Your domain name - it's your address on the web. It's the place people come to in order to find out all about you and your products or services. Only once they reach your site can they ultimately decide if you are the one that can fix their problem or supply their need. This is how they become your clients or customers - making your domain name your most critical asset on the internet.

So what's in a domain name? And why does it matter?

In this article I will explore the considerations you should make when picking the name for your brand new website. I will also explain the thinking behind these, and offer some guidance to help you put them into practice.

What do I need to consider?

In brief, the key things to bear in mind for any domain name are:

  • Spell-ability
  • Read-ability
  • Say-ability
  • Memorability
  • Domain extension (the .com bit)
  • Your website's purpose
  • Your identity
  • Brand infringement

Let's start with the '-abilities'

Apologies for my departure into the realm of made up words. However, I think they will help you remember these crucial considerations. Your domain name is your address on the web and your potential visitors need to find you quickly and easily.

Spelling

You may choose a domain name that is your business name, or one that reflects what it is you do. But whatever you choose if people cannot spell it then they are not going to be able to reach you. They may well remember what your site is called. They may attempt to type your URL straight into their browser. The trouble is that if they can't spell it then they're not going to be able to get to you.

Ensure that the words or phrase you choose are spelled the way that they sound. Be aware of differing geogrphical spellings - such as 'flavour' in the UK, but 'flavor' in the USA. Decide on a name made up of short, simple words that do what they say.

Reading

When our eyes land on a lump of text they automatically know what it is and they tell our brain to unscramble it to form meaningful words. Since there is no punctuation or empty space in a domain name your brain initially looks for common words.  It will see these first and then make sense of the rest.

The order you place your words within the domain name, and the vowel/consonant mix have a big bearing on the brain's ability to do this. So if your web address creates a clumsy looking string of letters then visitors' brains are going to struggle to untangle it. If they can't read it they won't retain it and you will soon be forgotten. The same applies to overly long domain names.

 

Saying

I have just talked about how your domain name should be easy to spell and read, but why do you need worry about the way it would be spoken? You may be surprised to find out that this has nothing to do with word-of-mouth marketing, but once again has everything to do with the way we process text.

You may have noticed that whenever you read or write something there is a silent voice in your head that is saying the words. Think about those of us who unconsciously move our mouths as we read... If you use complex words that are tricky to roll off the tongue you can be sure that your website visitors are going to stumble when it comes to remembering your URL.

You may choose to have a domain name that is a play on words. This can work particularly well if your site is light hearted, your ethos is about having fun, and your style is casual. Ensure that the twist or spin you put on any well known phrase is clear and appropriate - make it too tenuous and people just won't 'get' it.

Similarly, names that have alliteration (eg. Fiona's Funky Flowers or Pete's Perfect Plumbing) can also resonate well with readers - just make sure you don't create a tongue twister!

Memory

The way we remember words and phrases has a lot to do with all the things I have mentioned so far. But there is also one other powerful factor that will help your web address stick in your visitors' minds.

Association.

Be it a name that conjures up a particular image, or raises a smile, or captures a well known catchphrase - you want your web address resonate with visitors.  By connecting with either the visual or emotional parts of the brain your web address will gain a foothold in the minds of those you want to come visiting.

Use humour, descriptives, rhymes, alliteration, emotion... think of strong, active and precise words - you should aim for a name with 'pulling power'.


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The .com bit

Otherwise known as the domain extension, the letters that come after the 'dot' in your URL should be given just as much consideration as anything else.

Did you see how I called this the '.com' bit? I'll bet you knew exactly what I meant when you read that - and here's why...

When the internet was still new-fangled and everyone was getting their very first websites, they all had the extension .com

This was soon to be followed by regional variations such as .co.uk or entity variations such as .org  Things continued in this way for quite some time, with .com maintaining it's position as the main extension. This left it's mark in our collective consciousness. Without realising it our brains have become hardwired to automatically default to the .com suffix.

More recently regulations relaxed and now there are literally hundreds of extensions available. This gives many benefits - it multiplies the number of available addresses, offers extensions that match your industry and allows for more creative domain names.

But...

This is all well and good until you have a great name, but nobody can remember if you are .biz  .net  .club  .pizza or .xyz

Plus you run the risk that your competitor has already registered the .com version of your name. Not only will your competitor be more easily remembered, but they will also benefit by 'mopping up' your potential customers who typed .com by mistake.

Other factors to bear in mind are the implications of what a lesser known extension may say about you... "I guess they couldn't afford the .com name then!?" being just one of them.

In addition, search engines are also biased:  .xyz is a case in point. This seemingly innocent extension began by looking like a good generic alternative when it was first available - easy to remember too. But sadly this simplicity has been hijacked by less scrupulous web operators whose activities end up getting them blacklisted. This has resulted in this particular extension now being negatively rated by Google and friends. Not a result you want to encourage when launching your shiny new online enterprise.

So...

It would seem then that it is better to have a name with a .com extension that may not have been top of your list, than your favourite brilliantly crafted name with an obscure extension. Besides, just because you think your chosen .com name may be boring or run-of-the-mill, it is highly probable that your potential clients will think differently.

What's your purpose?

No, I'm not getting all existential, I'm asking you:

  • What does your website do?
  • Why do you want people to visit ?
  • What can they expect to find when they get there?

The answers to these questions may seem obvious to you. You've been dreaming about your internet baby for a while now, and naturally this website is the realisation of all those hopes and dreams. But you have to remember that nobody else can see inside your mind.

People need to be told exactly what your site is all about before they can decide whether or not to visit it.

The domain name that you give your online home should convey as much as it can in the most succinct terms. Ideally you want people to know the industry you are in, the nature of your site, and the goods or services they can expect to find.

Your identity

Just as you want to tell visitors a what they will find when they visit your site, you should also be aware of what kind of impression your site name conjures up.

This is might be more subtle than some of the other considerations, and is open to interpretation. Nonetheless it is an important factor in forming a connection with your target audience. You probably realise by now how psychology plays a huge part in all marketing matters. This covers all aspects from design, branding, language, colour and imagery - and continues all the way through to the name you call yourself.

Whatever we see, read or hear can be converted into a preconception of what we will encounter when we eventually 'meet' the product, place, person or service. In this instance the marketing message the brain is analysing is the name of your website.

The factors you may want to think about are:

  • Your organisation - large, small, agency, freelancer, sole trader, self-employed.
  • Your business culture - relaxed, friendly, traditional, liberal, conservative, contemporary, far out wacky, straight up serious.
  • The cruciality of your product or service - a life necessity, a resolution resource life's unwanted hardships, a sought after luxury, or just a piece of frivolity.
  • Your target demographic - age, gender, location, cultural bias.

Yes, this seems an awful lot to apply to just one string of words, but you'd be surprised how much it counts!

Brand Infringement

This can happen intentionally or quite by accident - either way it could land you in a whole load of trouble.

If your surname happens to be McDonald and you name your business or website to incorporate your name, then a certain burger chain may take exception to this. In reality you probably wouldn't be able to purchase any domain name remotely connected to that particular brand . They will most likely have snaffled them all up just so that nobody else can use them. They could certainly afford it - and it would be foolish of them not to.

The reason they would do this is to stop the likes of you or I trying to muscle in on their domination of that particular market. It also stops us benefiting from a person's clumsy googling, typing errors or other search engine blunders.

Using the global burger chain as an example here might give you the wrong idea. Brand infringement isn't just limited to global names, but could be just as relevant in any smaller, local or niche market. What I want to demonstrate is that if your domain name appears to be similar to another established brand or business then you run the risk of either being forced to change your name. This would entail re-branding (a complete pain in the neck, and costly) or being taken to court (a far bigger pain elsewhere, and definitely more expensive),

So don't try to be clever - but do try not to be stupid either. In business imitation is absolutely not the sincerest form of flattery, but it is a sure-fire way to waste a whole lot of time, effort and money.

To sum up...

Picking the right domain name for your new internet baby has to be ruled by your head and not by your heart.

There are a whole host of considerations, pitfalls and obstacles to avoid. Be unique and memorable, but make sure you can be spelled, read and pronounced. Adopt a robust domain extension whilst also being relevant to your target audience - and be very careful not to tread on anybody's toes. Wow - that's quite some list!

The best advice I can give though is to remain calm, be sensible - and think it through. A domain name is for life (or at least a few years).

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