Buying a domain name is one of the first things you need to do when setting up an online business. It’s also one of the most crucial.
A memorable domain name that suits your business is a tremendous asset, while a badly chosen or awkward sounding domain will make your marketing efforts more difficult.
How to Choose a Great Domain Name
Short domains are usually easier to remember but they are often already taken. Instead, put two or three words put together into a memorable phrase like NewYorkDecorators.com, BrightHand.com, etc.
The phrase you choose doesn’t have necessarily have to make sense. Bright Hand doesn’t mean anything but it is memorable, which is the key thing.
Is It Easy to Spell?
If you mentioned your domain name to someone over the phone, is there a chance they would misspell it? The difference between RightNow.com and WriteNow.com would be impossible to distinguish over the phone without spelling it out – and you’ll soon get sick of saying, “That’s write with a W…”.
If the domain name you really want is taken you might be tempted to choose a version with hyphens in it, so instead of NewYorkDecorators.com you’d choose New-York-Decorators.com. This is not recommended for two reasons. Not only is there a spelling problem (“It’s New York Decorators dotcom with a hyphen between New, York and Decorators…”) but domains with lots of hyphens in them look too much like spam sites.
That means users are less likely to click the link when they see your site listed in search engine results and other website owners are less likely to link to you. Who wants to go to a spam site?
Does It Look Good?
Most of the time users will see your domain name written before deciding to visit it – either in search engine results or in print material like a brochure or business card. So make sure it doesn’t look strange when written down, especially when it appears in all lower case as in search engine results.
For example, newyorkdecorators.com is just as clear as the “camel case” version, NewYorkDecorators.com, while successsecrets.com isn’t. The triple S in the middle is somehow distracting. It makes you think too hard about what the domain is.
Does It Match Your Business?
If your website promotes an offline business the existing name will guide your choices. If you have a landscape gardening company you’ll probably want to try to use words like landscape, landscapes, garden, gardens or gardening into your name.
If you’re starting your offline business at the same time as your website you can choose a business and domain name that are both memorable and the same.
It perfectly ok to make up a word and use that as your domain name. This is common with web-based apps and services. The developers will choose a snappy sounding five or six letter domain name that’s available and use that as the app or service name. Famous examples include Flickr, Google and Yahoo.com.
The same rules apply – make sure it’s memorable and not easily misspelled.
Buy a .com or Country Domain
If your site is aimed at the U.S. market or a global audience you’re usually better off buying a .com. Once again, it’s about being memorable. You may get a snappy name that’s a .net but that won’t help you if you’re constantly having to remind people that’s yourname.NET and not yourname.com.
If you’re having trouble finding a name that’s free get creative by adding words like the, store, planet, etc. to the domain name. Some registrars like GoDaddy will even list free alternatives if your original choice is taken, which can help you think creatively.
If your audience is users in a particular country you’ll probably want to buy a domain extension for that country – a .ca for Canada, .co.uk for the UK, and so on. As well as making your site feel reassuringly local, search engines tend to favor sites that have a domain extension matching the region the search is made in. That means if you’re searching in the UK you’ll often see .co.uk sites higher up the results than .com sites, while in in Canada .ca sites get preferential treatment.
If you had a business called Amazon Gardening you might be tempted to buy a domain like AmazonGardening.com but the chances are high that the legal suits at a certain other online company with Amazon in its name will eventually come knocking on your door because Amazon is a trademark. Best to play it safe and choose another domain. Big companies with big lawyers tend to win these things and you don’t want to build up a following around a domain only to lose it later.
Double Check for Double Meanings
Always check a potential domain name for a hidden double meaning. I once saw a domain for 50% discounted drapes (that’s curtains for non-US folks). Without spaces or punctuation halfpricedrapes.com takes on an unpleasant secondary meaning.
How to Register a Domain
Once you’ve decided on the domain name you want to buy I highly recommended buying it ASAP. On more than one occasion I’ve spent hours brainstorming before choosing a great – and available – domain name only to find the name had been bought when I tried to buy it the next morning.
Which Domain Registrar?
There are literally hundreds of registration companies to choose from and you’ll find the prices are near identical – the price of a couple of coffees. Personally, I’ve been very happy buying domains with GoDaddy.