Choosing a domain name is a crucial part of establishing any company’s online presence. This unique identifier should either reinforce the brand or indicate a level of expertise, so the decision about which domain to register is not one to be taken lightly.
Selecting an optimal web address to register has been complicated in recent years by the steady drip-feed of new domain extensions from the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN – the not-for-profit organization responsible for domain ownership and availability around the world. One of ICANN’s founding aims was to relieve pressure on .com, which dominated in the unregulated 1990s. This has been tackled through the launch of almost 1,500 top level domains (or TLDs) – the final portion of a website address, typically comprising country-specific or generic options.
Generic TLDs have become big business in recent years. Because they’re newer and less widely recognized than the ubiquitous .com suffix, these new domain extensions are far more readily available. This makes them impressively affordable; WestHost is currently selling .site and .online domains for less than one dollar a month. However, these new domain extensions can lack the gravitas of a long-established suffix like .org or .biz.
As well as speaking volumes about a company, a web address can create a lasting first impression.
To ensure these first impressions are largely positive, here are six key areas to consider when registering a new domain name:
- Is it authoritative? If your company name is still up for debate, try to choose a brand name that sounds dynamic and confident. If you run a plumbing business in the Midwest, bestmidwestplumbers.biz will reassure customers about your skills and local presence. This domain is currently available for just $6.49 a year through Westhost.
- Is it memorable? Best Midwest Plumbers is easy to recall, with its rhyming couplet and clearly defined words. That wouldn’t be the case with Best Trades Services, where repeat letters at the end of each word make writing it and saying it awkward. Avoid hyphens or numbers for the same reason.
- Does it contain the company name? Occasionally a company will register a website with no obvious connection to its brand name. This is a bad idea, since web addresses provide free publicity everywhere from email signatures to business cards.
- Is it relevant? Unless you’re a blogger or a well-known industry leader, using your own name as a web address is inadvisable. There’s no obvious link or connection between a person’s name and a particular market or region.
- Does it pigeonhole you? Returning to our fictional plumbing company, what happens if Best Midwest Plumbers becomes a national brand? Are New England residents likely to trust and respond to a company named after another region? Bear in mind that your firm may begin offering extra services in future, or targeting different markets from those initially intended.
- Is it short? Best Midwest Plumbers is certainly memorable, but it contains nineteen characters between the WWW and the TLD. Registering www.bmplumbers.biz would be much easier for people to type, while search engines also prefer shorter addresses when ranking websites. And if you want to claim it, this domain is also available…
The top level domain part of a website address requires careful consideration too. Many traditionalists still favor the .com suffix, which underpins almost half of the world’s websites. Despite ICANN’s attempts to broaden the choice of TLDs by releasing hundreds of new domain extensions every year, it’s unlikely that .cash and .tips will ever carry the same weight and respectability as .com. It’s been reported that freshly launched domains take over a decade to be absorbed into the public consciousness, which is worth noting by anyone planning to purchase a TLD that’s being launched this year (such as .art or .observer).
Interestingly, foreign businesses are more likely to use their own country code TLD than American firms. Few Stateside brands have registered .us sites, despite this being the first and oldest ccTLD – or country code TLD – in existence. Unconventional companies occasionally use a regional domain suffix to spell out a word or phrase (like www.deliciouschee.se, incorporating the Swedish ccTLD). However, this isn’t always recommended. Search engines downgrade ccTLDs in overseas searches, so unless your delicious cheese is actually being marketed in Sweden, you’ve given your website an additional handicap in terms of ranking results