How to choose a domain name

What is a domain?

Each website on the world wide web has an address known as URL or Universal Resource Locator, e.g. http://www.vendlab.com. This is the address that is typed into a web browser to access a particular website. A URL consists of two parts. The first, http://www. determines this is a webpage fetched using the HTTP or hypertext transfer protocol. The second, vendlab.com, is called the domain and identifies a particular website.

Each domain name consists of two parts: the Mid-Level Domain (MLD) and the Top-Level Domain (TLD). The Mid-Level Domain is the vendlab in vendlab.com. This part of the domain name can comprise of 63 characters in .com, .co.uk, .net, or .org domains. Only letters, numbers or hyphens are allowed. No underscores, exclamation marks or dots are allowed.

Every domain name terminates in a top-level domain name (TLD). This is the .com in vendlab.com. Initially, only a small range of options was on offer, e.g..co.uk, .com, .fr but these days a vast range is available.

Domain names are bought from a company called a registrar. A registrar is authorised by ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) to register and keep track of domain names on behalf of customers. Registrars include GoDaddy and Namecheap.

Choosing a Domain Name

Getting the right domain name is becoming increasingly difficult as so many domain names have now been bought or are being hoarded by speculators, hoping to sell them at a profit. It is essential to take time over your domain name, as this is an integral part of your business’ identity and affects other areas like SEO.

Branding and Domain Names

A domain name should be the same or closely related to the website’s name or the business. This is important for the simple reason that when people think of a website, they will think of its name. If the website’s name is also the domain, it will be easy for them to remember. For example, if a website is called Underfloor Heating but uses the domain name underfloorheatinglimited.com, some people will inevitably get the URL wrong.

When launching a new company, the company name’s choice will be based partially on the available domains available. For an established business or one which requires a specific domain that is not available, things may be tricky. The only choice is to try to buy the domain from its current owner (be prepared to pay excessively) or choose a related URL.

The domain should be distinct. If a potential customer search for a brand name and is presented with several similar alternatives, it will not be easy to find the right site. Similarly, do not be tempted to choose a domain name similar to a well-known business, as this has the potential to confuse and annoy customers.

Keyword vs Branded Domains

When buying a domain, a business can choose whether to create an original brand for their company or use a domain that contains keywords relating directly to their products. An example of a keyword domain would be mortgage.com, while a branded domain would be google.com, facebook.com or zavvi.com.

There are advantages to either approach. Keyword domains have search engine optimisation benefits as the domain refers directly to the products for sale on the site. By choosing a domain that includes targeted keywords, you may rank higher for these keywords and benefit from additional traffic. However, simple keyword domains are challenging to obtain for a reasonable sum. Branded domains, on the other hand, can more distinctive and more straightforward for customers to recognise. Branded domains also allow companies more freedom to use their imagination when choosing names.

A third way is a combination of these two approaches. Combing a brand name with a keyword gives the advantages of brand recognition and keyword inclusion. Examples include arenaflowers.com for flowers and hellobabydirect.com for baby products.

Keep it Simple

A good name should be impossible to misspell. Avoid the following when choosing a name:

  • Hyphens. It is easy to miss hyphens when typing a name.
  • Numbers. Names which use numbers are difficult to remember. The domain name auctioning4u.com is easy to misspell as auctioningforu.com or auctioningforyou.com
  • Plurals. If a domain name is not available, do not be tempted to buy the plural. A high proportion of your traffic will be lost to misspelling.
  • Hard to spell words. Making your domain name hard to spell is asking for trouble. Test a domain name out on some potential customers and see if they can correctly spell it.
  • Short. Domain names can be a maximum of 63 characters, but to make your name easy to remember, keep it short and use proper words.

Choosing the Top-Level Domain

The .com top-level domain is the default domain for many Internet users. However, using a country level domain can have search engine benefits. The best advice is to choose a domain name available in both .com and your country-specific domain.