Domain Names

The Definitive Guide to Choosing a Domain Name: Top 10 Tips

Ben Adams 8 months ago

Choosing your domain name can be one of the toughest decisions you make in your digital marketing voyage. There are so many reasons why you need to get it right. Not only is it the name of your website, but it’s the identity of your website. It has to capture the essence of your business and stay in the minds of your audience.

The domain market is very competitive and with over 330 million domain names out there now, it can be difficult finding the right one for you. It’s not just some characters which people type into their address bar, it’s your brand, your first impression, the name people will associate your products/service with, and if you get it wrong you’ll be sinking rather than swimming.

First of all, for any digital newbies asking, “What is a domain name?” a domain name is the important part of the URL, the particular name which identifies a website. Also commonly referred to as a 'hostname' it’s the unique part of the URL which doesn’t change. This excludes 'www.' This is the subdomain, please don’t buy domain names with 'www' within them or your URLs may read as 'http(s)://www.wwwexample.com' and nobody wants duplicate content. For example, with 'https://www.zazzlemedia.co.uk/blog/' the domain is 'zazzlemedia'.

Here is the anatomy of a URL:

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Below are ten tips which will advise you on what to do - and more importantly what not to do - when choosing your domain name.

Tip One - Ensure the domain name is brandable

Having a domain name which is brandable is essential. This means that when users see or hear your domain name they can easily associate it with a brand. This is not only important from a business perspective but also a psychological perspective. As humans, we are surrounded by brands all day, every day. To the point that when you search 'Amazon' or 'Apple' into Google you get links to a huge e-commerce site instead of the beautiful rainforest, and a technology company over the fruit. We associate the words with brands rather than the actual connotation of the word itself.

You should try to avoid generic terms in your domain name, and target something unique. However, you don’t have to be as extreme as the example of 'Amazon' and 'Apple' and have a name which doesn’t really associate with what your business does. What these domain names do really well is avoid generic terms. They’d be significantly less memorable if they were 'AmazonShop' or 'AppleTechnology' - they’re memorable because they’re unique and quirky.

The world is run by brands, so if you can’t beat them, join them!

Tip Two - Target your area (for local businesses)

If your brand is local, and you’re not planning for your business to expand, clarifying this in your domain name can have some real benefits. On the topic of association, users will instantly understand where you do business.

However, it can have some real SEO benefits also, especially when users type in location related keywords. For example, 'hairdressers cambridge' gets 800 searches a month. As a hairdressing business if you target 'cambridge' in your domain name your website has a much greater chance of ranking for these search terms.

If the user can see that your brand is local to their search your CTR will be higher than perhaps competitors which don’t target this. However, since Google’s 2012 EMD update (Exact Match Domain) sites which are targeting a keyword in their domain will not necessarily rank for the keyword. This depends on the quality of the site, but if your site is technically sound, having a location keyword in your domain can definitely help with local SEO.

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Be sure to think long term. If you expect your brand to expand further than your local area, do NOT target it in your domain name. This will only cause issues, as users will be confused as they’ll probably assume your business only operates in that location. In fact, having this location in your domain name may be the reason why you don’t expand so be aware of this when choosing a domain name.

If you are planning to go international, you will need to consider the complexities of international SEO!

Tip Three - Use an appropriate domain name extension

A domain name extension is an extension of the domain name itself. Every URL on the internet will contain one. The most popular TLD (top level domain) extension you’d have seen is '.com'. Approximately 39% of all domains on the internet use '.com'. Based on this stat '.com' is the advised extension to go for, as users are most familiar with this and it will be easy for them to remember. It will also help with direct traffic. In fact, some companies out there have even formulated the extensions into their brands such as 'confused.com' and 'sportsdirect.com'.

If your desired domain name has already been taken with '.com' don’t stress too much. There are alternatives out there which can still be a success. I’d suggest going for '.net' as this is also a commonly used extension. Your location can matter, though I’d suggest this only if you’re operating in the desired country. Using a ccTLD (Country code top level domain) can work wonders. For example, if you sell in the UK you can opt for the trusty '.co.uk' but if you’re anticipating going international with your website, '.com' is without a doubt your safest bet.

There are over 1500 TLD extensions out there. This may sound appealing, however many of these are irrelevant and will not help your website at all. Some examples:

  • .baby
  • .lol
  • .online
  • .secure
  • .international

Please, please if your desired domain name cannot be purchased with '.com', '.net', or a country specific extension isn’t available, try not to purchase one which is anything similar to these above. Users only associate them with spam and unprofessional websites. Here is more information on risky domain name extensions. Many people are jumping on these new TLDs - here are some of the newest ones out there.


Data provided by uniteddomains.com

Tip four - Subdomains or sub-directories?

For those of you who are new to SEO a subdomain is the part of the URL which appears before the domain name. The most common subdomain you’d have seen is 'www.'

However, this doesn’t have to be your subdomain. Many websites will utilise subdomains to organise their web content. Larger sites will use subdomains for many things, but most commonly they’re used for development sites, blogs, their stores and sometimes country locations.

Sub-directories follow the TLD (Top level domain) in the URL, and are used for similar things. Sub-directories contain a specific subset of content on the website. Sites will use them to house certain content within them, for example: 'www.example.com/blog' will put all their blog related content into the '/blog' directory.

SEO experts have been squabbling over which is right or wrong for years. Matt Cutts, previously the head of Google’s web spam team, stated in 2012 that it really doesn’t matter which you choose. Neither affect rankings. It really depends on whatever is easiest for YOU. There are some major pros and cons to each.

Overall, what you choose is entirely up to you. If your site is planning to be rich in quality content pages then subdomains could be a good idea. However, if your site is smaller, sub-directories will be easier to manage and maintain, and you’ll benefit from the link equity.

A subdomain is a separate site in its own right - meaning you’ll have to build links from scratch.

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Tip Five - Keep it as short and memorable as possible

This is a follow on from the first tip. Having a memorable and unique brand is all well and good but there is a positive correlation with memorable brands being short. Google, Nike, Costa, Pepsi… the examples are endless and this is for good reason. All these brand names are snappy, unique, and short which makes them memorable, but it also makes their websites memorable too. I’m not going to assure you that if you have a short memorable domain name that you’ll endure the success that these giants have, but it will certainly help.

This will be useful with returning customers. People are much more likely to remember a short domain name over a long one simply because it’s concise and has a greater chance of sticking in the user's mind. If you intend to build relationships with returning customers and want to ensure some brand loyalty, having a shorter domain name will assist you in the long run. Be aware that shorter domains are much more likely to be taken.

There’s evidence that longer the domain the lower the websites visibility. Please refer to the graph data provided by Gaeblers. Size does indeed matter when it comes to domain names!

Tip Six - Avoid hyphens and numbers

If you want to ensure your domain name is memorable, I’d suggest avoiding numbers and hyphens. Numbers can be a potential risk as users may forget if the domain contains a numerical version (1) or if it’s the spelled version ('one'). However, I respect that your brand may require numerical figures. If this is the case then ensure that you protect the brand and buy similar domains, and redirect these domains to your site to ensure the best user experience. More information on how to implement redirects can be found here.

Hyphens in the domain name itself correlate with spammy sites. More importantly, they disrupt the readability of URLs and their memorability and we want your domain name to be memorable.

As previously mentioned with the numbers your domain name may require a hyphen, especially if it’s going to be two words. If this is the case I’d suggest using a maximum of one hyphen, simply because you don’t want to take a chance with users avoiding clicking your links because they assume your site might be spammy. Ensure that you use hyphens galore for separating words in your URL paths (subdirectories), for SEO best practice avoid uppercase characters in these too, and numbers unless they’re a necessity, such as a year, date or page title.

Tip Seven - Research the domain name you’re considering

So, you’ve found the perfect domain name. It’s short, memorable, brandable, and it’s got the exact extension you want. Great, let's go with it…

Nope, not quite. Many people have gone gung-ho and started using the domain only for them to eventually receive a lawsuit for copyright. Just because a domain may be available, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s AVAILABLE. Research the domain name, ensure that it isn’t copyrighted, trademarked, or even being used by another business/domain owner. One of the easiest ways to check for this is to run the domain through 'WHOIS' to see trademark infringements.

Also, be sure to check that the domain name isn’t blacklisted or penalised by Google. You don’t want to shoot yourself in the foot and purchase the perfect domain name for the search engines to disregard your efforts based on the past. Use the WayBack machine to browse the history of a domain and see if it’s been naughty back in the day.

It’s better to be safe than sorry.

Tip Eight - What if your domain name is taken from someone else, but they’re not using it?

Just because the domain name you may want is taken doesn’t necessarily mean it can’t be yours. Research the domain name, and see if it’s in use. If you happen to find an abandoned website, or it’s redirecting somewhere else, you may be in luck. Firstly, I’d suggest running the domain through WHOIS for the reasons in tip seven, but also to determine the availability. This will also tell you who owns the domain name, if they choose to publicly show that information. If the details are private there will still be an e-mail address which can be contacted, which almost certainly will reach the domain owner.

Contact the owner and enquire if they’d be willing to negotiate a price for their domain name. There are many aspects which will clarify the price of a domain. The main factor is backlinks. It could be very difficult to purchase a domain name with a quality backlink profile as this boosts the domain’s authority, so bear this in mind.

However, it’s important to mention that if an active site is using this domain name, it’s probably nearly impossible for you to acquire the domain from the owner. This is mainly because what you can offer will not match the costs of site migrations, unless you offer big bucks. Sadly, if this is the case you may need to reconsider your domain name.

To look at this in much more detail, and to get tips on negotiations, read this awesome GoDaddy blog on buying a domain name from someone else.

Tip Nine - Identify what your website’s objective is before choosing your domain name

For many people this tip might be a total waste of time but despite this some of you domain hunters should read carefully. Is your domain coinciding with the objective of your website? This is imperative when choosing the correct domain name; ensure that you’re 100% certain on what your website is doing and offering to users. Even though you might think your domain is perfect, are users going to see your URLs and have an inkling into what it is you do? Ask people close to you what they think, and don’t be afraid of scrutiny. It could be the catalyst for you having a real presence online.

Tip Ten - Once you figure it out, BUY IT, and buy it FAST!

The domain market is fierce, with over 250,000 domains being registered daily. If you’ve found a diamond, and it works with your website, brand, it’s memorable, has the perfect extension you want, isn’t trademarked or blacklisted then you’re on to a winner - now buy it ASAP. You may have a matter of minutes to make the call before someone else does instead. It doesn’t slow down for anyone, and it can be a very harsh environment, so grab them quick, act fast, because if it’s the perfect domain for you, the chances are it might be for someone else. Remember, once you do buy it, protect the brand!

*Bonus Tip* - If the domain name you really, really, really wanted is taken, turn it into a phrase

Unfortunately for some of you, the domain name you so desperately wanted has been taken. It matched all the criteria, but it just can’t be done. Now, you may feel like your dreams are shattered but there are alternatives. It’s not the end of the world. This has been a problem for many website owners, usually when you’re determined to have a '.com' extended domain, but an interesting and recurring trait I’ve seen is people turning their brand names into a phrase for their domain name.

Be creative and think of something that captures the essence of the brand, or relays the message of the website. A good example is https://www.penny-arcade.com/ their site is predominantly about gaming, and by turning their domain into a phrase it gives users an insight straight away into what this website is trying to do with the use of 'arcade'.

If you follow these tips, you should be on your way to having a domain name which registers your brand online. Happy hunting, and I hope you dominate the domain market, and come out on top with the perfect domain name for your website.

Picking the domain name is the first step, the next is designing your website. Have a look at another Zazzle Media blog on things to consider when designing your website, and optimising that design to maximise your conversions.

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