Choosing and Buying a Domain Name
The title of this article sounds like it’s from the 90’s. The world wide web as we know it was just hitting it’s adolescent phase and venture funded .coms were appearing like zits only to be popped shortly thereafter. Many ‘millionaires for a year’ were made …
Back then you could buy virtually anything you could think of, and if it wasn’t available you could easily find a simple but great alternative. Now, it’s not nearly that easy to get the name you want unless you have unlimited funding. Buying and selling domains is big business in itself. They are more valuable every day and some very high prices have been paid ($13 MIL for sex.com in 2010).
Now all advertising is links/clicks and one wonders how much your domain name matters overall for online marketing? How often are users typing your site domain name in directly? If your site relies solely on word of mouth for traffic, then you should probably re-think your business plan altogether.
For the rest of us, here are some points to consider when searching …
1. Dash or not to dash?
Is Using a Hyphenated Domain a bad idea?
This may not be the most important factor, but it’s actually what started me writing this article in the first place. In starting a new e-commerce site I was searching for the right domain name. I came across a good 6 character domain name, but it included a dash/hyphen. I opted against it ultimately, but I keep thinking about it and why it was crossed off my list.
Some say avoid them like the plague, but some say they are okay. I tend to lean on the ‘okay’ side depending on their usage. This would be an okay example: car-parts.com where you actually sell car parts. Too many hyphens and it will appear that your site is strictly made as click bait or made too fool Search Engines as an EMD (see below).
There are a couple examples of hyphenated domain names that are successful, experts-exchange.com and css-tricks.com
Ultimately, I decided that a hyphenated domain name is okay to use as long as it’s usage is legitimate. Google will still rank your site as it deserves to be ranked. Despite what many are saying, EMD’s are still a good idea as long as your site is not strictly made to try to fool Google algorithms with keyword stuffing and whatnot. Google knows …
2. English Word Domains
These would include any English word or variation of that word you could find in a dictionary.
If you were in the business of selling shoes, wouldn’t it be great to get shoes.com?
The only one (English) word domain names available are less common words:
More here: http://hotnamelist.com/singleenglish.html
I am not a traditional marketing expert, but you want a memorable domain name because ultimately it is your brand. If you can find a domain that fits both, then you are in good shape.
There is something to be said for forcing a nonsense word to fit your company though. kijiji.com – which is now ebayclassifieds.com. This worked for them, but they do also have awesome marketing and link-building power. They did change it eventually anyway.
4. Domain name and SEO
As mentioned above, some believe EMDs or Exact Match Domains are penalized by Google. While I don’t have any evidence for or against this I do have some speculation. When it was discovered that EMD was the way to go, or rather, Google suggested using EMDs, it was an easy way to get your site ranked very well, very quickly and easily – just find a common search phrase and buy the domain. This started to get abused, a lot. I recall using Google during the height of the EMD abuse and it was terrible to find anything of actual substance. All (many of) the top results were just fluff sites, with no useful information, filled with ads and affiliate links. Something had to be done so they started the great EMD cleansing.
Now, if you own a site that is an EMD and has actual and useful, original content, you are okay in Google’s eyes. I still recommend buying an EMD if it suits your needs.
4a. SERP (Search Engine Results Page) – Easily recognized.
In choosing a domain name, consider what people will see when they search for your keywords. What shows up in the Results Page? The URL is the green text in the results and it’s definitely noticeable. auto-parts-online-2014.com or autopartsonline.com? The former screams trust issues and the latter looks clean and professional. Without any testing on this theory, I predict the latter would get far more clicks – granted the former is a terrible domain name overall, but they do exist.
When the search results clearly show where the user will be taken, they will be more apt to click. This does go hand in hand with the SERP comment above.
5. Domain Name Length
Keep it reasonable. It’s that simple. Short domain names are great, but more rare all the time. nothing is wrong with a 10+ letter domain name. One of my clients has a 28 character domain name that does decent business. I do not recommend making them long on purpose of course. For some reference, my most recent domain purchase was 18 characters.
6. Finding Alternatives
Go to http://www.thesaurus.com/ and type away.
This is also good for the brainstorming phase, if you don’t already have a name in mind.
6b. Adding Words
— direct, shop, online, store, get, now
Don’t have $10 MIL to offer for wine.com? Try some of these variations:
(all of these .coms are registered, by the way)
The key with this trick is be creative – you can get a very nice domain name with a small modification of this type. Another trick could be to add your name into the domain: BobsWine.com, JoesWine.com – I know of a fella named Craig that started a nice list online and is doing quite well.
6c. Adding numbers
1800flowers.com, 1800contacts.com, 1800petmeds.com
These are all great choices because they encapsulate two forms of contact in one. The website address and the phone number. This may go without saying, but I definitely do not recommend using a 1800 number domain unless you have the phone number forwarding to your business/customer service line. If it can work for you, it’s a good idea. Vanity 800 numbers are hard to come by these days.
Other number modifications are not very easily added unless they are also commonly used, as well. wine411.com, wine247.com, for example.
7. The Extension?
It’s been said many times over, .com is king. While this is still true, because it’s the default in most people’s minds when they think of a website, there are many successful examples of other extensions rising to the top. del.icio.us is like the most successful .us domain that comes to mind. Even more amazing is that it’s a sub-domain. However, they changed their domain to delicious.com in 2007, proving once again it’s well believed that .com is the top dog.
7a. TLDs? (Top Level Domain)
There are, at the time of writing this, hundreds of TLDs including the country codes. The main one’s are .com, .net, and .org, followed by .edu and .gov.
(.edu and .gov are restricted use for Educational Institutions and Government Agencies respectively.)
7b. gTLDs? (generic Top Level Domain)
There are hundreds of these, some particularly interesting choices are:
.website (I would love to own the domain ‘http://website.website’)
Some of these are restricted by industry and/or position (.ceo).
You can see them all here:
8. Where to Register your Shiny New Domain?
This is the only registrar you will need for and TLD and a couple country code/gTLDs. They have very good pricing and a simple, easy to use interface. They include free privacy and never hassle you for add-ons. They don’t have hosting, but that’s okay – ‘don’t buy your bread from a butcher’ … There are domain registrars and there are web hosts I am not familiar with any major registrar that is ALSO a good web host.
However, there are good hosts that will also act as your registrar. I do recommend avoiding accepting the “Free domain with hosting” offer many companies use to entice you, as well. It’s a good way to keep you stuck with their hosting. You do own the domain, but might try to avoid the hassle of switching the domain and hosting, so you may just end up sticking with a host you are unhappy with. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that it’s impossible to leave with your domain and data, it’s just not as simple as keeping your domains and hosting separate.
Third recommendation for registrars:
NEVER use GoDaddy. They supported SOPA/CISPA then tried to deny it. SOPA/CISPA was a bill that never made it to law that would have essentially ruined the internet as we know it. Why they helped write it and supported it, we will never know. I used to use them for all my domains, but pulled every single one of them when I read about this. They are also constantly trying to up-sell you with lots of useless crap and their domain control system is unique to them only and not as easy to use as it should be, but I digress …
Overall, remember this when choosing your domain name – the possibilities are endless so get something you want and only pay extra for it or buy from a domain selling service if you believe it is really worth it. Keep it simple – avoid analysis paralysis – if you never buy the domain, your site will never launch.
Thoughts of your own on this process? Send me an email or leave comments below!