What is a registered domain name? Can you sell a registered domain name? What is the process?

Let’s say you want your own website – not a WordPress blog or a Tumblr feed, but a space just for you to promote your work. The first thing you’re going to need to do is register a domain name.

A domain name is a string of characters that identifies a sphere of administrative control on the internet. Confusing? Well, for our current purposes, it’s just the address that you type into your web browser to get to your website. For example, CJAM’s domain name is cjam.info. When you register a domain name, you reserve it for your uses. No one else will be able to display a website at that address.

Before you can register, you need to check and see if the domain name is already taken. You can do this by searching WHOIS, a comprehensive directory of registered domain names, through a website like Instant Domain Search orGoDaddy. If the domain name is unregistered, you can then go to a domain name registrar (a company or organization that manages domain name reservation) and get it. Note that different domain name registrars can register you for different extensions. The Canadian Internet Registration Authority, for example, offers a list of certified registrars for .ca domain names, which you can see here. Note too that some top level domains (TLDs, or the domains described in the extension at the end of the address, like .info for this site) have specific criteria for those who can use them. To register a .ca domain, for example, you must have some kind of connection to Canada.

Now, what if the domain name has already been registered by someone else? Well, if you were hoping to get your hands on www.facebook.com, it’s in use and you’re out of luck. That said, it’s always possible that the registrant of the domain name you’re after isn’t using it, or if they’re a domain name speculator willing to sell. You can check for the registrant’s contact information on WHOIS (though many registrants use proxies to protect their personal privacy from a direct search) if you want to reach them directly; alternatively, you can check domain-selling websites like GreatDomains or even eBay. Like most goods on the market, the price of a domain name can fluctuate considerably depending on its value – shorter, more generic names are worth more than longer, more abstract ones.

Once you’ve agreed on a price, transfer the registration. Some registrars might provide registrants with a username and password to access their domain. If so, all you need to do is get those from the seller, log in, and change the relevant contact information. If you acquired the registration over a domain-selling site, however, you’ll have to follow their internal procedure. The same goes, of course, if you’d like to sell a domain name registration you’re no longer using. And like all online transactions, make sure you’re using reputable sites and taking steps to protect your privacy and your security.

Finally, remember that the registered domain name is only the tip of the iceberg. You still have to design the website! So far, you simply have the means for people to find you, nothing more.