While it might seem trivial when faced with the enormity of setting up a new company, choosing an optimal domain name is hugely significant. As the plain-English shortcut to a numeric IP address, domain names are imbued with all sorts of positive and negative subconscious associations. The clever ones outline in a few characters what a company does or where it’s based, projecting professionalism or amateurishness onto the brand.
If you’re not convinced by that approach, consider the domain names jiminycricket.ooo and disneyfanclub.org. Both could legitimately be used to host a message board about Disney movies, but one sounds far more trustworthy and authoritative than the other. People are often surprised when they stop to consider how influential domain names are, which makes choosing the right one for your business all the more challenging.
The decision about which web address to buy can be broken down into two aspects: the domain name, and its extension (or top level domain). We consider these in turn below, with practical suggestions on how to make the right choice:
The domain name
This is the central part of a domain name, and it’s crucial for representing your business. Ideally, a domain should correlate to your company’s name. This in turn needs to be easy to type and remember, preferably providing a clue about your industry or geographic location.
Compressing so much information into a handful of characters is challenging, but it’s one of the most significant pieces of online advertising you will undertake. The web address will appear in every search engine result, boosting brand recognition and recall. If your company name is excessively lengthy, or obvious domain names have already been taken, it may be necessary to abbreviate or alter your web address. Alternatively, you could use a less mainstream top level domain, which we will look at more later in this article.
These are some of the key factors to consider when selecting your new web domain:
It should have some relevance to your industry.
Obscure or generic company names like Astra give no indication of the firm’s purpose, unless suffixed with a word like “tools” or “software”. Geographic identifiers are also useful in the domain name, though they can be relegated to the subsequent top level domain. It’s better to have a longer domain name that explains where your firm is and/or what it does, rather than registering a generic word.
It needs to be easily understood.
Never pick a name that has to be slowly spelled out, or which could be written in different ways. Web addresses can’t contain symbols like the ampersand or asterisk, so firms with these symbols in their names will need alternative web addresses. Clarify the difference between numerical characters and written words (lucky7 or luckyseven), and avoid words with repeated letters (such as joessnackkiosk).
It shouldn’t restrict future expansion.
Many companies evolve beyond their original markets into complementary services or neighboring regions. A restrictive domain name may make promoting new offerings difficult, potentially requiring a total rebrand. Don’t buy the iowarealestate.biz domain if you’re hoping to expand into Wisconsin and Illinois next year – few people in Milwaukee or Peoria will contact a company promoting itself as Iowan.
It can’t be similar to a rival.
Attempting to launch an ecommerce site at azamon.com won’t work, since Amazon has cleverly bought the domain name and redirected traffic to its homepage. However, other corruptions of this iconic ecommerce brand will probably attract a cease-and-desist letter from well-resourced lawyers. Ensure your web address isn’t similar to competitors (either by accident or design), since plagiarism won’t impress many customers.
The domain extension
As with the domain name itself, choosing a domain extension (commonly referred to as the top level domain, or TLD) is a tricky process. There are two main types of TLD: generic and country code domains. Examples of gTLDs include .com and .org, whereas the 195 ccTLDs in existence include .fr and .de for France and Germany respectively.
Since it was created in 1998 to regulate domain name ownership, ICANN has introduced more than 1,500 gTLDs into the market. Many proved wholly unsuccessful (when was the last time you visited a .works or .fans website?), while original gTLDs like .org remain hugely sought after by corporate clients. Yet even though most companies opt for a classic .com TLD, a variety of factors may influence your own firm’s choice of top level domain:
Product, industry or niche?
Several top level domain categories have been developed by ICANN. Object-oriented TLDs like .photo compete with industry-specific options such as .doctor, while service-themed domains include .school and .law. Quirky TLDs such as .sucks and .whoswho suffer from a lack of brand recognition that generally makes them inadvisable. Conversely, more established options like .com and .biz still convey a quiet professionalism.
Choose patriotic domains with care.
Although .com has been adopted by most American companies, the ubiquitous gTLD for companies is less indigenous than the .us suffix. The .us TLD hasn’t achieved mainstream success, though, and it’s sometimes used by companies who prioritize flag-waving over fine service. Country-specific domains deter foreign consumers – remember that 96 per cent of the world’s population lives outside America.
Don’t try to spell a word out using the TLD.
Search engines downgrade ccTLDs in foreign results, so launching a fashion brand called All Handmade with the domain www.allhandma.de will cause it to perform well in German rankings but poorly in American ones. The only notable exception is the ccTLD for the British Indian Ocean Territory, after mass adoption by IT firms effectively converted the .io ccTLD into a gTLD.
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