How to Choose a Domain NameThursday, January 31st, 2008
One of the early steps you must take when creating a website is to choose a domain name. If you already have a name chosen or you are an established business, you may not be able to get a domain name that is an exact match. This article will help you weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of the options that you have.
The ideal scenario
In a perfect world, you would be able to find a .com domain that is the same name as your business and you would also be able to buy the other top level domain (TLD) names, such as .org, .biz, .net or whichever country’s TLD you needed. In reality, things are very different, as the Internet, although still very young, as grown exponentially, and most of the best names have been taken.
Understanding Top Level Domain (TLD) name extensions
When it comes to choosing a domain name extension, you have a large number of choices. However, unless you are a specialist organization, a government body, educational body or fall into one of the other categories that TLDs have been created for, then you are looking at .com, .net. .org, .info*, .biz and country extensions, such as .ca, or .us. Some country extensions require a registrant to be resident in the country or registered as a business there, but most are open to anyone. The most common TLD which is thus the easiest for a user to remember, and therefore the most prestigious, is .com. If this is available, it is probably a good decision to register it, even if you do not plan on using it as your primary domain. There are advantages to using country specific extensions, as localized search results tend to favour websites with local TLD. For example, if you use Google in the UK, a website with a .co.uk extension is likely to return higher in the results than if the same search was done elsewhere in the world. This is something to consider if your market is going to be geographically located.
Branding vs Search engine optimization (SEO)
Everyone knows that strong branding is critical to ensure people remember your name, and the same is true for domain names. As in the real world a brand does not have to be a real world and so domain names do not necessarily have to be real words. This has been proved by brands such as Google, Digg and Ebay which are all examples of domain names that are meaningless on their own, but have become successful through effective marketing and business development.
However, in the context of SEO, a meaningless domain name is not good. If you are a new website or company, people will not be searching for your name in search engines (unless you do offline marketing), and so you will not be found through search engines until your brand name becomes well known. Something else to consider is that search engines currently read domain names as one word, unless there is a hyphen separating the word. Therefore, a domain name that is separated by a hyphen is better in terms of search engine optimization, as in links to your website search engines will recognise key words and phrases. On the other hand, people may find the addition of a hyphen confusing or, more likely, forget to include it.
If you already have a brand name established, or one that you plan on marketing aggressively, a brand name may be your best choice. If you are entering the market, but without a brand name, consider choosing a domain name that contains keywords or phases that you would like to target. However, remember that human users are more important than the search engines, and so ensure the name is as short as possible, while remaining meaningful.
Multiple domain names
Once you have chosen your domain name, plan ahead and determine if your domain name is easily misspelled. If it is, then it is probably a good idea to register at least the common misspellings. If you think that people may type in a different TLD, e.g. .co.uk instead of .com or .ca, then you should also consider registering these alternatives. There is nothing more frustrating than, at a later stage, when your website is a success, losing traffic to someone who has a misspelling of your domain name.
There are two commons scenarios for people needing a domain name:
- You already have a name established
- You do not have any name yet
If you already have a name
Assuming “yourname.com” or other TLD extensions have gone, you will have to add or take away letters and words from your name to see if there is a suitable domain available. If you are lucky you may be able to break up your name with hypens: your-name.com? Try and think like your market and how they see you. Perhaps the addition of a prefix or suffix would be meaningful, e.g. hardware-yourname.com or yourname-hardware.com, but you may have to become imaginative than this (think of something like flickr.com!). Consider whether a country specific domain name would be acceptable, e.g. yourname.co.uk or yourname.ca, or a generic TLD (one that is supposed to be used by a class of organization) extension such as .org, .biz or .info*.
If you do not have any name yet
You will have to decide whether to go for a domain name that will be a strong brand name or a domain name that has good SEO potential. If you need some inspiration, you can try using a name suggestion tool (see below), which will generate ideas for you. The same principles apply to choosing a name online as in the bricks and mortar world: again, knowing your market is of utmost importance in creating your domain name. Will your visitors find a unique, catchy made-up name easier to remember? What is the impression they will get from a name that is meaningless? Will they think your enterprise is innovative or will it seem contrived or unprofessional? If you are unsure how your market would react, look at your rivals, and see what their names are like.
Name suggestion tools
Automated name suggestion tools can assist those stuck on ideas. Often they will take one or two words and look for available permutations. Here are several examples:
Be careful when searching for potential domain names using any online service. Some of the less reputable companies will log domains visitors have searched for and scan them for money-making potential. If you do not register the domain immediately, they may then register it themselves or sell it to a third party.
Although the majority of the better domain names have been taken, there is still an enormous array of very good domains available. You may be pleasantly surprised when you begin searching to find that by clever word combinations and addition of domain name extensions, you can still land a very good domain. Just remember to act fast once you have found a good one: someone else may steal it from under your nose!
Update (21 July 2008): Domain names with .info extensions may be slightly deprecated now. As the cheapest domain names available and therefore a favorite with spammers, Google may start to be penalizing them and now ICANN has approved a new policy allowing the registry service, Afilias, to disable abused .info accounts.