You’re going along, minding your own business.
Then one day, inspiration strikes! And you’ve got the perfect domain name for it, too.
So you do a little research.
Figure out the best domain hosting for your new project.
Enter your credit card info at your domain registrar, and bam! You’ve done the domain registration. You’re now the proud owner of your very own new domain name!
So you think – “I bought a domain…now what?”
But as soon as the muse came to you, it left as well. And now, you have a domain name — and little else.
That’s where this guide comes in. Allow me to walk you through the next steps you’ll need to take to secure your domain name, connect it to a functioning website and email account… And even prepare it for the day you sell your baby and make your millions.
Option 1 – Connect To A Website
No doubt you bought that domain name with big plans in mind. But what would a name be without a well-designed website to go with it?
Think of web hosting (or a website builder) like renting a storefront for your website. You’ll be renting the empty building, and putting everything you need in it. Having the storefront just means that people can come by and visit.
There are dozens of web hosting companies that are competing for your business, and there is no “one size fits all” approach. Your choice will depend on what you expect out of your domain and your new site — and how tech savvy you are. We’ve covered the major hosting companies in detail over on our web hosting reviews page, and I’d recommend that you make it your next stop.
And what happens if you register your domain in one place, but decide to use a different web host or website builder to power it? You’ll need to point your domain — giving it instructions to link up to its new home on the web.
These instructions involve going into your domain manager at your domain registrar and editing the DNS setting (aka “nameserver”) so that the DNS records match the ones provided in your hosting account / site builder account.
After a few minutes the DNS propagation will complete (think updating your address records) and you’ll be able to access a website via your desired domain name.
When you’re ready to make your site, If you don’t want to spend a lot of time learning to set up a website that you control, it’s best to go with a good website builder: A powerful, easy-to-use suite of tools and templates that makes it fast and simple to create your own webpage.
There are fewer website builders to choose from than hosting providers, and each seems targeted towards a specific group of people.
Some, like WordPress.com, are targeted to publishers & bloggers. Some, like Wix, are targeted to small business owners. Some, like Weebly, are targeted to small stores and “offline” projects. Google Sites is targeted to people who just want a basic, free website builder.
It all comes down to your budget & preference.
Connect To Email
Now, you don’t have to have a website. Plenty of people just want custom domain for a custom email address. It gives people another way to discover you, get in touch, and get to know each other better. It develops your own branding and leaves you less dependent on Google, Microsoft, and other big email domain providers.
Just like the hosting you’ll use for your website, email requires hosting as well. Most good web hosting providers even offer the ability to bundle the two, saving you a few bucks per month on both subscriptions. You can also connect your domain to dedicated email hosting provider like Google Workspace, Namecheap, Fastmail, Proton Mail, etc.
The connection process is the same as with a web hosting account. Instead of editing the A Records in your DNS settings, you’ll be editing the MX records.
Can you get email hosting for free? Yes, and there’s a good chance you’re already doing so! For a personal account, at least.
With nearly 2 billion users, Gmail is the most popular email provider on the planet — but their good will only goes so far for free users. A (fairly new) adage goes like this: “If you’re not paying for it, then you’re the product.” In the case of Gmail, this free-to-use capacity comes at the cost of being constantly advertised to, and having some of your data collected for further use by the company.
Combined with the data storage and file size limitations, this makes free email providers like Gmail a better choice for casual accounts — but not businesses. This is especially true if you’ll be handling sensitive information, as Gmail uses IMAP email protocols to sync messages across all of your devices, storing them “in the cloud”. Contrast this with POP3 email protocols, where your information is stored offline and deleted from the server.
Also, consider the impact of the email that someone might receive from you. If it’s a personal communication, an email from “email@example.com” wouldn’t look out of place. But if your reader is expecting to deal with you as a professional business, wouldn’t “firstname.lastname@example.org” look better? Of course it would!
Another big advantage of using a dedicated email hosting provider is all of the behind-the-scenes work they handle. And while a lot of that is outside of the scope of this article, one basic stands out as the most important: the automation of Mail Exchange (MX) records. As soon as you connect your domain name to an email hosting provider, they’ll automatically direct any incoming mail to your inbox — otherwise, your communications would be lost in the ether of the internet.
Redirect To Another Website
Do you remember the children’s book classic, “If You Give A Mouse A Cookie”?
In it, a single taste of a delicious chocolate chip cookie leads to another, and another, and another.
Registering domain names can feel much the same. Once you’ve had one great idea for a website name, what’s stopping you from securing even more? They’re not that pricey, and you don’t want someone else to steal the name for your brilliant idea.
But! While spreading your efforts and experiments out far and wide can be a good strategy at first — it’s a great way to test what works and what doesn’t. But eventually you’ll probably want all your readers directed to a single primary domain, because a dozen sites with a few viewers aren’t nearly as useful as a single site with thousands.
That’s where redirects come in. Just like changing your mailing address when you move to a new home or apartment, a redirect will send all of your traffic to your new, final website.
Just like a change of mailing address, there are two types of redirects: Permanent 301 redirects, and temporary 302 redirects.
While the exact process for setting up redirects will vary depending on the website builder you’re using, they’ll have the same effect of directing your readers to the page you want them to see, rather than a dead “404 not found” page. When you’re ready, just put a redirect from the domain you’re no longer using to your new, shiny, perfectly named domain. I wrote a guide on implementing bulk redirects here.
If you’re tracking your domains’ traffic, you can still do so with 301 or 302 redirects as well. Google Analytics gives you a suite of tools to track your website’s stats, and you can use an Analytics Tag with your redirects to gather information on them.
Park Your Domain
And now, you have everything in place: A great domain name, an idea for what you want your website to look like, an email hosting provider for communications, and all of your experiments redirected to your main page. What’s next? Using your website to make money online, of course.
If you chose a really good domain name — one that no one had thought of before, that’s suddenly in demand — you can make money just by leaving it be. There’s a whole market for buying and selling domain names for profit, with the idea that a small ongoing investment will pay off when someone needs your presciently selected domain name. If that sounds interesting to you, GoDaddy Auctions is the largest arena for buying and selling domain names.
But even the most basically constructed website, with a great domain name, can often be sold for more than just the name itself. That’s due in large part to something that Google looks for when they’re deciding which websites hit their front page for a search term: The age of a website.
Register your domain name, make a basic site, and let it age, and you might be able to turn it around for a handsome profit on sites like Flippa. We have plenty of suggestions for how to build websites, and how to improve existing sites with better design or search engine optimization.
Should you try to sell your domain or website if it’s already attracting viewers, though? Perhaps not. The more high quality content you publish on your website, the more people it will draw. And the more people look at your page, the easier it is to turn those views into ad revenue.
Google AdSense is the first stop for ad revenue for most website owners. It has a low barrier to entry, and can start making you a few dollars within months of publishing your first pieces of content. AdThrive, Mediavine, and Ezoic require you to have more viewers to sign up, but pay better per click — making them a better long-term solution.
Get onboard with any of these ad systems, and your website could start earning you passive income. But another popular option, sometimes used alongside ad revenue, is affiliate marketing. By partnering with an established business and then sending your viewers to their sales pages, you can earn a portion of each sale made through your clicks. Amazon runs the most well known affiliate program, but smaller businesses offer higher percentages of each sale.
Ultimately, what you choose to do with your domain name and website will depend on how much time and effort you’d like to put into it. Hopefully, this guide clears up any lingering questions you’ve had, and points you in the right direction for your website building journey. Good luck!