Google.com. GoDaddy.com. Yahoo.com. These websites and the companies behind them are all household names, but take yourself back to the day when you first heard them. Google? What’s a Google? Yahoo sounds more like you’re cheering for your favorite team.
Today, nobody has any trouble identifying these companies, but that is the result of massive, multi-million dollar branding and marketing campaigns. For the average business, such a campaign is out of reach, so it’s important to spend more than a few minutes deciding on a good domain name for your website. In this article, I’ll walk you through some of the factors I take into account when I’m helping a client choose their domain name.
Why is this so important?
The domain name is a key factor in your branding. It will (or should) appear on every piece of marketing material, correspondence, email, and even products that make their way out of your business. Every time a client wants to send you an email, they’ll type the domain name as part of your address. You’ll repeat the name thousands of times over the phone.
So what makes a good domain name? Here are a few tips.
A long, complicated domain name is difficult for people to remember and type. When I first started this business, the internet wasn’t much of a factor in the business world, and we were a video production company. Our first domain name (once we got a website) was brentwoodvideoproductions.com. It was a great name that spelled out exactly what we did. It was also really long, difficult to type, and that pesky s always got left off of the end. I can’t tell you how many times I heard an audible sigh on the other end of the line as I spelled it out word by word. People would have writers cramp by the time they finished my email address.
Your domain name should be as short as possible, easy to spell, and ideally would be free of hyphens. You’ll want to think long and hard about using replacement characters or intentional misspellings. Domains like widgetsrus.com, tanglezsalon.com, or (heaven forbid) dealz-4-u.com will be an absolute nightmare to read aloud.
It’s also worth noting that domain names are not case-sensitive. Anything after the .com (that’s called a TLD, or Top Level Domain, by the way) is case sensitive, but anything before the TLD is not. So no need to detail that the XYZ in XYZcompany.com needs to be capitalized, because it doesn’t. Beware though – you should consider what your domain will look like without the capital letters that you have so nicely laid out on your business card. The popular tech website experts-exchange.com used to be expertsexchange.com, until they figured out what that also spells.
Simple, short domains like greatpizzas.com or quickprint.biz are easy to remember, quick to type, and clearly understood when spoken aloud.
Search Engine Optimization isn’t the first thing that most business owners think of when choosing a domain, but as a long-time web developer and SEO provider, it’s near the top of my list.
Google and other search engines use the domain name as a major factor in their ranking scores. If your website is stocktonpizza.com, that domain name will rank highly when someone searches for “pizza in Stockton”. A domain like “berts-pies.com” doesn’t contain any relevant keywords and robs the search engine of one of their clues.
While SEO is an important factor, you should realize that there are other issues that might outweigh it. BrentwoodVisual.com, for instance, says nothing about what we really do. We’re not even in Brentwood anymore. A domain like StocktonWebDesign.com would make much more sense if SEO was the only factor. However when I sat down to choose a domain name, I evaluated the SEO ranking benefits against the branding factors associated with choosing a different domain name. In the end I decided that the branding was more important, and SEO could be recaptured in other ways through on-page optimization of the site.
If you’re starting a new business and still in the process of choosing a name, you might go with something that contains keywords relevant to your target market. If you’re an established business, the benefits of consistently branding yourself might outweigh any potential search benefit.
Most domain names consist of two parts. Take a look at brentwoodvisual.com. The part before the period, brentwoodvisual, is called the Second Level Domain, or SLD. The part after the period is the Top Level Domain, or TLD.
Back in the day we had .com, .net, .org, .edu, .mil and .gov as TLDs. That was it, and the last three were only available to educational and government institutions. (They still are, as a matter of fact.) If you needed a .com and your name was taken, tough cookies. You were out of luck.
Over the years many more TLDs have been added, and today there are over 1,000 to choose from. Is the .com you want taken? No problem – maybe a .biz will work for you. Or .lawyer. Or even .pizza.
When these new TLDs started being introduced, many people worried that not having the .com they wanted would lead to confusion, since most people typed .com at the end of every domain out of habit. While valid, these concerns are much less relevant now as the new TLDs have gained popularity and acceptance.
You might consider grabbing up your domain with a few different TLDs. Many businesses will do this if they’re worried about infringement by a competitor or clients getting confused. For instance, if you wanted stockton.lawyer as your domain, you might also buy stocktonlawyer.com and have that redirect to your actual live URL of stockton.lawyer. Google and the other search engines will only rank the live domain, but owning the others can help protect your brand. Redirecting domains is a simple process and the name itself only costs a few bucks a year in most cases.
In general, I’m not a big fan of using acronyms as part of your domain name unless it’s a way that people normally refer to your business. One of our clients is Quail Lakes Baptist Church. That would be an absolute nightmare of a domain name, so they’ve shortened it to qlbc.org. In that case it makes sense, because QLBC is how most members refer to the church. However, it does rob Google of any keywords to make sense of the domain - like baptist or church.
This is a poor choice for a (fictional) business like Dave’s Tile and Countertops that chooses a domain name like davestc.com. That name makes no sense, and provides no search value. Longer names like Davestile.com, Davescountertops.com, or davestile.construction are actually simpler and still provide good SEO value. This may seem like a lot of detail and analysis for what most people consider to be a fairly simple decision, but the wise business owner would do well to consider these factors. The right domain name is a valuable tool. The wrong domain will be a thorn in your side until you finally decide to change it, which can be an expensive and time consuming undertaking. I hope this article has been helpful. If you have questions, feel free to sound off in the comments below.