Congratulations! You’ve got your business set up, all your products are ready to ship, and you’ve even got a marketing plan. Now it’s time to register a domain name. Excited? You should be.
However, while the opportunities to score the perfect domain name are plentiful, so are the risks of getting it wrong. So before you put money down on your dream namespace, follow these helpful tips to avoid an unexpected domain name nightmare.
Make a “Name-plan”
Your domain name will be with you for a long time, potentially for the life of your business. In order to hit the mark with your first shot, plan a domain name strategy that aligns with what your business and website promise to deliver.
- Bring social onboard right away. While you’re searching for your perfect domain name, keep in mind how you might match up your social media handles with your prospective site name. If you want to buy the domain mybusiness.com, for example, be sure you open up a @mybusiness Twitter account and build a facebook.com/mybusiness Facebook page as well.The possibilities for cross-marketing, seamless search integration, and building your reputation grow exponentially if your site and social media share a common name. Instructions on how to change your social media handles can be found here.
- Choose effective keywords for your website. Some may argue this step comes even before finding your domain name. Establishing keywords to associate with your site will optimize your site in searches over the long term. Even one or two strong keywords that relate to your site’s purpose will help your content be more searchable and relevant to visitors. They could even help salvage some traffic that a bad domain name might drive away.
- So if the URL you’ve got in mind is lameduckwebsite.com, consider instead lameduckpolitics.com, which better describes the nature of your site. Adding the keyword “politics” to your site info will track to your site name as well and give your SEO a little love. This will also reassure those visitors who worry they’re about to read about actual lame ducks (or land on a lame website about ducks).
- Brainstorm a backup… or three. Having your heart set on one domain name can easily end in disappointment if you discover it’s already registered or has undesirable connotations (see below). Take the time before you begin your search to come up with a few favorites, and be ready to mix and match if needed. Think of synonymous and related terms to create a short list of names that are uniquely yours.
- Say you’re a key lime farmer and you’ve got your eye on www.keylimes.com. But oh no! Another farmer has already snatched up that name. Consider expanding your scope to encompass other memorable domain names like limesarekey.com, sweetandsourlimes.com, or limes4pies.com. You might also try to boost your SEO by adding a new keyword into your domain, giving you options such as floridakeylimes.com, organickeylimes.com, or freshkeylimes.com. You may not get the domain you wanted, but you may actually end up with something better!
Keep it Broad
Don’t get too granular or niche right away.
For example, maybe your garden store has gotten a reputation for having the best selection of roses. It’s a great “feather in your cap” to be so renowned for one of your products, but as much as registering www.worldsbestroses.com might seem like a good short-term strategy, its specificity could work against you down the road. What happens when a new competitor starts offering a better selection of roses or you decide to change your inventory? Remember, you’re a garden store that sells more than just roses. Better to choose a domain name that will remain relevant even as your business evolves.
Once you’ve pulled your social media, keywords, and list of alternates together, now it’s time to dig a little deeper and look closely at what you’ve got.
Is Your URL Radio-ready?
Think back to the last time you were at a loud party or event. Were you frustrated trying to order a drink or talk to a friend over the noise? Did you have to ask the other person to repeat themselves because you misunderstood what they were saying?
That same kind of frustration can happen with a domain name that doesn’t pass what we call the “radio test.”
The idea is this: if someone hears your website’s name on the radio, will they be able to type it correctly into their browser from memory? When thinking of domain names, speak it out loud, both alone (if you feel insecure about saying random words for no apparent reason), and to a trusted friend or colleague.
Our post about the radio test has some more great tips to help your domain name appear just the way it sounds and vice versa.
With the radio test in mind, it’s important to avoid names with homonyms, numbers, words that have common alternate spellings (color or theater, e.g.), or simply words that are commonly misspelled. If your blog is called “Weird Nuptial Accommodations” for example, you may want to go with a URL that’s easier for your visitors to spell, such as www.UnsavorySuites.com or www.FunnyMoon.com.
And while using hyphens may seem like a clever solution to getting your ideal domain name, they tend to make your site look less professional and have no positive impact on keyword SEO. In fact, some studies even suggest they have a negative impact. So while you may be disappointed to find that www.myawesomewebsite.com is taken, trying to get your fans to remember www.my-awesome-website.com won’t necessarily make things any easier.
Also, beware of domain names that omit vowels (Tumblr and Flickr already cornered that market) or substitute numbers for letters (numbers4letters.com?). Being overly clever with your characters can end up gr8ly cnfsing yr vsitrs.
You might also consider the benefits of registering “typo” versions of your domain name (as discussed in this post).
Speaking of spelling, since domain names don’t allow spaces, the letters that are grouped together to form your URL may not always form the words you want.
Famous domain name fails are always good for a laugh—unless you’re the one who’s spent the time, energy, and money coming up with it. Then it’s not so funny.
For example, if your site is dedicated to attracting new business to the City of Carlsbad, California, you may want to think twice before registering the name www.carlsbad4business.com—especially if you’re courting a business owned by someone named Carl.
Save yourself the embarrassment of winding up on a list like this and take a good look at what your name really spells before registering it.
Search Associated Content
One of the wonderful things about the Internet is that, if something’s already been done, you can easily find out. Likewise with domain names—a simple Google search will tell you if your ideal domain name is already registered elsewhere.
Worried about stepping on toes when it comes to trademarks? Search Trademark247.com to put your mind at ease (or talk to a lawyer if you’ve got legitimate concerns). The point is, it’s easy to do a cursory search to make sure your big domain name idea hasn’t already been thought of.
It may have seemed unfair if your parents scolded you for “being seen with the wrong crowd” when you were younger, but in this case, the wrong types of associations could drive traffic away from your site. It’s also a good idea to do a search for the word or phrase you have in mind (and its variations) to see what associated content pops up. While the domain name itself may not be registered, your intended name may still return content that might be inappropriate, irrelevant, or even dangerous to your business. For example, a non-profit research organization that studies the effects of opioid abuse on low-income families in Latin America would be wise to carefully avoid any domain names or phrases that might attract the attention of drug enforcement agencies or be associated with the illicit drug trade itself.
Other associated content to watch out for: unintended religious, political, or sexual connotations that may distract from or obscure your site’s intended goals.
Cover Your Bases
We’ve talked about how to avoid registering a domain that can be confused with another business, but you also need to make sure no one else can do it to you.
“Site preservation” is the practice of registering a few different extensions of the same domain name (website.com, website.org, website.net, etc.) and redirecting them to their own site. You can check out site preservation in action–just type in google.net and see where you end up.
We’ve also written about the potential benefits of registering a “typo” domain, which is another type of site preservation to consider.
While this does mean spending money on more domains, ask yourself if the protection of your brand and content are worth it.
Other Domain Name Dos and Don’ts
- Keep it short – No one wants to spend more time typing in your domain name than they do browsing your site. If you’ve got a long business or site name, consider using an acronym or shortened variation of your name. A company called “Patterson and Powers Men’s Clothing and Accessories Warehouse” might do well with a shorter domain name like www.PandPClothing.com or www.PMCA.com. The benefits of a shorter URL go beyond simple convenience, too.
- Spelling counts – Did you spell your domain correctly when you registered it? Are you sure? A thorough spell check ahead of time could save you the embarrassment of having misspelled your own name, as well as the added expense of purchasing a new, correctly spelled one.
- Know your extensions – The .edu extension is most commonly associated with schools, .gov with government organizations, and so on. Don’t use one of these TLDs if your site doesn’t agree with its common association–even if it’s cheap. Some extensions (especially certain country code TLDs) have strict rules around how and to whom they may be registered.
Choosing a URL that’s uniquely yours is a big step in “planting your flag” in the online world. It’s what the rest of the world will know you as when they want to find you online.