Just as a good location helps boost business for a traditional high-street store or venue, a carefully chosen domain is crucial to the success of any online business or digital marketing campaign. Since your website is the digital equivalent to a high-street location, it needs to be easy to find and remember. In many cases, choosing a domain name is fairly straightforward, since you’ll usually use your existing brand name followed by .com top-level domain. However, it’s not always that simple and, since you’ll likely be keeping your domain for a long time, you’ll need to take every necessary step to make sure you choose something suitable.
#1. Be Unique
Established brands seeking to build a stronger online presence will usually just use the company name as the domain but, if your brand name isn’t unique enough, it might have trouble standing out among the competition. If it’s lacking uniqueness, it might be time to re-brand and think of a new name. Having your website easily confused with a popular and well-established website can be disastrous. In fact, even major image-sharing website Flickr.com had this problem even after years of branding and marketing, since it was often confused with Flicker.com (which it has since managed to buy).
#2. Brainstorm Keywords
Having an exact-match domain whereby the domain is a key word or phrase associated with your business can have a positive effect on SEO. However, these days, search engines are far more advanced than they once were, so you should never prioritize having a keyword-optimized domain over having something that’s branded and easy to remember. For companies selling only one specific product, including the product name or service can be beneficial but, again, it’s not always practical. To avoid confusing people, it’s better to include an important keyword in your actual brand name and use this as your domain name.
#3. Choose a Suitable TLD
While the generic top level domains such as .travel and internationalized TLDs have exploded in availability in recent years, .com remains the TLD of choice for over 50% of websites, and it is likely to do so for the foreseeable future. Country-level TLDs, such as .co.uk always have been and continue to be important for local businesses but, even then, many people are more likely to remember a .com address. Although it’s not a bad idea to take advantage of the various options available, you should always register a .com domain whenever possible, even if only to have people automatically redirected to your preferred domain.
#4. Don’t Neglect Alternative TLDs
While it’s usually strongly advisable to only choose a domain for which there’s a .com variant available, there’s nothing wrong with registering some alternatives as well and then setting up some redirects. Today, most people make the automatic assumption that a Web address has a .com extension, but that could very well change over the next few years. To prepare yourself for any eventuality, it’s good to register a few other options, including the country-level TLD, should it be relevant. You might also want to consider registering a generic TLD. For example, travel businesses might find that .travel becomes invaluable in a few years’ time.
#5. Use Your Brand Name
Even if you still decide to use alternative, keyword-optimized versions of your domain name and set up redirects, your primary domain should always be the same as your brand name or at least include your brand name. You might think that using a brand name is not a good idea for a new company that nobody’s ever heard of but, the primary goal of any branding strategy is to build up a recognizable brand name that people come to remember anyway. A brand is more than just a few loosely connected words; it’s a unique identifier that people should one day come to associate with a particular industry, product or service.
#6. Register Misspelled Versions
Even the shortest and simplest domains can be entered incorrectly, so it’s very important to register some commonly misspelled versions of your Web address before someone else does. This is also important to prevent so-called typosquatters deliberately registering similar domains to those of real brands in the hopes of stealing traffic from well-known businesses. You can even use a domain typo-finding tool to find things like keyboard slips, missing letters, repeated letters, swapped letters and lookalikes. It makes sense to register misspelled versions as soon as possible, since taking legal action against typosquatters later on can be costly.
#7. Keep It Short
You should keep your domain name as short as possible, particularly given that an increasing percentage of Web users are restricted by the virtual keyboards of mobile devices. Shorter domain names are also easier to share on social networks and display on printed media. Ultimately, your domain should be as easy to type and remember as possible. Be sure to say your proposed domain name out loud a few times to get used to how it sounds. A good domain name is one that people should remember and know how to type correctly as soon as they hear about it from a word-of-mouth recommendation.
#8. Make It Relevant
There was a time when some unscrupulous marketers in a desperate bid to capitalize on high-traffic keywords, would deliberately use keywords in their domain names, even if they weren’t relevant to the content of the website. However, if your domain is misleading in any way, you’ll achieve only in building up a bad reputation and obliterating any chance of ranking well in the search results. A good domain name should create expectations that the content of the website then goes on to fulfill. You don’t necessarily need to use an intuitive domain name (moz.com, for example, gets by just fine without one), but it will save some branding work.
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#9. Avoid Numbers and Hyphens
A good domain name is one that may be shared verbally with minimal risk of it being misinterpreted. Numbers, hyphens and any other special characters just confuse people in such situations. In the case of numbers, people will usually want to clarify whether to use the word or the digit. On the other hand, it’s also wise to avoid using spelled-out numbers. Domains that make use of numbers and hyphens tend to have poorer search engine rankings and can jeopardize your branding strategy. In the case of hyphens, using them to separate keywords in a domain name was popular back in the early 2000s, but now it is completely counterproductive.
#10. Don’t Wait Around
Studies show that around 100,000 new domains are registered every day, so it stands to reason that you shouldn’t wait around too long. In fact, if your business, brand or product is completely new, you should keep it to yourself until you’re sure of the name, and you’ve registered a domain for it. In other words, having the right domain is almost as important as the name of your business or product itself. If you leave it too long, you’ll leave yourself open to cybersquatters taking your preferred domain name and trying to extort money out of you to get it back. Ideally, you should register your primary, alternative and misspelled domains in one hit.
Choosing a domain name is much the same as choosing a company name in the first place, particularly if your business is of the online variety. However, even if you are an established local business, choosing the right domain name isn’t always a straightforward process, but you should never underestimate its importance as the starting point of your entire online marketing strategy.