What’s in a Name? How To Snare A Good Domain

For any Webmaster developing a new site, there’s a lot to think about — design, content, promotion, backend development, and satisfying the client. The problem is that many seemingly unimportant items don’t get the attention they deserve, and the site’s name is one of these.

Why Does It Matter?

OK, so you know that your site is built around a name. You’ll use it as a domain, as a page title, in your logo, and possibly in the design. A name is much more than this, though. Your site or business name will be:

  • the way in which people find your site,
  • the way they will refer to it and, most importantly
  • the thing they’ll remember when they leave.

If you don’t really believe this, think about it for a moment. You want to buy a book on the Web. You don’t go to a search engine and type in "books"; you go to Amazon or Barnes & Noble, and of course when you want Webmaster information, you go to SitePoint. Similarly, when you have a good experience on a site, you might say to your friends "I read a great article on SitePoint", or "I found great book prices at Amazon".

Whatever the name of your site — and however you promote it — it’s vital to realise that the name is going to be a major part of your success.

What IS A Good Name?

So now you understand the importance of your site’s name, how can you ensure that you pick a good one? The first thing you must think of, obviously, is domains. There’s no point in having a great name for a site if you don’t have the domain, so the Whois databases are the place where you’ll do your research.

So, what makes a good domain?

  1. Good Extension
  2. Short
  3. Easy To Spell
  4. Descriptive
  5. Keywords

Good Extension

If you believe the spam which arrives in your mailbox every morning, .ws is the new .com, .us is the new .com. .tv is the new .com… But the reality is simple: there is no new .com. Whatever develops in the Internet industry, the .com domain will always be synonymous with the top Websites. If you’re surfing around looking for a site, and you know its name, 9 out of 10 times you’ll try .com.

So, for the Website owner who wants their site to be found, the rule is: if at all possible, get a .com name.

But as many of you will know, it’s not always possible to get a good .com name that relates to your site. So what extension should you pick instead? I’d say that .net, .info and country level domains are also viable for a Website, but only in certain circumstances:

  • You can use a .net for most types of sites, but it works best for technology-related sites. If you can get a short, snappy .net, it’s almost as good as a .com, but don’t bother with anything that’s too long or complex.
  • Consider .info if your site is informational. For example, if I was looking for the Web host ‘HostRocket’, I’d go to the .com site, but if I wanted to get more information about using it, I’d try the .info version of the domain (which just happens to be the customer-driven informational site). Don’t bother setting up a non-informational site on a .info domain, though: it’ll just annoy people.
  • Country level domains are useful for particular Websites. If you’re building a site for a business that’s established in a particular country, or you plan to aim for a specific county’s audience, then you may be better off with this than a generic .com (although I’d buy them both to be safe). As with .net, it’s really not worth buying a country level domain for a worldwide site, unless you can get something very short and memorable.

Short

I’ve mentioned length before, but it’s important to understand why short domains are so good.

Firstly, of course, they’re easier to remember. Anyone who has tried learning "Hamlet" quotes will tell you that a word is easier to remember than a phrase. Two word domains are probably fine — three at the most, but if you have a really long domain it will just be confusing, especially if the words aren’t capitalised.

A simple name will also:

  • roll off the tongue more easily in conversation,
  • look more professional and
  • have less chance of being mis-typed by potential visitors.

Easy To Spell

Ever heard an ad on the radio in which the Web address for the company is spelled out to you? The lack of good domains over the past few years has lead many companies to secure what might be regarded as "nonsense" names. If you find yourself spelling your site’s name to people, you’ve got it wrong.

If you want people to remember you, they must be able to remember your site as a word. Again, words are easy to remember. This immediately outlaws the use of "unnatural" spellings, of course, so don’t replace S with Z under any circumstances!

Also, be careful about double letters. Take CyberRadio2000, for example. Their domain uses a double R, as you might expect, but there is an uncertainty there. The two Rs together look a bit strange if written without capitalisation, and a good name will not force the user to assume anything about the name. Of course, if you really must have a double letter, the best solution is to buy both versions of the domain, but it’s not ideal.

Avoid using dashes in your domain name wherever possible. It’s a great way to find a good name that hasn’t been registered, but can make your domain even more difficult to remember. Keep to a maximum of one dash and, if at all possible, none.

Descriptive

A good site or business name will describe exactly what the site is about. Consider the "real world" example of the Royal Mail in the UK. In an infamous marketing move, the company was renamed Consignia. Now what does that mean? If I said the name Consignia to you, you wouldn’t associate it with letters and parcels. In fact, Consignia have since discovered this, and renamed themselves, "The Royal Mail Group"! It just goes to show that, though a "made up" corporate name might be flashy or cost a lot of money to create, it’s not necessarily your best option. Such names don’t make it immediately obvious what you do, and surely that’s the whole point of a name.

Of course, many companies have succeeded using a non-descriptive name: "Egg", the online bank; "elephant.co.uk" (car insurance); and "Orange", the mobile phone firm. How did they make these names successful? Through huge marketing campaigns designed to establish brand awareness. But surely it’s better to have an instantly-recognisable purpose than to have to spend millions to tell people what you do?

Keywords

An interesting use of domain names has now begun to appear: keywords. To give an example, I started the site Free-Webhosting.info and within two months it was number two on Google for a search on "free Webhosting". I had very few external links to my site, and hadn’t done any real optimisation for the search engines.

But my ranking wasn’t just a fluke. Other sites I have worked on have achieved very high search engine rankings by having a search term as their domain. With no real technique for obtaining high rankings as easily on engines like Google, this could be just what Webmasters are looking for.

Finding A Name

Now that you know what to look for in a name, it’s time to start the search! You might already have an idea of a name you could register, but unless you are very creative, you’ll probably find that it’s already been taken (unless, of course, you’re registering a company name which isn’t comprised of generic words).

You could spend the next week typing names into Whois searches, or you could try a domain generator like Nameboy. Just type in your keywords and instantly receive around 60 domain suggestions, all of which have been checked for availability as .com, .net and .org (and sometimes .info if the system is working). Using your new-found knowledge, you will soon be able to find a great name for your site.

Register It!

That’s it — you’ve bought a domain for your site! It’s easy to remember, spell and type. It’s short, memorable and descriptive, and best of all, it’s yours. Now you have your key to Website success, and all that remains to be done is the design, content, promotion, backend development…

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