How to Pick a Great Domain Name

7/31/2010  By David

Every website needs a domain name. Your domain name can help make or break your online business. It is one of the first decisions you need to make when developing a site, and one of the most important. Pick the right domain and people will rush to your site. Pick the wrong name and it will be a lonely World Wide Web for you. To help you avoid internet obscurity, here are some domain name guidelines.

Branding versus Keywords

If your site is for a company or product that already has solid branding, you may be able to stop right here and just use your company or product name as your domain name. Long before the internet, Microsoft built worldwide brand recognition. When they created their website, they selected microsoft.com instead of operatingsystem.com. The later has the best keywords for Microsoft's main product, but their website would not have succeeded as well had they used operatingsystem.com.

If brand recognition is not as important in your situation, or if you are starting a new venture, a name built on keywords is best. Start by brainstorming words and phrases related to your products or services. For example, if you provide commercial landscape services, you could begin with words like commercial landscaping, lawn care, tree trimming, aeration and irrigation. It won't be long before you have some good words that describe your site well. The end goal is a domain name that leaves no doubt about the content someone will find on your site. Anybody would know that RealEstate.com has Real Estate information. But nobody would guess that Zillow.com has the same information just from their domain name.

The idea with keywords in your domain is to pick words that people will type into a Search Engine when they are looking for your type of products or services. Having those keywords as part of your domain will help you rank higher in Search Engines. Granted, keywords in your domain don't have a huge affect on ranking, and the degree of benefit does vary between Search Engines such as Google, Yahoo and Bing. But it does help some. Where these words will really help is when someone puts a link on their site back to your site, and all they use for the link text is your domain name. Keywords in the text of a link to your site is one of the most important and powerful ways to increase your Search Engine ranking.

Avoid Obfuscation Confusion

Make it simple for everyone to understand. Don't use intentional misspellings just to be cool - most people will end up spelling it correctly and missing your site. If you want to sell real estate and houses.com is already sold, don't use housez.com - you won't get very far (unless you're selling pirated homes). Using the plural of a domain that has already sold is another way of confusing the user. Most people will forget the "s" at the end. Hyphens and numbers should generally be avoided (unless the name of your company is 3rdstudio, and then you just have to live with it... or re-brand your company). People will tend to forget the hyphens and may try to type out the spelling of the numbers. Also avoid words that sound like other words, such as mane, main and Maine.

A great test of a domain name's simplicity is to say it out loud to someone who hasn't heard it before and ask them to spell it. If every time you try this they get it right (without asking you for clarification), you have a good name. Easy to say, easy to read, easy to remember - a good domain name will be all three.

Domain Name Length

There are two issues that affect domain name length, and they conflict with each other. When you are giving someone your web or email address verbally, or when someone is typing your domain name in their browser rather than doing a search, you want your name to be as short as possible. So short that the acronym for your company may be just great. If your company is called Commercial Landscape Services, telling someone to go to cls.com is easy. But cls.com does nothing for your Search Engine Optimization either through keywords in your domain or links back to your site. For SEO purposes, a longer domain name with full, rich keywords is best, something like commerciallandscapeservices.com. Which, of course, is not so easy to type and may not fit on a business card. So a comprise may be best, such as landscapeservices.com.

One option is to use two domains. One longer with good descriptive words to be used for the actual website, and one shorter to use on business cards or when you give your domain or email address verbally. A method called a 301 redirect can redirect all traffic from the short domain to the long domain. Using this method ensures that the two domains don't hurt your Search Engine rankings. So your website would be landscapservices.com, but your email would be info@cls.com. And if anyone typed cls.com in their browser, they would automatically be directed to landscapeservices.com. All search traffic would also go to landscapeservices.com

.COM and .NET and .ORG - Oh My!

Which is best? Well, from a Search Engine Optimization standpoint, they are all equal. None of the Search Engines care about your TLD (TLD being those last characters at the end of your domain). But from a human perspective, .COM is best. People are most familiar with .COM and seem to feel it carries the greatest credibility. If someone finds your site and they tell a friend, they are most likely to say ".COM" even if it is really ".NET". My daughter used to use the term ".COM" to mean "website". She would say, "Can look at some .COM's"? I would try to explain there were also .NET's and .ORG's and they were all websites, but she would just say, "No, I've only ever seen .COM's. They don't have those other ones". She would even tell people that my job was to make .COM's.

It is certainly wise to go ahead and purchase the .NET, .ORG and maybe even the .INFO and .BIZ versions of your domain if you can, simply to avoid any competition or confusion from someone else using these domains. But for your website, if you can't buy the .COM, it is generally best to look for another domain name where you can buy the .COM.

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