Remember when Google lived under the URL google.stanford.edu? Or when Twitter was twttr.com? Neither do we, and there’s definitely a reason for that. The old domain names weren’t catchy, clear, concise or memorable. That’s exactly why the founders decided to change the domain names.
If you’ve ever tried to find an available domain name for your business, you know exactly how challenging it can be to find one that is clear and catchy. It’s no wonder – near the end of 2018 there were 342.4 million registered domain names.
So how do you choose a domain name that exemplifies your business and one customers will remember? Let’s dig into the why and how of picking the right domain name.
Your domain name functions as your business’ primary identity on the web, so think of it as your digital “first impression.” The address you use should be easy for people to find and remember, as well as being reflective of your brand.
Also, search engine optimization (SEO) is critical to your business being found via search, so you need to consider if your chosen domain name is SEO-friendly and includes keywords that will help with your site’s ranking.
To ensure you go about securing a domain name the right way, here are five steps to follow:
Before you get to the point of purchasing anything, your first big decision is to choose a domain name. You’re going to want to have more than one choice, as you don’t yet know which domains are available for purchase.
Brainstorming with family, friends or colleagues is a great starting point. Bounce your ideas off real people who will be honest about your choices.
Next, use Google to see if there are any business domain names similar to the ones you’re considering. Choosing something like saratheflorist.com could be confusing (and lose you business) if there is already someone operating under the domain name of sarahtheflorist.com.
When choosing your domain name, consider the following:
Does it make sense for your brand?
As the calling card for your brand, your domain name needs to work with the products or services your business offers. If possible, choose a domain name that includes common keywords for your industry and makes it clear what type of business you run.
Is it short and simple?
Avoid using a domain name that can cause confusion, such as numbers, hyphens or other characters. Domain names made up of a long string of words and characters are going to be hard for the average consumer to remember.
Is it clear and concise?
People want easy, so choose something with basic language and avoid using slang. Consider if the words in your domain name have a tricky spelling, as that may result in people not being able to find the site easily.
Is it creative and memorable?
A unique and catchy domain name will stick out in people’s minds and set your business apart from the competition.
Now that you have options for domain names, you need to see what’s actually available. There is a multitude of places you can go to do your domain search.
Most businesses favor a domain name that ends with .com, as it’s the easiest one for people to remember. Approximately 44% of all domain names use the leading .com domain name extension, so it’s very possible your first choice may already be taken.
The good news is that with the ability for anyone to create a website, the .com extension can actually lend some credibility to your business. It shows you’ve made an investment in your business and lends some authenticity.
Most people automatically assume that website names end in .com because that’s what they’re most accustomed to. But, there are now a multitude of domain extensions to choose from that might work for your business. Just make sure that the extension is relevant to your business (.lawyer makes sense for a lawyer, but not a plumber) and do your due diligence to avoid any confusion with another brand who has secured a .com.
What to Do If You Can’t Get the Domain You Want
If you can’t secure the domain name you want with the .com extension, you still have options. First, try adding an additional word to your domain name to see if you can get the .com extension. For example, if you want sarabakescakes.com and it’s not available, you could try something like sarabakesgreatcakes.com instead. You could also choose a domain name with a more well-known extension like .co or .net.
If you’re outside of the US, choosing a country-specific extension like .ca (Canada) or .de (Germany) is a solid option if you aren’t planning to do any business outside of your country.
There are always emerging trends in the realm of domain extensions. Some of the current ones gaining traction are .tech, .health and .photo. Keep yourself up to date on what’s becoming popular, especially in your industry.
Domain name costs can vary widely, starting as low as $0.99 all the way up to thousands of dollars. The price will depend on which registrar you choose to purchase from.
When considering the overall cost of your domain name, you need to consider additional costs, such as yearly renewals and accessory fees. You should also be aware of any charges for auto-renewing or transfer out fees. Always read your domain registrar’s Terms of Service in full so you completely understand the true cost of the purchase.
When a domain name already in use isn’t renewed by the registrant, it will go up for auction. If there’s a domain name you are interested in, but it isn’t available, it could come up for auction at some point. A domain auction lasts for a set period of time (usually seven days), and people can bid on the name at any point during the auction period.
Proxy bids are often accepted, meaning you can set the maximum amount for your bid and then the system will automatically keep upping your bid until your maximum limit is reached. If you win the domain auction, you then have a specific period of time to claim and pay for your new domain.
Depending on the provider, domain names can often be initially purchased for terms longer than a year. Take a look at your business goals before deciding on a term. If you have plans to change your business name or offering at some point, locking yourself in for a decade may not make sense.
The primary advantage of buying a domain name for a longer term is that it’s locked in, and there’s no chance your competitors can buy your domain name out from under you. Some registrars offer discounts for buying longer terms, such as two or five years at a time. You also don’t have to waste time renewing every year or risk issues and losing your domain registration.
If your business is in flux, or you’re unsure of what the future looks like, it makes sense to purchase your domain name for a year or two and then reevaluate when the time comes.
Should you choose to register only for a year or two, your number one priority is avoiding losing your domain name. Be sure to have the correct email and payment information on file with your registrar and be aware of your key dates for renewal. Otherwise, you may be putting your domain name at risk.
Although most providers will warn you when your domain name is expiring or payment information needs updating, it’s a good idea to put the renewal date on your calendar so you remember to update the payment method on file, if necessary.
If you lose your domain name you lose access to your website, which could potentially damage your brand and greatly impact your customers’ experience. Plus, losing your domain name can result in losing search engine placement. It also gives competitors and other players a chance to scoop up and lock down your domain name for a number of years.
Now that you’ve secured your domain name, you need a host to be able to go live on the Internet. Think of your domain name like the address for your house and your hosting like the lot you build the house on.
A hosting provider supplies the server that delivers your site to Internet users and also acts as a storage facility for all the data that goes between your browser and your website.
Most hosting plans have key features including:
● Disk Space – You will need to determine how much space you need based on what you have, like emails, databases and web files, all of which take up space.
● Email Accounts – POP3, forwarding accounts and alias accounts all fall into this category.
● Bandwidth – Since bandwidth is the capacity for your site to deal with data, depending on the amount of traffic your website sees, in general more traffic equals more bandwidth needed.
A reliable hosting provider is critical to the successful functioning of your website, so you’ll want to do some research and find out their track record for key considerations, such as average uptime.
When evaluating potential hosts for your site, assess their support options and response times for hosting issues (like your website is down or is having issues for visitors). As a small business, your website is critical, so you want to have a host that can work with you to quickly resolve any issues should they occur. It’s good to know that once you own a domain name, you have the right to move to whatever host you choose.
With these steps in mind, you’re now ready to begin the process of picking a domain name. Knowing that your domain name is going to be the online face of your business, remember — take your time, do your research and consider all your options before committing to one. When you’ve found a winner, be sure to buy your domain name before someone else does!
Are you ready to pick a domain name? Get started with some helpful resources right here.
Featured Image: Unsplash / Kobu Agency
All screenshots taken by the author, May 2019.
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