A well chosen domain name — also known as a URL for “uniform resource locator” — can boost your search engine rankings as well as encourage people to visit your site. Choose it wisely!
First of all, your business name might not be the best domain name for you.
Many company names (e.g., Smith Enterprises) aren’t very descriptive. When someone hears your domain name for the first name, they should be able to instantly and accurately guess at the type of content that might be found there.
Also, if being found in the major search engines is important to you, you should consider how your target audience might find you. A prospect looking for a new product or service provider likely will search by subject not by business name.
For example, a mechanic could register something such as DonTheMechanic.com. But it’s probably better to register AutoRepairColumbiaMO.com instead, because it matches what people type into Google when they want to find a local auto repair service. Such a domain name probably will rank higher and be easier for potential customers to find.
Does that mean you should not buy a domain name that matches your company name?
No. What I would do is buy both. Develop your Web site on the domain name that is most likely to rank high. Then, buy your company name and set up a “domain name re-direct” (also called “domain forwarding.”) When someone types the company name into their browser, they’ll automatically be forwarded to the developed Web site.
This way, you get a Web site that’s likely to rank well and you can still use a more branded Web site address in your marketing.
It’s also a cheap strategy to implement. Domain names cost about $10 to $35 per year, and your Web person can easily set up a re-direct for you.
You also might buy other domain names that match keyword terms or variations of your company name and forward them to your main site. It’s a good way to keep your competitors from using those domains and it is inexpensive insurance against losing prospects who accidentally type in the wrong domain.
HOWEVER – buying multiple domain names and redirecting them to your main site doesn’t help your own site rank higher, that’s a common misconception.
So what other factors should you look for in a good domain name?
Ideally, in addition to being uniquely descriptive of your company or industry, your domain name will be short, easy to say, spell and remember, and end in a .com extension. Unfortunately, those aren’t always easy to find!
It’s helpful to begin by coming up with five terms or phrases that describe the domain you’re seeking. Then try various combinations, or add prefixes and suffixes, to come up with good matches. You can try a tool such as www.bustaname.com, which takes keywords, combines them in various ways, and tells you what’s available.
Although domain names can be up to 67 characters long, shorter domains usually are better because they’re easier to type and remember, and because they fit more easily on offline media such as business cards.
Experts strongly encourage the use of the .com extension because it’s the one people remember and it’s the one Web browsers default to if an extension is not typed in.
Avoid domain names that might confuse prospects. If you’re going to have to explain every time that your domain name is hyphenated or that you should use the number “2” instead of the word “to” or that “cool” should be spelled “kool” — well, that will get old. And there invariably will be some people who forget.
When you figure out a few domain names you like, it’s time to visit a domain name registrar — but be wary of a practice called “domain sniffing.”
Let’s say you go to a domain name registrar such as NetworkSolutions.com and look up a few domain names. You mull it over a couple of days and when you go back to buy you find that your preferred domain name no longer is available.
While that could be mere chance, it’s probably not. What some registrars do is lock a name for several days after someone searches for it. If you wait 4 or 5 days it might be available again. But sometimes a registrar will sell the searches and your desired name can be sold to a big company that buys domain names.
So don’t search for available domains until you’re actually prepared to follow through and register.
If your desired domain name isn’t available, you’ll have to decide how committed you are to owning that exact name. Sometimes you can buy it if you’re willing to pay the current owner’s asking price; check the “whois” information and contact the person listed.
If you someone else registers your domain name for you, insist that you are listed as the registrant. Many Web designers use their own contact info because it’s easier, but it also means they legally own your domain name. I know people who have been “held hostage” by Web developers who refuse to give up control of the domain name when the client wants to take their business elsewhere.