Choosing your domain name is not a decision that should be taken lightly. You will have to live with your choice for a long time – for better or worse. This is important because a good domain name can make your branding and marketing efforts easier, and consequently make it easier for you to succeed.
So what should you bear in mind while making this important decision? This piece will give you eight important things to consider.
Whether you need a website for a new brand, you have an existing brand you want to take online, or you work with clients that are trying to get online, these eight tips will help you choose the right domain name.
If you’ve not already chosen a brand name, it’s important that you think about howyour brand name will be represented in your domain name. It’s always better when there is uniformity between the brand name and its domain name. However, if that’s not possible, you should still take the time to think about how you will represent your brand in your domain name.
Your domain name will have an impact on a number of places online, including all type-in traffic: click-through rate, social media traffic, search traffic, offline traffic, “brandability,” and referring links. These go to show how important it is for you to get your domain name right.
Now, let’s discuss the eight things you should consider when choosing a domain name:
Basically, you want something that stands out when it is pronounced. You don’t want anything that is generic, or something that looks like a string of words. You certainly don’t want hyphens or numbers in your domain name because it will distract from your brand name (unless your brand name also includes hyphens or numbers). Hyphens and numbers can make domain names sound generic, strange, and sometimes juvenile.
For example: let’s say you wanted to start a company that sells cakes and cake related products, and perhaps because “cakeshop.com” is unavailable, you opt for “cake-shop.com.” Saying the latter is difficult, and you will inevitably send a lot of people to the former’s site. Also, it sounds too generic (even without the hyphen). It could be referring to another cake shop anywhere. It doesn’t sound like a brand.
How about “onlinecakeshop.com?” Well, it’s better than the first, but still not so good. Once again, it could be about any cake shop online. It doesn’t make you stand out. Imagine if Google chose “onlinesearchengine.com” as its domain name. It’s hard to remember and certainly doesn’t stand out.
However, a name like “cakelab.com” may be a good name because it sounds scientific and is brandable. There are many creative ways to brand it and make it stand out from the rest.
In addition, results from correlation studies show that over the past 10 years domain names with exact or partial keyword matches have gone down over time in search engine rankings. This is another reason you should avoid generic names – generic names can be mistaken for overly used keywords.
Is it important to have a memorable and pronounceable name?
There is a concept called processing fluency. Humans have a cognitive bias towards things they can easily say and think about – the easier it is for our brains to process the information, the more fluent we become with the idea. We tend to form positive associations with easily pronounceable words.
This, of course, depends on the language, culture, and country you are targeting. But choosing a name you can’t pronounce easily, or one that majority of users will not be sure how to pronounce, is going to negatively affect processing fluency. Visitors won’t be able to memorize your domain name easily, and the benefits you have accrued from choosing a name that is easily brandable may be lost.
For instance, (sticking with the cake example): we might choose a clever name like “cakebutterH20.com”. It’s unique and may even be brandable, but it’s difficult to recall or pronounce. Will a user recall if the 0 is, in fact, a zero or possibly an O? And besides, what does it really mean?
How about “kuchen.com”? Well, it’s difficult for the average user to pronounce unless you’re targeting a German audience. It’s better to stay away from names that are too clever if your audience will have difficulty pronouncing them or won’t be sure what it means.
What about “cakefarm.com”? That’s clear, short, and brandable, and it’s easy to remember after the first time you hear it. It even conjures up images that are natural in the brain. You can brand that, your audience will pronounce that easily, and they can easily drop the domain name in a conversation with friends.
You shouldn’t worry about this rule until you’ve obeyed the two rules above. Word length is important but not at the expense of the brandability and pronounceability. In fact, one of the reasons word length is important is because of processing fluency. Simply put: shorter names are easier to pronounce, type, and remember. Shorter names are also easier to share, and you don’t have to worry about your URL getting compressed or cut off when they are shared on social media platforms.
For instance: given a choice between “cakedr.com” and “cakedoctor.com”, the latter is a better choice. With the former, users may not be sure how to pronounce it. Is it pronounced “caked-r” or “cake-dr?” Some users might end up tying it as “cakedoc.com,” and some could assume “dr.” is an abbreviation for “drive.”
So, even though shorter is better, there are some exceptions to this rule, so shorten with caution!
Yes, even in 2016, “.com” should be your first choice (unless you’re in the tech niche). The internet has been around for about 20 years, and new TLD extensions are springing up every day. However, “.com” still remains the most recognizable and accessible.
If your audience is made up of very savvy web users and developers, then you can get away with a fancy TLD extension like “.cake.” It may even be possible to get that TLD extension now that ICANN has approved many new extensions.
However, processing fluency dictates that you choose a name that is easily recognizable -- one people have an association with already – and “.com” is still the TLD most people outside the tech world have an association with.
If you are looking to build a global brand, it’s better to go for it right away (if you can). If you become very successful with another extension, you should want to go for “.com” eventually, so you might as well go for it at the start.
If your preferred “.com” name is unavailable, your next best option would be to go for another extension that is known such as “.net,” “.co,” or a known TLD, depending on your country. You can choose “.us,” “.ca,” or “.co.uk., co.nz or.nz” for example.
How you choose to proceed depends on a number of factors. For instance, is the owner of your preferred domain name a squatter who won’t give it up? Can you make a deal with the owner?
For example: if the “.com” version of your preferred domain is owned by a local brand who isn’t a direct competitor, you can go with the “.net” version or the “.co” version, but you have to make sure you devote resources into branding it to ensure the alternate extension is emphasized and can be remembered by users.
Always lean towards a “.com” name and look at suitable alternatives if the one you want is unavailable. However, if you have to use a name that is not a “.com” name, ensure that you make plans to brand it as such and ensure you emphasize the TLD extension.
Don’t choose names that could infringe on or be mistaken for an existing trademark.
It’s not about if you think it can be confused or not. It’s about whether or not a judge would think your domain name could be confused with or misrepresented as the established trademark.
It’s your local judicial system’s preference for such things that matters, not yours or that of your audience. So you may want to talk to an attorney if you have any concerns. This happens quite often online. Webmasters using a domain name for a legitimate business, or those just sitting on it, are oftensued by trademark owners, and it’s never pretty. Also, such names can create brand confusion, which is not good brandability.
For instance: just because your name is Nate and you make cakes, doesn’t mean “cakenate.com” will be a good idea. Cake Mate might decide to take legal action against you for brand infringement.
It’s a big plus when users can hear your domain name and immediately understand what your company is about.
Avoiding names that are too clever is a good thing under this rule, however it depends on each individual circumstance. You need a name that will allow the majority of your audience to guess what your brand is about when they hear it for the first time without visiting your website.
The examples I have used in this piece on cakes are examples of such. Each name directly evokes the idea of a place people would get cakes or cake related products from.
As already mentioned, using keyword rich domain names isno longer a very smart move from an SEO perspectivein 2016.
There is no doubt that it’s valuable in terms of cognitive and processing fluency. In terms of SEO, you will accrue beneficial anchor tests when people link to your website. However, as was mentioned earlier, Google seems to have a bias against exact and partial match keywords. A lot of sites that used to dominate search engine rankings have fallen off over time.
If you are trying to get in a keyword that would make what you do obvious, you can go for that. However, trying to cram in as many keywords as you can into the name is a bad idea. That ship has sailed and it may be more harm than good in today’s virtual market. Users and search engines do not view them as attractive.
For example: a domain name like “buycakeonline.com” won’t be a great idea, but “cakefarm.com” or “cakelab.com” would be great. You could also choose a name without the word “cake” as long as it is something cake lovers would identify with.
If your preferred domain name is already taken and you can’t get it, it’s ok to add prefixes and suffixes to the name. Alternatively, you could use a different TLD extension, as already discussed. You can be creative with your online brand and still maintain your brand feel. You just have to brand accordingly.
For example: “cakefarm.com” could be “thecakefarm.com” or “cakefarm.net.” You could also try “cakebarn.com” or any of the other TLD we mentioned earlier.
Following these rules will help you choose a very strong domain name that will make your marketing efforts easier, more productive, and more efficient.
Branding should be done from the start and not as an afterthought. Keep in mind that these rules are not rigid. You may find that something else works for you instead. A lot will depend on your goals and niche.
Need more help or to check the availability of a domain name? See www.freeparking.co.nz/domain-names/
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