- Things like keyword research and content optimisation can be revisited and improved later down the line. But a domain name? You need to get it right from the start.
- Your domain name gives visitors a general impression of the rest of the site, so it's important to keep it relevant, short and snappy.
- You also need to make sure there are no copyright issues by researching domain history.
- If you're about to create a new website, check out these do's and don'ts of choosing a domain name to avoid any unwanted headaches.
One of the biggest challenges you’ll face when launching a website is choosing the best domain name.
There are many problems you can fix down the line, but recovering from a poor domain name choice will prove a costly, time-consuming headache.
In this article, I’m going to share some of the do's and don’ts that will help you avoid the most common pitfalls.
Best Practices When Choosing a Domain Name
Follow these best practices when choosing a domain name for your new website:
- Do choose the right domain type
- Do consider registering variations
- Don't obsess over early keywords
- Do keep it short and sweet
- Don't use hyphens
- Don't forget to check your competition
- Do check if it's an expired domain
1. Do Choose the Right Domain Type
As the dominant domain type, the reality is that this is what your readers expect to see on a professional, trustworthy website.
Don’t get me wrong, there are always industry-specific exceptions.
Tech companies, for example, increasingly make use of .io domains. That’s fine for them, as it plays into their intended audience’s expectations.
For the average ecommerce or content-focused site though, there really aren’t many arguments against using .com - and an awful lot in favour.
The main challenge you’ll face here is finding high quality, brandable names in such a saturated market. Persevere with it though, as the benefits are worthwhile.
It matters enough to me that I will always go back to the drawing board if my first choice of brand name is unavailable in .com form.
2. Do Consider Registering Variations
Even if you’ve struck it lucky with your ideal .com domain, it’s still worth considering registering those other variations regardless.
(This is assuming you have the up-front budget to do so, of course, and can justify the ongoing annual renewal fees).
First of all, if you achieve any degree of success, you can be sure someone will be quick to snap up those variants and hold them to ransom for when you really need them.
There’s another benefit for those of you doing email marketing though. Very few people will pay much attention to the domain extension you use in your outreach. It’s really not going to hold back your response rate in any meaningful way.
What it will do though is enable you to conduct that outreach without attracting any kind of spam penalties to your primary domain.
3. Don't Obsess Over Early Keywords
There’s nothing worse than starting a site, knocking it out of the park, then realising your expansion options are hopelessly limited by a needlessly narrow domain name.
The old days of Google, where shoehorning a fundamental keyword into your site’s name was essential, are thankfully behind us.
There’s likely some residual benefit to including one, but not enough to justify limiting your potential for growth. In the context of growing your overall authority, I consider this small fry stuff in 2021.
This is a judgement call you’ll need to make for yourself, of course, based on your own ambitions for the site you have in mind.
Personally though, I prefer broader, branded domain names that are relevant to all my content, regardless of my initial starting point.
It’s an extreme example, using ad resources beyond the reach of most of us, but consider a hotel, flight and car booking company like Kayak.
There’s really nothing worse than building a successful site, with a low ceiling that you yourself imposed upon it. Instead, plan for success and opportunities for growth.
4. Do Keep It Short and Sweet
I like to pick a domain name that has two words. One of these will have broad reference to the site’s overall niche, while the other will be somewhat aspirational.
Combined, they give you a unique, branded domain name that conveys something of what you’re about. In the process you’ve also built yourself a platform with almost unlimited potential.
Once you start going over two words (or worse, using modifiers like “of”, “the”, or “and”), your brand will struggle to stick in the mind.
Put it out there to your friends and family, and do so verbally. See if they can both recall it easily, and spell it out without making mistakes.
If you can combine a memorable brand with room to grow, I think you’re heading down the right path.
5. Don't Use Hyphens
There are some do's and don’ts in this guide that are situational. Above all other considerations though, I consider this to be the unbreakable rule.
If you’re hopelessly in love with a domain name that’s only available with a hyphen in it, I consider that the ultimate red flag.
It’s time to head back to the drawing board and make a different choice, however painful.
Not only is it hard to articulate domains like this verbally, I believe it’s harmful to your credibility. Even the greenest internet user has a negative reaction to them!
They’re ugly, they’re bad for user experience and discovery, and they belong to a very different internet age.
6. Don't Forget to Check Your Competition
It’s surprisingly easy to get so swept up in the excitement of finalizing your domain, you forget to check you’re not stepping on anyone’s toes.
If you’ve taken the branded approach, you’ve very likely dodged most of these potential bullets.
Don’t forget to Google your shortlisted domain name before registering it, however. Could you be confused with another site within your industry? Are there even any entirely unrelated physical products that have an exact match?
I apply a very simple rule of thumb here. If I’m worried there might be a conflict, I choose to believe there is. I also choose to believe that the other webmaster is going to feel exactly the same way when they find out about it.
In the worst case scenario, you’ll face legal action over copyright and lose a lot of money.
In the best case scenario, you’ll have to rebrand and redirect your site, with all of the technical headaches this involves.
I’d much rather head into a website project with nothing but enthusiasm for the work ahead.
Having this sort of concern nagging away in the back of your mind can be a huge bottleneck for development and motivation.
7. Do Check if It’s an Expired Domain
The final item to check is your intended domain’s history.
Throw it into the WHOIS domain search so you can see if it’s a lapsed domain with a previous history.
If that’s the case, you’ll want to do some digging around to see whether the domain’s historical links are going to transfer penalties or unwanted associations.
Handily, the tool will also give you a list of related domains. You can use these to double check you’re not about to inadvertently encroach into someone’s copyright territory.
There’s a delicate dance between art and science when it comes to choosing your domain name. Apply these guidelines though and I believe you’ll avoid many of the most common traps.
Check out more tips on how to choose the best domain name for your business.
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