What is a Domain Name?
In simple terms, it is a unique name which is registered for your exclusive use (while the registration is maintained), and used to identify resources (e.g. servers hosting websites, e-mail addresses etc.)
For example, the URL http://www.incognito.co.nz/index.html identifies a specific web page. The domain name in this example is “incognito.co.nz”. The “nz” in this example is known as the “top level domain”, “.co” is a sub-domain of that, and “incognito” is a sub-domain of “co.nz”. Responsibility for assigning unique names within each level is delegated from the “parent” level. (In theory, you could sub-divide your domain as you wish; in practice, this is unlikely except within large organisations with special requirements.)
In the above example, the “www” identifies a “server” — in this case, the web server, within the “incognito.co.nz” domain. Note that the use of “www” is a purely arbitrary convention. The “index.html” identifies the specific web page being addressed within the website; each page will have a unique identifier.
The web server can be configured such that requesting a page by only providing the domain name causes a “redirect” to the “home” page (the name of which is completely arbitrary, and which may even change over time). This again ensures that anyone addressing your site by only it’s domain name will arrive at the correct place.
Because URLs are most commonly used to identify web pages, it is also typical (but not mandatory) to have the bare domain name mapped to the web server (allowing the website to be identified by the simpler “incognito.co.nz” in this case).
It’s your domain …
Once you’ve successfully registered your domain, it’s yours, subject to paying the annual registration fee. It should not be owned by your current ISP, or any other service provider, and you should be able to transfer registration to some other registrar of your choice.
A UDAI code is used within the .nz top level domains as a “key” or “password”, you would require this to transfer the domain. Registrars are required to issue one to the owner of the domain upon request.
To edit the domain settings (via the registrar’s website), you will need a login ID and password. These settings will need to be changed to (for example) identify the “web server” where your current website is hosted, or to set up e-mail redirection etc.
Hence, you should keep both the UDAI, and any login credentials safe. (Your IT support organisation may look after these for you, and can in that case also assist with any configuration which may be required.)
You should be very wary of handing over any of these details to anyone you don’t trust, and ensure that any organisation registering a domain on your behalf does so in your name, and not theirs (otherwise, regaining control of it may be difficult).
You can also have one or more e-mail addresses associated with your domain, e.g. something like email@example.com, or firstname.lastname@example.org, etc.
Many domain name registrars provide a free redirection service, allowing you to use what is essentially a “branded” e-mail address, while still using your existing mailbox. Or, for a small fee, you can have the e-mail hosted directly, independently of your current ISP or free e-mail service such as gmail, should you prefer.
Apart from the branding benefit, this also can provide more stability than, say an ISP-provided mailbox (which will change if you change ISPs, or decide on a different free e-mail service etc.) This can avoid the need to update stationery and signage etc., and notify all your customers, in the event of such a change.
Registering your Domain
You can register a domain name (from approximately $20+GST/year), without necessarily having it associated with a website or e-mail address. You can register one merely to reserve it for future use (or to prevent anyone else from using it, for that matter).
When you initially register your domain, the registrar will normally provide a default generic “parked domain” page informing anyone accessing the website at that address that it is reserved.
The basic rule is finders, keepers. So, if you want it, it may be wise to register it. If you think someone has registered “your” domain name, there may be little you can do about it. Note that sometimes likely names are registered by opportunistic “squatters”, who have no intention of using it, but look to sell it at a significant profit.
How to register
For customers committing to a website, assistance can be provided in registering your preferred name. (Obviously, if it’s already taken, an alternative would need to be tried.) You should probably ensure that the domain you want is registered early on in the process, as the domain name may be reflected in various website content.
Otherwise, if not immediately ready for a website, you may wish to register it yourself.
Note that Incognito Computer Services Ltd is not in the domain name registration business as such; any assistance is provided as a convenience to customers.
Regardless of how the domain is registered, you should be aware that your contact details are recorded in the public “whois” database, which can be looked up using the domain name.
Should I have a .com domain?
If you’re a New Zealand business, targeting New Zealand consumers, then the answer is almost certainly not.
You want Google to observe that your site is a New Zealand site. Having it hosted in New Zealand obviously helps to reinforce that point, as does having a .nz domain name. Basically, if it walks like a duck, talks like a duck …
Of course, it’s not just Google you have to worry about. Mostly, people will associate the .nz domain name with local businesses, and .com with overseas (predominantly US) businesses.
But, if you’re wanting to target a global market, and de-emphasise your location, then a .com domain may be more appropriate. You might also want to ponder this article at NBR on the legal risks of a .com address. Obviously, if you’re a local plumbing business or such like, your chance of upsetting the US authorities is negligible.