Whether you’re starting a new business or have just launched another product, it’s time to get a quality website up and running.
Maybe you’ll spend a lot of time perfecting the About page, or you’ll splash testimonials all over Home. You’ll choose the right images; you’ll think long and hard about the text.
And while all of that’s important, there’s one thing you absolutely cannot leave out if you want to make your mark on the web: Choosing the right domain name.
What is a Domain Name?
Your domain name is the online “address” of your website, or the way for people to find you on the internet. As many tend to confuse domain names with their actual website, we’ll use an analogy to explain the difference between the two:
Let’s say you just made a new friend who wants to invite you over to their house.
“My house is in Australia,” they tell you. “Come visit!”
Will you be able to find their house? Absolutely not, unless you put a tracking device on their clothing and hope for the best.
“Oh, my bad,” they add. “My address is 123 Livingston Street, in Melbourne.” Now we’re talking.
In this analogy, the house is a website, Australia is the entire internet, and the domain name is 123 Livingston Street. In other words, your website is a collection of webpages that live online, while your domain is the findable location of those pages.
Realize this also means that you can use the same domain name for several different websites over time – just like you can knock down a house and build a new one at the same address.
Why Does Your Domain Name Matter?
Having a website address may seem like a small thing, but your domain name can actually impact, well, everything about your business’s online presence – from your brand image to your click through rate all over the internet.
It’s the way people will be able to locate your business online, and once people start associating your business with it, it’ll become your entire identity on the web.
Now, if you’re lucky, you’ll be able to find an exact match to your business name, stick a “.com” in there and not have to think twice about it.
However, that stroke of good luck is difficult to come by; more often than not, there’s a lot of competition for “good” domain names in your industry, and you’ll have to consider a lot of factors before landing on the right one for you.
What to Consider When Creating a Domain Name
For those who prefer video, Moz does a great run-through on how to choose a domain name that you can watch here:
Ultimately, you’re going to be the decider of the best domain name for your business – or, you may have limited options depending on the domain availability in your niche (but we’ll get to that in a minute).
That said, like when you chose your business name, there are a few rules of thumb to help guide you when finding a domain. Let’s take a look!
1. Keyword research
Having a keyword that’s relevant to your industry in your website domain name could help your SEO (Search Engine Optimization) rank.
This means that when people use a search engine (like Google) to find something related to your business, your keyword-centered domain name is more likely to come up higher on the search results page – increasing total traffic to your website.
In fact, a study found that on average, domains that include industry-relevant keywords show up in 63% of the top search results on Google (and the rates varied depending on industry).
But how do you find the appropriate, “relevant” keywords? Through keyword research!
To do your keyword research, check out tools like KW Finder, Google Keyword Planner, or Keywords Everywhere to find the search volume of specific keywords in your industry. Try to choose a term that has high search volume, is relevant to what you do, and (ideally) has low competition.
And, you can always try picturing being the customer who’s looking for the service you offer – what would you type into Google to find it? Consider using one of those terms in your domain name.
And, you can always try picturing being the customer who’s looking for the service you offer. What would you type into Google to find it? Consider using one of those terms in your domain name.
2. Go branded, not generic
Keywords are important, but they’re not the be-all-and-end-all of your domain name! Where keyword-based domain names once ranked extremely well in Google, that positive ranking has been steadily declining over time.
This isn’t to say that keywords bear no relevance on having a searchable domain name (otherwise, you could just disregard the above point), but there are a ton of factors that go into ranking aside from your domain name (most of which hinging on how relevant your content is on your site, and other technical things).
So where does that leave you? Great question!
As we said above, your domain name is a big part of your branding effort; it will make a first impression on the people just finding your business for the first time, in addition to increasing brand recognition.
Because of that, you need to come up with a “branded” domain name, rather than a generic one. A generic domain name would be something like “sparesort.com;” in contrast, a branded domain name for the same website could be “rubycityspa.com.”
What’s the difference? Well, generic names are easily forgettable, boring, and don’t distinguish themselves from any other business in your niche. Branded terms, on the other hand, make a lasting impression on the site visitor, and they’re more likely to trust the resort simply because it stands out from the crowd.
To come up with a brandable domain name, you can try using a domain name generator.
These tools can help you find available domain names based on keywords, synonyms, SEO techniques, creative word “mismatches,” and extensions (more on this below).
Or, consider making up your own word (that is, if it’s a short and catchy word; don’t create words that will be impossible to pronounce, and as a result, remember).
In addition, do try to include one industry keyword, so that your domain name will still be associated with the industry or niche your business is in.
Remember that memorability thing we talked about?
Well, a branded domain name checks that box; a complicated domain name usually does not.
The shorter your domain name is, the easier it will be for would-be customers to remember your name and find you online. Try to keep it to 15 characters or less, and use words that people can easily spell.
Also, make sure to avoid using obscure characters. Numbers, dashes, equal signs – they’re all going to work against you in a domain name. For example, a“four” could be remembered as “for” or “4,” and you don’t want to risk the confusion.
Your would-be customers should be able to find you as easily as possible, and throwing in an exclamation point here or an “&” sign there isn’t going to do you any favors. It’s possible that your audience either won’t be able to remember your domain name, or it will get lost through word-of-mouth – which means you’ll miss out on a bunch of potential referral traffic.
4. Keep it in the family
Like we said before, the idea of a domain name is to have a recognizable place – on the internet – where people can find your business. And, part of that working successfully means choosing a name that logically fits with your industry.
For example, if you’re in the food and beverage space, it probably wouldn’t make sense to include “tech” in your domain name (although the argument can be made for “foodtech.com” if it’s relevant to your brand).
The same way your domain name should be on-brand, it should also stay in the family of your niche. (Of course, if your business name is already well-known – and it is more “branded” than it is industry-relevant – you can make an exception to this rule, because people will likely be searching for your business by name.)
5. Say it out loud
This may seem like an extraneous rule, as most people will be reading – rather than saying – the name of your domain.
However, it turns out that the way people think about speech can influence the way they remember words. A cognitive bias known as “processing fluency,” our brains are hardwired to remember – and think positively of – words and phrases that are easy for us to recall and say.
In other words, a domain name that is difficult to pronounce will lose memorability, and with it, the advantage you were going for by coming up with a branded term.
When coming up with possibilities for your domain name, make sure to say the words out loud; if you have trouble pronouncing it, you can bet your audience will too.
6. Don’t skimp on the ending
Your domain name extension (also referred to as TLD, or Top-Level Domain) can be just as important as the domain name itself. The extension is the part that follows the branded term or keyword, the most popular of which being .com.
People view websites with this extension as trustworthy, as .com is one of the most recognizable TLDs available. In fact, .com is so commonly used that smartphone keyboards have it as a built-in button – which is something to keep in mind. However, there are a number of other well-known TLDs, such as:
.org – Usually for organizations like non-profits
.info – For sites (or email addresses) providing information
.net – More technical sites; networking technologies like infrastructure companies
.co – Abbreviation for “company,” “commerce” and “community.
Because .com has been around the longest, it will probably be more difficult to find the domain name you want with this extension. However, it’s generally the go-to TLD that people surfing the web will look for, so it’s up to you to weigh how important the extension is vs. getting the exact web address that you want.
Note that people are automatically going to assume your site ends with .com by default, so unless you have a really strong reason for choosing something different, do your best to snag this TLD for yourself.
And, if you run a local business, or market your services to a specific country, you may want to consider using a country code TLD (but we’ll get to that below).
7. Stay consistent with social media
Contrary to popular belief, your domain name isn’t just about your website. As you build your brand, it’s going to become more and more recognizable across the internet – from your website itself to the social media channels you use to market your business.
If all is going well, customers are going to search for you, and they’re going to associate your domain name with your account names on social media.
Therefore, try to look for a domain name that’s unclaimed across any social media channels on which you might be active. Even if you have a killer business name, it’s not going to do much for you if it’ll lead your customers to someone else’s Facebook page.
For example, a quick Facebook search for “Betty’s Bakery” shows a page’s worth of results, spanning local dessert shops to Austrian celebration cakes.
And, while that may work out okay for Bob and Betty’s at the top there, it’s not going to be great for the small South Carolina cake shop that doesn’t even make the first page of results.
8. Localize when necessary
If you’re running a local, brick-and-mortar business, your SEO (Search Engine Optimization) tactics will somewhat differ than if you’re a virtual business. You may even have a steep advantage over other businesses, because you can use your location as a way to tell Google to send customers to your door.
Because of this, you may want to consider including the name of your store location in your domain name. “Ice cream shop” is likely not an available domain name (nor a branded one), but “edison.icecreamshop” has a better chance of being available – and will help people find you in the long run.
Also, although we said above that “.com” and “.org” are your best TLDs, this doesn’t necessarily apply to local businesses. Instead, you may want to consider going after a local domain name extension that people in your area will recognize.
For example, if you’re based somewhere in the Netherlands, .nl might be a good bet – and, it’s less likely that your specific domain will be unavailable along with that extension.
Not only will you capitalize on your SEO power, but you’ll also increase trust in your website. When people see that you have a local extension, it’ll boost awareness and make it clear that your business is here for them.
Note: If your goal is to one day expand your business to international markets, think twice about using a ccTLD; a .com extension is more versatile and will work no matter where in the world your customers are.
9. Register multiple extensions
This isn’t a domain-name must, and it’s 100% dependent on how big your budget is.
However, if you can swing it, registering the same domain name on multiple extensions will help protect your brand, by preventing others from using the same domain name as you and possibly taking some of your traffic.
(The less-common extensions may not be as worth your time, but the big players like .net and .org should be high on your list.)
So, let’s say you went with rubycityspa.com; now, consider buying:
Purchasing several domains with the same name and different TLDs will help protect you from “imposter sites” (sites that are intended to trick people into thinking they’ve found your business) and from people who try to purchase your domain and sell it back to you at an inflated price.
Of course, this is all contingent on how unique your domain name is and whether or not it’s been registered before. And, if you find that your desired domain name has already been claimed on several extensions, you can periodically check back to see if it’s still active; then, snag it as soon as it becomes available!
10. Verify that it’s up for grabs
As a domain name is usually the beginning of a business venture, you want to make sure to start off on the proper foot – as in, staying on the right side of the law.
Unfortunately, some people don’t properly research their business name or domain name before they purchase, and they end up buying one that infringes on an existing trademark.
If you think you’re starting to get an idea of what you’d like your domain name to be, you must first look it up.
Type your desired name into Google, and check the first two or three results pages. You’re looking for a business with a name like yours that operates in a similar niche. If you find one, unfortunately you’re going to need to find a different domain name.
Also, just because you find that your domain name is available doesn’t mean that it’s never been used. In theory there’s no issue with buying a once-used domain name, but it’s possible that the name left a digital footprint in the past – one that Google didn’t like. On the flip side, it might have had pages “crawled” by Google before, which will actually give you an advantage with your SEO.
However, regardless of the outcome, you need to find out what’s what. The first way to check is to go to “site:YOURDOMAIN.com” and check whether Google “indexed” any pages from the desired domain. (For example, we would check site:rubycityspa.com.) If any pages come up, you’re in good shape; it means the domain was used for a website before, but that the website was in good enough standing with Google that it wasn’t banned.
If you don’t find anything there, your domain was never used. But, if there’s a website there that doesn’t come up in Google, that’s a bad sign.
You can further check this out with tools like Wayback Machine, which lets you look at the past of the internet, so to speak. While it won’t show you every website in the history of mankind (or at least, of the last two decades), you should be able to see almost 4 billion websites – ones with any significant traffic history.
If the domain name existed beforehand, you can click on any of the records (as pictured in the timeline above) to see a screenshot of what the website looked like at that specific time, and you’ll be able to check if anything fishy happened in the history of the domain name.
11. Choose a registrar
When you have an idea of what you want your domain name to be, you need to choose a domain name registrar.
A registrar is an accredited company that will help you through the process of registering your domain name. Think of it as an intermediary between the user (you) and the registry (the “owner” of your domain name at your specific TLD).
How do you know which domain name registrar is right for you?
The first thing to note that not every registrar will give you complete control over your domain name, which can cause issues for you later on in case you want to transfer your domain to another provider. So, before you choose a registrar, make sure to check their policies on this; you can always ask for more information if something is unclear.
And, in order to verify that a registrar is reliable, there is an accepted accreditation called ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers). They’ve created a number of guidelines that domain registrars are required to abide by, and provide assistance to users who feel that a specific registrar isn’t following the rules.
For a complete list of ICANN-certified domain registrars, check out their website. The most popular registrars are GoDaddy, Domain.com, Bluehost, and HostGator (and as of recently, Tailor Brands is a registrar as well!).
Also, not every registrar will offer the same domain name extensions; so, if you do decide to buy your domain name at several extensions (as discussed above), make sure your domain registrar provides the extensions you want.
Finally, the last thing to consider is “protection” for your domain, such as extra privacy measures and theft protection.
What happens is, when you register a domain name through a registrar, your personal contact information will be provided to the ICANN WHOIS search database. Unfortunately, scammers will be able to easily search and find your contact information there, just by searching for your domain name.
However, as pictured above, Tailor Brands has privacy protection in place, so our contact information is safe and secure. To be on the safe side, you’ll want to make sure that the registrar you use provides this kind of protection.
And, all of this will inform the actual price of your domain name; a standard domain name will probably range between $10-$20 a year (unless there’s extreme competition for the name), but “extras” may make the purchase more expensive.
Over to You
Now that you have the guidelines down, you’re ready to choose the best domain name for your business website. Remember to think of a name that will be memorable, easy to pronounce out loud, and most importantly on par with your brand.
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