What about domain names and do I need one?

This page takes a simple approach toward describing key points regarding domain names. Most merchants won’t need more information than what is presented here, but if your geek drive is set a bit higher and you would like more detailed answers on how it all works we’ve provided some related links.


– A word with a suffix such as “.com” or “.net” that can be used in internet applications (like your web browser) to connect to specific internet locations (such as web pages).

Granted, that is a very simplified definition, and 95% of internet merchants would think it is more than enough, but if you have a domain that points to a web site it would be helpful to know just a bit more.

IP Numbers
Internet traffic is actually routed to its correct destination through an addressing system based on a series of numbers called IP (internet protocol) addresses. IP Addresses are a series of numbers that are typically shown connected by “dots” (like Most people using the internet never see IP numbers… but they are there behind every request for a web page and every email delivery.


An IP address is a set of 4 numbers called “octets”. Every machine connected to the internet has a unique IP address. IP addresses for home connections are often assigned by the service provider at the time the user connects (which means you may have a different IP address each time you log in). How IP addresses actually work is more than most people need to know and far beyond the scope of this document but if you would like more information click here.

Using domain names instead of IP numbers
Since IP numbers can be hard to remember, the Domain Name System (DNS) allows us to use words that can more easily identify the person or organization we are trying to reach. These “domain names” end in letters that are called “top level domains” (tld’s) and though you most often may see “.com” and “.net” there are actually a large number of top level domains such as “.jp” for Japan and “.ca” for Canada. Most people will only be interested in the most common of these ending characters but if you want more information on the various tld’s you can click here for a list.

Though you may be using domain names when browsing the internet, behind the scenes an intricate routing process determines the correct IP number and directs you to the assigned location.

The Domain Name System is not a single controlling entity but is more of a structured association of entities tiered with a controlling entity at the top (ICANN, The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) that watches to be sure other entities in the structure are following the rules.

We will be publishing a document to help clarify how domain names resolve, but until then if you would like more information on how domain name resolution works you may want to read Internic’s Domain Name System Faq.

Do I need a domain name?

The simple answer to that question is “no, but get one anyway”. Having your own domain name is easy, very inexpensive, and it provides a unique and simple way to find your site. Domain names also help establish an online image and internet brand for your site.

Most web hosting companies allow customers to use the hosting companies domain name along with some type of identifier (like “yourcompany.theyhostingcompany.com” or “www.thehostingcompany.com/yourcompany”), and though there are good uses for this like using specific tools and secure connections provided by the hosting company, there is no reason not to have your own domain name.

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If you don’t yet have a domain name, you can secure one right now. You may find that your first choice of names is already taken by someone else. If this happens, try another name that would identify your site. Remember that the most people are used to using “.com” domain names and though dashes (“-“) are allowed in domain names, you will want to be able to easily tell someone your domain and have them remember it. If you wanted to register “our-shop.com” there is a very good chance that your customers would skip the dash and come here (to OurShop.com) instead. The best domain names are short, descriptive (such as your company name or product), and easily memorized.

On a contrary note, you may get better search engine placement with a longer, more descriptive domain name. Domain names are inexpensive and web hosting companies usually allow more than one domain to point to your main web page. Consider both approaches. You may want to get more than one domain name.

Domain Names and Search Engine Placement:
There is some indication that using keywords in your domain name (eg: “red-widgets.com”) currently has a positive effect on search engine placement (keywords “red widgets”). “redwidgets.com” on the other hand, would not have the same benefits since it would be interpreted as one complete word.

Domain Names Quick Tip:
Most web hosting companies allow more than one domain name (check with your hosting company). Consider getting one domain name that relates to your company name and another that describes your service or product.

Related Facts:
Domains are purchased from Registrars. Registrars point domain names at the Name Servers that control the domain. Name Servers control the IP address where the domain ultimately resides.

Name Servers can can direct different functions, such as e-mail and web page access, to different IP addresses. Many companies have web pages hosted at hosting companies but have email coming directly to in-house email servers.

Related Facts 2:
Many web hosts point domains to a shared IP address via their name servers. The web server program that handles the IP address web traffic determines where the files for the domain are actually stored. This is not a problem for most web sites but some items, such as your own secure digital certificate must have their own IP address.