How to Choose the Best Domain Name

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Techniques in Choosing the Best Domain Name |SEJ

Naming things can be quite fun, and at the same time frustrating and daunting. Babies, pets, your business, your Wi-Fi router, and yes, your domain name.

Whether it’s for your business or your personal brand, it’s definitely worth it to spend some time thinking about your online brand. And what better way to start having a solid presence by having a strong domain name? After all, it’s what people will be typing to get to your website, among a whole load of other things.

It can mean the difference between appearing spammy or out-of-date and authentic or modern. Or, simply put, it can mean the difference between having or losing a client. When was the last time you went to a site with four hyphens in their domain name and thought, “Wow! I should check these guys out,” and then checked their site to find it in pristine condition?

It’s very rare, if not impossible, to see that combination, and most potential clients or customers know this. But it’s more than just making your domain name look good. It’s about having it perform well, as there are other factors to consider as well due to it being a big part of your online brand.

SEO

It may seem to be an attractive strategy for SEO purposes to have an Exact Match Domain (EMD) such as www.buycashewnutsonline.com. Given that the domain name usually has a strong association with the information on the website, it could make sense for search engines to push these sites further up the SERPs when people search for these keywords. However, this isn’t the case these days.

Since 2010, trends have shown these domains to be in decline in terms of its SEO effect. It makes better sense for it to be this way since it doesn’t really work well in favor of users. It still definitely is a factor in SEO, as it should be, but given how quality content should be the primary deliverable for SERPs, this shouldn’t be as much of a factor as it was in the past.

Generic Names

So let’s say you’ve decided against www.buycashewnutsonline.com and decided on something more generic, such as maybe, nuts.com. As you know, four-character domains under the .com TLD are expensive to acquire as all of them are sold out. Having the four characters mean something could push it into the range of a few hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Well, one company did exactly that. In 2009, a company that was known as NutsOnline.com and formerly as the Newark Nut Company, purchased the domain and then rebranded their company to the new domain. However, revenue dropped immediately as a direct result of less traffic.

There are a lot of different alternative reasons as to why this could have happened, but I think we can generally agree that this probably wouldn’t have happened if the company did a redirect from the new domain to their old one instead and thus keeping all of the “juice” that existed. Today, however, the company is doing quite well, so the investment may have paid off.

Does this mean we should all switch to these generic domain names? Well, if you or your client have millions of dollars in profits per year while somehow having a brand that isn’t so recognizable or having one that the company wants to change, it might be worth looking into this option.

If you’re just starting out, though, this might be an option, but do take it with caution. A wide collection of studies shows that while it can be a viable option, the effectiveness is dropping quite a bit. For example, EMD correlation with ranking seems to have dropped from 0.34 in 2010 to 0.18 in 2012. This quite interestingly matches up with how it worked in the “real world”. Things were very generic early on, but eventually brands caught up and generic products dropped in popularity overall. However, just like in the “real world”, generic products still exist, and in some industries like the pharmaceutical industry, are actually regaining traction.

Brand Names

If the company has a recognizable and well-known brand name, however, it might make the most sense to have a pure branded domain name. After all, people will probably be typing the name of the company into the URL field and just entering “.com” afterwards anyways. However, if you’re reading this far, you probably aren’t in the situation where almost everyone in the country has heard of your brand or of your clients.

It still may be the best option, however, and is definitely something that all companies should seriously consider when choosing a domain name.

Techniques in Choosing the Best Domain Name |SEJ

Deciding Factors

While these are three of the most common options when choosing a domain name, they certainly aren’t the only ones. They also have variations, which open up a huge range of options for you. However, there are two big factors that you should always take into consideration when buying a domain name.

Brand Power

As I mentioned earlier, it’s quite important to measure the power of your brand. This not only means the ability for it to be recognized and remembered, but also the history of the company and the direction of where the company is going.

Unless you just add a hyphen or the name of the city the company is in, you’ll most likely be changing the brand of the company if you choose a domain name that’s quite different from the current name. So, I recommend that you consider this option in light of it being a significant business decision and not just a web marketing one. However, the brand name of the company should definitely not be changed just for the sake of getting a cheap domain name.

Growth

Since it’s completely legal in the US to have a registered business that has the same name as another in a different state, it’s quite possible that your brand name is already taken. Like the brand power factor, this decision also goes beyond web marketing and takes the growth plans of the company into consideration.

Does the company plan on expanding beyond the city it’s in? Or are their services and products offered outside the area already? While it certainly is possible to create a different domain for each city or region the business maintains a certain level of presence, it’s not advisable to have multiple domains. The compounding SEO effects, as well as the fact that you won’t be going crazy managing 20 or so domains, make it sensible to just have one domain. After all, it is possible to have subdomains or subdirectories.

If you’ve said yes to either one of the two questions I presented, it may be worth reaching out to the other business if they’re open to selling their domain name. Otherwise, you may have to consider other options or even maybe slightly modifying the brand name in order to make yours unique, especially if you’re planning to expand into areas that already have businesses registered with the same name as yours.

Getting Around the Limitations

So, let’s say you’re keeping the brand name as it is but are hindered from getting a domain name that directly matches your brand name. If you’ve determined that it’s best to keep the current brand name, here’s some options for you to consider.

To Hyphenate or Not to Hyphenate

Hyphenating is a common way to get a branded domain without having to shell out a lot of money to buy an existing site. However, it unfortunately has a certain amount of negative stigma from the spam-heavy days of the early 2000’s. It also may have a negative effect on one’s SEO, though some sources state otherwise. However, given that the only arguably positive side to this option is lower costs, it generally is a good idea for businesses to invest in a hyphen-less domain name.

Associating your brand with these negative traits as well as the potential slight annoyance of using a key that isn’t really used too often is not something you want.

Adding a Small Generic Descriptor

Another option businesses can consider is adding a small generic descriptor, such as “foodcart”, to the domain name, ideally at the end. You’d want to pick something as short as possible to add though as long domain names generally aren’t user-friendly.

Country Domain Extension

If you’re outside the US, it may make sense to register a domain with a country domain extension such as .fj for Fiji and .at for Austria. Going for this instead of a domain that ends with “.com” opens up quite a discussion SEO-wise, but generally speaking, it shouldn’t negatively affect your SEO or how your customers view your domain. Chances are, they’re already used to typing your country TLD so it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary to have them do the same for yours.

Dot Net

While going “.net” can be a viable option as it is still a common alternative to a “.com” registration if you’re unable to acquire it, it isn’t really a viable option. I mean, when was the last time you went to a site with this TLD? Or more importantly, do you ever type “.com” instead? Given that 50% of  all domains have the latter TLD, we can assume that a good amount of people do that. What’s worse is if your competitor owns the “.com” and you end up redirecting your potential customers to them.

New TLDs

One of the biggest issues with “.net” is that it is in people’s minds but not enough to make it stand out. A great way around this is with a new TLD such as “.soy” if your company sells soy-based products. It’s unique enough that customers would probably be more likely to not accidentally type “.com” but relevant enough that it would make sense for your business.

Moving Forward

As I mentioned at the beginning, it’s not just about making your domain name look good, it’s about having it perform well. Of course, looking good is one of those factors, but it isn’t the only factor one should consider. It means taking into consideration multiple factors such as the current state of one’s brand and budget then trying to find that sweet spot that, in the end, gives you the best ROI. It is an important business decision and should not be made casually.

What other things do you think businesses should consider when making this decision, and what other options do you think are available to them? Let me know in the comments below!

 

Image Credits

Featured Image: Oleksiy Mark/Shutterstock.com
In-post Photo #1: Syda Productions/Shutterstock.com

Travin Keith

Travin Keith

Sole Proprietor at Travin Keith
Travin Keith is a Partner of Words For Less, a content management and marketing company, and Content Runner, an online writing marketplace. He also owns a company in Longyearbyen, Svalbard, the northernmost "real" town in the world that provides marketing and tech services for businesses in the area. He is also involved with other projects such as with the Tappoo Group and Seashell Beach Estate, both in Fiji, Oshi Bitcoin Casino in the UK, BTown Web and VARunners, both in the Seattle area, and NatureTours.no in Norway.
Travin Keith
Travin Keith

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  • Elaine Gerstley

    Choosing the right domain name is really a headache for anyone when we are finding a domain name that easily describe our business. People spend too much time to choose informative and simple domain name, but in the end they don’t get success. But Travin Keith you have discussed really helpful points in this article that are too helpful for both newbies and experienced people. Thanks for sharing this awesome post with us.

    • http://www.travinkeith.com Travin Keith

      Thanks for the feedback Elaine! Glad to be of help.

  • adam

    Dont buy a domain name that’s been previously owned and penalised

    • R.Rogerson

      That’s far easier said than done.
      Trying to ascertain a domains past is hard work – and as yet, I’m yet to find a truly reliable way to check.
      Unfortunately, the companies that could tell us won’t – the SE’s.

      If you can see a domains traffic, you can look for dips when algo’s are released – but other than that, you may be left guessing.

      There’s also the “black mark” problem.
      G may well tag domains at some point – and it remains with that domain. There’s no manual way to correct it – even if the domain changes hands, the content changes etc.
      No way to know and no way to clean it (good job there G!)

      • http://www.travinkeith.com Travin Keith

        I agree with you R, it’s much easier said than done. I haven’t found a reliable way to check as well with the exception of checking which sites are linking to the domain and then disavowing them as needed, if any.

        For the most part though, I think this shouldn’t be thought of too much. Yes, it’ll affect things in the short run, but it’s in Google’s interest as well to update whether or not to have your site penalized. Yes, there’s no manual way to correct it, but to my knowledge (please correct me if I’m wrong), Google still crawls penalized sites to check if the sites are still penalty-worthy or not. As long as the negative links are disavowed and the site owners don’t do anything to further penalize the site as well as do the right things to move up the SERPs, the site should be fine. As to how long that “long term” is, well, that’s THE question!

      • R.Rogerson

        Travin – yes and no.

        Things like Panda and Penguin … Google will crawl and adjust as needed.
        The problem there is that you may get the domain, replace all the content … and then are left with a site that simply won’t rank. You then have to wait months for G to roll out the next version. That can harm a lot of businesses (and that doesn’t include wasting resources trying to figure why you don’t rank).

        The real problem is that there are instances when “marks” are left on a domain. It has a history, a track record – and it can’t all be expunged.
        That means that the site may trip negative flags quicker/easier … simple mistakes may cause problems a “normal” and “clean” domain wouldn’t.
        And there is nothing that can be done in such cases. No one at G can go in and change the domain history (or at least, they couldn’t … I don’t know if that has changed in the last few years.)
        The result is that you may get a domain that results in lower rankings and increased chances of being hit by algo’s… far from ideal ūüôĀ

      • http://www.travinkeith.com Travin Keith

        Thanks for the info R!

        Yeah, it definitely will be an issue for companies that want results soon. It’s good to know that it eventually does get re-crawled though, but it could definitely be faster.

        As for the history though, it sounds like it might make more sense then to have a domain name that is so unique that it wasn’t owned in the past. Just to get a clean slate. Of course, there are a lot of other factors involved, but then given what you said it’s something they have to consider more then.

        Thanks for the information!

    • http://www.travinkeith.com Travin Keith

      Thanks for the comment Adam! Like R and I discussed, it’s easier said than done but it is something to take into consideration as well especially with regards to short-term goals.

  • R.Rogerson

    Ah, one of my favourite topics ūüėÄ
    Lets see … where to begin?

    First – good job on avoiding saying anything blatantly wrong – instead you gave both sides of each issue, which is unusual (and saved me from fetching my big old stomping boots :D).

    Exact Match (and Disorder Match, and Partial Match) Domains.
    I don’t think anyone has proven that EMDs (or DMDs/PMDs) have been lessened in regards to influence.
    But G did take a stance on spammy sites with EMDs.
    So it’s not a case that having an E(D/P)MD will send you to the spam-bin,
    nor will you see negative ranking influence etc. There will still be some benefit – so long as you don’t trip any quality/spam flags.

    Hyphenation.
    As far as I know – there is no ranking influence based on hyphens. Googlers have admitted in the past that it may result in a flag for spam, but not an action.
    Thus you could have several hyphens; but so long as the site is good, you won’t see any negatives (you just might get reviewed by the potential-spam algo a littler earlier/more thoroughly than none-hyphenated domains).

    TLDs.
    Nice to rtead a Domain piece without garbage such as;
    .com’s rank better
    new .brand TLDs will rank better
    .info ranks lower
    et al that junk (again, saved me from putting on the hobnails :D).
    The simple truth is that G only has 1 system of weighting a TLD differently for ranking – GeoRelevance.
    If you have a country-code TLD (.de/.fr/.uk etc.), then G may rank you higher in searchers from/in those countries. (the inverse is apparently not true – you don’t get ranked lower in global/.com G searches just because you have a geo-tld).
    Other than that – there is No ranking influence (for the new .location TLDs, G still aren’t firm on reaction – the current thinking is that they will broaden it (so .london may be treated as a .uk)).

    Domain Name, Company Name, Brand Name etc.
    Now – here’s where it gets a little murky.
    You do Not have to have a domain that matches your Company Name.
    In fact, many companies have Brands that don’t match the company name. In most cases this is when you have a major PArent company that has branched out (or bought-in) other companies/brands. In other cases they may be trading as.
    The point being – you don’t necessarily have to have the same name for your Domain.
    Naming convention ideas:
    * Company name
    * Brand name (if diff. from C.name)
    * Slogan/Tagline
    * Product line
    * Service type
    * Location
    * Functionality (online tools)
    * Pun / variant / portmanteau (reddit/digg/pintrest)
    + Combinations of the above
    As you can see, there are quite a few options there, and you’ll see examples of them all over the place if you look.

    Audience.
    This is the killer part. The shame is, many of the older users still aren’t that keen on many of the existing TLDs. They will default to the .com.
    There is an upside – the younger generation are no were near as tied/restricted. They have grown into the net when there are tons of tlds – and things like trust/validity aren’t a concern.
    .com will still likely be the defacto default for years – but the ability of the audience to pull away from it will increase each year to.

    Things to consider?

    Length – or not! It’s not exactly the number of letters/characters. It’s more the number of syllables/units.
    Then you need to consider exposure. Some multi-word phrses are far more memorable than others. This may be due to exposure (song lyrics, famous words, famous places etc.). It could also be due to sheer commonality (some pairs/triples are far more often encountered than others).

    Then there’s audience location/language. There are distinct differences in spelling/usage for some words between British English and American English. Make sure you know the impact that may have.

    Traffic loss is something that should be looked at. This can be caused by default .com-itis, or automatically typing the domain without a hyphen. The result is the same – people end up typing in a variant domain and end up on a competitors site.
    So yes – getting the hyphenated version may be good … but there may be a cost! Same goes for spelling variations, alternative TLDs etc.
    So you need to weigh up those costs before jumping in.

    There’s plenty of other considerations – such as the chances of mispelling/mistyping, misused words, encroaching (accidentally) on an existing trademark/term etc.

    So you need to take your time, go slow and look carefully at the options.

    • http://www.travinkeith.com Travin Keith

      Thanks R!

      Yes, I tried to keep it as neutral as possible and I’m glad you noticed. There are some points where I favor one side over the other, but overall I tried to make it more of a topic of discussion rather than something set in stone. After all, this is the internet!

      First off, I’d like to thank you for your detailed response. I’m really happy to see that someone took the time to think and type that all out!

      For EMDs, you’re right on there, which is why I mentioned at the end of that part that it worked out for Nuts.com. Once again, it comes down to a business decision of what they want to focus on. Do they want to build their brand or just supply relatively generic products or sell a bunch of different branded products? Of course, these aren’t the only alternatives, but there are still a lot of reasons to have EMDs. However, it was used quite a bit as a big SEO thing a few years ago and my main point there was that it’s no longer as effective as it was as an SEO tool.

      For hyphens, it’s true that it doesn’t really have a strong influence on SEO yet due to mixed studies and who knows what Google will say in the future, but it still does have a strong effect to people looking up sites. It generally seems spammy and brings up those associations. As to the exact effects of this, I can’t say for sure but it’d be interesting if someone did some experiments with that!

      I wholeheartedly agree with your statement with TLDs and I’m glad you share that as well, which is why I strayed away from talking about it from a ranking perspective except for a few bits here and there and instead focused on how prospective visitors would interact with them as well as going over the options people have and the pros/cons for them. In all honesty, I think more companies should go for the local TLDs though if the .com site is unavailable. The cost just isn’t worth it in my opinion for most cases.

      As you pointed out though, the younger generation’s reaction to the new TLDs will indeed be very interesting. I play Team Fortress 2 occasionally and it’s much more normal to other players to have a TF2 related site with the .tf TLD.

      Good point on the length of the domain! Something I should’ve added but missed out on. Thanks for bringing it up to share with others so they’ll know about that too! It’s definitely better to have a longer domain with fewer syllables than a domain with a few letters but too many syllables.

      Also great point with British vs American English. Favour vs Favor and Colour vs Color, among others, can definitely be a factor.

      As for misspelling, it is definitely something businesses should keep in mind and be weary of especially with phishing attempts. My recollection of the case is a little foggy though, but I remember reading something about a site that made money off of being close to a misspelling of Disney. I’m not sure what happened afterwards but stuff like this does happen and this is probably the tamest thing that could happen. What’s worse is if they try to steal CC information from your clients. I don’t need to say how bad that’ll be!

      Once again, thanks so much for sharing your insights! Choosing a domain name definitely isn’t a simple decision left to be regulated to something as casual as choosing the name of the office router. It’s a significant business decision and should be treated as such.

      • R.Rogerson

        Welcome – it’s an area that is very important from a business perspective as well as an SEO one,
        and often not thought through thoroughly.
        Even most SEO’s don’t look at domains properly, and it can cause issues later (such as people opting to switch to a different domain, and the problems that may cause).

        The new TLDs is a sore point at present.
        I’m seeing several people pushing them (hard), and making all sorts of claims.
        G has stated that they won’t be treating them any different – but as per normal, certain SEOs ignore that (and common sense, experience and data) and make all sorts of wild statements about their ranking benefits.
        I see a fair bit of marketing potential there – but those domains seem to have been created as pure creamers (to skim as much money of net-businesses as possible). The pricing is disgusting – and they are doing what ever they can to justify those prices.

      • http://www.travinkeith.com Travin Keith

        Indeed, and unfortunately some businesses don’t treat it as such. Moving domains is no fun at all – definitely .

        I agree as well, there’s a lot of over-hype about these new TLDs and while I find some of them cool, I don’t put too much weigh on them in terms of SEO value. Some may make more sense than others for some businesses, definitely, but they shouldn’t be too much of a factor from a ranking perspective but rather from an image perspective from potential customers.

  • http://www.cosmeticsurgery-brisbane.com.au/breast-implants/ Maria

    I am planning on buying a domain name but not sure where to start. This post is so helpful. Thanks for sharing.

    • http://www.travinkeith.com Travin Keith

      Thanks Maria! I’m happy to know that it helped you out.