In a nutshell… selecting the right domain name is important and definitely better to get right the first time.
The old saying goes, “the good ones are always taken”, and so it goes with domains. As of November 10th, there were a total of 124,405,801 domains across the .COM, .NET, .ORG, .INFO, .BIZ, and .US top level domains (TLDs). Overall, this means it’s becoming harder and harder to find available domains that are short, easy to remember, and don’t cost you an arm and a leg.
Why I Wrote This Article
Over the last 10 years of developing websites, I have had hundreds of opportunities to help businesses select their domain names. After getting to the point that I had answered the same questions over and over, I thought a nice helpful article that summed up my thoughts would help. This article represents, years of experience, hours of internet research, and countless industry related book knowledge, all conveniently condensed into 25 simple and helpful tips.
The Cheat Sheet
- Keep It Simple
- Shorter is Better
- Can You Say The Domain Without Explanation
- Never Let Someone Else Purchase Your Domain
- Ask for Advice and Feedback
- Avoid Hyphenated Domains
- Avoid Homophones
- Don’t Use Digit Numbers or Numerals
- Choose the Right Extension (.com, .net, .org, etc…)
- Use Keywords for Search Optimization
- Make It Memorable (and brand-able)
- Stay Away From “Premium” Domains
- Look Closely for Embarrassing Words
- Don’t Use Clever Spelling
- Choose Company Name and Brand Names
- Make It Unique
- Avoid Copyright Infringement (or trademark issues)
- Use Defensive Misspelling Techniques
- Protect Your Brand With Extensions
- Check For Domain Abuse
- Choose a Reliable Domain Registrar
- Use Automatic Renewals
- Use a Domain Generator to Find Available Domains
- Purchase Your Domain for 10 Years
- Find a Domain ASAP
1. Keep It Simple
It’s best to avoid complication, clever wording, homophones, numbers, double letters, and long or hard to spell words. The rule is that a straightforward domain name is easy to remember and increases brand recognition. Additionally, it’s better to use common words rather than obscure acronyms. Also, avoid using actual numbers (i.e. dash4dollars.com) and dashes between words. And of course when at all possible get your actual company name if the site is for your business. Simple enough? Then let’s move on…
2. Shorter is Better
While your domain name can theoretically be up to 67 characters long, this is definitely one area of life where shorter is better (just for perspective, antidisestablishmentarianism, one of the longest words in the english language is 28 characters). While there are many advantages to shorter domains, the most prominent are ease of remembering the domain, and less chance of error from typos or misspellings. Basically, shorter translates into more people finding you when they are trying to do so.
3. Can You Say The Domain Without Explanation
Of all the business lessons I have learned, this one is definitely high on my list. Always select a domain that requires little to no explanation when pronounced aloud. I wish I had a dollar for every time I told someone my domain (i.e. “glidedesign.com”) over the phone, then had to repeat it three times and follow with something like, “G like Girl, L-I-D-E, design dot com”. So from me to you, be sure to test the domain by speaking it out loud, over the phone, maybe at a noisy bar, just make sure it doesn’t require an explanation.
4. Never Let Someone Else Purchase Your Domain
If I had a dollar for every time I heard a story of a company that let their web designer, friend, employee, purchase their company domain for them I would be rich. The best case scenario is that you have to deal with the pain of having someone else OWN your piece of virtual “real estate” on the web. The worst case is that your old web designer could force you to pay $2,800 to buy your own domain back from them (yes, this really happened to a client). If you get nothing else from this list, remember to never let anyone buy your domain for or from you.
5. Ask for Advice and Feedback
The most important piece of advice I can give most clients regarding domain name selection is to think long and hard about all of the previous tips above. But at the end of the day, your domain is going to be used by humans. People who are prone to making typing mistakes, can’t quite remember your domain, and who try anything they can in Google. Always be sure to receive feedback from at least three different people to confirm that their reactions and feedback meet with your approval to proceed with the domain purchase.
6. Avoid Hyphenated Domains
Over the years I have heard so many arguments for and against hyphens in domain names. My professional opinion is that MOST domains do not contain hypens, for this reason, most people don’t think to type them when looking for a business. For this reason you are more likely to have mistakes and errors. Additionally, when speaking a domain with dashes it kills the flow of a potentially good domain. For example, “i-work-for-free.com” would be spoken as “i dash work dash for dash free dot com.”
7. Avoid Homophones
This goes back to rule #3. Be wary of choices that contain homophones. For example, “twofancy.com”, “toofancy.com”, and “2fancy.com” all sound exactly alike, but are three different websites (unless you smartly purchase all three). Another example would be something like “bearinformation.com”, “beerinformation.com”, and “bareinformation.com”. Just don’t even let there be a chance for mistakes in understandability.
8. Don’t Use Digit Numbers or Numerals
Just because your domain has “for” or “to” does NOT mean you need to use the number “4″ or “2″ in the domain (e.g. “dance2live.com”). This will likely make the domain harder to remember and ultimately to use. Also, try not to use roman numerals, typed and spoken, roman numerals lose their meaning (e.g. “xwaystosave.com” sounds like “ex ways to save” instead of “ten ways to save”).
9. Choosing the Right Extension (.com, .net, .org, etc…)
There are around 90 million .COM, 13 million .NET, and 9 million .ORG in existence as of November 2010. Obviously, .COM is widely considered to be the most popular top level domain (TLD), it’s important to make your choice depending on what makes the most sense for your business or organization. In most cases, I HIGHLY recommend .COM always over any other choice. Selecting a .NET or a .BIZ means you simply lacked the determination and wherewithal to find a suitable .COM for your business, and that is not the impression you want to make with a new domain, especially if all of your competitors are .COM. (If you have a .NET or .BIZ don’t get in a huff.) For organizations or non-profits, .ORG is recognized and trusted. If you’re operating in another country, use their TLD (i.e. United Kingdom is .UK). For a personal site or portfolio try using the new .ME extension. Also, realize that some TLDs have restrictions, including country code TLDs, and may require citizenship.
10. Using Keywords for Search Optimization
The best rule of thumb is to buy a domain that closely matches your business name. This may not be available or you may want more industry related keywords in your domain. I still think your brand is much more important in the grand scheme of things. However, I like to tell my clients, if I could go back in time, I would change the name of my business to “Austin Web Design”. I have found that businesses with keywords in their domain can have an easier time being ranked in search engines. Regardless, the most important thing to remember is that your domain name is NOT the end of the road for search ranking; it’s only one factor among hundreds. The very best approach is to think of a simple, brand related, and available name without having to pay an arm and a leg.
11. Make It Memorable (and brand-able)
Overall, your domain is going to increase with value as more and more people find your information online. This means the weight your domain plays in your business’s/organization’s marketing is critical. Does your domain make sense? Does it sound fun, cool, interesting, descriptive, flowing? Not just to you but to your mom, uncle, kids, neighborhood barber? Try a test, clearly tell a few people the proposed domain name; then wait one week, and ask them if they can repeat the domain back to you.
12. Stay Away From “Premium” Domains
If you’re fortunate enough to get the domain you need and want from a registrar, you can expect to pay between $10-30 dollars. However, it never fails that I have at least one client a month who gets into a situation where they have a desire to purchase a “premium”, or already owned domain name. My current theory is that most people are selfish and greedy and will demand your first born child regardless of what the domain is actually worth. However, if you absolutely have to buy a domain, my strategic theory is a combination of shock and awe and fear of loss. For example, if you could reasonably see yourself spending $1000 for the domain, offer them $2500 and not a penny more or the deal is off. The ball is now in their court and they either have $2500 cold hard cash in their hand or absolutely nothing. Usually, if you offer as low as possible they will definitely ask for more (usually 2-5X more) than you offered. With a larger upfront offer, my theory (and hope) is that their fear of loss overpowers their greed.
13. Look Closely for Embarrassing Words
Most people don’t have to worry about this, but if you’re the unfortunate soul that happens to run one of these organizations (e.g. “Experts Exchange”, “Pen Island”, “Therapist Finder”, “Mole Station Native Nursery”) you might want to think twice about a direct to domain translation of your company name. If you don’t get it, look closely at the examples when translated to domains (e.g. expertsexchange.com, penisland.net, therapistfinder.com, molestationnursery.com).
14. Don’t Use Clever Spelling
Again, back to faithful rule #3. If someone were to hear your domain name spoken audibly, would they know how to spell it? It’s important to make sure that you aren’t getting overly clever or choosing different spellings if at all possible (e.g. “thelaffshop.com” vs “thelaughshop.com”). I have a client who owns a domain “venture3dot0.com”, which when spoken sounds like, “venture three dot zero dot com”. Obviously, this is confusing and makes the domain harder to remember. The best principle here is to choose domains that have the most common spelling people would expect to use, and again, don’t get clever.
15. Choose Company Name and Brand Names
Whenever possible, register your company name as your URL. On average most small to medium business websites have brand related keywords for their TOP 10 keywords in major search engines. This means people are using your business name or product name first when looking for your website. It also doesn’t hurt to lock down your individual product names for future use.
16. Make It Unique
I had a client the other day tell me a story about a domain he owned getting crazy amounts of traffic on accident. It turned out that someone had purchased the same domain only added dash (i.e. “unmarketing.com” vs “un-marketing.com”). Essentially, this poor fellow had created a strong online presence and brand that was mistakenly sending traffic to the wrong domain. Please, don’t be the “i’ll just add a dash to the domain guy”.
17. Avoid Copyright Infringement (or trademark issues)
While this mistake isn’t made too often, it’s important stay away from brand related keywords like (e.g. “microsoftproductsreview.com” or “facebookhelper.com”). Recently Facebook is starting to sue companies with “face” or “book” in their domain names. To be sure you’re not infringing on anyone’s copyright with your domain, visit copyright.gov and search before you buy.
18. Use Defensive Misspelling Techniques
If you’re domain is prone to common misspellings, you had better learn what a 301 redirect is quickly. The best thing you can do is purchase all common mispellings that have a chance of being typed by a site visitor. While I believe this is important, I typically only recommend the expense with older and more established businesses looking to protect their online presence and maximize site traffic. The most likely problem is someone not finding your site on the first try. Typically with search engines, this is less likely. However, the last thing you want is for someone to spell your domain wrong and end up at a trashy porn site capitalizing off your brand recognition.
19. Protecting Your Brand With Extensions
I find more and more businesses buying all the top level domains for their company or brand and redirecting them to their .COM. While I agree with this tactic because of the low cost of domains, my opinion is more of a wait and see. Buying the .NET, .ORG, .BIZ, .INFO for 5 years would run you around $200. While that’s not a large amount of money for a multimillion dollar business venture, it is a decent investment for the small business owner trying to keep initial out of pocket expenses as low as possible. My rule of thumb is to wait at least 1 year to purchase these additional TLDs if you know the business is going to be around to make it worth the investment.
20. Check For Domain Abuse
Let’s say you find a stellar deal on a potential domain purchase from a recently expired domain, or you want to purchase a domain from an existing owner. You will probably want to quickly check to see if it has been abused by a previous owner with search engine spam resulting in a Google penalty. One way to check if a domain has been used is with the Wayback Machine. You can also check existing backlinks by searching in google (e.g. “link:www.yourdomain.com”).
21. Choosing a Reliable Domain Registrar
Make sure to choose a reputable domain name registrar. 99% of my customers use godaddy.com or networksolutions.com. While I dislike godaddy.com as a company, their services are decent, and their prices are extremely low. Additionally, they are the 1st and 2nd largest domain name providers in the world respectively. I have had a few clients that purchased domains from companies that went out of business and ended up losing their domains. Keep it simple, and go with a recognized and established domain provider.
22. Use Automatic Renewals
I have lost count of the number of stories I have heard of folks that unknowingly allowed their domains to expire because of negligent non-payment. These days all domain registrars usually set your domain to automatic renewal (why wouldn’t they?). However, don’t leave this important consideration to chance; absolutely make sure your domains are automatically renewing. Also, if you you happen to lose a domain, fear not as the domain will be available for up to 90 days ONLY to you before being released into general population for purchase. However, this private “purgatory” period is going to cost you a few hundred dollars extra to buy back the domain. Just call your domain registrar and they’ll give you your options.
23. Use Domain Generators to Find Available Domains
Domain generators, and online domain search tools are one of the best known tricks for finding relevant, valuable, and most importantly, available domains. In fact, I used nameboy.com when selecting both my company name and domain. I simply wanted something with “design” in the title and “glidedesign.com” was the best available so I took it. The most prominent domain generators include:
24. Purchase Your Domain for 10 Years
It turns out that most major search engines are now looking at the length of time before expiration on domains to establish trust. Sites that have been registered for more than a year are typically less likely to be a spammer or fly by night operation, hence more trustworthy in Google’s eyes. More trustworthy equals higher search results. Additionally, sites registered for up to 10 years will also get a benefit in Google’s eyes. Long story short, if you know the company is not going anywhere, and you like the domain, register it for the maximum period available, usually around 10 years.
25. Find a Domain ASAP
On November 10th alone, there were 141,721 new domains and 89,372 domains were deleted, resulting in an obvious net gain of domain purchases. If you think of a good domain name, there is a high statistical chance that someone else is going to eventually come up with that exact same thought. If you have a great idea and are sitting on it, just go grab the domain, as they are relatively cheap (e.g. $10-30 per year) and if you don’t need the domain, you can always let it expire after the first year or two.
Other Notable Information Includes:
- When selling products in other countries, buy a country specific domain
- Don’t forget to grab all social media urls for your domain
- Don’t forget about .MOBI for mobile phones
- Always remember that domains are rented and not purchased