Choosing a domain name may seem like an exercise in frustration, and you may be tempted to register the first one you stumble upon that isn’t already taken. Slow down! It requires more thought than that, and your choice will have a tremendous impact on the ultimate success of you Web site. In this article, we will discuss how to discover a domain name that will work for you.
There are four main concerns when choosing a domain name:
- Technical Requirements.
- A Memorable Name.
- A Descriptive Name.
- Keyword Research.
Technical Requirements for Domain Names
Let’s get the easy part out of the way first.
When we talk about a “domain name,” we’re referring to the part of a Web site address that comes between “www” and “.com.” For instance, in “wwwYourWebSitecom,” the domain name is “YourWebSite.” You must register the domain within a particular “top-level domain,” the part that comes after the rightmost “dot,” as in “.com,” “.info,” “.us,” etc. That is, “YourWebSitecom” is a different domain than “YourWebSiteinfo.” You might be able to register “YourWebSitebiz,” even though “YourWebSitecom” is already registered.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (“ICANN”) defines what a domain name must look like. These rules may be summarized as follows:
63 or fewer characters.
Only numerals, hyphens, and English letters.
Must not begin with a hyphen.
Must not end with a hyphen.
Unfortunately, it’s not quite that cut and dried. There are varying interpretations of the rules. Some say that a domain in a four-character top-level domain (.info, .mobi) can only be 62 characters long. There are several schemes regarding how to encode non-English letters, etc.
We can avoid getting bogged down in these points of confusion by remembering two things:
You don’t want a long domain name anyway, so don’t worry about whether the limit is 64 or 62 characters.
Non-English letters, encoded in schemes that might not be universally applied, mean that your domain name may look different (and nonsensical) on various parts of the Internet, so don’t use them.
Choosing a Memorable Domain Name
Your domain name must be something that people can remember and that they can type in readily, or recognize at a glance when they see it as a clickable link.
Among other things, this means that your domain name should be short. All of the genuinely short domain names are already taken. Virtually every single word in the English language has been registered as a domain name, as has every combination of up to five letters. So, don’t get too hung up on “short.” As we will discuss later in this article, you want to find a balance between “short” and “descriptive.”
Although a domain name may include hyphens, you are better off without them. If you wanted to register “YourDomainNamecom” and found it was unavailable, you will not be doing yourself any favors by registering “Your-Domain-Namecom.” Users will confuse the two Web sites, and will be more likely to go with the shorter version.
Choosing a Descriptive Domain Name
Your domain name should describe what the user will find on your Web site.
Look for a descriptive phrase about your chosen specialty. Is your Web site about baby care tips for working mothers? For parents of babies with special needs? Whatever specific area you intend to address, put together three or four words that say it. You don’t have to say it very well, at this point. As we will discuss shortly, there are tools to help you refine your descriptive phrases. For now, just come up with a few phrases that describe your Web site’s content in three or four words.
Keyword Research when Choosing a Domain Name
You want your domain name to be short and descriptive. That means that each word in it must have value.
Keyword research can identify powerful keywords for your Web site’s content, but it can also find words to use in your domain name. There is one difference, as will be discussed below.
Keyword research identifies the words and phrases that people are using when searching for information related to your planned Web site. You will use these keywords in your Web site’s content and in any pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns, but you should also use them in your domain name. A keyword-rich domain name is more likely to rank high in search engine results.
When researching keywords for use in your Web site content or in PPC advertising, you want search terms that are frequently used but rarely matched. These are the high-value keywords that can make the content of your Web site stand out in the search engines.
However, when you are looking for keywords to use in your domain name, you should concentrate on frequently used keywords, and not necessarily those that are rarely matched. This is the difference alluded to earlier.
Keyword research can not tell you whether a domain name is available. It can only tell you what people are looking for and what they are finding in the content of Web pages. So, identify terms that people are looking for, then determine what domain names are available that use those terms, and you will have a winning domain name.
Take the list of descriptive phrases you identified in the last section, and use each one as the starting point for keyword research. From your keyword research, build a list of phrases that people are searching for when they want to find the kind of content you plan to offer.
From that list, focus on the shortest phrases that are relevant and clearly descriptive of the content you intend to offer. Now, check to see which of these phrases are available for you to register as domain names.
What if you find two or more keyword-rich domain names available? Register all of them! Choose the one you like best as the main name for your Web site, but keep the others. You can use them as “redirect” pages, and you always have the option of using the alternate names later.
For the same reason, register your domain name in various top-level domains if they are available, such as .com, .info, etc. Lock in your options on those alternate names, and lock out your competitors from stealing the results of your research.
Conclusion: What to Do Next
Before you rush out and register the first available domain name you come up with, do your homework.
Think of a short list of descriptive phrases about the Web site you intend to build.
Do some comprehensive keyword research on each of those descriptive phrases, and build a list of more keyword-rich descriptive phrases.
Choose the shortest, most memorable phrases from your list, and check which ones are available to register as domain names.
Register as many of these keyword-rich, descriptive domain names as you can.