domain name. Is that really the case, and if so, what’s a reasonable price to pay for it?

To answer these questions, let’s understand the system that grants domain names in more detail. Since the Internet’s domain name system (DNS) was created, there has always been some authority that handles decisions regarding how the system works. For some time, the very last part of the domain name - called the “top level domain,” or “TLD” - could only be one of a few suffixes, like “.com”, “.edu”, “.org”, “.mil” and so on. The authority initially rested with entities in the United States, but later on, suffixes were added that could be controlled by other countries, with organizations within those countries taking responsibility for these suffixes (starting with the United Kingdom and Israel.)

Today, numerous companies - called domain name registrars - have purchased the right from the various regional governing bodies to sell domain names in different countries. Most hosting services, like GoDaddy, Bluehost, Amazon AWS, are domain name registrars, and sell domain names, among the many services they provide.

Wordpress.com is also a registrar, but there’s a critical difference in what you get at Wordpress.com vs the others. Buying a domain name implies two aspects - one, that it is available and that you are eligible to use it; and two, what restrictions the seller puts on where the content for that domain name can be stored.

Note that you cannot buy a domain name that has already been sold to someone else, obviously nor can you easily procure a domain name that matches a registered trademark. You cannot receive a domain name with a TLD that does not match your identify your organization’s major purpose. If you are not a university or other educational institution, you cannot buy a domain name that ends in ‘.edu’.

Things get a bit more contentious if your domain name is very close to an established trademark or brand - what if you wanted to buy google.net as opposed to google.com, or mit.cc instead of mit.edu? In some cases, you will find that the organization in question has already bought that domain name (google.net) while in some cases you will find that there is a blank-looking web page, possibly with some ads (mit.cc)

For a long while, whitehouse.com would show you some very salacious content (it still does show ads of an adult nature, but no pictures.) Except in clear cases of trademark violation, the responsibility to monitor domain names is usually left to the individuals and organizations in question. If the IT department at the White House wasn’t bothered to also buy whitehouse.com, that’s the White House’s headache, not that of the domain name seller’s.

The second aspect of a domain name is where the content is that it points to. Note that when you buy a domain name, you have don’t need to point to any content at all. That is what happens to domains - they are not related to any web content. To connect a domain name with content, you have to configure its “domain name records,” sometimes also referred to as the “DNS Zone Records.”

The difference between the various registrars is the relative flexibility they offer you in configuring these records. Domains purchased on, or registered with, Wordpress.com can only refer to content also hosted on Wordpress.com - most other registrars however allow you to purchase content hosting elsewhere and still point the domains you register with them to that content.

Changing the domain name records is usually easy, on the websites of most sellers. You have to look for a “Zone File Editor” or “DNS Manager,” or something like that. There are lots of ways of adding records, but the one you care about is to configure just a sub-domain - in most cases, you want to configure the ‘www’ sub-domain. To do so, you will have to create a record of the “CNAME” type.

There are plenty of posts on the Internet that list the different ways of doing this - for example, WP Engine lists the instructions for 3 providers, Cloudflare, DNS Made Easy and DNSimple. You can also search on the Internet for your specific domain name registrar - just add “add cname” to any registrar’s name, like “godaddy add cname,” or “bluehost add cname,” or “dreamhost add cname”., etc

To begin with, we will use Wordpress.com though without using a domain name of our own. As we can see in the initial Wordpress.com installation screens, you can simply choose a sub-domain for yourself (that hasn’t already been used by someone else) on the Wordpress.com domain.

The installation process on Wordpress.com is fairly simple and self-explanatory. If you don’t have your own domain name, a concept we have discussed earlier, you can pick an identifying name on Wordpress.com itself, which sets up a website for you at an address like, say, mypetstore.wordpress.com, or tastyitalianrecipes.wordpress.com. The main restriction is that you can’t pick an address that’s already taken, of course, and Wordpress.com might also impose other restrictions - for example, forbidding hateful or pornographic language.

The other decision you have to make is what "theme" to pick. In the next section , we will look at what that means.