A domain name is the address you type in your browser to get to a site, and choosing an effective domain name is an important first step in developing your online presence. Try to pick a name that identifies your business, while remaining simple enough for people to find you. Use services such as http://whois.melbourneit.com.au to find out whether your name is taken yet and remember to try and get a name that's not too obscure or people will struggle to type it in which means fewer visitors to your site. In general, all the 'popular' names have gone, but it's usually not too hard to find one that suits you and your business.
Make sure you can get both the .com.au and the .com versions of your domain when you set yourself up. If you buy one and not the other, you almost certainly run the of risk having the site you didn't buy being snapped up by a domain sitter, who will then offer the site name back to you at a vastly inflated premium! It's up to you whether you buy the more peripheral site type names (eg. .info, .biz). These site names are still not in common use, so it's not mandatory.
It's impossible to claim a domain name forever: you generally buy it for 1 to 2 years and if you plan on staying in business, buy the lengthiest period you can. At the end of the registration period, you have first right to claim it for another term. When you buy a domain, you're given a username and password as well as an expiry date. Don't forget this information because you'll need it to reclaim the domain name. Diarise the expiry date (in fact a few weeks before) so you have plenty of time to renew the site name. It's a safe assumption that if you do forget to reclaim your name, someone else will nab it and attempt to sell it back to you for a far higher price than what you paid. Yes - some people make a living out of doing this!
When to buy your domain registration? Now, or as soon as possible, even if you don't intend to set up a site immediately. Why? Because a) it's cheap and b) you don't want to risk having the domain name unavailable when it comes to developing your site.
Speaking of cost, how much should you pay for a domain name? The short answer to this is 'as little as possible'. There is absolutely no difference between registering a domain name with a cheap or expensive registrar - your domain registration is completely separate from your site hosting and this is one of the few aspects of web development where price is king. Expensive domain registrars trade on the fact people are uneducated about this! As an example of the disparity, buying a .com.au domain name from Melbourne IT will set you back $147 for two years*, while the same domain can be bought from Ventra IP for $24.95. Likewise a .com domain from Melbourne IT costs $77, while at VentraIP it's $11.95 - an almost 7-fold increase in price for basically the same thing (note most of the 'addons' promoted by domain sellers are unnecessary). Having said go for the cheapest, we'd still advise you choose an Australian supplier, and there is some (minor) advantage in having your domain registration with your hosting provider.
How do you go about buying a domain? That part's pretty simple, and with a credit card it's not too hard to do it all online quickly through any number of suppliers. Domain names ending in .com.au are controlled in Australia. They should relate to your business, and can't misrepresent who you are. The domain registrar for .com.au site addresses will do some quick checks to make sure you're entitled to use the name, generally by doing an ABN search. Once your domain name is approved and paid for, you'll receive an email detailing your account. Keep this safe, as you'll need the user names and passwords to set up your site (and renew the domain names when they expire).
This is a very quick and general guide to domain names and there is more to the topic (particularly when it comes to choosing a name), but these are the most important things to remember:
- Buy your domain names now
- Claim both the .com.au and the .com site addresses
- Note your domain name user name and password and store them somewhere safe
- When it comes to price, go for the cheapest and
- Don't forget to re-register before your expiry dates
* As at January 2015.