- Dec 19, 2017
- by Brad Litwin
A captivating and memorable URL is made up of several parts, even if it doesn’t look that way on the surface. Unless you understand what those elements are and how they work, you’ll have a hard time with domain management, which is an essential part of running your website.
For example, some URLs require you to use ‘www’ to access a website, whereas others don’t. Knowing how to configure this setting can help you make your site more accessible. Similarly, there are other parts of your domain that you may need to change or optimize.
In this article, we’re going to talk about the four elements that make up every domain name and URL. We’ll explain what they are and how they work, and help you choose between the options available. Let’s get to it!
An Introduction to Domains
If you want to access a website, you’ll need to know its domain name. For example, if you want to visit the A2 Hosting home page, you have to type https://www.a2hosting.com into your browser. That entire address is what’s called a Uniform Resource Locator (URL), and the a2hosting.com portion is our domain name.
As you might know, you can also connect to a website using its IP address. This is a series of numbers that identifies a unique server over the web. However, it’s far easier to type in and remember a short name. When you register a domain, you’re basically paying to associate it with your website’s IP, so people have an easier time finding your site.
The Anatomy of a Domain Name (4 Key Elements)
In this section, we’re going to break down a full URL and teach you what each element does. That way, you won’t be caught off guard if you ever have to perform any domain management tasks.
1. The HTTP Protocol
The Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) governs the way that servers and browsers behave and communicate with each other. For example, each time you try to access a normal website through your browser, it sends an HTTP request to the server at the other end. If the server replies, the website will load. Sometimes, things go wrong during this process, which is why you’ll run into HTTP errors occasionally.
HTTPS, on the other hand, is a more secure version of the original protocol. It works in basically the same way, except that it encrypts all the data between the server and browser, for added safety. Using HTTPS can also have a positive impact on a site’s Search Engine Optimization (SEO). This means it’s well worth making the switch on your own site, if you haven’t already.
However, you can’t just replace the HTTP portion of your URL with HTTPS out of the blue – you need to get a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate first. This certificate shows you went through a process of verification before enabling HTTPS. You can even get an SSL certificate for free. Once it’s all set up, your site will be more secure.
2. The www Prefix
As you may know, the www that’s in most URLs stands for “world wide web”. You don’t need to use this prefix in your URLs, but a lot of websites do so anyway. The reason is that search engines recognize different URLs as unique pages. For example, take these two URLs:
Search engines think those are two different websites, so for consistency’s sake you should stick to a single structure throughout your site. In other words, you need to choose a master or ‘canonical’ URL, and use it for both your internal and external links.
From a technical standpoint, www URLs are usually a better choice, since they enable you to use CNAME records and are better for caching purposes. You’ll want to read more about what those terms mean at some point, but for now, all you need to know is that unless you have a strong reason not to, you’re better off using www for your website’s URL. Plus, you can always set things up so that when people type your domain without the www prefix, they’ll get redirected.
3. Your Domain Name
This is the most straightforward element of any URL – it’s the name you pick to identify your website. We already talked about how domains work earlier, so for now let’s focus on how to choose the right one.
Your domain name needs to be both functional and memorable, so here are some tips you’ll want to keep in mind:
- Select a name that’s related to your site’s niche or topic.
- Keep the domain short, so it’s easier to type and remember.
- Avoid names that sound too similar to your competitors.
- Compare multiple options, and check to see if they’re available using a domain registrar.
Registering a new domain or transferring an existing one isn’t that expensive, but you want to get it right the first time. After all, changing a domain name can be a bit complicated, depending on how popular your website is. You can also decide whether you want a premium domain name. If you’re not sure where you can register a one, or how to do it, check out our domains section to get started:
Likewise, you may need some help brainstorming domain name options. If that’s the case, there are services known as ‘domain spinners’ that can help you come up with ideas if you provide them with a few keywords.
4. Your Top-Level Domain (TLD)
TLDs are the suffixes that come right after your domain name. For example, a2hosting.com uses the .com suffix. Most people only know about popular TLDs such as .com, .net, and .org. However, there are hundreds of TLD options available, and you can pick basically any of them for your domain.
The reason why most people stick to .com TLDs and other popular options is that they make websites seem more professional, and they’re easier for visitors to remember. Plus, some TLDs cost more to register than others. For example, you can usually find .com domains for under $15, but specialty TLDs are often more expensive.
However, people are becoming a lot more open to using unusual TLDs. Take .io for example, which is incredibly popular among startups, or .blog which is excellent for personal websites. Likewise, there are other TLDs for particular types of sites, such as .wiki and .realty. In most cases, however, we recommend sticking with .com unless it isn’t available for your domain name. In that case, feel free to look for TLDs that are relevant to your website’s field.
Your domain name is an integral part of your website. If it’s memorable, people may visit more often. However, it’s also important for you to know what the other elements in your URL are, aside from the name you chose. For example, knowing that you have multiple TLD options available can help you choose the one that’s best suited to your niche.
Before we wrap up, let’s recap the four elements that make up every URL:
- The HTTP or HTTPS protocol.
- The www prefix.
- Your domain name.
- Your choice of TLD.
Image credit: Pixabay.