Domain names have more epithets than most things I know: URLs, Web Name, Company URL, Domains, Website Names, Custom Domains, Web Address, and more.
A common name given to domain names though is Custom Domain and this is often done by services that offer the use of sub-domains on the main service domain or the use of their service on a domain name they control. An upgraded option as an alternative is often called a “custom domain”.
The short answer is: A custom domain name is simply a domain name.
What’s so custom about a custom domain?
Every domain name is unique, so there really isn’t anything custom beyond the fact that every single domain name is unique by itself. Considering that fact, domain names make really great brand names because they are one of a kind.
What is a sub-domain?
A sub-domain is a prefix on a root domain name. I know that’s confusing and that’s because it is confusing. www. is actually a sub-domain name, it’s often at the start of a domain name but it’s not required. A CNAME record within your domain names DNS often will “redirect” the www.rootdomain.com sub-domain to the root domain, rootdomain.com . It’s the reason some websites will not resolve unless you add www to it (a small technical issue.)
At times, websites are built using sub-domains for organizational purposes and may include sub-domains like store.rootdomain.com
Services like Shopify for an example will allow someone to build a website on its service and you have an early but important option when you sign up, use a custom domain or not.
Email services like Gmail allow you to have a Gmail email address or you can use Google Workspace for a fee with a “custom domain” and have yourbrand.com for email.
Custom domain or not?
Amazon.com is a massive worldwide brand, built on a domain name. If Shopify was a thing back when Jeff Bezos founded Amazon, he potentially could have built his website with Shopify technology and if he didn’t pick a custom domain name, amazon.myshopify.com could have been the websites “domain name”/brand.
Technically, amazon.myshopify.com is a sub-domain on a domain name owned and controlled by Shopify. MyShopify.com is the domain name Shopify allows customers to use for their web store. A customer depends on Shopify to renew that domain name, keep proper hosting/DNS to resolve it and your sub-domain (and many, many more.)
Not using a custom domain, you have to market amazon.myshopify.com as your web address/brand. It’s clumsy, long and unprofessional looking. People often forget about the dot between the web stores “name” (sub-domain) and the Shopify services domain. Most will struggle due to the overall length and simply forget it.
You should choose the custom domain option 100% of the time if you are doing any commerce or want to present a professional image.
Control is reason #1. Easier to remember is the next most important. From day one, you want to be branding and the most common business practice online is to own your domain name exactly to what you brand as. If you can't do that now, it should be an early goal to do so.
Amazon is your brand name, the best domain name is Amazon.com. It’s by far the majority way professional business is run online.
How do you get the best custom domain name?
What inspired me to write this article is the fact that I visited many popular website building services and I searched for a “brand name” I wanted to use for my web store. Sadly, I was told by the service that the custom domain I wanted to use was “not available”. Sad, wet eyes I had. I could either use a sub-domain or pick a different domain name, having to rebrand before I even started!
The fact of the matter was, the domain name I searched for on this website building service WAS available to purchase, the website builder just wasn’t connected in anyway with the domain name aftermarket. I searched the specific domain name as a brand, knowing this ahead of time. Yes, most of the good domain names are taken but there are many good ones available for purchase at a range of prices on the domain name aftermarket. The reality here was, not available wasn't really the correct answer I was being presented.
In a perfect world, I’d love to see these services better connected to the domain aftermarket and from my understanding, efforts have been put forth to make this happen, but it takes two to tango. Of the website building services I checked outside of the domain industry, zero of them were connected to the domain name aftermarket. None!
Start off on the right foot
Just because a service may say a domain name is “not available” doesn’t mean that is true. This is where education is power and knowledge will connect you with a professional domain name buyer brokerage service like Uniregistry Buyer Brokerage that is deeply connected and in tune with the domain name aftermarket. Tell them what domain you want and they go to work for you. Then when signing up to create your web store, choose the option: I already have a domain to use.
I strongly felt like these website services are misleading customers on an important first step in brand building. Using the best, exact match domain name to what you are going to brand as from the start is a wise choice and may ease some "change over" stress later on.
Not available or settling on a sub-domain of a service provider is not great. If you see the term custom domain, now you know what it is and there is a domain name aftermarket beyond what most services will show you available for domain names.