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Tom Howlett

The Ultimate Guide to Choosing Domains

13th Jul 2012 Brand | No Comments


Google SearchA domain is an important consideration when forming a new company or starting a new website. This is what someone will type in should they want to visit your website and will continue being the main association with your website into the future.

It is therefore important that you carefully consider the type of domain name you are looking for; do you want potential customers to instantly recognise the theme of the website from the domain name or are you looking to build more of a brand with an unfamiliar word or phrase?

Once the name is chosen, there are a number of other important considerations to be made. This guide aims to talk you through these to give your site the best start.

Important Considerations

There are a number of important decisions to be made before you take the plunge and secure the domain name. You will want to consider:

  • The target audience for the site
  • Whether you are looking to build a brand around the name
  • Whether you might want multiple domains to secure the name
  • Common misspellings of names
  • Existing references to the name online
  • How you want to manage the domain moving forward

These areas will be covered in more depth within this post.

Domain Extensions

If you have a clear idea who your target audience is and where they are based, the selection process for the extension is much more straightforward. The most common and widely used TLD’s (top-level domains) are .COM, .NET and .ORG. Most people tend to opt for the .COM as this is considered to be the most common and if anyone was to guess the extension when typing in a domain, this will probably be their first guess.

If the .COM version of the domain is taken on checking, it might be worth considering another name as you wouldn’t want to send visitors to the existing site. Ideally you will want control over as many TLDs as possible for the name you have selected.

Another consideration when selecting a domain extension is the target country. If you are targeting the UK for example, it would make sense to have a .CO.UK domain extension to improve relevance to that country. If on the other hand you do business worldwide, you may want to incorporate the country targeting into one .COM domain or possibly consider having multiple domains, one for each country.

Keywords in Domains

There has been many a discussion regarding the use of keywords in a domain name. Along with recent Google updates, it suggests that Google would much rather see websites/businesses building a brand online and producing quality content related to their industry as opposed to selecting a domain that incorporates a keyword in the hope to rank better. There are times where keywords are a useful indication of the site topic from a user’s perspective. An example would be the clothing store Bank (http://www.bankfashion.co.uk/), who had to incorporate the word ‘fashion’ in the domain because bank.co.uk was likely taken and the word ‘bank’ in not instinctively associated with clothing.

It is suggested that long and exact match keyword domains are avoided. Firstly these look quite spammy to the search engines and are unlikely to provide a great deal of additional relevance if you are not providing good quality content as well. If you are providing lots of good quality content, keywords in the domain are likely to become irrelevant. Exact match domains make the domain quite long and where possible a shorter domain should be used to ensure that it is easy to remember.

There are times where keyword use can be beneficial. For example Trip Advisor (http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/) is a company who display holiday and hotel reviews across the world. In this case, the domain suggests what they do and what people expect to see when they land on the site. They have also done a good job of branding the site around the domain term.

Branding

Touched upon briefly in the previous section, there can be a powerful branding element when deciding on a domain.

For most businesses, long term success is of great importance and is much more powerful when sculpting your brand from conception with a unique and memorable name which can be used across the web. Think of brands such as Apple, Google and Sony etc. who have built strong brands off the back of their names and currently have a huge global awareness.

The benefits of building a brand:

  • You can easily start to build a following and carve a space for yourselves online and offline
  • You have the potential to reach a point where you are easily identifiable from your name
  • It is much more likely that you will accumulate search volume for your name and dominate the search results for this (much more difficult with a generic keyword)
  • You can create a themed social media presence

Domain Length

The length of a domain is not an exact science; you just really want to aim to create a name that is relatively short as shorter names are much more memorable. The shorter the domain name, the much more likely it is to be taken, however if you stumble upon a gem, we suggest snapping it up as quick as possible.

Domain Trends

Domains tend to follow trends many other things, this is particularly popular within the tech startup industry. These trends tend to include misspellings, the introduction of extra letters or sometimes the removal of vowels and more.

Some of these have worked well, such as Flickr. They have created a well known brand surrounding this word and it is highly memorable. As this has been a common trend with many startup companies, the lines have been slightly blurred to make it harder to separate many of these sites, especially if they operate in a similar industry.

There is absolutely no problem with using this method of selection when considering a domain choice; however it is worth checking for possible misspellings or different ways of typing the word before settling on the name to make sure there isn’t an existing site that might get your traffic.

There is also another side of this to consider. As your brand grows and becomes more popular, you will want to protect your brand from others who might attempt to capitalise on your popularity and secure a domain name that is very similar (e.g. twittr.com – unsure who owns this). For any names you select it is worth looking into potential miss-types and spellings mistakes before settling.

Securing the Domain

I briefly touched upon the securing of domains in the previous section. It is important to secure similar domains (if possible) as well as domains with other extensions that are available. This is important to prevent others from registering the same domain under another extension and benefiting from your hard work.

Before you settle on a specific domain, it is suggested that you use a tool to check each and every domain that is available at that time. If any are taken, it is worth checking to see if a website is live or has been (archive.org). The domain may well be for sale, but you want to be familiar with the history before you commit to purchase.

Aged Domains

If you are looking to buy a domain that is for sale and has previously been used, you will want to check the domain history before you continue to make the purchase; this is to ensure that the domain was not once associated with spam practices or illegal activity.

You may be interesting in buying a site, either just for the domain or to continue managing the site yourself. Before making the purchasing decision it is also recommended you check the site backlink profile as well as the site history. The backlinks analysis may uncover a number of bad links that could cause problems for the site at a later date.

I feel that it is generally much better to start with a new domain with lots of potential compared with an existing domain that you wish to acquire, whether that is because the site has lots of built up authority. This is likely true for most cases, although there may be the odd occasion where purchasing an existing domain will be beneficial.

Who Is

WhoIs can be used to protect the private data of a person or business. Typically if the address and other contact details are specific to an individual, WhoIs can be used to protect these details from spammers and other people looking to take advantage of the information.

Larger companies tend to allow the business details to be shown using WhoIs as the data is not specific to an individual and where the address details can usually be found on the company website anyway.

Social Media

Before securing the domain, you will also want to make sure that the name is available across the popular social media platforms. If your name has been taken on Facebook, Twitter or Google Plus, it might be worth considering another name because these three platforms will be most important to your continual web presence and brand protection.

What to Avoid

There are certain things to look out for and to avoid in the process of selecting and registering a domain, take a look at the points mentioned below:

  • Hyphens – Overly hyphenated domains tend to difficult to speak, to type and to remember. It is possible to have one hyphen that is used to separate two words, but it suggested that these are avoided where possible. Domains that use lots of hyphens tend to be keyword rich and relatively long which may initially appear to be quite spammy to any of the search engines.
  • Uncommon Extensions – It is generally assumed that most companies will either use the .COM, .NET or .ORG domain extensions with .COM being the most popular. If you are unable to use any of these it is suggested you try for something else. Uncommon extensions are unfamiliar to the majority of people and therefore are best to avoid. It is worth mentioning that you might want to secure all the domains available to protect your brand.
  • Long Domain Names – As well as hyphenated domains, long domains should also be avoided as these are not easy to remember, take longer to type and don’t look as great.

Startup Culture

Whilst mentioning things to avoid in the domain selection process, there is a culture that goes against some of these points, particularly uncommon domain extensions.

More often than not, these domains work in their favour as they are able to create short domains that are easily identifiable and equally easy to brand.

One example of this is Bit.ly who has this short and very memorable domain which works well with their main service of URL shortening.

Domain Management

After securing your perfect domain, here are some tips for continued domain management.

Canonicalisation

On setting the site live you will want to sort out the canonical issues, generally the Home page is accessible by using the following URLs:

  • http://www.example.com/
  • http://www.example.com/index.html
  • http://example.com/
  • http://example.com/index.html

Equally you can substitute in ‘.php’ instead of ‘.html’.

If the Home page is accessible from each of these URLs, then it is likely that the search engines will regard each as referring to a separate page which could cause some duplicate content issues.

To fix this, you will want to implement a permanent (301) redirect to the preferred domain.

For more information, please see Alec’s post on resolving canonical issues on your website.

Sub-Directories

Sub-directories in reference to domains are sectionalised areas of the site for a more organised site structure. A common example would be a Blog area (www.example.com/blog) or possibly an ecommerce section (www.example.com/shop).

These can be created by adding a named folder within the site root and adding any relevant web files to that folder (e.g. a folder named ‘shop’ to contain all shopping pages).

The numbers of sub-directories you can have are unlimited and they offer a clean and simple way of structuring your website for easy management.

Sub-Domains

Sub-domains are slightly different and have to be created from within the domain management panel. Instead of ‘/blog’ like the previous example, a sub-domain would take the form of ‘www.blog.example.com’.

The difference here is that these areas tend to be treated as separate entities (or a separate website) rather than being located under the main site directory.

The benefit here would be if you wanted to keep an area of the site completely separate or if you had a few areas that offered something very different (think of a large site that contains lots of pages and content on separate topics).

URL Structure

Ideally the site will be built using a static URL structure rather than dynamic. Static pages are much more manageable and the implementation of many SEO recommendations is much more straightforward.

At the very least there should be a static page for every important traffic driving page (pages you wish to rank well for target keywords). This may not be so important for search result pages or filterable results that are in use once someone lands on your website.

Moving Domains

If you are buying a new domain and moving an existing site to use the new domain, there are a number of important considerations to prevent losing any built up authority and link value. Here is a list of recommendations:

  • You should redirect the old domain to the new domain – create a list of current URLs and on moving domains you should redirect each of these URLs to the most appropriate page. This is relatively straightforward if keeping the same URL structure.
  • Register both the new and old domains with Google Webmaster Tools to highlight any issues before they cause a ranking problem.
  • Use change of address tool in Google Webmaster Tools.

Here are some tips from Google on moving your site to a new domain (https://support.google.com/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=83105).

On-Going Domain Management

Having setup your new domain or completed your move from one domain to another, there are a few considerations listed below for on-going domain management:

  • Monitoring the Domain – You will want to continually monitor your site for issues related to the domain or URLs. Useful tools for doing so are Webmaster tools (Google and Bing) and Xenu (for finding broken links).
  • Creating New Pages – When creating a new page on the site, you should consider the length of the URL and include any relevant keywords associated with the page content. Avoid using long URLs.
  • Sub-Domains and Directories – Decide on the site folder structure from the start and continue with this structure to prevent future confusion.
  • Dynamic URL Structure – Avoid using a dynamic URL structure unless absolutely necessary.
  • Robots.txt File – It is good practise to use a Robots.txt file to control the areas of your site that crawler bots can view and index. Make sure that this does not block any important areas of the site.
  • Site Duplication – Make sure that the content on your website is only accessible on that one domain and prevent duplicate issues across domains (especially on other web properties owned by yourselves).

I hope this post has given you a good introduction into the domain selection process, initial considerations and information relating to the on-going management. If you wish to add anything or have any of your own suggestions, let us know in the comments below.

Image Source

Google screen via BigStock

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Tom Howlett About the author

Tom Howlett

If you’re looking for information on Link Building then read Tom Howlett’s posts. Tom has a specialist insight into link building strategies designed to improve website’s visibility and ranking. He will help you become a master in finding new link sources.

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