11 January 2009

How to choose a good Domain Name

The first your visitor see about your website or blog is the name of it. It is like a mini business card, which can be encouraging or discouraging to go further. I would say that it should truthfully represent the main idea of your website, but it also should be attractive enough to get reader’s interest.

I often read complaints that all the good names are already taken. It is not true. Be creative, go out-of-box, and you will find one that will become your real brand name.



1. Your Domain Name - Your Website Name

Naming your site after your domain may seem obvious to some of you, but you’ll be surprised to learn that not every website is named after the domain name even when the webmaster owns that domain name.

Naming a site after its domain name is important, for the simple reason that when people think of your website, they’ll think of it by name. If your name is also your URL, they’ll automatically know where to go.

What if you cannot get the domain name of your choice? It really depends on how committed you are to that particular name. If you have an existing brand name that you’re known for, you’ll probably not want to ditch that name just because you couldn’t get the domain name. After all, it took you a lot of time and money to establish that name. If so, you might simply want to try to buy over the domain name from the current owner. Check up the "whois" information for the domain, and contact that person listed to see if they’re willing to sell it. You probably should be aware that they are likely to want to charge a higher fee than you’ll normally get when buying new domains (assuming they want to sell it in the first place).

On the other hand, if you’re just starting out, you might prefer the cheaper alternative of trying to obtain a domain name first, and then naming your website after the domain that you’ve acquired.

2. Generic Names or Brand Name Domains?

I know that a number of people seem to think that your domain name really must be some generic name like "cars.com" if you are selling cars. Witness, for example, how much money those generic names are being sold for. But seriously, if you were looking for a car, you’ll probably already have some brands in mind, and you’re more like to try out things like generalmotors.com or toyota.com rather than just cars.com.

A domain name that matches your brand name is very important. The very name that you use to advertise your product is the name that you will want for your domain, because that is the first thing that people will try in their browser. It is also the easiest thing for them to remember, and whatever that is easily remembered, will be more likely to be tried out than the obscure domain name.



3. Long or Short Domain Names?

Domain names can be of any length up to 67 characters. You don’t have to settle for an obscure domain name like avab.com when what you mean is AcmeVideosAndBooks.com.

Having said that, there appears to be some disagreement about whether a long or short domain name is better.

Some argue that shorter domain names are easier to remember, easier to type and far less susceptible to mistakes: for example, "getit.com" is easier to remember and less prone to typos than "connecttomywebsiteandobtainit.com".

Others argue that a longer domain name is usually easier on the human memory - for example, "gaepw.com" is a sequence of unrelated letters that is difficult to remember and type correctly, whereas if we expand it to its long form, "GetAnEconomicallyPricedWebsite.com", we are more likely to remember the domain name.

Some of these arguments are actually academic. It’s increasingly difficult to get short meaningful domain names. I have not checked, but I’m fairly certain that names like "getit.com" and "good.com" have long been sold. If you manage to get a short domain name though, the key is to make sure it’s a meaningful combination of characters and not the obscure "gaepw.com" in my contrived example above.

Long domain names that have your site keywords in them also have an advantage in that they fare better in a number of search engines. The latter give preference to keywords that are also found in your domain names.

I would recommend sticking for the shorter name if you can get a meaningful one, but longer names are acceptable as well. Certainly, avoid extremely long names verging on 67 characters. Aside from the obvious problem that people might not be able to remember such a long name, it would also be a chore typing it and trying to fit it as a title on your web page.

4. Hyphenated Names?

Should you get a hyphenated name? There are a few things to consider here:

a. Disadvantage: It’s easy to forget the hyphens when typing a name. Many users are used to typing things like freecpluspluscompilers.com but not free-c-plus-plus-compilers.com. They’ll probably leave out the hyphens and wind up at your competitor’s site.

b. Disadvantage: When people recommend your site to their friends verbally, having hyphens in your domain name leads to more potential errors than when the name does not contain hyphens. For example, how do you think your visitors will refer to your site if it is named "acme-books-and-videos.com"? They might say, "I visited Acme Book and Videos dot com yesterday. It was fabulous." Their friends, remembering that comment later, might type into their browsers "acmebooksandvideos.com". Oops.

c. Disadvantage: It’s a pain in the neck to type. Enough said.

d. Advantage: Search engines can distinguish your keywords better and thus return your site more prominently in search results for those keywords occurring in your domain name.

e. Advantage: The non-hyphenated form may no longer be available. At least this way, you still get the domain name you want.

5. Plurals, "The", and "My" Forms of the Domain Name

Very often, if you can’t get the domain name you want, the domain name registrar will suggest alternate forms of the name you typed. For example, if you wanted website.com, and it was taken (of course it is), it might suggest forms like:

thewebsite.com
mywebsite.com
websites.com

and the like, if they were not already taken as well. The question is, should you take them?

My personal opinion is that if you take the "the..." and "my..." forms of the domain name, you must always remember to promote your site with the full form of the name. Otherwise, people are likely to forget to affix the necessary "the" or "my".

On the other hand, I would not take the plural form of the domain name (eg, websites.com) if I cannot also get "website.com", since the chance of the visitor failing to type the "s" in the name is very great. Think about the famous name tussle between etoys.com and etoy.com. Many people wanting to go to etoys.com were apparently going to etoy.com instead. If it happened to them, it can happen to you too.

6. Name Hard to Misspell

This criterion may seem obvious -- hard to misspell -- but you’d be surprised how many domain names are tough to spell if you’ve only heard it orally. Many people are poor spellers. Still others are poor typists. Combine them together and you’re better off with a short, memorable, logical, easy-to-spell domain name. Here’s one: rosevilleelectic.com. The doubled "e" in the center of the name makes you wonder about the spelling. You could put a hyphen between the words, but then you’d always need to explain on the phone, "It’s roseville-electric.com with a hyphen between the words." If you always have to explain how to spell your domain name, then it’s not a very good one.

7. Numbers in your Domain Name

Although you may be tempted to do so, avoid using numbers within your domain name. Including a number within your domain name can cause problems. When you tell someone your web address, you will continually have to tell them it’s a number and not the word. For example, if you selected a domain name like number1shoes.com, if you were to tell someone your web address, they may try to type it as ’numberoneshoes.com’ instead of ’number1shoes.com.’ This type of domain name can cause confusion.

8. Legal Considerations

Be very careful not to register domain names that include trademarked names. Although internet domain name law disputes are tricky and have few cases in existence, the risk of a legal battle is not a risk worth taking. Even if you believe your domain name is untouchable by a business that has trademarked a name, do not take the chance: the cost of litigation is extremely high and unless you have deep pockets you will not likely have the resources to defend yourself in a court of law. Even stay away from domain names in which part of the name is trademarked: the risks are the same.


9. COM, ORG, NET, etc?


One common question I encounter is from people who can’t get the ".com" domain of their choice, but find the ".net", ".org" or other country-specific top level domains (TLDs) available (like .de, .nu, .sg, etc). Should they try for these?

The answer is not as straightforward as you might think. If your website or business caters to the local community, such as a pizza delivery business or recruitment agency or the like, then it makes sense to get a country-specific domain. You actually benefit from having such a local domain because the people in your country know that they’re dealing with a local entity, which is what they want. After all, if they stay in (say) the United Kingdom, they’re not likely to want to try to order pizza from pizzaparlour.com, which suggests a US or an international site. You’ll have better luck calling it pizzaparlour.co.uk, ie, with a UK domain.

What if yours is a site or business that can benefit from an international audience? There are actually many schools of thought on this. I’ll just mention a few common ones.

The first school of thought goes on the premise that it is better to have a domain name of your choice "myperfectdomain" even if it has a TLD of ".net", ".org" or some other country specific extension, than to wind up choosing an obscure domain name for the simple reason you can’t get your first choice. Thus they would settle for domain names like "myperfectdomain.de" or "myperfectdomain.net" or whatever. Against this is the argument that if you get a country specific domain, people might think that your business only caters to that country.

Another school of thought finds that ".net" and ".org" extensions are actually quite acceptable domain names. For some, the ".org" extension actually describes the non-profit nature of their organization. So, for example, the famous Apache web server can be found at "apache.org".

Others settle for the ".com" extension and no less. As grounds for their arguments, they cite the browser algorithms used to locate a website when a user simply types a name like "acme" into the browser. Apparently, the browser searches for a domain name "acme.com" before attempting "acme.net", etc. As such, people who do that will be delivered to your competitor’s site if you do not also own the ".com" extension. Indeed, even if people do not rely on their browser to complete their typing, many simply assume a ".com" extension when they type a domain name, so if your business is "Acme", they’ll just assume your domain name is "acme.com" rather than "acme.net" or some other such name.

As you can see, there are actually good grounds for accepting any of the above views. My personal footnote to the above arguments is that if you get a domain name with an extension other than ".com", make sure that you promote your business or website with the full domain name. For example, if your domain name is "dogandcatfood.net", make sure that when you advertise your site or business, call it "dogandcatfood.net" not "dogandcatfood". Otherwise people will assume a ".com" extension and travel to the wrong place.

10. Reference Sites for Domain Name Search

As time goes on it’s getting harder and harder to find a good domain name that’s available. When all the names you keep trying are already registered, it can be very frustrating and time consuming.

I haven’t got a magic bullet I’m afraid, but I would like to share a number of useful tips and free tools with you, that will help speed up the choosing process, and free up your time for more important things.

If you have to, one option is always to try your keywords with hyphens ‘-’ in between the words. I have some domains like that, but I always prefer domains without the dashes in them, because they look better and are easier for your visitors to remember.

  1. Thesaurus - An obvious place to start. I often use the one I have as part of Microsoft Word. If you don’t have that, you can’t do much better than going to http://www.thesaurus.com/.
  2. Check Out Your competitors - Go to Google and type in your main keywords for the site you want to register. Look at the domains being used by the sites that come up in the listings and AdWords ads.
Directories like the following are also a great place to browse and see what names other people are using: http://dir.yahoo.com/, http://directory.google.com/, http://dmoz.org/. Check out the descriptions in the listings for more keywords and phrase ideas.
  1. Keyword map - try typing in your main keywords into the search box at: http://www.kwbrowse.com/. It comes back with a keyword map of interrelated phrases that a thesaurus won’t provide you.
  2. Article Directory - Here’s another way of getting your competitors to give you ideas. Go to http://www.ezinearticles.com/, and browse the category listings for your niche. Then scan through the article headlines looking for keyword and phrase ideas.
  3. Amazon - When I’m looking for inspiration I often find myself browsing Amazon. Do a keyword search and see what titles and descriptions the top selling authors in your niche are using.
  4. Forums - This is a great place to find out what keywords and phrases people in your niche use and respond to.
  5. NameBoy - Type in a couple of keywords into the search box at: http://www.nameboy.com/, and they throw back a load of domain name options using similar words. They also provide a tick sheet showing you which domain name extensions are available to register.
  6. Brainstorming Tool: http://uk2.net/uk2_name_machine.shtml. With this tool you can type in up to 15 different keywords, and it will return all the available domains using any two words in combination.
  7. Domain Suggestions - http://domain-suggestions.domaintools.com/. This is another useful tool I like, and it really does throw up some cool names that you might not have thought of. Again, with the added bonus of telling you which domain extensions are available for each suggestion.
I hope this gives you a few ideas if you’re struggling to find a good domain name.
Sources and Additional Information:
http://www.businessbrainwaves.com/blog/2006/10/useful-free-software/choosing-a-domain-name
http://www.thesitewizard.com/archive/domainname.shtml
http://www.wilsonweb.com/wmta/domain-name.htm
http://www.webvision-lk.com/domains/domain_name.shtml
http://faq.programmerworld.net/web_publishing/choosing-a-good-domain-name.html

2 comments:

  1. You can simple use http://domaintyper.com for the domain search. That makes it super easy.

    ReplyDelete
  2. A Domain name is a string of words that identifies a website.We should be very careful with the naming conventions

    * The domain name is very important for any business and it should be easy to remember without much punctuations.

    * It should be unique and related to business.

    * It should be short and catchy.

    * If it is of universal accepted TLD's like .com,.biz,.info is more advantageous.

    In choosing the registrar also one should be very careful.The registrar should be reliable and provide services at affordable cost.I chose 9cubehosting.com since the cost is low when I get the domain registration and hosting as a package from them.

    ReplyDelete

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