Buying a domain name is not as simple as it sounds. If you buy the right name, Web users will be able to find your site with ease. If you buy the wrong one, they’ll be confused, and you’ll lose (sometimes, quite a lot of) traffic, which can of course stunt your site’s growth and/or revenue potential.
In this article, I’ll attempt to tackle some of the more popular domain name related issues, in an effort to help you make the right decisions in the process of buying a domain.
There are many domain name extensions available today. It seems like virtually every country now sells domains with its own extension, or has at least sold the rights to the country extension to a Web company who has set up shop as the registrar.
Before I get too far in, let me say up-front that .com is the way to go, as most of you already know. If you are not one of these people, let me explain. Most Web users automatically type in .com when they’re not sure of a domain name. So, if your domain name is yoururl.net, users might remember "yoururl" but not the .net extension.
It’s a common problem — and people will automatically type in .com most of the time. I know, because I run a site from a .net, and people often make the mistake of entering .com instead of .net — it can be a real pain for me as well as the users! Nevertheless, in my case, I couldn’t get a .com that was better than the .net, and you may find yourself in the same position. So let’s not be completely blind to the other extensions out there.
If it’s not a .com…
Next to .com, .net and .org are the most popular extensions. If you can’t buy the name you want as a .com, but the .net version of the name exists, it might be worth grabbing. For instance, I own the domain SportsForums.net, and wanted to start a sports discussion community. I researched a few names, and found that though SportsForums.com was not available, SportsForums.net was. I felt that it was a good name, and registered it… and it’s turned out to be a case where a good .net has definitely been worth it.
.org domains are commonly associated with organizations (mostly non-profit) and unless your project is one of these, I recommend staying away from the .org extension unless you find yourself unable to find anything in .com or .net. I also own a (recently purchased) .org, so I’ll use it as an example.
QuickZip, a popular freeware archiver, is part of my network. It’s been available for a quite a few years, but has never had its own domain name. QuickZip.com is taken. QuickZip.net is taken. QuickZip.org was available and I felt it was the best domain name for the site. The name of the program is QuickZip, not Quick-Zip, and so Quick-Zip.com wouldn’t have been as good as the .org version of the actual product name. It’s important that you consider points like this when you choose the domain for your own site.
Besides the core three extensions, .biz and .info have recently gained popularity, and rightfully so. Some names, the .com, .net and .org versions of which may be taken, might still be available in one of these two extensions. However, I’d only recommend you explore this avenue if your searches for primary extensions fail completely. If there’s a perfect name that ends in .info or .biz, it may be worth taking. These domains can be branded with success.
Fad and International Extensions
Many other domain name extensions have been hyped up through glossy marketing campaigns in an attempt to boost their popularity, including .ws, .fm, .am, .tv, .to and .cc just to name a few! Personally, I’d stay away from these domains at all costs. You can usually find something good in .com and .net, if not that then .org, and if not that, then .biz or .info – you should not have to go so far as a .am, for instance. That said, of course there might be an extreme case where you may find one of these names useful – never say "never"!
There are also international extension domain names: each country has its own domain extension. For example, .com.au is Australian. It seems like every country now sells the rights to their own special extension, and the registrars that buy these rights are out there trying to make a few bucks off of them. Many of these names are available, but beware — this is because they’re too restrictive to be of real value to sites with a global user base. Some of these names can run you a pretty penny, and you may even be required to be a citizen of that particular country to register a name with the particular extension.
New.net created some controversy when they started to sell domain names from their Website. They sell domain names with many different extensions without ICANN approval, which means that they are not official, and are not officially recognized. As such, most Web users won’t be able to access them without downloading a special plug-in.
For most Web users, these names just won’t work, and it would be a mistake to use one of these names as the primary domain for a Website for this simple fact. These may work well as a "novelty" domain, but I wouldn’t count on them for much more.
In conclusion, I can only say again: get a .com! And if not, then aim for a .net or a .org. Most major Websites use a .com — and that isn’t by mistake. However, this doesn’t mean a .net or .org can’t do well. It just means that it will be slightly harder to market than it would have been with a .com.
I am against using dashes in a domain name, if it can be helped. Sometimes it can’t — and sometimes it may even work to your advantage to have dashes in your domain name.
Many people use the technique of putting dashes in their domain name between keywords in an effort to improve their search engine rankings. For instance: perfectkeyword-perfectkeyword.com. It is also frequently argued that smaller sites should not think of the future (or branding), and should instead just buy these domains for the keyword value to help them get off the ground. That may be one way to approach it — and it may be a good way — but why can’t you do both? I have found that if you have two perfect words in your domain, without a dash, it will also perform well. For instance, one of my sites is phpBBHacks.com. Search for it on Google for "phpBB Hacks" and it comes up first.
People will remember your site name, but will they remember that your site’s domain name has a dash in it? Probably not. Having a dash in your domain name can also present problems in vocal marketing. You may as well buy the domain YourDashName.com, if you are going to use Your-Name.com because that’s how it will sound when you tell a person about your site vocally. This is not a big issue, but it is worth keeping in mind.
Finally, how many major sites use a dash in their primary domain name? Not many, and again, this is no coincidence.
Domains that contain numbers have the same problem as those with a dash — such as the vocal marketing issues we just mentioned — and they don’t enjoy the benefit of their keyword-heavy counterparts. That said, just like dashed names, domains with numbers can serve a purpose in specific cases. But again, just like dashed domain names, how many large sites do you see out there that incorporate numbers in their main domain? A few (including 4anything.com), but not many as compared to the number of popular .coms.
Don’t fool around when it comes to spelling! Some people try to play games in this area, but domains like Gurl-Gamerz.net just won’t cut it — they’ll only confuse people. Don’t try to spell something phonetically (the way it sounds when spoken). And whatever you do, don’t submit 0 for o — for instance y0urname.com — it’ll only hurt your site.
Spelling the domain name correctly ensures that people will find your Website a heck of a lot more easily, and your URL will confuse as few people as possible. Spell it right and move on.
I’ve seen some long domain names, and I’m sure you have too. Most of the time, all they do is turn me off. Keep your domain as short as possible, while maintaining a good, sensible name. For instance, you wouldn’t use ESS.com instead of eSportsSection.com, because ESS.com won’t tell your users what your site is about, and it’ll only make it more difficult for people to return to your Website.
My rule of thumb is to use a maximum of around 22 characters, with 8-14 being a safe average. However, if the domain name is perfect for your site and is longer than this, it may just be worth it.
Many sites use prefixes in their main domain name. The most popular ones are i and e, but you might also have seen v, z and x with some frequency. I suppose that pretty much every letter can be a prefix, and they don’t usually stand for anything. Of course, they don’t necessarily have to stand for anything, either, but i is most commonly for "Internet," e for "electronic" and v for "virtual."
I stick with i and e for the most part, as their success has been proven, which is why they’re the most respected of all of the prefixes. If you can get a great domain name without a prefix, don’t hesitate! However, if you find a perfect name (preferably a .com) that starts with an i or e, it may be a wise decision to take it.
If you are considering putting some sort of profanity in your domain name, don’t: it’s a bad idea. Period. This would have never crossed the minds of most site owners, but it does need to be covered.
Putting any sort of profanity in your domain name will only shock people — and not in a good way! People simply will not come to your Website. Profanity conveys a poor image and even if your site has the greatest content in the world, many people will not even bother stop by because of its name.
Trademarks and Legalities
You should be aware of trademarks while selecting a domain name. If you register a domain name that an established company has trademarked, you may find yourself in legal trouble. You may be forced to give the domain name to the company, and possibly be required to pay them some sort of compensation.
Save yourself the trouble — do a trademark search and stay away from names that would directly violate the law. If you registered a domain name before a company trademarked that name, you probably won’t be in any trouble. However, don’t just succumb to threats from disgruntled businesses: do some research and get some legal advice if their claims are serious. And if you do find that you registered a domain name that was previously trademarked, just admit your mistake, rectify it, and move on.
Finding a Registrar
There are literally hundreds and thousands of domain name registrars out there for hundreds of extensions. So which registrar do you want to go with?
Most registrars are probably fine. There are large and heavily promoted registrars such as Network Solutions and Register.com, and then there are large ones among the Webmaster community such as 000Domains.com and RegisterFly.com.
Whoever you choose, make sure they’re accredited by ICANN, which includes OpenSRS. Don’t be tricked into paying more than $20 a year for a domain name. You don’t "get what you pay for" when it comes to domain names. As long as you use a reputable company that’s accredited, you should be good to go.
I recommend 000Domains.com to whoever asks me because of their superior support, affordable price and great service. I have been with them for over 18 months and have over 25 domain names with them.
Domain Name Resources
There are many resources out there that can help you find a good domain name. Here are a few of my favorites:
DeletedDomains.com – This is a powerful domain name search engine that will allow you to find recently (or not so recently) deleted domains, as well as on-hold domains. It also allows you to narrow your search to domain names that are not longer than a certain number of characters, or domains that end with a certain word, etc. This is my favorite resource — I’ve found some great domains on it!
Whois.net – This site has many tools that allow you to run searches such as the deleted domain name search and they even have their own (although not very powerful) suggest a name feature.
Nameboy – Nameboy allows you to enter a term or two, and specify if you want hyphens or rhyming in your domain name. They will provide a list of available domain names around your selections.
Domain Guru – Domain Guru has a lot of good content that can assist you in the process of selecting a domain name. You will most likely spend several hours at this site reading if you’re serious about domain names.
Your Domain Counts!
I’m a firm believer in the fact that the administrator/Webmaster will make the site and not the domain name. If you have a great domain name, but don’t work hard or put in the necessary effort, your site won’t amount to anything. And if a site has a great administrator/Webmaster, a less-than-great domain name will not usually affect the site’s success.
However, it is always better to have a great domain name, than to have a sub-standard name. By registering a poor domain name, you create even more work for yourself. So take some time to find a good one, and once you have something great, register it! You never know when someone else will sneak up behind you and register the domain that you were eyeing. So grab the good ones and hang onto them!
Patrick O'Keefe is the founder of the iFroggy Network, a network of websites covering various interests. He has been managing online communities since 2000 and is the author of "Managing Online Forums," a practical guide to managing online social spaces. He has been responsible for the cultivation of communities. He blogs about online community at ManagingCommunities.com and more at patrickokeefe.com.