To begin with, let’s quickly explain what a domain is. These web folk who “set up” the internet, or at least, started defining everything made things incredibly simple for us all in their vocabulary. What is difficult is all the initialisms (the shortening of a string of words, like RSA for Republic of South Africa) and sheer number of terms you need to be aware of. Luckily, for domains, it is much like one’s literal domain in the real, physical world.
A physical domain is a “territory, or piece of land owned or managed by someone” and a digital domain is the equivalent. So to own the rights to “www.coke.com” means you control that slice of cyberspace. For a myriad of reasons, you need to pay to buy it, and continually rent it. Typically a domain with a suffix of .com is about R200/year ($15) and you pay annually. South Africa’s suffix (.co.za) is cheaper still (R95/year), and a .net or .org maybe double that. I can’t see any rhyme or reason to why some are more or less expensive – it’s all semantics really – but that is how it works. You can buy them yourself with the industry authorities (this is the one for buying .co.za – buy cheapest here) but it’s a minor nightmare to work with, so best you just pay the extra R20 and use a host.
For all my .co.za domains I use Afrihost (although not perfect they are much easier to work with than Hetzner, and others) and for all international domains (like .com or .net) I use Namecheap, as they often have great deals, their interface is splendid, and they offer privacy (You can do a thing called ‘WHOIS lookup’ and find out who hosts something – not really ideal to have your name, phone number, and address visible online, is it?). For .co.za domains you legally have to display it, but for most domains you don’t.
All this to say that just like you used to get letters and parcels delivered to your physical address, now your domain is your digital address (for your business or brand, etc) and your traffic gets routed there. From there we can then turn to DNS entries, mail, and whatnot, but that is beyond the scope of this little article, so say tuned for info on that in months to come.
Bonus tip: While many SEO people will tell you to buy a domain where the url has the keywords you want to rank for (eg. buying www.londonplumber.co.uk) those days are fading fast. I would wager it still can help, but only marginally so. If I was you (and you were me, in this scenario) I would advise you (who are now me, good looks and all) to choose a domain from which you can build a brand. So rather buy a domain (www.perfectplumber.co.uk or www.essexexperts..co.uk) that you love to say and write out on your marketing materials than go for the url phrase match.