One of the first choices any owner of a small business or startup is faced with is choosing the right domain name for their website. On the surface, this seems like an easy choice to make— just add .com to your business name, right? Not so fast. What if your business name is “Ted and Andy’s Superior Rug Emporium? That might be a bit unwieldy in a domain name. Or what if the .com domain you wanted is already taken? Or if your business name contains a frequently misspelled word? There are dozens of roadblocks you may encounter, so we’ve come up with 9 tips for choosing a domain that take into consideration some of the most common issues our clients face when choosing and purchasing their domains.
- Use Dot Com
This is probably the number one rule to keep in mind when choosing a domain name. .com is the oldest and most widely used domain name in the world, and the one most people are likely to remember. Even if your business—let’s call it XYZ Plumbing—serves mainly local customers, you may think that choosing a local domain, xyzplubming.nyc for example, would work better than a plain old .com. However, it’s not only more likely that people will remember a xyzplumbing.com, but that may even be the one they try first, since .com is so embedded in our collective cultural consciousness. That said, there may be situations when the .com domain is unavailable for your specific business, which brings us to our next tip.
- Use your company name if possible
Whenever possible, you should use your company name as your domain name, or at the very least in your domain name. This is mainly for branding purposes – your business name is your brand, and you’ll want to use it as often as possible – but there are trademark considerations as well.
- Watch out for trademark conflicts
There may be situations when your business name might not be available, particularly if the name is used by another business in a different type of market. If ‘Awesome Ice Cream’—your ice cream shop—is also the name of a movie, the movie may have registered the domain name first. In such cases, you’ll need to get a bit creative with the domain name. Often, small businesses will append their company name with their locality – for example ‘awesomeicecreamnyc.com’ if your business is in NYC, or ‘awesomeicecreamct.com if your business is in Connecticut. These 2 are still a handful, so you may want to consider shortening these even further by using an abbreviation if you can, such as aic.com or aicnyc.com.If your business name is in the name of another business in the same market, a trademark conflict might occur. Trademark disputes often rely on the concept of first use, meaning that even if a trademark isn’t officially registered, priority will be given to whomever can demonstrate that they used the name for commercial purposes before the other party. So if you get to the domain name first, registration is a great way to prove that you had the name first, since there is a recorded date of registration and use on the Internet.
- Make it memorable
Obviously, you want your business name to be memorable, so if you’ve already tackled that part and the name is available as a domain, you’re all set. However, there may be instances when neither your name nor your name + locality is available, so you’ll have to think of something else. The first rule of choosing an “alternate” domain name is to make it something that everyone can easily remember. Going back to our “Awesome Ice Cream” example, you might consider something like icecreamery.com or if you want something even shorter, how about awscream.com? The limits are bound only by your imagination, but you’ll want to make absolutely sure that it’s something that will be easy to recall when someone wants to find you online. Stay away from long domains like icecreamonmainstreetinhartford.com or besticecreaminhartford.com. People just aren’t going to remember them.
- Avoid long, obscure, or easily misspelled words
This rule goes hand-in-hand with the previous one, but adds obscure and often misspelled words to the list. Oxford dictionary provides a guide to words that are often misspelled which is an excellent reference for words you will probably want to avoid. If you run a chauffeur service for pets, for example, you’d probably want to avoid petchauffeur.com—yes, chauffeur is on the list—and go with something easier like petrides.com or petcab.com (these are just examples, by the way, as it’s unlikely that either of those domains are available.) Similarly, if you have a business or website for oenophiles (wine lovers) we definitely don’t recommend using oenophile.com as your domain name. The chances that most people will know this word—much less be able to spell it—are slim to none. Try something like welovewine.com or winelovers.com instead.
- Include Keyword(s)
One of the best ways to achieve a high ranking on Google is to include keywords related to your business in your content, meta tags, and yes, even your domain name. So, if you cannot find a domain match for the business name of your hair salon in Brooklyn, something like brooklynhairstylist.com might work well. After all, when people are searching for a good spot in Brooklyn to get their hair styled, “Brooklyn hair stylist” would likely be one of the phrases they would use to search. If they do, then there you are right at the top of the search results (provided you are optimizing the other elements on your site as well.) Pretty neat, right?
- Stay away from hyphenated domain names
Sometimes you’ll see domain names with words separated by hyphens, for example jakes-candy.com instead of simply jakescandy.com. 99% of the time, this is because the name they wanted was already taken when they registered their domain, but hyphenation is usually not the most prudent strategy. On the page, jakes-candy.com looks pretty simple, but consider how awkward memorizing that might be (“jakes hyphen candy” or “jakes dash candy”.) Not so simple, is it? Instead, we recommend using one of the other strategies mentioned above when choosing your domain.
- Consider buying a short domain as well
If you use social media, you’ve no doubt seen people use “short urls” such as bit.ly or ow.ly in order to save space on a social media platform, like Twitter, that has a strict character limit. But you can create these short URLs on your own, and have them aligned with your brand. The New York Times, for example, also has nyti.ms registered, and everything that uses that domain will automatically redirect to nytimes.com. To register your own, first take a look at at available 2-letter top level domains (TLDs) to see if there’s one you can use. Some of the available 2-letter TLDs (.ag, .ca, .sh, for example.) can work well if you’re trying to find one to use for social media. Let’s say you sell custom printed promotional products (i.e. swag). In that case, you might choose something like mysw.ag (my swag.) This domain is not only short, but would be much shorter than than other “short” urls you’d be given when using a shortening service like bit.ly or ow.ly, whose shortened domains now tend to be quite long. Getting these to redirect to your primary domain is a pretty simple affair, and can usually be accomplished by entering them into DNS using your host’s web control panel. If it seems too complex, your hosting company’s support team is usually able to help out.
- Purchase your domain on a reputable, affordable registrar
Back in the early days of the Internet, there was really only one registrar—Network Solutions—that one could use to register their domain and, at least when I started buying them, all domains were the same price: $35 per year. There were also far fewer choices, with .com, .org, and .net being the only options available to the average consumer. Today, there are over 1,000 TLDs to choose from and prices are generally in the $1.00 to $15.00 range for .com’s although they may be higher for other, specialty domains (currently, .nyc domains are $40 on GoDaddy).
There are literally dozens of registrars out there ready to take your money and issue you your domain, but when selecting one, a little research on the company is a good idea. Some things you may want to look for are:
• Price: You should not only look for an affordable price for your initial registration, but their ron their renewal rate as well. Even if your first year is $1.00, they may be charging an exorbitant amount to renew after the year is up, so be sure to research this before your purchase.
• Transferability: If, for some reason, you’re not happy with your registrar’s service, you have the right to transfer your domain to another one. However, some of the shadier registrar’s make this nearly impossible for the consumer, using tricks like “locking” your domain from transfer and requiring you jump through all kinds of hoops in order to accomplish what should be a very easy task.
• Manageability: While you own your domain name, particularly if you plan on owning it long term, there will be times when you’ll want to perform simple management tasks such as changing the server they point to (if you change hosting services), forwarding your domain if you’d like it to redirect to another domain, or “parking” your domain if you’d like visitors to see a temporary page while you build your site. Many registrars have self-service control panels where you can manage all these tasks on your own without having to spend hours on the phone with support, so look into this before buying your domain.
Our recommendations: We’ve looked at (and used) dozens of registrars, and based on our experience, we recommend NameCheap and GoDaddy. Both have excellent prices, and both receive great scores from us regarding the above three considerations.
Finally, we want to mention that, while the primary use of your domain will be your website, you may want to choose a domain that aligns with your social media platforms as well. Namechk is an excellent resource that will check your domain not only for TLD availability, but also whether it’s available as a username or extension on most social media sites as well.
Choosing and purchasing the right domain from the right registrar is one of the most important choices you’ll make when first establishing your digital footprint, so take your time, choose wisely and if you need assistance, don’t hesitate to contact one of our experts at LLD. We’d be happy to help!