Domain names and churches

October 12, 2010

This is the first part in a series on getting a church website up and running, or changing a long-established site. Please bear with me if it seems like at times I’m stating the obvious – some people will not have heard it before, and some may have forgotten things.

Domain names

First things first – get your domain name right. Even if you’ve got a long-established domain name that you use for your church, it’s worth assessing what you use. If you opt to change to a new domain name, make sure that the old  one redirects to the new site for quite a while, as people will undoubtedly fail to update their bookmarks.

Choosing the correct top-level domain

This means opting for the right “ending” for your domain, and hence an essential part of your website address. Let’s go back to basics – this is a part of the Domain Name System that translates the human -readable name www.cofe.anglican.org to 137.222.16.80 which is it’s IP address (or, more accurately, its IPv4 address, but we won’t get into that…). And it is a system, which has rules and conventions, which are there for a reason and are worth following if you want to be located somewhere sensible where people might try to find you!

There is a full list of Top Level Domains on Wikipedia, and a more formal list at IANA. These can be country-specific (such as .uk , which is a ccTLD) or a generic one (such as .com or .org , known as a gTLD).

In general, I would say that a local church should always use a country-specific TLD, which would in the UK end .uk . If the church is very well known or has an international ministry, then a gTLD may well be justified and expected. In that case, stick to the .org TLD , as it’s intended for non-profit organisations.

But where then? In the UK, there are a number of registrations available through Nominet (the registry for UK domain names) – these include co.uk, .ltd.uk, .me.uk, .net.uk, .org.uk, .plc.uk, and .sch.uk – some will not be available for a church to register (such as .sch.uk or .plc.uk), but I would urge people registering a site for a church to use .org.uk , as that is specifically intended for non-profit organisations. It’s the first place that many people would look for a church or charity.

In either case, I would avoid a top level domain that suggests a commercial organisation, such as .com or .co.uk or a networking one ( .net or .net.uk ) – these were intended for companies and internet-based organisations. I would also avoid the less well known TLDs such as .info as many internet users are not yet aware of them. Also, I would stick to an .org.uk domain as it is administered in the UK by Nominet, who have an effective dispute resolution procedure, whereas if you register a gTLD any dispute is handled by ICANN and is going to be more complicated and costly. Also, in general, .uk domain names tend to be cheaper!

Also, I would suggest two other pitfalls to avoid. Don’t use a vanity URL redirection service , such as surf.to which offers something like http://surf.to/st-egberts . If these are free services, there’s a good chance that they will disappear one day when the money runs out, and if it’s a paid for service, it depends on the provider’s own systems, not the global DNS system (with all the redundancy and resilience built in as it’s the bedrock of the internet) and you would have been better served by buying a real domain name in the first place. Also, don’t use a hybrid TLD such as .uk.com or .uk.net – again these are not where people would expect a church or charity to be found, and it rewards the registrars that bought up the .uk.com and .uk.net domains and are now reselling subdomains for a huge profit.

Choice of the name itself

This is the part before the .org.uk (or whatever) and is where personal preference comes into play, but here’s a few principles to get you started.

  • Use your church’s recognised name. If you’re known as St.Edburgs, then make sure that you include that in the domain name.
  • It helps to include the town, village or area, so that you don’t confuse people, so stedburgs-midtown.org.uk would make sense.
  • Avoid acronyms, especially if they are not in common use. The clergy of St.Edburgs may well refer to SEM, but to the man in the street sem.org.uk could just as easily refer to special education matters! If an acronym has become the accepted name of the church, then I can see a reason for using it, so I guess that htb.org.uk  makes sense!
  • Avoid subjective assertions. You may well think that St.Edburgs is the best place to worship in Midtown, but others may disagree. Why get their backs up before they have even seen your site. So best-worship-in-midtown.org.uk is out.

The registration process

Whatever domain name you go for, you will need to register it with a registrar – Nominet have a list of those who are their members and so are bound by their code of practice. The registrar will have some helpful guides on the registration process and how to manage your domain, and will send you a reminder after 2 years that you will need to renew the domain. I’ve used Mythic Beasts with great success in the past.

Future posts in this series will include making best use of your domain name, putting together a church website and selecting and using a Content Management system. Feel free to let me know about what you think needs covering!


Andy Foulsham said on October 18, 2010

I would always recommend that a church website is “owned” by the church itself (via the PCC or DCC in a Church of England context). The danger which you have forseen is what happens when an individual moves away (or walks under the proverbial no.13 bus!).
Hosting providers have no problem with a domain name registration and hosting agreement being with a corporate body, and the sums involved are not large (in my experience, unless you have a huge, high-traffic site, you shouldn’t have to pay more than £40 per annum).
I intend to write something on “content management” in the near future – the thrust of this is “how to maintain a website without writing HTML”. Technologies like this enable non-technical people to run a website and keep it updated without the need for expensive software or great technical skill.