If you are just starting out with a website or blog, or if you are planning a second site (always a good idea), how do you choose the domain name? The factors to consider are discussed here.
A domain name is the first and perhaps one of the biggest decisions to make when creating a website. A good one can help to bring in visitors to your site and a bad one can turn visitors away, or at least make them forget your site soon after seeing it.
You want a URL that makes an impression, looks good and is easy to remember. Don’t look at mine because it’s not perfect. It is hard to change once you have committed to it and maybe I would have chosen a different one if I knew then what I know now.
Whether this is your first site or your second or third, here are the top factors to consider.
Use a .com domain
The domain suffix is the two or three letters at the end after the dot , such as as .com, .org, .net, .biz, .edu and so on. There are also country specific ones such as .co.uk (United Kingdom), .au (Australia), .ca (Canada) and so on. Which TLD (top Level Domain) is best for your domain name?
By far the most commonly used is .com and in the English/American speaking world, many people assume it. So if someone is not sure of the domain name, they will guess .com when typing it in. They might not think to try .store, .web, and other less obvious ones.
A .com TLD is easy to remember and most people assume it anyway, making it the best choice.
Use keywords in the URL
It used to be that keywords in domain names were highly desirable, but then it became over used by marketers. There is some debate over whether putting keywords in the domain name can still help with SEO and ranking higher with search engines these days. I think it is unlikely to have a negative effect and it is either neutral, having no effect, or it has a positive effect.
A website with a URL like bestpizzarecipes2017.com might look a bit spammy and the sort of thing marketers would use, but homebakedpizza.com is better.
Describe your business in the URL
It is good to have a domain name that describes your website, such as sallyspizzarecipes.com or mikesplumbingservices.com. When people click a link they see on a web page on on social media, they know exactly what to expect even before they get there.
There are many examples of successful websites that have domains that don’t mean anything, such as Google, Apple, Bing, Adobe and many more. The reason they work is because they are instantly recognisable brands, but it took a long time and a lot of money to get where they are now.
Try to think of a name that describes your site to people that have never visited and don’t know you. It is easier to be remembered and recognised.
Avoid hyphens in domain names
Should you use hyphens in URLs? For example, mikes-plumbing-services.com or mikesplumbingservices.com?
Google and other search engines are quite adept at recognising when words are run together and will realise that mikesplumbingservices.com means ‘mike’s plumbing services’ or at least will recognise ‘plumbing services’. You do not need to hyphenate words in URLs for search engines or SEO.
People are also used to picking out words in URLs and mikesplumbingservices.com is easily readable and memorable. People don’t need hyphens either. Unless you have a very good reason for using a hyphen, don’t.
Make URLs easy to say
Your website or blog URL should be easy to say. Returning to hyphens for a moment, how would you say mikes-plumbing-services.com over the phone to someone: “Mikes hyphen plumbing hyphen services dot com?” That will just confuse people. Some will ask you what a hyphen is and others will type in the word ‘hyphen’ thinking it is part of the URL.
Running words together is a great way to create URLs that are easy to say, like thebestpizzaintheworld.com or thelatestfootballnews.com. The worst URLs are those that have been shortened, like http://bit.ly/2fb3Vbv. They are hard to say and impossible to remember. Obviously you would not use a domain name like 2fb3Vbv, but do try to make it easy to say.
Keep domain names short
The shorter the URL the better it is. In an effort to come up with a unique URL that describes their website, some people choose very long URLs. This makes them awkward to say and to type, and when sharing URLs on social media they can be cut off so people don’t see the full domain name, and so on.
A site like themostcomprehensivewebsiteaboutcatsintheworld.com is just too long and catsworld.com is so much shorter, simpler, and more memorable.
Make a domain name sound like a brand
Choosing a URL that sounds like a brand is a good idea in some circumstances, although it can be hard at first because no-one knows it. Something like northwestshoesuppliers.com and superdryoutdoorgear.com are examples that could be used by a shoe supplier or a waterproof outdoor clothing store – SuperDry could be the brand name for example.
Avoid numbers in URLs
An earlier URL example was bestpizzarecipes2017.com and this will look increasingly dated as the years pass. Avoid putting the year in the URL for the obvious reason that it will not work in any other year. An exception is when it is historical, such as olympicevents2020.com
Numbers are generally not recommended unless they mean something, which they rarely do, so mikesplumbingservices27.com should be avoided.
Your name vs your business
Should you use your name in the domain name or your business name? Is sallybrown.com better than logodesignservices.com? It is certainly less descriptive.
If your name is well known in your market niche, if you want to use your name like a brand, or if you are the product, then use your own name, otherwise it is better to use your business name.
Sometimes the business is you, such as sallybrowndesign.com or mikesplumbingservices.com and having your name in the URL can make you appear more personal and more friendly.
Think of this from your visitor’s or customer’s perspective to see which is best – your name or your business.
Make it unique
Your domain name should be unique. Actually, it has to be unique and no two websites can have the same URL or the browser would not know which one to display.
What is meant is to avoid similar brands, names, and sites. Some people use a common misspelling of a brand name, like macdonalds.com instead of mcdonalds.com in order to steal visitors. Don’t do it, the brand owner might try to take your site down.
Don’t use brand names, product names, celebrity names and so on for copyright reasons. If a brand or celebrity has not registered their name as a URL, don’t be tempted to register it yourself. In the short term you might get away with it, but sooner or later that brand or celeb will probably want the domain name and they have a lot of money to pay legal fees to get it.
Don’t even use brand names within URLs for similar reasons, such as rolexwatches.com, for similar reasons.
Try to make your domain name as different as you can to everything else out there.
Don’t limit yourself
Image you create a website called bestbreakfastrecipes.com. That is a great URL if your website is all about breakfast recipes, however, at some point in the future you might want to expand and include lunch or dinner recipes. The URL would not be ideal for a site that covered all meals and it limits you to breakfast.
It doesn’t physically limit you, but someone searching for dinner recipes might be put off if they see the URL is bestbreakfastrecipes.com. Make the domain name as specific as you can, but beware of locking yourself into a tiny niche.
Use a local name
In some circumstances it can be beneficial to include the name of your town or area within the URL. For example, if you had a website for a running club in Chicago it could be chicagorunningclub.com.
If you had a plumbing business then newyorkplumbingservices.com would be a good one too. The URL tells you that you offer plumbing services in New York.
A food recipe site can work well with or without the location depending on the content. For example, italiancuisine.com would be great for a food site focusing on Italian style recipes.
Include the location if there is a clear benefit.
Where to get a domain name
When you get paid web hosting, not free hosting, a domain name is always included. You don’t have to use the domain name service provided by the web host, but it is easier and is part of the sign-up process. (Affiliate links ahead!) I have used Bluehost and 1and1.
A domain name can be purchased separately to web hosting. You can buy your domain name from one company and then set it to point to your website hosted at another company. It means the setup is slightly more complicated, but some people prefer it.
A couple of popular choices are Godaddy and Namecheap.
You don’t own your domain
It may come as a surprise, but you cannot own a domain name, you merely rent it for a certain length of time. To keep on using it you must keep paying the fee every year or two years. If you stop paying the renewal fee, the domain then becomes available for someone else to use.
You will get a reminder when payment is due. Just don’t forget to pay the bill! Also bear in mind that cheap or even free offers of domain names are usually for the first year only. Normal fees apply after the introductory period. Domain name fees are low, so don’t worry about it, just be aware of it.