What’s a Domain Name and Why Does it Matter?

What’s in a (domain) name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.

-Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare (sort of)

There’s no denying that the sentiment is both romantic and sweet, but in today’s marketplace, it’s just plain naive. 

We all know that in the end, both Romeo and Juliet die. And the truth of it is that they didn’t die because of all the mistakes they made or the misunderstandings they had, but because of the importance placed upon their names.

It’s the same thing for domain names

Whether you’re just about to build your first website, or you’re a seasoned domain name owner, read on for our tips on choosing the best domain name.

Domain names are important

A business could potentially live or die on the web, based on its domain name. I’m not trying to scare you into paralysis, but I am trying to help you understand just how important a domain name really is.

A friend of mine once said, “Saying that a domain name doesn’t really matter, is like telling a realtor that location is irrelevant.”

Think of it this way: Your domain name is the web version of your street address. It’s how people find you on the (World Wide) Web.

Beyond being your web location, your domain name is also your identity on the web. And although many people think that their website is their first impression online, it’s actually their domain name that is the first impression. 

The address bar of a web browser.
We type in a domain name to get to a website.

Your domain name also defines your brand and can potentially affect your Search Engine Optimization (SEO). 

It’s as important, if not more important, than choosing your business name. Yep, you heard me correctly: Your domain name is as important as choosing your business name.

So, don’t jump into it haphazardly. Take your time. Think it through and pay attention to the following guidelines:

Finding the right domain name

It used to be that finding a domain name was easy. We could use our company names, e.g., Coke, Nikon, Ford, etc. But those one-word domains are all taken now, and they worked at the time because they were already recognizable and iconic before the web even existed.

Yes, there was a time before the web. It was right after we discovered dirt.

Now, finding the right domain is a bit more difficult, and while some can, and still do, use their company names, sometimes it’s better to choose a domain name that’s more descriptive of what your business does. For example, a business called Joe’s that sells plumbing supplies could choose the domain “plumbingsupply” or better yet, a combination of the two, like “Joesplumbingsupply.” It all depends on what you want your first impression to be. 

Guidelines for choosing a domain name

Here are some domain name guidelines to follow:

  1. Make sure your domain name fits your business. You don’t want your domain to sound like a washrag sales outlet if it’s really a blues club.
  2. Make sure it’s easy to find. This is where SEO comes into play.
    • Think about using keywords in your domain name (What words would be used to find your business online?).
    • If you’re strictly local, think about mentioning your city, state, or county in your domain, i.e., “ParisPrinters” or “LoDoDryCleaning.”
  3. Your domain name should be easy to promote. It should be easy to type, easy to say, and easy to remember.
  4. It’s always a good thing if it’s catchy and/or memorable. You can even make up a word as long as it’s brand-able, unique, easy to pronounce and easy to spell. Think Yahoo!, Google, and YouTube.

With all of that, there are a few do’s and don’ts that are important to keep in mind when finding the right domain name. Let’s start with the “don’ts”, since that list is shorter.

Don’t:

  1. Use slang or abbreviations. These don’t stand the test of time and don’t translate well from generation to generation, or even from region to region.
  2. Use numbers. When you use a number in your website domain, there will always be confusion over whether the number should be spelled out or not.
  3. Use hyphens or underlines. While this may look good to you, because it separates the words out for ease of reading, these characters often get missed by people trying to navigate to your website.

Do:

  1. Keep it short. Six to 14 characters are average, and the easiest to remember. It gets tricky trying to remember things like: “barthalamewsoysterbarcafeanddanceclub” …or was that “barthalamewsdanceclubandoysterbar” or cafe? Or bar and…what was that domain name again?
  2. Test it out with your friends
    • Tell your friends the domain name that you have in mind. Can they spell it? If not, chances are no one else will be able to either.
    • Write the domain name down. Can they pronounce it? What do they think a website with that name would be about? If they have no idea, then a potential customer surfing the web won’t either.
  3. Make sure no one else is using it. This is serious. Make sure there are no current copyrights or trademarks on the name. This can save you some serious legal fees and aggravation later on. Also:
    • Check for web domains that sound the same but might be spelled differently. This is who would get your traffic, should someone not know how to spell your domain name.

Pro Tip:  Purchasing additional domains, with various spellings and/or extensions, and pointing them to the correct domain, will send that traffic to your website, instead of to the website of a competitor.

  1. Look for your domain name on social media. You don’t want someone posing as you before you even become you.
  2. Think long-term. A domain name is forever. Or at least it should be. It takes time to build a web presence, so make sure you think about keeping the domain for the entire life of your business. You might even think generationally if you hope to hand it down to your children.
  3. Avoid trends. Really, this lends itself to the above, and to not using slang, but it’s worth mentioning again. (Remember those finger toys that spun?)
  4. Make sure you love it!  – Again, the idea is that you’ll have this domain for a very long time, so make sure you love it before you buy it. This is no time to chance buyer’s regret.

Domain name extensions

Domain name extensions such as .org, .net, .online, .biz, etc.
These are just a few of the more well-known gTLDs.

Extensions communicate the location of a website, but can also convey the purpose. For example, in the United States, .gov means the site is owned and run by a government agency, and every time we navigate to a .gov site, we know that the information there is basically “true to the law.”

Forgive me, but here’s where we get into some tech-speak. The extension at the end of a URL (.com, .org, etc.) is known as a Top-Level Domain (TLD). The most common TLD is .com, which is a generic Top-Level Domain (gTLD), meaning that anyone can use it. Still with me?

Here are a few more gTLDs, and what they infer:

  1. .info – just as it implies, this is used for informational sites
  2. .co – an abbreviation for company, community and/or commerce
  3. .net – this is usually used for technical or infrastructure sites
  4. .biz – as it sounds, this is most often used for commercial or business, such as e-commerce sites
  5. .org – used for non-commercial sites like nonprofits
  6. .me – most often used for blogs, but also popular for personal websites of all sorts

Along with the gTLDs, there are a variety of TLDs that indicate where a business is geographically. These are called country code Top Level Domains (ccTLDs). For example:  .us = United States, .uk = United Kingdom, .au = Australia, .ca = Canada, .in = India, etc. 

While there are a plethora of less common gTLDs out there, you may want to avoid them because they are not as easily remembered. Unless, of course, it makes sense for your business; e.g., .service or .pizza. Just remember that most web users will default to .com when entering a web domain name to find a business they are looking for.

Prepare to purchase your first domain name

Take a few minutes to do a final check. 

  • Does it fit your business? 
  • Will it be easy to find?
  • Will it be easy to promote?
  • Is it catchy or memorable? 
  • Did you stay away from using slang? Numbers? Hyphens or underlines?
  • Is it short?
  • Does it pass the friends’ tests?
  • Did you make sure that no one else is using it (copyrights and trademarks)?
  • Is it going to stand the test of time? 
  • Do you love it?

If you’ve checked off all the boxes above, there’s just one last thing to do…

Next step: Purchase your domain name.

Not sure how to purchase your domain name? Check out our article on How to Buy a Domain Name. We just might save you some time, money and aggravation.

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