One of the most common questions I'm asked by my clients is "What domain name should I use for my website?". In response, I would recommend considering several factors. In the following article, I will go through these factors in a question and answer format:
1. Should I choose a country code domain name (like .CO.UK or .CA), or a global top-level domain like .COM?
If your target market is specific to one country, I would recommend using a country code domain name, especially if you sell physical products that can only be delivered within that country. Many people I have spoken to tell me that they are often uncertain of where online stores are located, and it is not until they reach checkout and are asked to pay in a foreign currency that they are not able to order the products in their shopping basket due to the website not selling internationally. Having a country code domain name instantly lets your potential customers know that you are located in the same country as them, and that your service is designed specifically for that nation.
Alternatively, if you have a website developed for the purpose of sharing information, with little or no content which is only relevant in one part of the world, my advice would be to choose a global top-level domain such as .com.
2. Should I break up words within my domain name with hyphens? Is 'widget-shop.com' better than 'widgetshop.com'?
There seems to be a general consensus within the search engine optimisation industry that using hyphens helps search engines deduce what the actual words within an URL are, therefore leading to those pages being ranked higher in the search engine results. However, there is also speculation that using 2 or more hyphens within the domain name incurs a penalty. With this in mind, I would advise anyone who plans to receive most of their custom from organic search engine results to use one hyphen in their domain name to separate their targeted search keywords.
However, if your business model is not heavy on search engine optimisation, my recommendation would be to not have any hyphens in your domain name, as the vast majority of internet users intuitively enter domain names in their browser address bar without any hyphens. In domain name value appraisal circles, the non-hyphenated version of a domain name is usually considered to be of greater worth.
For search engine optimisation, studies show that one hyphen may give you an advantage, but on the whole I would recommend not using any hyphens in your domain name.
3. Is it better to have digits (2, 3 etc.) or words for numbers (two, three etc.) in my domain name?
Generally speaking, I would dissuade anyone using word of mouth advertising from having any numbers, either as digits or as words, in their domain name. The reason for this is that a domain name should be easy to remember and easy to spell correctly. Lets say for example you had the domain name 'widgets4u.com'. If you meet someone that is interested in your product, and tell them to visit your website, you are going to have tell them specifically that the 4 is numeric and the U is just one letter. Otherwise, they may input 'widgetsforyou.com', 'widgets4you.com', 'widgetsforu.com' and end up at the website of one of your competitors.
If however you are prepared to accept this risk, in my experience the layperson tends to instinctively put the numeric version of a number in a domain name. Therefore, use 'widgets2.com', not 'widgetstwo.com'.
4. How long should my domain name be?
As short as possible. Long domain names are harder for your customers to remember, take longer to type, longer to spell out (you may find yourself having to spell your domain name letter-by-letter to some clients) and also may be harder to actually fit onto your business cards, print advertisements and similar. I have one client whose business name consists of four words, two of which are tricky to spell. My advice to him was to use a domain name with the first letter of each word only, which has proved very easy to remember.
If you are targeting specific search keywords, I would recommend that your domain name consists of those keywords and as little else as possible. If you were targeting 'purple widgets', my advice would be to use the domain name 'purplewidgets.com'. If that domain name is not available, I would recommend adding one extra word to the end. For example, I personally have a web site which targets the search keyword 'weight loss'. As one would expect, 'weightloss.com' and 'weightloss.co.uk' were already registered - so I opted for the domain name 'weightlossweb.co.uk'. Choosing an added word that begins with the same letter as your first keyword helps your visitors remember your domain name. So, going back to the purple widgets example: Alternative domain names could include 'purplewidgetpro.com', 'purplewidgetpower.com' and 'purplewidgetparadise.com'.
5. Are some domain name extensions better than others?
Yes. Generally speaking, the most desirable top-level domain is the .COM. Charitable websites may choose .ORG in order to declare that they are a charitable organisation, but there are currently no restrictions on who can register .ORG domain names or what they need be used for - and many commercial websites still use them.
My personal "league table" of favoured domain name extensions is as follows:
2 Country-code (.CO.UK, .CA, .IE etc.)
I currently have in excess of 300 domain names registered, none of which are .INFO or .NAME. I would only recommend that one registers .BIZ, .INFO or .NAME domains if they have a large website with a brand name to protect. For example, my business trading name is 'Starsol.co.uk'. At the time of writing this article, 'Starsol.com' is currently registered by a domain name squatter, who is asking for an extortionate price. I have chosen to register 'Starsol.biz' to prevent a similar situation occurring in future. I feel it is very unlikely that anyone actually types the domain with the .BIZ extension into the address bar looking for my website - but if I didn't register the name myself - someone else might and go on to use it for purposes that may harm my brand.
6. What about .TV and .WS?
Although they may be marketed as such, .TV does not mean tele-vision and .WS does not mean web-site or world-site. .TV is the country code extension for Tuvalu and .WS is for Samoa. Tuvalu is small island country located in the Western Pacific Ocean with a population of approximately 11,000 in the Western Pacific Ocean that gained independence from the UK in 1978. Samoa, also in the Pacific, gained independence from New Zealand in 1962 and has a population of around 180,000. If these countries are not your target markets, I would personally dissuade you from using their country code domain names.
Other similar domain names include .FM (Federated States of Micronesia) which masquerades as the TLD for radio stations and .CC (Cocos Islands).
7. Why do some domain name registrars charge more than others? Are their domain names better?
Perhaps surprising, this is a question I have been asked on several occasions. Just like how some supermarkets which charge more than others for identical cans of fizzy drink than others, domain name registrars also charge differing domain name registration costs. Although some domain name registrars may provide extra tools with domain name registration, a domain name registered for $8.95 a year will work in exactly the same way and one registered for $35.00 a year. If I may give my own service a plug here, Starsol Domains at http://www.starsol.co.uk/domains/ offers .COM registration for what I believe are some of the fairest prices on the 'net.
I hope this article has helped you in your search for a perfect domain name. I would like to add however, that with domain name registrations being so cheap, that registering multiple domains and redirecting them all to your one "main domain" may prove to be a very good idea. If there is one domain that you will be heavily marketing, I would strongly advise you to at least also register the .COM version of that domain name too, and if you are outside the United States to also register the relevant country-code version of the domain name. Many of your customers may input the wrong extension when looking for your site, possibly leading to you losing their custom to a competitor of yours; or like my personal situation which I described earlier, may lead to a domain name squatter registering a domain similar to yours in the hope that you will spend many thousands buying it from them.
About the author:
Rupe Parnell is the founder and lead developer at Starsol.co.uk, a website development and management firm located in Norfolk, England. Rupe specialises in creating professional grade PHP scripts, a selection of which are available free at Starsol Scripts at http://www.starsol.co.uk/scripts/
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