What Is a Domain and How Do Domains Names Work?

Your domain is so much more than just a URL. It’s a virtual storefront for online shoppers to find your store and discover your brand and products.

Think about it this way: retail store owners have to make their locations easy to find and appealing enough to entice customers to walk through the door when they do find them. Similarly, your domain name is that online destination—it needs to be easy to find and use. ​​​​

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Table of contents

What is a domain?

A domain, or domain name, is essentially a web URL or address. You’ll see the domain name after the http:// or www. in a URL string, or after the @ symbol in an email address. A domain name basically serves as a user-facing digital destination.

Sometimes, the domain name is simply the name of the brand. Shopify merchant Mikokos, for example, uses mikokos.com as its domain.


Some brands add to their domain names—their preferred domain name may already be taken or cost too much. Swimsuit brand Viera adds the word “swim” to its domain name, using vieraswim.com as its URL.


How do domain names work?

Domain names are unique digital addresses that are easy for people to remember and use. When you enter a URL, your device sends a request to the global Domain Name System (DNS) network of web hosts. The DNS network then finds the unique IP address associated with the typed-in domain name and sends the device to that virtual destination, or website.

The domain name is unique to each website, and no two websites or businesses share the same domain name. For example, http://website.com and http://website.org are two separate entities. That’s because they end in different top-level domains (TLDs). The parts of the URL break down like this:

  • http://—protocol (not technically a part of the domain)
  • website.com or website.org—root domain
  • website—domain name
  • .com or .org—top-level domain

Personal care brand by Humankind’s root domain is byhumankind.com. So in this example, “byhumankind” is the domain name and “.com” is the TLD.


Note that some domains include www and others don’t. You might also see things like shop.website.com or blog.website.com. The words blog and shop are subdomains that act as separate entities and destinations from your main domain.

When you want to build an ecommerce website with your own domain (we recommend this!), you’ll need to do so through a domain registrar. Registrars serve as domain hosts or domain providers for your website. They do all the work in the back end to make your URL accessible to any internet user in the world who visits it. Your domain registrar will assign your domain its unique IP address.

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How to choose a domain name

Naming your online store is an important and fun but daunting task. When you start an ecommerce business, it’s important to choose a domain name that represents your brand and is easy to remember but still unique so people don’t mix it up with other domain names. On top of that, you need to find a domain name that’s available and within your budget.

You can even leverage your domain name to boost credibility and trust in your brand. That’s exactly what Andrew Lissimore did when he launched his website selling headphones. He chose headphones.com as his domain name—it doesn’t get much more straightforward than that. He negotiated a price from the original domain name owner and was able to successfully grow his online business.


When choosing your domain name, aim for the following:

  • Availability. Do a domain name search to see if your idea is available. If someone is actively using your domain name idea, you’ll likely need to find some new ones. If it’s unavailable and also not in use, you may be able to find out who owns the domain and negotiate a price.
  • Within budget. Available or not, domain names aren’t free. Common words and phrases—like headphones.com—are likely to be more expensive than less common words.
  • Easy to remember. Your domain name is what people enter into their browser to find your website. It’s important to make sure it’s easy not only to remember but also to spell—especially if yourbrand.com isn’t available.
  • On brand. Your domain name is a representation of your brand, especially if you’re selling online-only. Get your brand name somewhere in your domain name if possible. Fashion designer Tery D’Ciano maintains a website for her brand at terydc.com, for example. 



Find your perfect domain name

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Launch your domain with Shopify

If you’re setting up your own website, you need a domain registrar, a server to host your domain, a website design, and email and customer support functionality, among other features. That’s why it’s important to choose tools that simplify and centralize business management as much as possible.

When you register your domain with Shopify, it immediately connects to your online store—so you don’t have to worry about third-party apps or complex setup processes. Everything is ready to go so you can focus on what matters most.

Ready to create your first business? Start your free 14-day trial of Shopify—no credit card required.

What is a domain name FAQ

What exactly is a domain?

A domain is a URL people enter into their browser to access a specific website. A domain connects a user’s device to the DNS, which matches it with the IP address and gains access to the website.

What is a domain used for?

A domain is used as a user-friendly address to access a specific virtual destination or website. Domains are also used for credibility and SEO.