Choosing the best domain name for a web site is a task that should be taken very seriously. The choice you make can be a critical success factor that can either help boost your traffic significantly or prevent users from finding your web site.
The first thing to consider is the strategy you wish to pursue when choosing a domain name. A strategy is a goal. It is what you wish to achieve with the web site. Are most Internet users familiar with your company name or your product or service brands names? This is an important first question to ask because it can help determine the best strategy.
There are two basic strategies for selecting a domain name. You can either look for a name that’s good for branding or a keyword rich domain. Each serves a different purpose.
Selecting a Branded Domain Name
A branded name can either be a company name, a product or service brand, or simply the name of a web site. A brand can be an existing brand or one that you wish to build name recognition for over time. The idea is to either focus on a name that users already recognize or choose a name that they will remember. A good branded domain name is reasonably short, memorable, bouncy and easy to spell. That’s important if you want people to easily remember your domain name for return visits.
If your company is called Magoo’s Marvels and you sell bright purple widgets, a good branded name might be MagoosMarvels.com, It is short, easy to remember and easy to spell. A bad choice would be MagoosMarvelsBrightPurpleWidgets.com, because it is way too long. The longer the domain name, the harder it is to remember and spell correctly. on the opposite extreme, you can have a name that is too short and not easy to remember, such as when acronyms are used. Magoo would not want to chose a domain name such as MMBPW.com, because no one would remember it. Acronyms usually do not work well unless you have a highly recognizable brand name, such as AT&T or IBM.
There is something to be aware of when you are selecting a domain for a recognizable brand. If a name is trademarked, but you do not own the trademark, do not register the domain name. Companies are increasingly confiscating domain names that use their trademarked names, and they have every legal right to so.
Apple, Nokia, Sony and other major corporations have teams of people who spend their days looking for trademark violations on web sites. A few days ago I saw several domain name auctions running on eBay that violate major trademarks, such as iPod and iPad. Some of these auctions had starting prices at thousands of dollars. Pity on the fool that buys one of these domain names, because they could lose it and their entire investment at any time.
Selecting a Keyword-Rich Domain Name
Keyword-rich domain names use word that users commonly use when searching for a product or services. If few people are aware of your company or brands, or you wish to drive supplemental traffic with a secondary web site, keyword-rich domains can work well.
The idea is to focus as closely as you can on domain names that are exact or almost exact matches for the search phrases that people use in searches. This requires proper keyword research, which we cover in another article. Domain names that use the keywords used is a search in the name have an advantage in search engine search results. If you looks carefully at the search results from any major search engine, you will see that a large percentage of the highest ranking sites, use the words you used in your search in their domain names.
There is a phenomenon called the exact match bonus that gives a web site a very clear advantage if the domain name is an exact match for the keywords used in the search. We do not exactly know why the search engines award a high rank to exact match domains, but they do and this bonus can be a benefit. The exact match bonus phenomenon only seems to occur with .com, .net, and .org domain names, and only for domain names that do not include hyphens. I have never seen it with .us or .info domains.
If Magoo’s research indicated that a substantial number of potential buyers search for ‘bright purple widgets”, it would be very beneficial if he could register the domain name, brightpurplewidgets.com.
The idea is to match the domain to the exact phrases that people most commonly use when searching for a product or services. However, because many site owners who are well-versed in SEO are already aware of this, it can be rather difficult to fond the exact match domain that you desire.
How To Find Available Domain Names
My recommendation is to only focus on TLDs (top level domains) ending in .com, .net and .org. For some reason known only to the programmers who write proprietary search engine algorithms, it is much harder to get a site to rank well if it uses the .info or .us extension, or if the domain utilizes more than one hyphen. We have sites that rank very well using a single hyphen, but the exact match bonus does not appear to apply to these domains. The best choice is usually a .com domain without any hyphens.
A .com domain should always be your first choice because people remember these much easier than .net or .org domains. However, a .net or .org domain can be a good second choice, especially for keyword-rich domains.
The best way to find domains is to get together with some associates or friends and have a brainstorming session. Make a list of all of the domain names generated. This typically means generating a list of at least 100 potential choices. At this point, do not add the extensions. You can enter them into a spreadsheet to manage the list. Do not skimp on the size of the list. It can take a list of more than 100 potential domain names to find one or two really good available domains.
Here is an important rule when checking to see if a desired domain name is available: Never search for an available domain name at a domain registrar. Why? Because some registrars are believed to use programs that reserve good domain names when people check for their availability and do not register them. If you search for a very good keyword-rich domain name at GoDaddy and find that it is available and do not register it before you leave the GoDaddy site, you may find that tomorrow it is no longer available and is part of their domain auctions. It has been shown that Network Solutions and other registrars also researve domain names when a user does not register them right away.
A better solution is to use an independent tool to check for availability. We like the the free Bulk Check domain tool (http://www.domaintools.com/bulk-check/) at DomainTools.com. You can cut-and-paste a list of domains and it will tell you which of the .com, .net and .org TLDs are available.
The last step it to register your top choices for the available domains. You can register them at any major registrar. The choice is yours. We prefer GoDaddy, NameCheap.com and Name.com. other registrars, such as NetworkSolutions.com and Register.com can also be used, but they are much more expensive and offer no additional benefits. We prefer going with “cheap and reliable” when it comes to domain registrations.
We hope this helps you to better understand how to choose the best domain name for your website. Happy hunting!