A Domain By Any Other Name

I’ve been thinking a lot about domain names lately. Mostly because I’ve been thinking about rebranding this site and my business for a variety of reasons. Choosing a domain name has never been easy for me. Seems as soon as I decide on one I like and check it’s availability it’s already gone. The worst I think was a time I delayed on a name I wanted only to have it registered during the time I first thought about it and the day I went to register it. Lesson learned I hope. Since domains have been on my mind I thought I would share some of my thoughts. Not on the specifics of what I’m choosing, but my thoughts on choosing a domain name in general.

It’s All About Brand

The most important thing I see about a domain name is brand. Your domain is you. It’s the name you’ll operate under. It’s how people will talk about you. And it’s the name that will represent your business. If you have an offline business and you’ve put efforts into branding that name you would be best to use your business name as your domain. It’s how people already know you and it’s the first thing that will come to mind when they type a url into the address bar. Hopefully it’s available, but if you’re already a known entity you should take advantage of being known, by getting your business name into any domain you register.

If you’re just starting out or you don’t yet have that existing brand you should still be thinking brand when your register a new domain. But what’s the best way to accomplish that?

For a long time my thinking has been you should choose either something generic or something that describes what your business does. Generic domains have the advantage that as your business grows and changes your name doesn’t lock you into something you no longer primarily do. That’s pretty much where I am. This domain clearly brands me as a hosting business, but in truth myself and my business are more about web design and development and search engine optimization. Had I listened to myself a couple of years ago I wouldn’t have used the word hosting as part of the domain. While I currently plan on continuing to offer hosting I didn’t feel that making it part of my brand made sense as it would only deflect attention away from what are really my primary services. As for why I didn’t listen to myself back then, the domain I wanted simply wasn’t available. While I should have taken more time to come up with another name I settled for one I liked even if something in the back of my mind told me I’d be best not to.

If you feel confident about the products and/or services you offer and don’t see your primary focus changing then I think it would be a good idea to include words descriptive of what you do. Having your primary service or product as part of your domain will help to brand you with that service or product. That can be a great thing especially for a small business. It’s unlikely someone hearing about carson.com would know much about that business when it first launches, but with carsoncomputer.com we can at least make a reasonable assumption that the company deals with computers. Maybe it sells computer parts and maybe it offers repair services, but it clearly has something to do with computers and that helps brand carson with computers.

My Domain’s Shorter Than Your Domain

For a long time I’ve believed shorter is better in domains. Including your services can help brand you, but it’s more important for someone to remember your name. Ideally you should be able to tell someone your domain and they would instantly know how to spell it and would be able to easily remember it the next day when they think to check out your site. There’s a limit to how much information people can hold in short term memory and for that reason shorter is better when having to remember the address to your site. Once you’ve managed to ingrain your brand however, a longer name is fine since long term memory can hold more information a little better than short term. It might take you awhile to first remember the lyrics to a song, but once you’ve got it you can usually sing along with it years later even after not having heard it for quite some time. If your existing offline business name is long, but people know you don’t worry too much about the domain having too many characters in it.

Do Search Engines Care?

Another thought I’ve long held when it comes to domains is that they weren’t important for seo. I’m sure your domain is ranking factor, but odds are it’s a pretty minor factor when determining where to rank the pages of your site. If you wanted to get keywords into URLs it’s certainly easy enough by naming folders and files with them. While I haven’t changed my mind about the minor effect of keywords in domains I now think there is a good reason to get keywords in there when it comes to optimization.

Often when people link to you they’ll use your domain name. It’s probably the most common anchor text used when sending a link your way. Similarly many directories will only allow you to use your domain or company name in your listing in their directory. If your domain carried keywords so will more of the anchor text pointing to your pages. While those keywords in your domain may have a pretty small impact on the algorithm, those same keywords will make quite a difference in anchor text. So getting a keyword or two in there can play a big role in how well your pages rank for primary keywords.

Still brand is more important than seo when choosing a domain name. keyword1-keyword2-keyword3-keyword4.com isn’t at all what I’m suggesting. Something more along the line of carsonkeyword1.com It’s still relatively short and helps brand you with a product or service and should be easy enough to remember. However it still might be better to just go with carson.com should it still be available and it will probably be easier to remember.

I hear a lot of people asking about dashes in domains. Should they register a dashed domain since that way the words stand out as keywords. While I don’t think there’s anything wrong with using a dash keep in mind people may not remember it’s in there or where to put it if it is. If you spend time branding carson-computers.com you don’t want to inadvertently send customers to carsoncomputers.com. And I really don’t think the the seo benefit will be much anyway. Too many dashes will probably set off some spam warning, which is something else to consider.

Do I Really Need All Those TLDs?

Should you go after the singular and plural? What about getting .com, .net, .org, .biz, etc.? Yes, no, it depends. I’d certainly go after the singular and plural. It’s easy to see where someone might forget whether it was computer or computers. If you have both they’ll still find you. And it’s not like domains are expensive to register. With the TLDs I’m not so sure you need to grab them all. Most people will think .com first so if you can register the .com TLD you should. Do you then need to register the others? Probably not, but again we’re not talking a huge investment so you certainly could and it would keep someone else from tagging along on your brand.

Domains can be tough to choose. I know they’ve always been for me. So many of the ones we really want seem to be gone when we go to register them. However with a little creativity you should be able to find one that’s either generic or brands you with your primary services or products. Think brand above all else when it comes to a domain, brand and memorability. If you can it probably won’t hurt to get a keyword in there and it shouldn’t be too hard to get one in. Adding a keyword will establish your brand with something though, so choosing as generic a keyword as possibly for your business would be your best bet.

As for my own choices…well you’ll have to wait awhile to see them. I’ve already registered a few I’ve been thinking about. They are inexpensive after all and I don’t want to lose out on one again. I’m sure I’ll find something to do with the ones I don’t end up using here. Though I’m pretty sure what I’ll be using I’m still considering a couple and will keep things quiet until I’m ready to make the switch. There will be some issues with changing to a new domain beyond whatever brand I’ve managed to create for myself and before anyone sees a different domain I’d like to work those issues out.

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  1. Picking a domain is definately hard, But with the impending web 2.0 revolution the actual domain isn’t going to be as important as the way it’s marketed. I even get the impresions that web 2.0 will mean people start using obscure domain names that don’t in any way represent the content. we will have sites like wiggidybong.com selling us car insurance (i made that up).

    You raised some good points about people linking to you using just the url though Steve. In that respect the words in the domain would be important for maximising the effect of your backlinks. Especially when some forums cut off the last few words of the url when turning it into a clickable link, It would mean keywords in directories and file names would be removed.

  2. Matt I agree with you. It’s more about the way it’s marketed than the name itself. Think of Google. Not exactly something that describes what they do at all. And now to google has become a verb in the language even if we’re not allowed to say it like that. I think your domain first and foremost is about branding and you should choose a domain that people will remember.

    Getting the keywords in there for the potential anchor text is something I picked up from Aaron Wall. When I saw that it made me think a little. I still don’t think having the keywords in your domain means a lot for seo, but to get those extas keywords in the anchor text makes a lot of sense, especially if you can still find a memorable and brandable domain.

    One of the things web 2.0 is bringing is more creative use of domains. I’m convinced part of the success of del.icio.us has to do with the creative name. It’s easy to remember, though at first I would forget where to break the word. It didn’t take long to get it though. But you see it and you remember it.

  3. I still think branding is more important than the keyword. As you said, you can always switch from computer manufacturing to gardening and you won’t have to change the domain/company name.

  4. I completely agree. Branding is the most important aspect of a domain or company name. Getting keywords in there is something you can do, but I’d much rather have a brandable domain than a keyword rich domain. Having both would be ideal.

    It’s important to have a domain that is easy to remember and easy to type for all your offline marketing. Keywords can be conbined though to identify your domain with a service and help brand the two. But the choice depends on where you see the business going. Using the keywords could lock you into something, but that might not be an issue for your business.

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