Choosing Your Next Domain Name
Finding or buying a domain name is a critical part of establishing your brand’s online identity
The purchase of a good domain name should be factored into discussions of the overall branding process itself. Follow these simple steps for choosing an awesome domain name for your company or small business.
1. Do Your Research
Before buying anything from a domain name service or web hosting company, research the domain name you’ve selected to see if it has been used in the past by a previous owner.
This is a critical step in the selection process that can make or break your site’s potential for future success on the web. Just recently, marketing guru Neil Patel documented the dangers of missing this step in his $100,000 Challenge.
If your desired domain was successful in the past for a particular niche or industry, it will be significantly easier to get a new site off the ground with that domain for that same niche or industry.
If your desired domain was unsuccessful or spammy in the past, it will be significantly harder to launch a new site with that domain for any niche or industry.
The reasoning for this boils down to an understanding of how search engines work. The domain authority and backlinks associated with a domain in search engines do not magically disappear when a domain name record changes hands or expires. Search engines rely heavily on these backlinks to interpret signals about the strength and accuracy of the content on a website.
Do not assume that purchasing a premium domain will avoid this issue, even domains that are listed for higher than market value can have a history of spammy link tactics.
Our interactive director, Shawn Hartley, recommends avoiding sites with any history of the “Three P’s: Pills, Porn, and Poker.”
Take advantage of cached web pages on the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine and get an actual glimpse of the design and layout of the site as it once was. You can also reference the ICANN WHOIS records to track the domain's ownership over time.
You can then use sites like ahrefs.com, Majestic SEO, or SEM Rush to do a full analysis of the links pointing to the domain in question and assess if its backlinks are the result of natural traffic or if there is a history of spammy tactics or malware. Check the anchor text of the links for keywords that don’t align with the site’s niche or industry, these could be evidence of a hacked site.
Research can aid in your search of a domain that has good history, but it is also necessary to make sure you are avoiding issues with other business names and trademarked brands. Conduct a search for trademarked words if necessary.
2. Use keywords that are relevant to your topic or industry
Using keywords that are related to what you do can help both search engines and human searchers decipher what your brand is all about.
Our clients at Fireplace, Stone & Patio understand this concept better than anyone. But for years, they operated under the name Lumberman’s Hearth and Home.
FSP President Jeff Funk realized that their name was already popular among design and construction professionals, but they wanted a name that resonated with the general public as well. Fireplace, Stone & Patio highlights their three areas of expertise and reminds customers where they can go to find everything in one place.
If you’re thinking about going the keyword route, grab a thesaurus for some creative inspiration and brainstorming. You can also rely on keyword planning tools like KeywordTool.io, Ubersuggest, or simply by typing words and phrases into the query box on Google.com for combinations and suggestions.
While this approach may not be ideal for every industry, consider how your brand name resonates with your future customer base, especially if your target audience is rather diverse like in the case of Fireplace, Stone & Patio.
3. Make it easy to remember and spell
Taco Bell recently claimed a new domain name: ta.co
If you ask me, this is one of the best examples of branding on the web. Taco Bell is clearly on a mission to dominate the online conversation about what they do best: tacos.
The name is short—so short it can be entered into your search bar or browser by typing just five characters. It’s uniquely memorable because the combination of the URL’s extension and the domain name itself create a full word. This is known in some circles as “domain hacking.”
Google recently performed a similar stunt with the launch of their parent company Alphabet. Their announcement for the formation of their new company was displayed on the homepage of a new domain: abc.xyz
These two URLs are clever examples of how to leverage the domain selection process in some creative ways. Not all businesses will be able to pull off something like this, but it’s important to understand just how far some of the most successful brands on the web are willing to go to make their domain names truly unique and memorable.
4. Select an Appropriate Domain Extension
Back in the day, there weren’t many choices for domain extensions. Today it seems like I stumble on a new one almost every week.
Despite the sharp uptick in the number and variety of available domain extensions, most webmasters would agree that the tried and true .com will always dominate the game. This has more to do with public perceptions on the web than it does SEO. Big businesses have relied on the .com for so long that it has become ingrained in the minds of users as a more reputable and authoritative extension.
Although you can attract quite a bit of attention with some of the newly available extensions, they don’t provide any noticeable boost for SEO. Probably the most controversial new domain extension is the dot sucks extension.
In fact, if you think you’ve identified a really awesome domain name only to discover someone is already using it with a .com, you might as well look elsewhere.
There is not a lot of value in owning and building a domain name if someone already owns it with the most popular extension. This can create confusion for customers and even cost your company valuable business.
Conversely, some companies reduce the chances that someone will snatch up an identical domain by buying up the name across multiple extensions.
Some extensions are more popular in certain industries than others. In recent years, you may have noticed that many startups and app development companies have flocked to the .co and .io extensions.
Some domain extensions can also give companies the opportunity for geographical targeting. Extensions like .uk, .it, .eu are examples of these and can perform well if you do business abroad.
5. Choose Wisely
Choose your domain and extension wisely. It's always a good idea to see what your competitors are up to as well as notable online businesses in similar industries for inspiration and guidance.
- Search Engine Journal - Run a Domain Name Background Check Before Buying
- Search Engine Watch - International domain structures and SEO: what works best?
- HostGator - Choosing Your Domain Name, Advanced Tips on Picking a Domain Name
- QuickSprout - A Setback on the $100k a Month Challenge
- Name.com - Domain Extensions
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