By Lee Hodgson
Selecting a domain name, or web address, is the most important task you will undertake when moving your business online.
Here's an A to Z guide, which should help you choose the right domain names for your website.
A is for Availability
Over 18 million names have already been registered, and they are being registered at a ferocious rate.
B is for Benefits
It's well know amongst marketing experts that people don't buy products, they buy benefits. Let's say for example that
you are setting up a site to sell holidays to Thailand. Obvious choices for names might be VisitThailand.com or DestinationThailand.com.
Both are reasonable enough, but they don't offer the user any tangible benefit, or reason why they should be buying the product.
A much better name is ExoticThailand.com. The beauty of this benefit-based name is that you are offering the user something
tangible, an exotic experience. The sales process has begun right in the domain name itself, and you are half way towards
capturing the sale.
C is for Characters
The only characters that a domain name can contain are letters, numbers, and hyphens. Spaces and other special characters
are not allowed. Domain names are not case-sensitive, so BestBuys.com and bestbuys.com are the same name, and can never point
to different sites.
Although hyphens are allowed in domains, there is a golden rule to follow here: It's OK to register a name with hyphens
in, but only if you also register the hyphen-free version.
The reason is simple. Most customers will remember a name that they have seen advertised on TV or in a magazine, but forget
whether or not it contained hyphens. So if your site is called Tasty-Cakes.com, a typical web user recalling the name from
memory will just type TastyCakes.com into their browser. If you haven't registered the hyphen-free version, you will be losing
a large percentage of customers. And if a competitor is devious enough to have registered the hyphen-free version (and they
often are) you will be spending advertising dollars sending your customers to a competitor's site. Enough said.
D is for Dot Com
Dot com names are the gold standard on the Internet. Millions of advertising dollars have already been spent persuading
customers that Dot com names are the only names worth having. The latest web browsers will even default to Dot com if no extension
is specified. Always register the Dot com version of your name, even if you choose to register others.
E is for Extensions
But what about other extensions? Dot net, Dot org, Dot cc, Dot tv, Dot co.uk etc. etc. Which ones should you register?
Our advise is to try and register at least the Dot net version of your name, possibly the Dot org as well.
And if you are a company operating outside the United States, you should definitely register your country-specific domain.
For example, in the UK, you would register the Dot co.uk version.
By registering several domain name extensions, you are preventing namespace dilution. If you owned a site called TastyCakes.com,
and a competitor registered TastyCakes.co.uk, TastyCakes.net etc. many of your customers would end up visiting your competitor's
site by mistake.
F is for Free Domains
Some companies will try to persuade you that you don't actually need your own domain name, and you can get away with renting
a free sub-directory of their name. So, for example, if you business is based around silk products, you could easily get a
free domain such as FreeWebSites.com/PureSilk/
There are several compelling reasons why you should not accept such a free offer:
1) By using a free service, you will make a bad first impression with your customers, and transmit the message that
your website isn't important enough to have its own name.
2) Free names are inevitably going to be longer, and hence more difficult to remember, than real ones.
3) Customers visiting your free site will be subjected to pop-up boxes containing advertisements and other rubbish.
4) Search engines are starting to give higher priority to sites which have their own domain names. Some will even
refuse to list sites which don't have their own domains.
Using a free domain is probably the worst mistake that you can make when setting up your business online. Don't do it.
G is for Generic
If you can get hold of a generic domain name for your business, you have a great marketing edge. Generic names are easy
to remember, but their killer advantage is that they produce a regular flow of potential customers to you site without you
having to spend a dollar on marketing.
A recent case illustrates the point beautifully. The publishers of a computer game starring Brazilian soccer start Ronaldo
have offered 150,000 US Dollars to the owner of the name Ronaldo.com. The publisher was quoted as saying "Anyone searching
for information on Ronaldo, whether it is about the forthcoming PlayStation game or any other related merchandise, is automatically
going to www.ronaldo.com. If we don't secure the name in the next two weeks, we are going to have to spend considerably more
on Internet advertising than we would have if we had owned www.ronaldo.com."
And generic names need not be limited to single words. Many people interested in the Thai language for example will try
typing ThaiLanguage.com into their browser before resorting to the search engine lottery. To summarize, generic name = free
H is for Hosting
Having a domain name without web space is like having an address without a home. This is what hosting is all about, where
your name is parked at a server computer on the Internet, so that other Internet users can access your website.
Nowadays, it's possible to register a domain well before you have got a website ready or found a computer to host it on.
You are reserving the name for future use. This is a great benefit, as it means you can register the name when you think of
it, not when you have found a server to host the site on.
I is for Identity
Your domain name is your identity in the new digital economy. Be very careful to pick the right domain names for you business
before you go online. Being forced to find a new identity after launch is a very time-consuming and costly business.
J is for Just a Minute
We sometimes get contacted by parties who say things like 'Just a minute, we've been trading successfully for the last
year under the name 4MikesWindows.net. What you're doing is a scam.'
The truth is that a poor choice of name will always reduce the number of visitors (and hence customers) to your website.
Sure, you can still run a successful online business with a lousy name, but your business will always do better with a good
name. And what happens when a competitor comes along with a much better name?
K is for KISS
"Keep it Simple, Stupid". Use easy to spell words. Use easy to pronounce words. Limit names to two words if possible, three
words as an absolute maximum. Remember that the idea is to create domain names that people can easily remember, and just as
easily type into their browser.
L is for Length
Domain names can now be up to sixty seven characters in length, but we would never advise you to register a name anywhere
near that. The golden rule of selecting a good name is short is sweet. Would you like to type a sixty seven character domain
string into a browser? No, and neither does anybody else.
M is for Multiple Spellings
Some popular English language words are spelt differently around the English-speaking world. For instance, Jewelry (US)
Vs Jewellery (UK). If you have an international business, make sure you register all of the different spellings.
N is for Now!
Register your preferred names now! Otherwise someone else will.
O is for Offline
Don't forget that your primary domain name will be used extensively offline as well as online. It will appear on your company
letterhead, business cards, advertisements in newspapers, magazines, radio and TV. Your goal should be to familiarize all
your existing customers with your domain, and plant the name in the minds of new customers. Now are you getting the idea about
how important domain names really are?
P is for Purchase
The majority of domain names already registered are not in fact owned by parties looking to develop a web site, but by
entrepreneurs hoping to sell the name on for a profit.
GreatDomains.com and Afternic.com are domain name auction sites where hundreds of thousands of names are listed for sale
by resellers, eager to turn a quick profit. So should you be prepared to buy a name rather than register a new one? In principle,
yes. The domain name aftermarket is now a huge legitimate business, which is growing incredibly quickly. But whether you choose
to go that route will depend on many things:
1) Is the name available for sale significantly better than a name that is still unregistered?
2) How much would the domain name cost to buy from a reseller?
3) How quickly do you need the name? If you are inexperienced in purchasing domain names, the process can drag on
for two months or longer.
But in principle, if a great name is available from a reseller at a reasonable price, the extra traffic it will generate
will quickly repay the initial investment. And don't be put off by the headline sale prices, such as the $7.5 million paid
for Business.com. Most names can be had for well under a thousand US dollars.
Q is for Questions
If you have any more questions about domain names, there are some great domain name resource sites around. Take a look
at DNSIndex.com, DomainWeekly.com, or DomainGuideBook.com
R is for Registration
Domain name registration is the process whereby you pay a fee in order to reserve a name for current or future use. Each
country has its own registration process and fee structures vary accordingly, but you can expect to register a name for $70
or less for a 2-year period.
S is for Search Engines
Some site developers have started registering names that contain keywords relevant to their site. So, for example a site
selling cars might register a name like Cars-For-Sale-Car-Dealer-Buy-Car.com. They do so in the belief that it will boost
their search engine rankings. However, there is little or no evidence to support this assertion. Our advice is to save your
Something that definitely is true about most search engines is that they list domain names in lower case, whether you submitted
them in lower, upper, or mixed case. So BeDaring.com would turn into bedaring.com when viewed as output from a search engine.
Please be careful
T is for Trademarks
Trademarks are a very complex legal entity, but they are also a very important mechanism for protecting your identity online.
Take a look at a site like NameProtect.com who provide an excellent range of trademark services, including trademark searching,
trademark registration, and a free trademark monitoring service.
U is for URL
People will sometimes ask you "What's your URL?". URL is an acronym for Universal Resource Locator, but is often used interchangeably
with domain name, Internet address, or web address.
V is for Voice Recognition
Already in parts of Japan, more people are surfing the web on their mobile phones than from conventional PCs. Voice recognition
technology has now come of age, and will be used to power many of the next generation browsers. So use easily pronounced words
for your name, don't use misspellings or hyphens. If your website is called 2B-TheBest.com, don't expect any visitors from
voice -powered web surfers.
W is for World Wide Web
Remember that the names you select will have global visibility, so use words which people can relate to globally. BobsAutoMall.com
might go down well in the States, but would be virtually meaningless to UK netizens.
X is for X-Rated domains
If your domain contains offensive words, don't be surprised if you end up in deep water, especially if your website is
aimed at a general audience. Play it safe, and avoid domain names which are 'too' controversial.
Y is for Yet To Come
The Internet is changing at lightning speed. Yesterday's news seems like old news. Domain names are no exception. To catch
up on the industry buzz we recommend the Afternic.com news page.
Z is for ZZZX.com
ZZZX.com - a rarely visited web site. Yahoo!(TM) lists site in alphabetical order in its directory, so poor old ZZZX.com
will not get many visitors from the most popular search engine on the Web.