The first question I ask when discussing a website with a new client is ‘Do you have a domain name registered?’. I’m braced – if the answer’s ‘yes‘ I can pretty safely guarantee that there will be something about the choice that could have been better. Setting up a business is an exciting time, none more so than when it comes to choosing a name, but generally tossing ideas around in the pub is not the way to do it. This guide should help you turn an emotional purchase into a really sound and rational bit of marketing.
There are so many elements to a running a business that to become fixated on one of them is a kind of madness. Choosing a name is important but not the alpha and omega of success. Ultimately what’s really important is the brand values that you attach to it. Taking a few names at random; Nike, Apple, Amazon and Samsung, these are all companies that have done quite well with names that, when taken in isolation, have no relevance to their businesses. Having said that, if you can find a winning name that IS relevant to your business, is easy to spell, is short, works across all languages and cultures and isn’t already in use then register it immediately.
I had a call recently from a new client. My reception messaged me to say that X had called from Y company. Before calling back I googled Y company and thought I was getting an enquiry from a top London law firm. Turned out it was a start up recruitment company who were more than a little shocked when I told them that there was already another business with their name and a live website using the domain that they needed. The golden rule when choosing a name is to do your research; has someone else had your brilliant idea – it can save a good deal of time, tears and money.
One of the best ways to find a really good domain name is to do some keyword research. In my experience the words that people THINK are most frequently searched in relation to their business seldom reflect reality. Google have a free tool that will help you here. To use it you will first need a google account – if you don’t have one go to google and hit ‘sign in’ top right of the screen. Once you’ve done that you will need an Adwords account: google adwords. Once that’s done, sign in, go to ‘Tools > keyword planner > get search volume data and trends’. Add your list of keywords (comma separated), adjust the geographical spread to reflect your business and hit ‘get search volume’. Not only will you get average monthly search volumes for your keywords but google will also show possible alternatives. The results are often surprising and can throw up some really good domain name alternatives.
The letters after the dot in your domain name are called the TLD (top level domain). A question that I am frequently asked is which one should I choose and how many should I register? The answer is pretty straightforward; aim high whilst aiming for relevance. There’s no doubt that for business .com is king; it has the highest consumer perception and, what’s more it is the most powerful TLD from Google’s point of view. After that it’s all about what’s relevance. If you’re a TV production company then .tv makes sense, similarly if you’re in tourism, than a local TLD such as .london or .wales makes sense.
This is a vexed issue and a fine one for the overly paranoid. Amongst my customers I think the record for paranoid registration of TLDs is eight. There’s no doubt that someone COULD decide to start up a competitive business with your domain name but with a different TLD and, as such, it’s probably not a bad idea when registering a .com, for instance, to grab one or possibly two other important ones (e.g. .co.uk and .net). However, unless you’re a multinational conglomerate, eight’s just crazy. If you’ve already nabbed the good domains other entrants into the market would be foolish to trade under lesser ones – see below.
One of the golden rules of marketing is don’t give your audience the chance to be confused. In a competitive economy real success is made at the margins; by registering a competitors domain name under a different TLD just because the domain is a real stunner, you always risk potential customers going to the wrong site. One of the reason’s why .com is so powerful is it’s usually what people will type in if they can’t remember your web address. If you’re .net and your competitor is .com you’re going to lose out for this reason alone.
There are two issues here; firstly don’t invite litigation. Registering macdonalds.london and setting up a fast food restaurant is going to end in tears. Although court cases regarding ownership of domains have not always clear cut – Kevin Spacey, Wayne Rooney and Holly Valance have all been recent litigants over their eponymous domain names – whatever the result you can safely rely on some hefty legal costs which most start up businesses can do without. Secondly avoid the ‘hyphen’ trap. The hyphened domain name itself has its own problems as it has traditionally been associated with spam (e.g. make-loads-of-money-fast-with-no-risk.com) but it’s a syndrome that can also lead to tears. I had a client who was so desperate to use a particular domain name which was already registered, that she went ahead anyway but just stuck ‘uk’ on the end of it. Most people didn’t even notice the ‘uk’ and just typed in the word without it, thereby ending up at her competitor’s site. The short answer is, if you can’t get what you want – choose something else.
One of the common confusions I encounter is over the issue of domain hosting and web hosting; they are not the same thing. When you register your domain name with companies such as 123-reg, goDaddy and 1and1 all you are doing is paying for a tiny bit of space on one of their name servers where your domain and its associated control panel will sit. The money you pay is simply to rent this space.
Make sure you own it and make sure you keep a safe note of where it’s registered and how to log in to the control panel – all of which you will set up at registration. All too often I encounter businesses who have allowed someone else – usually their first web designer – to register their domain name only to find some years down the track that they don’t actually own it. If you’re not sure who owns your domain name go to whois.com, put in your domain name and look for the registrant. It should be you. If it isn’t then get in touch with the registrant and ask for it to be transferred. Whilst you’re there also check the admin email. This is the email that the registrar will be using to send you messages; important things like “your domain is about to expire“. So often people enter a free email service address (e.g. Gmail or Hotmail) at the point of registration as, of course, they don’t have a domain yet to create proper email yet. The chances are they will never look at the free address again and will therefore not see the message telling them to cough up a years registration and then wonder why their website has disappeared and they haven’t received email for a while.
Once you have chosen your killer domain name just take a step back and see whether your audience are likely to be able to say it, spell it or read it or, more importantly, whether they will bother. The record amongst my clients came in at a plump 22 characters – if you couldn’t copy and paste it you didn’t go there (they did relent and registered a new name at a slender 16 characters). …and finally, does it work when connected up into one big domain name word or will you attract all the wrong kind of browsers like whorepresents.com and www.therapist.com?
An important element of google’s ranking algorithm is how long your domain name has been around and – crucially – for how long it is registered. When you’re starting a business or a new web project – if Einstein is right (pace Quantum theory) – then there’s nothing you can do about how long you’ve been around, you can however register your domain name for ten years. It doesn’t cost a great deal more but what it does do is to show a level of commitment to your business that Google seem to like – and that’s good for rankings.
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