When someone is thinking about starting a website, finding a domain name is the first step to take from planning to making it happen. And not many people realize how crucial that first step is.
It’s funny. Since new domain names are so inexpensive (less than $10/year in most cases), people take buying and using them pretty lightly.
The reality is that the non-financial costs and benefits of a domain name far outweigh their price tag. Why do I say that?
The Cost of Finding the Wrong Domain Name
- Your domain name may not fit your company any more (e.g., Chuck’s Tires may now be Chucks Auto Parts) giving people the wrong impression.
- People may not easily be able to find your company because of a long or easily misspelled domain name.
- Your domain name may be seen as inferior or low quality compared to the competition.
The Cost of Changing Your Domain Name
- Once you’ve paid for a website, the cost and pain to move that site to a new domain name can be very high. Likewise, starting from the ground up with a new site on the new domain obviously adds an unnecessary expense.
- Once you have links pointing to your website, the cost and time to redirect those links to your new website (and the chance that you’ll miss some) are high. Plus some link equity is lost through redirects, so you will lose rankings as well.
- Deleting a site completely and starting over costs you dearly in terms of any built up SEO equity for that site (on that domain). I know startups that have done exactly this as they outgrew their first name or as new investors forced a name (and domain) change – lots of SEO equity straight down the drain!
- Changing your marketing materials, email addresses, and online and offline references and links to your old site is a long, painful and costly process.
I think you get the point. It’s better to take the time to choose wisely than to take the domain name selection process too lightly.
I know it is getting more and more challenging but try and make it as short as possible.
Obviously, a lot of the best two-word domain names are taken but do your best to find a two-word or three-word name. Consider using shorter words if you use a three-word name.
It is a good idea to try other top-level domains: Don’t limit your options to .com domains. There are multiple meaningful extensions that allow you to choose a short domain, like .tech, .site, .store and many others. Namify can find you a domain on those meaningful top-level domains for as low as $1 a month:
If you are considering a local domain, beware that these will rank only in the local version of Google. For example, it will be very hard to rank your co.uk domain in google.com versus google.co.uk.
Shout Digital offers an extensive guide on local domains and what getting one means for your business.
Don’t fall in love with the first name you find. Sleep on it or consider a few alternatives before you make a final decision.
That doesn’t mean you can’t “buy and hold” (see the next point).
If you find a potentially valuable name, consider buying it right away, even if you may use another name for your business.
Don’t get too crazy though. One or two extra domains don’t hurt, but no more.
Avoid ambiguous names: Make sure the name is easy to spell, pronounce and remember.
- Make sure it passes the “Radio Test”: If someone heard it on the radio can they spell it? Will it be easy for them to remember it?
- Avoid homonyms, i.e., names that include words that can be spelled multiple ways like “C”, “See” and “Sea”
It is a good idea to get your friends to pass that test. Make a list of your selected names and read them aloud. Were your friends able to write it down?
Does it have some meaning that is relevant to your company’s business? Does it have elements that help people understand what you do?
A good name needs to trigger niche associations, that’s how people will be able to remember it easily: By building those mental connections.
Consider running your chosen name through Urban Dictionary to ensure there are no negative associations for that word (or part of that word):
Do a search for your name in Google. What do you find? Is it competitive? Does the domain you come up with have any negative connotations online?
- Are there any other very well-established brands ranking for that term?
- Does Google suspect that it is a misspelling of some other name or word? That will be hard to shake.
Spend some time evaluating your future competition as you want your future customers to be able to find you when googling your brand name.
This also refers to picking very generic domains. It will be quite hard to rank your business for something like [peach] if your domain is peach.online
It is a good idea to avoid domains with generic knowledge panels as Google will take lots of time to be convinced there’s a known entity (unless you are Apple)
Consider including one or more important industry keywords in your domain name. Not essential but can help a bit with SEO if people link to your site using your name.
In that case, that keyword will be included into the anchor text.
Just don’t get too stressed here: Having a catchy and memorable domain name is much more important than having your keywords included.
If possible, avoid hyphenated domains. Google won’t penalize you for using dashes, but many people consider dashed domain names (e.g., www.my-company-name.com) as inferior to the non-dashed versions.
Hyphenated domains go back years ago when keywords in the domain had a huge impact in Google algorithm and you had a real competitive advantage when having exact-match keyword-focused domain names.
These days Google is not paying too much attention to the keywords in domain names, so it is not worth an investment.
Keywords in domains are useful for creating niche associations and generating meaningful backlinks, but there’s no longer a direct rankings signal.
Consider the secondary market – check sites such as SEDO or GoDaddy Auctions to see if there are any great names there.
Also, you can check whois.net to get the contact information for names that are owned but that don’t have a site yet (some of these owners might like to sell for the right offer).
Keep in mind that those domains may have a history, so even if you liked it very much, make sure you know what used to be there by checking that domain through the Wayback Machine.
Get the right domain name the first time around – at least as right as possible with the information you have today. It will save you a lot of trouble down the road and make your marketing much easier.
About the Author
Ann Smarty is the Brand and Community manager at InternetMarketingNinjas.com as well as the founder of ViralContentBee.com. Ann has been into Internet Marketing for more than a decade, she is the former Editor-in-Chief of Search Engine Journal and contributor to prominent search and social blogs including Small Biz Trends and Mashable. Ann is also the frequent speaker at Pubcon and the host of regular Twitter chats #vcbuzz and #myblogu.