How to Choose the Perfect Domain Name
If you own a business, you know that every detail of how you present yourself is crucial. First impressions count. Very often, the first time a new customer will encounter you is via email or your website, and the first thing they see is your domain name. There are already 300 million registered domains. So finding one which stands out and represents you perfectly is vital. After 20 years of advising customers on registering domains, here is our best advice.
Domain name jargon decoded
- Domain extension: the part of the domain that defines it's category - for example .com, .org, or .co.uk. Also known as a Top Level Domain (TLD).
- Second Level Domain: the part of the domain that you choose, e.g., the bbc in bbc.co.uk.
- Keyword domain: a domain name that contains a word which users are likely to use in search engine searches
- International domain extension: extensions such as .ly, .uk, .it, which denote a specific country
- Domain hack: a domain name where the TLD and the SLD, taken together, form a recognisable brand or word such as bit.ly
- Generic word: a plain-English word
- Non-generic word: a made-up word that denotes a brand name
1. Do you already have a brand name?
If you are already trading under a brand name, then it makes sense to match your domain to the brand. If so, you might want to skip the discussion of brand names vs generics and go directly to step 3.
2. Brand domains vs generics
There are two main types of domains - brand names and generics. A branded domain is the name of your brand with a domain extension (.com, .co.uk etc.) appended. Brand names are trademarkable words which are not usually plain-English words. Examples include "Google", "Mazda", etc. Generics, on the other hand, are plain-English words such as "phones" or "plumbers". These are also known as Exact Match Domains (EMDs).
Are keyword domains good for SEO?
It's perfectly legal to register generic EMD names such as "plumbers.co.uk" and you may be tempted to do so. Especially since for years it was considered "good for SEO" to do so. Domains like plumbers.co.uk are keyword domains, because they contain a commonly-searched keyword. Experts say that keyword domains do convey a very small search ranking advantage. But it's not enough to sway your decision. Generic domains are harder to get, as domain name traders have snapped up all the best ones years ago. However you may be able to buy them on the second-hand market. Try domain marketplaces such as Sedo or Flippa. Be prepared to open your wallet though - generic domains can cost vastly more than brandables, because they are so memorable. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is a constantly evolving art that helps you rank higher in the results of search engines like Google and Bing. There used to be domains described as ‘category killers’ like cars.co.uk. But Google’s algorithms have developed since then and these keyword domains don’t count for as much any more. One recent study found that around two thirds of top-ranking pages contained keywords, but this varied across industries. Overall the difference is quite small and a non-generic can easily beat a generic providing the content of the site is right.
3. Trademark considerations
A key advantage of using a brand domain over a generic domain is trademark protection. Non-generic words are easier to trademark - providing the words are not already in use. In the UK, there are 45 classes of goods and services in which you can register your trademark. Check the trademark classifications list to find which suit your business. Then, search the trademark register to find out if there are any identical marks registered in your classes. To register your mark, you can use an online trademark registration service or you can use a qualified trademark lawyer. I recommend using an lawyer - it costs more but trademarks are a complex legal area. If you have registered a trademark your right to use the equivalent domain is strengthened. However, if your perfect domain name is already registered you will have to show that you have trading rights to use the domain, which are built up through trading under the brand name and being recognised under that name.
The name itself
Once you've decided whether to go for a generic or branded domain, it's time to work on the name itself. Create a longlist and whittle it down. Get advice from a small number of trusted friends who really understand your project. If you are lacking inspiration on brand names, go to BrandBucket. They have done all the thinking for you and come up with thousands of catchy brands. Their domains are pre-registered, so cost more, but you might just find your perfect brand there. Shorter domains are easier to read and share. Stay under 12 letters for maximum effect. Not only will a shorter URL be easier to say aloud to people over the phone, networking and business presentations, it will also be more readable when leaving links on social networking sites where character lengths are restricted.
- Avoid cramming too many words in your domain name - two words is ideal.
- Avoid using the - separator. It's harder to read out and harder to type in.
- Avoid digits, unless digits are an integral part of your brand name.
TIP: If your brand or business name is a made-up word, it’s worth checking that it doesn’t mean anything in other languages. Failing to do so may harm your plans for global domination - especially if your name happens to also be a rude word in a different language. Oops. There are over 800 domain extensions! Make sure you choose the relevant extension for your business.
4. Choose the right domain name extension
Once you’ve decided on the name of your domain, it’s time to think about its extension. Will it be .com, .co.uk, .uk, .org, .wales? In the last few years, the number of domain extensions available has increased to over eight hundred. Here are some of the options available:
The uptake of these alternative extensions has been a little slow and many companies are sticking with .co.uk or .com. In 2016, 40% of websites in Europe still used .com.
International domain extensions
Then there are international domains such as .it (Italy), .fr (France), .ie (Ireland). In the UK we have .co.uk, .uk, .wales, .cymru. Here is the full list of international domain extensions.
5. Domain hacks
Domains and extensions can be used together to suggest a brand name or generic word. This is called a domain hack, and is often used by tech companies. For example, .ly is the international domain extension for Libya. You might be aware of famous domain hacks such as bit.ly and clever.ly. Domain hacks can be amusing, memorable and clever, but beware! Art sharing platform Artsy chose art.sy as their domain name in 2011. But .sy is the international domain extension for Syria. The disastrous war and sanctions on sending money to Syria forced the company to change their name.
6. A note on .uk
The UK has a new extension - .uk. It is being promoted as a more versatile and modern version of .co.uk. If you already have a .co.uk, .org.uk you will automatic rights to also register the .uk equivalent. This right expires on 10-Jun-2019. But I recommend registering your .uk names now to avoid any risk. There is likely to be a feeding frenzy of .uk domain name registration when this sunrise period expires.
7. Now it's time to register
Now you've found your perfect name, it's time to register.
Where to register?
Choose a well-known registration company such as GoDaddy, 123-reg or 1&1. These companies have a longstanding reputation for keeping your domains safe.
Auto-renew - yes please
All domain registration companies allow (and encourage) you to put your domain names on auto-renew. This means that your domain will be automatically re-registered for you when it expires. I strongly advise you switch auto-renew on so that you can forget about re-registering your domains.
Buy for as long as possible
Domains can be registered for up to 10 years in most cases. For your primary domain I recommend you buy for the maximum 10 years. This sends a clear message to search engines like Google that you are committed to the website URL, which can give your business a small boost in search engine results.
Protect your domain territory
How would you feel if you discovered someone trading under the same domain as you, using an alternative extension? If this would cause you financial or reputation problems, it is worth buying as many domain extensions as you can afford. Doing so will reduce the risk of an ugly dispute or challenge to your rights to use your domain. At least register the .com, .net, and .biz versions of your domain name alongside the .co.uk, .uk domains. You can configure these domains so that anybody visiting them is directed automatically to your primary domain. Do not be tempted to "alias" your domains so that the same website is displayed under more than your "primary" domain. This can make it hard for search engines to know which is your "primary" domain, and this may cause your site to lose search engine rankings. Mind mapping to narrow down your list to the right domain name can sometimes be a long process! Be organised and cool-headed in your decision making.
Domain name disputes
There are several scenarios where you may come into dispute with other domain name owners. For example, if you have a trademark, but somebody else is using the equivalent domain name. Or if you are happily using a domain name but somebody else feels it rightfully belongs to them. These situations can be unpleasant, but fortunately there is a way forward. Each domain registry has a process for sorting out disputes, called the Dispute Resolution Service. This process entails each party to set out a case as to why the domain should belong to them. The case will be adjudicated by an independent board of experts according to the rules of the registry. You will have a stronger case for winning a dispute if:
- You have a trademark which relates very closely to the domain in question and
- It is not a generic-word domain and
- You are trading using the brand name in question and
- You have been trading extensively and have built up a demonstrable reputation under the name and
- You started trading under the name before the domain was registered
If the person who has registered the domain has tried to sell it to you or threaten to use it against you, this is also a point in your favour. Make sure you have evidence of all of the above. Merely asserting that you have rights in a domain name is not enough.
The right domain name can be a huge asset to your business. It can convey trust, enhance your brand identity, and be attractive to new customers. It's well worth taking the time to find the optimum name, and protect your position through additional domains and trademark registration.