Way back in the dying months of my time at University I started a business with one of my friends, focussing on web design and marketing. Even back in 1998, competition for domain names was tough and we spent many evenings trying to find the perfect name for the business and of course the perfect domain name.
Many vicious cycles of finding a great business name ensued, only to find that either there was already another registered company under that name, or our chosen domain name had already been taken (usually by domain speculators and squatters). It was at times so frustrating we both felt like giving up on the idea before the business had taken off!
Years later, I’m in the position of having to advise other businesses on this and many other online marketing related issues. Things haven’t got any easier and despite the availability of many more domain extensions, choices are still difficult. There are a few things you can do to make the whole process of choosing a domain easier though.
Think Brand, Not Keywords
If you’ve ever shopped on B&Q’s online store you’ll notice that their domain name is diy.com. This domain name was chosen because at the time Google used the domain name keyphrases as a ranking factor and I’m sure the web team at B&Q felt it was appropriate to use a purely keyphrase focussed domain.
Google’s stance on keyword rich domains has moved on, pushed by the over-use of this technique by multitudes of online spammers. Something had to be done and now trying to cram keywords into your domain is a bad idea according to Google – the ranking algorithms Google uses were even altered to downgrade results for keyword rich domains back in September 2012 in their appropriately named ‘Exact-Match domain’ update.
There’s another good reason not to think about keywords when choosing a domain name. Keywords are rarely memorable unless used in an intelligent way. Besides, if you have been trading in a ‘bricks and mortar’ store for many years you already have a brand and really you should be using that. For those who are starting new ventures, read on…
Memorable and Pronounceable
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard people mis-pronouncing one of my earlier company names. Firefly I.T. I’d usually get something like ‘Fire fly it’ spoken back at me (probably because the domain was firefly-it.com). This highlights the dangers of not thinking of all aspects of how people memorise and pronounce both company and domain names. If I can give one piece of advice here I’d say ask a wide range of people to pronounce the company name before you go ahead and register, then think very carefully about what you’re going to register as your domain name!
The very best domain names are both easily pronounceable and memorable, in fact a memorable domain name scores over most if not all other aspects of choosing a domain. If people remember the domain and the company name, you’re onto a winner and have a chance at being a market leader. Stay away from less common English words unless they are memorable. Nobody wants to get a dictionary out in order to spell a domain name properly!
Whilst we’re on the subject, try to keep domain names short. A typical factor in spammy, keyword rich domains is that they are usually lengthy, take a while to type into a browser and just look bad. Longer domain names also may get truncated in Google’s search results, which hampers your branding. Stay on brand and keep your domain name short if possible, no longer than 15 characters.
DotCom is Still the Best
Despite there being a lot more TLD (Top Level Domains) extensions available in 2020 as there were 20 years ago, .com still offers the best choice for most businesses if you can get an appropriate domain using this extension. There are reasons for this; firstly, .com domains can be registered for 10 years and more with some registrars. Registering for a longer period gives a clear signal of intent to Google that you’re not a spammer, which is a good thing. Also, .com is a recognisable brand in its own right. Everybody defaults to .com without even thinking about it.
As .com is non-regional specific (it was originally designated for ‘Commercial’ websites, not as many think USA based businesses) so if you are trading internationally .com is the one to go for.
If you are absolutely sure you aren’t going to ‘go global’ then get yourself a .co.uk or other regional domain. This will give a small ranking boost in your target country.
Google stated way back in 2005 than they had noticed the correlation of hyphen usage in domains and spam pages online https://goo.gl/V82AUq . URL’s like ‘domain-crammed-with-keywords.net’ sprang up all over the ‘web and were filled with content to spam us all into oblivion . For this reason it’s recommended to avoid use of hyphens if at all possible, however if you have to use hyphens the restrict yourself to just one in a domain name and you should be safe.
Head of eCommerce
David has been involved with Search Engine Optimisation and web development since 1999 and has spoken at many different retail and SEO conferences including Spring Fair and SES London