Essential tips for choosing domain names

19 Jul

In a previous post on choosing a name for your business Doug provided 6 great tips for naming your business. As a companion piece I wanted to provide some tips on securing a domain name, aka URL or web address.

Business domain names come under a multitude of categories. Real words like Amazon, compounds like Facebook, mispellings such as Flickr (there’s a great rundown on naming categories at the nameinspector). Choosing a domain name to represent your business online  takes time and insight, but it’s worth the investment to avoid settling on a domain name that that no-one can spell or remember.

chosing a domain nameChoose the right keywords.
If you’re looking to find a descriptive name based on a familiar B2C service offering e.g. mortgage advisor / tool rental, then the chances of obtaining a single common term as a domain name are good as finding a capable husband in a TV ad so you’re going to have to mix and match terms.

List the common keywords for your category of business. Listing the terms your customers use, rather than more appropriate industry terms will make your domain easier to find. If still you’re itching to explain the difference between concrete and cement then you can educate customers once they arrive at your website.

Once you’ve got your terms, play with combinations. The results will get you off to a great start, and these names can be great supporting domains for your brand, but are unlikely to provide a the distinctiveness that comes with a great business and domain name. For that you need to…

Stand Out
To stand out you should look at options that convey the personality or USP your business. This step will be informed by the previous one, but often requires an external perspective and customer insight. An agency or branding consultant can provide this, and suggest business and domain names that are more distinctive and compelling than just a combination of words. It’s the reason HomeDepot.ca isn’t HomeRenovationStore.ca, and ConnectHearing.ca isn’t HearingTreatmentAndDevices.ca

Make it easy to remember
When you’ve got a draft list from the previous steps, read them out loud, ideally to someone who hasn’t been part of your initial selection. Can they repeat each one without correction or asking you to repeat it? If a potential customer mentions your company in a conversation or sees the name on the side of a truck they’re not going to have the luxury of a clickable link or hard-copy reference. Recall is vital for word-of-mouth referral.

Keeping it short will help here with the added bonus of being easier to implement in marketing materials.

Check company registers
Does a similar name exist, or has the same name been registered in another countries top level domain? Even if you consider your chosen domain to be noticeably different to an existing one, if it’s likely to cause confusion in the mind of the consumer, you could be on shaky legal ground. Check company and business registration listings in your country and get legal advice if you’re still not sure.

Make it easy to spell
If someone can’t spell your business name, they may not find you online. Relying on spellcheckers or Google’s Did you mean… suggestions are a lot more risky than simply choosing an easier keyword combination.

If you have to choose a domain name with potential spelling difficulties then…

Predict spelling mistakes
In Doug’s post on choosing a name for your business he profiled two sole-proprieter businesses named after their strongest assets… the people themselves. Both have names that can be easily misspelled.

In this instance list the obvious misspellings. You’ll probably know some of these already from years of receiving mail. One of my tricks to find misspellings is to type a proposed domain names as quickly as possible ten times. You’ll find common miss-keys this way. If you can touch-type then ask someone with less advanced typing skills to do this for you.

If your business name incorporates numbers, then add versions with the numbers spelled out to your list.

Decide on your market
If you’re market is local or national then it’s a no-brainer to register your country specific top level domain such as .ca .us .uk, but you should also register the .com if available, especially if you ship a product abroad or offer an international service. A .com domain name carries its own weight in brand value and awareness so add it to your stable of names.

From a usability stand-point many web users are unaware that country specific suffixes exist  and assume that all websites end in .com so why exclude them? Plus it’s worth noting that Firefox and IE have built in shortcuts that add www. and .com to a term entered into the address bar.

Commit
Once you have a chosen name, add the misspellings, miss-keyed and alternative domain names then register them all, yes all of them. Is the minimal cost of a years domain registration worth losing leads for?  You can easily re-direct them to a chosen central domain name that is the location for your website.

Register each domain name for more than a year. This demonstrates commitment to your customers that you’re serious about your venture. Admittedly, the majority of customers aren’t going to see how long you register the domain name for, but it is freely available information. A long registration suggests credibility, with the added bonus of giving you a little more search juice in the eyes of Google.

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8 Responses to “Essential tips for choosing domain names”

  1. Doug Brown July 19, 2011 at 7:06 pm #

    Man, this is good stuff Tom. And slyly funny I might add. The business of securing a domain name is just going to get harder. Any breaks in the clouds that you can see? Domain naming innovations coming down the tracks?

  2. tom hammarberg July 20, 2011 at 9:03 am #

    the big news will be the arrival of new generic top level domains.

    At present we have .com .net .org etc. Later in the year ICANN will allow open the registration process allowing any word to form the gTLD. So you could have http://www.copeland.agency or http://www.copeland.branding

    The people who bid and pay for control of .brand for example will then be able to resell individual names. Worth keeping an eye on!

  3. Mel Wood July 20, 2011 at 10:38 am #

    Great, timely post in light of my meeting tomorrow. Thanks for the great info.

  4. Doug Brown July 20, 2011 at 10:57 am #

    Tom I imagine the squatters are rubbing their hands in anticipation of all the new opportunities.

  5. tom hammarberg July 20, 2011 at 11:48 am #

    In theory the vast range of domain combinations this would open up will prevent this.
    A potential squatter would have to register every available keyword to prevent a company just chosing something else.

    copeland.branding
    copeland.brand
    copeland.advertising
    copeland.marketing
    copeland.engagement
    etc. etc.

    Plus ICANN will most likely further enhance its dispute procedures, which it did back in the 90’s when cybersquatting was at its worst.

  6. AMc_UK July 21, 2011 at 1:45 am #

    Great post Tom – if you revisit I would add some examples of do’s and don’ts.

    I’d always try as much usability testing on the proposed domain as you can manage – can you say it over the phone and the other person gets it right first time you’re on a winner. Can your Grandma remember it?

    I remember having an email address with a hypen in it and the word net before the domain which confused the heck out of people 😉

    There’s also the mistake of unintential portmanteau combinations when phrases like “The Pen Island” are stuck together for web addresses (we’ve all seen that email joke).

    Phrases that are unintentionally funny in other languages/territories are worth checking for at least on a cursory level.

    I’m not confident that the new plethora of top level domains is going to do much for memorability – my guess is a short .com, even a slightly obscure one is going to remain a solid gold business asset compared to a .plumber

  7. tom hammarberg July 22, 2011 at 10:53 am #

    -AMc_UK

    Great additional tips Andy. Especially checking for accidental hilarity/offense in other territories if your market extends beyond the provincial or regional. This springs to mind:
    http://www.evo.co.uk/news/evonews/265312/growler_jaguar_etype_recreation_revealed.html

    I’m with you on the gTLDs, I can’t see the addition of a keyword after the dot, making any more difference than it appearing before the dot.

    With the huge costs involved in owning and running one of the new gTLDs they’re only going to bought by large companies or multinationals, but if they’re purchasing to protect branding equity they’d still want to keep control of all the existing country TLDs.

    I can’t see it being much more than a cash cow at this point.

  8. Odai July 29, 2011 at 5:41 pm #

    I think this is a good overview of the domain choosing process, however I also think that the “Commit” section could be more specific. As an example, let’s say I manage to get myfiles.com (I wish! :P) Which common variations do I need?

    – Do I need files.com? Probably not, because the service is called My Files; there’s little chance that a user would forget the “My” part, as long as I remember to always call it My Files.

    – Do I need myfile.com? Yes, there’s a good chance someone will forget to type an s, and I would hate for someone to launch a similar competing site and steal potential traffic.

    – Which extensions do I need? As a rule, I would say that .com, .net, and .org are all necessary. .co, .me, and .tv have some potential uses, but aren’t essential. I think that buying up every possible extension is really pointless, unless you’re a big site like Facebook. What’s the worst that could happen if I don’t own myfiles.eu?

    – Buying misspellings is a good idea, but only if you have plenty of money set aside for domains. Most people can spell myfiles.com correctly in one try, but having myfiels.com, mfiles.com, and myfilles.com all pointing to the main site can only bring in more traffic.

    Finally, I think that it would be useful to explain or at least link to an article on 301 redirection and all that it entails, lest a newbie screws up his redirections. Thanks for hearing me out! 😀

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