Domain Name Registration
In order to use a custom domain name such as jeffreifman.com, you have to find and register it at a domain name registrar. If the domain is not available, you’ll need to contact the domain name owner and offer to purchase it.
While it’s not the simplest service to use, I’ve had the most reliable results with NameCheap.com. If you want a simpler web interface albeit a weaker infrastructure and support arm, try MyDomain.com (note: I’ve had serious difficulties with their support team especially related to DNS problems). Web developer Darin Reid recommends, Hover.com for their easy to use interface. Typically, registration for a .com domain costs $11 annually. Some services charge a lot more.
If you want to purchase a domain with a custom extension e.g. .ly (as in http://bit.ly), you’ll need to use google to find a registrar that works with the country whose domain you are searching for. There are a number of these, for example I own geospac.es and MajorHomes.US. Domainr makes it easy to search for naming schemes that work across different extensions.
There are also a broader away of domain name extensions coming soon, so you might be able to buy iluv.unicorns.
Avoid GoDaddy: I’d like to strongly advise against using GoDaddy.com as a domain registrar. Not only does GoDaddy offer misogynist advertising and its founder promote right wing ideologies including torture and animal cruelty, but I’ve experienced terrible customer service experiences with the company and have heard complaints from many others as well.
Searching for a Domain Name
If you need more advanced search capabilities, try using Domain Tools or Lean Domain Search (recently acquired by WordPress). As mentioned above, Domainr makes it easy to search for domains using many extensions.
If the domain that you want is taken, you can use a WHOIS tool to search for the owner and contact them directly to make an offer. Sometimes the web page of the domain will link to an offer page operated by a network like SEDO or BuyDomains. Some contact information is protected and it may not be possible to directly contact an owner; in these cases, it’s likely that the domain is listed for sale on one of the above two networks.
If you purchase a domain name, I highly recommend using an escrow service such as Escrow.com to secure the exchange of funds and intellectual domain property.
You can also place offers on expiring domains (even before they expire) through SnapNames.com.
Name Server Hosting and DNS
Once you’ve registered your domain name, you’ll need to host what’s called the Name Server which will direct traffic from web browsers around the world to the Web or IP address of the server that you’re hosting your site with. Many domain name registrars provide this service, called DNS services. However, it’s important to note that this can be a serious point of failure. When your DNS provider goes down or creates an error, it can take hours or days to fix and can prevent readers from visiting your site.
If you need 100% reliability and uptime for your website, you’ll want to use a paid DNS provider e.g. Amazon Route 53. Maintaining 100% reliable DNS services and fast, timely support is essential for making your site reliable. Rackspace claims to offer free Cloud DNS hosting but I haven’t been able to clarify that you can use it without purchasing other Rackspace products.