Choosing Effective Domain Names

(Ping! Zine Issue 7) – Domain names are no longer a web address these days. Many profitable companies have been built around their domain names, making the domain name also the brand and the company name.  Choosing the right domain should be as important as naming your product. Given that status, here are some pointers on how to find a name that will see you through it all.

Branding vs. Keywords
This is probably the most difficult to determine. Yet, it should be the first place to start because the rest of the considerations will one way or another relate to this. There are two schools of thought. One group believes you should have your keywords in the domain so that search engines pick up on the keywords and rank you better. To what extent this really affects your search engine ranking is not clearly known or proven. Consider why you are putting the website up in the first place. Most likely it’s for your customers or visitors. So choose a domain that puts your audience first.
The other group believes a webmaster should go for brand. Most successful companies start off with a brand, including online companies. Brands make the product memorable, create differentiation and encourage loyalty. In the early days of the Internet, everyone wanted a generic domain like searchengine.com, books.com, auctions.com and the like. Today, very few of those are truly successful sites that rival Google, Amazon and eBay.

A branded domain also ensures consistency throughout your marketing efforts. As one web user describes, “Every time the company tells me to visit their generic website, they lose the opportunity to reinforce their brand name in my mind.”

Whether you use keywords or brand for your domain depends mainly on what you aim to do. If you plan to build a business or website that is going to have staying power, branded domains are a better choice. It might not be easy or cheap to build a brand but there are no shortcuts when it comes to branding either. It’s a slow process that can be very rewarding if done right. Don’t choose a domain simply because of its keywords. First-class content, links in, and clever optimization are more important to good ranking than anything else. Having said that, a brand name made up of keywords would give you the best of both worlds – literally. Take CancerComforts.com. Owner Kathy Browning chose the domain because of its keywords. But apart from being keyword rich, CancerComforts.com is also very marketable and can be a strong brand.

If you are building a resource website, a website for affiliate programs or one that’s temporary in nature, keyword-rich generic domains would be a better choice. Finally, there is no harm in buying both branded and keyword domains that point to the same site. Just make sure you only use one for submissions, directory listings, link exchanges and promotion. This way you build your link popularity.

You should also make sure the site title or name matches your domain. If your domain is ExtremeBiking.com and your site name is Smith Brothers Biking Tours, this makes visitors and directory editors wonder if they have reached the correct website. It also causes confusion. People who are familiar with your company would tend to look for a domain that reflects your brand and not extreme biking. If you have yet to establish a company name or a site name, it might be a good idea to name it after you find a domain name. This is sensible, consistent marketing.

Company Name
This is the most commonly used domain name because in today’s increasingly small and competitive world, businesses tend to have rather creative and catchy names. On the other hand, if your business name is very nondescript, such as The Smith Brothers, you might want to take the approach that combines part of your company name and a keyword. Although the importance of brand name was emphasized earlier, here the situation is slightly different. Non-descriptive company names aren’t particularly helpful to audiences. Someone looking for you would find it difficult to differentiate your company from another company with a similar name. In this case, keywords tied to your name are worth considering.

Domain Length
Short domains are supposed to be best, but it’s increasingly difficult to find one without paying someone a lot of money to take over the domain. There are alternatives though, such as expired domains, which we will explore a little later on.

Just because a domain is a little longer doesn’t make it bad. For example, TrashToTreasure.com is meaningful, to the point, and memorable, even though it is rather long. On the other hand, ThisIsAnExampleOfAVeryLongDomain.com is too long, difficult to remember, and prone to errors. The other extreme is needless abbreviation. TTT.com is meaningless because TrashToTreasure.com works much better. Aim for some balance, while taking into account ease of use.

.Com, .Net, .Info
Most people will agree a .com is best. A web user told us, “Whenever I can’t remember the domain name, but I know the site name, brand or company, I’ll try for a .com first.”  If you have no good .com alternative, start with .net or .org first. Also, be sure to consistently promote your website as a .net or .org if that is what you choose.

Hyphens, Suffixes, and Prefixes
Hyphens aren’t necessarily evil, especially if it’s in your brand name or is the correct way to write a word. However, they are difficult to remember, and are prone to user input mistakes. Avoid them as much as you can.

Suffixes and prefixes are i’s, e’s, the’s and numbers usually suggested by domain search tools when your desired domain is unavailable. If you choose such a domain, be very consistent in your promotion. Promote the domain as a whole.  Do not leave out the suffix or prefix. You might also want to avoid domains with very little difference between them. These are usually between plurals and singulars. Aim for singular names whenever possible. For example, petfood.com and petfoods.com. If petfood.com is taken, resist the temptation to opt for petfoods.com because people tend to leave out the ‘s’.

Can You Say It?
This isn’t always a top consideration, but it makes sense that you should have a domain name that can be verbally communicated. Take your list of possible domains and read it aloud to someone. Does any domain name confuse them? Do you find yourself having to constantly repeat it or spell it? If so, discard that one and move on to the next.  You may find yourself going back to the drawing board.
Copyrights and Trademarks

In this day and age, many companies, particularly those with strong brand names, are increasingly protective of their trademarks. Avoid the trouble and expense of a lawsuit by spending some time researching your chosen name. Start by looking up the name with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (http://www.uspto.gov/) and your state’s trademark database. A more in-depth look at this issue can be found at (http://www.bcentral.com/articles/legal/109.asp).

Expiring Domains
Anyone who has looked for a domain name finds out soon enough that more than half the desired names are taken. If you cannot find a suitable one despite numerous searches, why not explore expired domains? Expired domains are those that were not renewed by the original registrant.  This is commonly due to website closings or companies going out of business. Within the list of expired domains are some real gems. There are many services that allow you to monitor expired and soon-to-expire domains for a fee. Before you sign up for them, a good place to start researching for free is DeletedDomains.com (http://www.deleteddomains.com).

Some believe recently expired domains with good traffic and rankings allow you to benefit from someone else’s hard work and give your site a head start. Theoretically, that may be true. Realistically, you shouldn’t expect that to last. People consistently return to a website for a reason. If your topic is very different from that of the original site, visitors will stop coming back because the information or resource they previously had access to is no longer there. If you assume such a domain and want to convert as many visitors as possible, make sure your content is very closely related or similar to that of the old site. You might want to also check that the old site has completely ceased operations. If the previous site still exists under a different domain, loyalists eventually find their way back there.  Word gets around and could create a negative image of the domain that is now yours.

Ownership
When you do register a domain, have it registered under your name or your company name.  If you are registering through your host, remember a lot can happen within a short space of time. Companies go out of business or you might change hosts.   Not to mention any scams or scandals that may arise.  Owning the domain name reduces your risk of losing the name in the future. Check your host’s domain registration policy. If there are unnecessary expenses involved in transferring your domain, try to register it yourself instead. Registering a domain is a very simple and straightforward affair. Some good registrars to try are Enom (http://www.enom.com/) and GoDaddy (http://www.godaddy.com).

Finally, when you do find the best available domain, get it immediately. Any delays, no matter how minor, may cost you. Finding the right domain is not easy. It takes a lot of brainstorming, patience, and creativity. Once you find it, don’t let it slip away.

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