The domain name is one of the first things that should be decided on when creating a website. It is basically the bulk of the address where your business can be found. If location is vital for any brick and mortar store, domain names are vital for all businesses, on or offline.
It may take a while though before a website can be a thought leader and become the first thing to pop in people's minds whenever they are searching for a relevant topic. But that's the whole point of choosing a domain name extra carefully. It is the first step in establishing a successful, lucrative website that people remember and trust.
Needless to say, finding a brand-able good domain name will not be easy. First, because successful domainers like Lawrence Ng acquire domain names by the thousands and second, most words from dictionaries are taken - but, not all of them.
What is a Domain Name?
The domain name is the word, phrase, or keyword combination that lies between the subdomain (www.) and the top level domain (ex: .com, .org, .net).
Domain names need to be registered with the ICANN or the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. The easiest way to do this is via web hosting services, like GoDaddy, Hostgator, 1and1, and so many more.
Although it is possible to pay for the domain registration to ICANN by yourself, it is more advantageous to do it with the help of a domain name registrar. The big service providers can guarantee 99% uptime, maintenance, and customer support, and other perks like being able to submit and manage multiple domains in one dashboard.
How Should You Choose a Domain Name?
You should only contact domainers and web hosting services though if you already have a domain in mind. Ideally, a domain name should possess the following qualities:
This is a given since there can never be two websites with exactly the same URLs. Having a similar domain name with another site, even if there are small variations in the spelling and order of the words, can cause you to lose traffic. When people vaguely remember a site and will attempt to type in a URL, and it turns out that URL does exist, that will have been traffic (and potential leads) lost.
It is always a good idea to keep your domain name short. It is easier to read and thus easier to remember, which is very important. A long string of keywords will simply sound jumbled-up, not to mention informal and unprofessional. It is important to remember that the domain name can also be your online business name, so it is vital to have a credible image among your target audience.
Speaking of domains being a business name, it has to be easy to brand or promote. You shouldn't just aim for a domain to be memorable. More importantly, it has to be impressionable.
This is why many companies use their own business names as their domain names. It reinforces the existence of the brand and the credibility of the business itself, not just the website, to the online community. Examples are world-famous brands whose names alone have value, and whose products/services are already recognized by the public.
There's another option though if you aim for getting a domain that's easy to brand. If you don't have a brand/business/company name, you can formulate a catchy name that will give character to your website and whatever business it is you're trying to establish. So, even if you don't have a business and you are only running a website for affiliate marketing, for example, it's still possible for you to brand your domain name. Take a look at the following examples:
These websites doesn't really give visitors an idea what they are about, but through the years they have become popular go-to sites for funny comic strips, thought-provoking articles that talk about contemporary topics, and laugh-out-loud compilation posts of photos and videos.
With intense work and smart optimization strategies, it is possible to achieve the high traffic, recognition and high marketing value that these websites has achieved.
Most SEO sites and experts would recommend choosing a domain name that encapsulates the idea or purpose of the website. Here are some examples:
toyshop.com – sells all kinds of toys for kids and pets
foodies.com – showcases recipes and profiles of popular chefs
adultsonly.com – an R-rated website
shakespearepapers.com – essays and papers about William Shakespeare's works
Of course, it's possible that you'd also want to develop your own brand, just like in the alternative example presented above. That is alright, as long as you're willing to dedicate to work hard in branding your name.
Let's just put it this way: a self-explanatory domain may require less branding work compared to one that's unique and not overtly related to the website's purpose.
Why is this all important? Domain names might seem trivial to newcomers to the online industry but it’s far from being immaterial to businesses like Oversee.net and Domaining.com. Search engine optimizers know that in this mercurial industry, even domain names can impact your website’s profitability. This brings us to the next topic: the SEO facet.
SEO Matters to Consider
When deciding on the domain name, it's also important to think about whether or not it may influence your website's ranking.
Here's the thing: although SEOs and even search engines say that the domain name won’t have any bearing on search engine optimization, it is fairly obvious that many high-ranking websites have keyword rich domain names. You're likely to find an exact match domain (EMD) or phrase match domain (PMD) on the first pages of the SERPs.
Another important aspect to take into consideration if you buy a domain that hasn't been used before is its history. Right, the domain name history affect its trust in Google, as disclosed by Matt Cutts.
Adding hyphens and numbers into the domain is also common. However, there are at least two problems you might face here.
A study in 2012 published at HighPosition.com shows that domains with single and multiple hyphens dropped by 10 or more pages on the SERPs after Google launched the EMD update in its algorithm.
Ironically, the EMD update is designed to clean out the SERPs of spam by reducing "low-quality 'exact-match' domains in the search results." That's why it was pointed out earlier that these websites may appear in the first three search results pages; those who used to be on the first page mostly went down to the second, third, or further down the line.
The saving grace here is that Google targets low-quality sites. Besides, some EMDs\PMDs are actually unique business/company/brand names. However, when the keywords in the domain are precisely the same ones used in majority of the site's anchor texts, there's a good chance that the website will be penalized.
Anchor Text: "Visit this website and find an affordable gaming mouse for sale."
TIP: If you want to be truly safe from the EMD update, just avoid buying hyphenated domains. If your website is already hyphenated to begin with, analyze your ranking before and after the EMD update. If things seem to be improving since its first launch in 2012, and if you're confident you can pull it back up the SERPs, it could be worth keeping.
- Google's EMD update
The problem with adding special characters, especially numbers, is you have to treat it as your brand name. Think of 9Gag.com and its massive success as a website for everything fun and funny. You need to support the fact that even though your domain sounds very informal and generic, the website is nevertheless a genuine and reliable operation.
Putting a different name in your website banner only hints at link manipulation and will justify the purpose of the EMD update. Since your domain will be a brand name, you need to put more work into branding it.
In sum, give a great deal of thought into your domain name. Remember it has to be short and memorable, brand-able, and a very good representation of your website or the business/purpose behind it.
Emma-Julie Fox writes for Pitstop Media, a white hat SEO company based in Vancouver, Canada. To read more posts written by Emma or to invite her to write for your blog please visit www.pitstopmedia.com
- Intensive Branding Campaign