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How to Choose an Effective Domain Name

Selecting the domain name(s) for your web site is one of the most important decisions you will need to make when starting a new web site. It´s probably the first thing you will do, yet has some of the most lasting implications.

At PawPrint.net we have been working with domains and web sites since 1991 and would like to share our insights into how to choose the best possible domain for your site.

Domain Name Implications

The domain name you choose has a lot of implications, probably more then you realize at first. People need to be able to understand it, type it in without misspelling it, remember it, and not be put-off by it. However, you also need to consider that the search engines will assign weight to the words in it (it´s one of the most important parts of your optimization plan actually); it must cover your organization´s identity (ie: you may need to reserve names simply so that your competitors can´t get them); It shouldn´t be too long, and if it consists of several words strung together you need to ensure it doesn´t accidentally spell something unintended when read a different way. Finally, whatever you select, you´re going to need to live with it for a long time.

... no pressure!

The Number 1 Mistake

Let´s get this out of the way up-front. The number one mistake people make when choosing a domain name is simply trying to register the name of their business or product. Most of the time this is probably not what you want to do.

Why? because if it is a new business or product, or if people don´t already know about it - they won´t be looking for it by name. Take the following example:

Bob sells tires through his small business "Bob´s Tires" in Vancouver so he registers a domain name bobstires.com - his potential customers have no idea he exists and search online for "Tire Sales" or more probably "Tires Vancouver" bob is probably nowhere to be found in the search listings unless he has some really good site content. However right at the top of the listings we find a site called vancouver-tire-sales.com

Choosing a domain name based on what people might search for can be far more important then just choosing your company name - unless you are someone with a name that is already known world-wide, you are almost always better off using a keyphrase as your domain - and adding the location if it´s too common. In the above example tires.com is almost certainly already taken by some conglomerate - but adding a location with or without a hyphen can often find you something that will meet your needs.

PS: As you can tell from PawPrint.net we wish we had known about this rule back in 1994 when we registered the domain, but it´s a bit late to change it now...

Word Of Mouth

When selecting a domain you need to also keep in mind that at some point you, and hopefully other people, are going to give that name out verbally. Perhaps over the telephone or in conversation. If you have selected a 200 character long domain with hyphens and a lot of words, that´s going to be very difficult. Sometimes event the spelling of certain words can make if difficult to understand over the phone.

For example. take for following two domains names:
tires-vancouver.com
vancouvertires.com

These are very similar, but imagine how much easier it would be to describe verbally the second one compared to the first:

Domain 1: "It´s tires hyphon (that´s a dash) vancouver dot com"
Domain 2: "vancouver tires (all one word) dot com"

Hyphens are sometimes necessary, but they can pose problems when explaining the domain to people. The search engines will see the individual words even without them - so use them only when you don´t have any other choice.

Always test out potential domain names but speaking out how you would describe them and see how hard it will be. After all, if your business is successful, you´re going to be telling a lot of people that name over time.

Mix and Match

A classic blunder is to grab a domain without looking at other potential arrangements of the letters it contains. This has led to some high publicized and quite comical domain faux-pas:

Expert´s Exchange - expertsexchange.com (can be read Expert Sex Change)
Speed Of Art - speedofart.com (can be read Spedo Fart)
Choose Spain - choosespain.es (can be read Chooses Pain)
Teachers Talk - teacherstalk.org (can be read Teacher Stalk)
etc...

- you get the picture.

Spelling

Assume people can´t spell. Choose words that are simple and easy to spell in your domain name. Keep this in mind especially when considering the word of mouth part above - words that sound a lot like other words can really get you in trouble. This can be especially important if you have an unusual company name or long word in the domain.

Accommodations is one if our favorites because we do a lot of work for that industry. A lot of people will misspell it with only one ´m´ This doesn´t necessarily leave you with enough reason to just scrap it from your domain - but you might want to register the mis-spelled version as well (more on that next)

Alias and Protection Domains

So you have selected the ideal domain name and it´s available and you have registered it, you´re done right? Wrong now is the time to register all the other domain names that you should have ´forwarded´ to your actual domain.

Looking at the "Bob´s Tires" example from above again, just because bobstires.com isn´t a great domain for the search engines - people will still try to find his business using it - so he should register it anyway (domains cost about $12 now for a year)

He should also register .net .ca and perhaps several domains just so he has them and point them all to his actual domain. Most domain registrars allow this ´domain forwarding´ for free (if your´s doesn´t consider switching) Now he is protected from one of his competitors registering bobstires.com and slamming him that way.

A Complete Example

Let´s say we are Bob (see above)

Assuming it is available we will register vancouvertires.com and make it our primary hosted domain

We will also register (again assuming availability) and forward them all to vancouvertires.com:

vancouvertires.net/ca
tiresvancouver.com/net/ca
bobstires.com/net/ca
bobs-tires.com/net/ca
vancouver-tires.com/net/ca
tires-vancouver.com/net/ca

Total Cost / year $216 (a very small marketing budget hit)

Summary

For all you scan-readers out there, here is the short list of what to do:

  • Don´t automatically just use the name of your organization and/or product
  • Choose a domain that includes keywords and phrases
  • Ensure it is simple and short enough to verbally communicate to someone
  • Make sure the letters it contains can´t be confused with something else
  • Register other names and combination and forward them

More about domain registration

find out more about how the domain name system works and how to protect yourself.

Domain Registration Hell (and how to avoid it)Domain Registration Hell (and how to avoid it)
Domain Registration Hell (and how to avoid it)

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