It’s Here: The Definitive Guide To Domain Names
Choosing the right domain isn’t quite as simple as it may first appear. Don’t worry: I’m here to help you find the perfect domain name for your brand. And then some. Think of this like the definitive guide to domain names.
One of the questions I get a lot is “should I get a domain name that has keywords injected into it”?
For example, let’s say you are a bakery in Los Angeles. I’m making this up, so totally hypothetical name and situation right now. Let’s say your brand name is “Cake It Easy” and you specialize in wedding cakes. You notice that “losangelesweddingcakes.com” is available. Should you register it and use it? Or should you stick with your brand name and go for “cakeiteasy.com” ?
Well friends: that’s what we’re gonna be exploring in this episode, along with answering all your other burning questions about domain names!
What is a domain name?
A domain name is your address on the web.
It can be a combination of letters and numbers, paired with an extension (like .com, .net, and countless others)
Even though we constantly hear things about “buying your domain name” – I’m sure I say that a lot too – you’re actually not buying it at all. Rather, a domain is something you need to register on an annual basis and you need to renew it every year in order to keep it active and pointing to your home on the web.
The cost for this is about $10-$20 per year. My favorite domain registrar is Namecheap!
Your Main Objective:
As you choose a domain name – always remember your main objective. It’s:
Help people find your website with ease AND in as few steps as possible!
3 Main Types of Domain Names:
1. Brand Domains
Examples: google.com; amazon.com; barnesandnoble.com; wholefoods.com; traderjoes.com
Brand domains are the most common type of domain these days and allow you to grab a short domain name, which is a best practice. This directly relates to our objective of helping people find our website with ease and in as few steps as possible.
Brand domains are also a great choice if:
- Your brand name is very unique
- Your brand name is already established and recognized
- Your brand name is your own name and you are the only one that has that name
2. Keyword Domains
A keyword domain, also known as an exact match domain or EMD, is made up of keywords or a keyphrase.
Examples: buybooksnow.com; bestportlandweddingphotographer.com
Experts have different opinions on keyword domains, however, I would advise against choosing a keyword domain altogether. Keyword domains have a tendency to seem spammy.
In fact, a few years back, Google even“went after” domain names like this. I’ll get to this in a minute.
The thought process behind choosing a keyword domain is the belief that anyone typing the search query “best portland wedding photographer” into their search bar is more likely to stumble onto bestportlandweddingphotographer.com.
Is this true? Well, it was.
This was an effective strategy back in the early 2010s.
It was such an effective strategy that people started abusing it. And because of this, a lot of EMDs had very thin content and were just low quality websites.
Google caught on and in 2012, they announced a change to their algorithm that was aimed to reduce the amount of EMDs in search results. Today, the algorithms that Google and other search engines are way smarter and these low quality websites don’t rank highly like they used to.
However – that doesn’t necessarily stop spammers from still trying to engage in tactics like these. Plus, old habits die hard. Some people still hold the belief that keyword domains are effective, when in reality they aren’t.
Now, that’s not to say that a website that uses an EMD CAN’T rank high in search engines.
They can, if whoever owns it puts the effort into building it up properly and making sure it’s top notch.
There’s just no advantage to the EMD anymore, which makes them not the best choice.
EMDs just don’t stand out.
They are made up of, when it comes down to it, rather generic words.
“Bestportlandweddingphotographer.com” doesn’t stand out. There’s no difference between that and portlandsbestweddingphotographer.com or bestportlandphotographer.com.
Not to mention…wouldn’t it feel kinda cringe if you had to tell someone your website was “bestportlandweddingphotographer.com”?
It’s way better to brand yourself with your name and use a brand domain name.
3. Brand/Keyword Combo Domains
This is—you guessed it—a domain that is made up of both the brand name and a keyword(s).
Examples: authorsatticbooks.com; sarajosephinephotography.com
Combining brand and keywords can oftentimes be a great approach because it adds a little more context to what you do.
It can also help if you have a name that is super generic, or there’s already someone operating the yourname.com.
However – do make sure that your keyword doesn’t pigeon hole you into some niche that you may end up pivoting away from.
What About Cake It Easy?
If we go way back to our first example, Cake It Easy, a made-up bakery in LA, I would say the brand, or the brand + keyword mixture is the best approach. We’ve already ruled the keyword only domain out, and so from here, it’s kinda left up to your personal preference.
Cakeiteasy.com (brand domain) is short and sweet, which is nice and that alone has a lot going for it.
However, something like cakeiteasybakery.com (brand + keyword combo domain)
provides a little more context, which also is nice. We know right off the bat that it’s a bakery — it’s not like, a dessert blog or something else.
What wins out? That’s up to you!
Although since the potential ranking value of having a keyword or two in the domain name is minimal — and there are far better ways to make “SEO Gains”, I’d personally choose cakeiteasy.com.
All About Domain Extensions
.com is the most popular extension, but there are countless others to choose from.
- From an SEO perspective: does the extension matter to Google? It’s hard to say since they keep that algorithm on lock down. The general consensus is maybe it matters, and if it does, it only matters a very small amount. (So don’t shy away from a different extension ONLY because of SEO.)
- That being said. Always get the .com if it’s available. Since it’s the most popular, it’s the easiest for people to remember.
- Consider a country-code extension, like .co.uk (United Kingdom), .com.au (Australia), or .ca (Canada) if your target audience is in that country. This way, you may be more likely to show up when someone searches for your services plus your country (e.g. wedding photographer uk). This also may give the user more confidence by assuring them that you’re a local business. Although I would still recommend registering the regular .com register if available.
- Unique extensions: There are hundreds of unique extensions that have recently been introduced. Examples include .photo, .style, .travel, and so on. Before you decide on one of these alternative extensions, make sure it isn’t associated with shady websites. .xyz is an example of a unique extension that is associated with spam websites. There’s a tool you can use to check your extension: Spamhaus Extensions Checker.
Again, get the .com domain if it is available.
A lot of experts will tell you to avoid the “weird” extensions, but I say: you do you. I have a .design extension for one of my businesses, and I think it’s cool.
So if you’ve really fallen in love with one, why not?
(Although I will say, there have been a couple people who have been confused by the .design extension, wondering if I left off the .com when I am speaking it out-loud. So be prepared for that.)
But as with adding keywords to your domain, make sure your extension doesn’t pigeon hole you.
Should You Register Multiple Extensions?
And one more question I get a lot in this area: should you register yourdomain with multiple extensions? So, should Cake It Easy register cakeiteasy.com, cakeiteasy.net, cakeiteasy.org and so on?
Well, first of all, since there are so many different extensions available these days, obviously registering all of them is gonna be impractical unless you’re Scrooge McDuck swimming in a pile of money.
But cost is really the only downside to registering multiple versions.
It doesn’t hurt to register at least a few more extensions if you can afford it, and it can help safeguard your brand against competitors.
If you leave your domain with other extensions out there, anyone can register them.
Including competitors, or other people who maybe have the same name as you do.
Sometimes, a direct competitor may even register the domains you didn’t register and do bad stuff with them…maybe they try to drive traffic back to THEIR website, or maybe they try to sell the registration back to you but at 10 times the normal cost.
It sounds weird, but it happens from time to time, and you can prevent it a very low cost since a single registration runs about $10-$20 per year. (And sometimes companies will give you a discount if you register more than one.)
So yes: if you can afford it, register a few different extensions. You can simply set up a redirect, so for example, cakeiteasy.net can just point to cakeiteasy.com and people will find you.
Additional Domain Name Choosing Tips:
TIP #1: MAKE SURE YOUR DOMAIN NAME FITS YOUR BRAND
Generally speaking, its bad form to have a domain name that isn’t your business name. For example, if my business name is “Bubbles N Barks,” I would not want my domain name to be stlouisdoggroomer.com.
Why? Without further investigation, it’s unclear whether “Bubbles N Barks” and“stlouisdoggroomer.com” are even the same business. The user should easily be able to confirm that yes, the website they are visiting is indeed the one they intended to go to! Keep it consistent.
And that’s just another mark against EMDs or keyword domains. They typically don’t allow you to do this, and so they should be avoided.
TIP #2: AVOID HYPHENS, NUMBERS, ANYTHING THAT CAN MAKE IT CONFUSING FOR PEOPLE TO FIND YOU
This is important especially when you consider that people make be talking about your website word of mouth (God willing, right?!).
It’s easier to find you if they can actually easily spell your domain name, and aren’t put off by numbers. Numbers can be confusing because are they spelled out or is it the actual digit? You can register a domain with both, so it could be either.
If numbers are a crucial part of your brand name though, don’t change your name! There is an easy fix.
Here in LA, we have a ton of Vietnamese pho shops and a lot of them have numbers at the end, such as Pho 87 or Pho 75. And if you’re wondering what the numbers represent, it’s usually something that is personal to the owner: maybe a lucky number, the year they or their child was born, that sort of thing. There are a lot of Pho 75s in the world which is when Saigon fell.
Best Approach For Domains With Numbers:
Since you can register domains with actual digits in them, you could just register both:
Although numbers like that aren’t too common in brand names, they do come up from time to time and that’s how to handle them! Just choose the one that will be used as the primary name, and redirect the other to it.
What about hyphens?
Avoid!!! At all costs. Hyphens just add unnecessary confusion and some people think they are spammy too. Can you imagine telling someone your website is best-hyphen-wedding-hypen-photograhper-hyphen-in-hyphen-portland.com ? No thanks.
TIP #3: CONSIDER REGISTERING COMMON MISSPELLINGS/VARIATIONS
If you have a word in your domain name that could be spelled another way, get both and redirect the incorrect one to the correct one.
Example: Elisabeth Smith Photography uses elisabethsmith.com for her business. Most people with her name, though, spell it with a Z: E-L-I-Z-A-B-E-T-H.
So this could cause some confusion if people are talking about Elisabeth Smith Photography, word of mouth. Someone hears “elisabethsmith.com” and they actually assume it’s “elizabethsmith.com”, since that’s what they are used to.
Elizabeth Smith could lose out on a lead if she doesn’t grab elizabethsmith.com and point it to her actual elisabethsmith.com.
TIP #4: MAKE SURE NO ONE ELSE IS USING IT
Sounds obvious, right? Do a quick Google search and make sure the name isn’t trademarked, copyrighted, or is somehow being used by someone else. Search for both the exact name and variations of it.
You can also check the WhoiS database to see if yourdomain.com has already been registered. Generally speaking, it’s good advice to not tread on someone else’s territory, so if there is already a website running and established at the domain you want, consider a different one.
TIP #5: REGISTER YOURNAME.COM IF IT’S AVAILABLE, EVEN IF YOU AREN’T GOING TO USE IT
As in, yourfirstnamelastname.com.
Even if you don’t plan on using it now or in the foreseeable future, or EVER, if yourname.com is available AND you can afford the $10-$20 per year it takes to maintain registering it, nab it up!
As more and more people get online, .com domains are getting swooped up left and right. Once you register your .com, it’s YOURS (so long as you keep up with the registration every year). You don’t have to worry about another you taking it and doing God knows what with it, like putting porn up on it or something. We aren’t prudes around here, but it could be awkward if someone goes to yourfirstnamelastname.com expecting to see your cute newborn photos and it’s actually a different person with your name showing their naughty bits.
TIP #6: NO NEED TO REGISTER YOUR DOMAIN FOR A LONG PERIOD OF TIME
When you register your domain name, you can choose how long you register it for. Minimum is one year, at which time you would have to renew the registration.
But you can also register it for longer lengths, like 2 or 3 years at a time. You can even register it for as long as 10 years.
A question that I get somewhat frequently is “Should I register my domain name for the longest period to get an SEO boost?”
At some point, someone somewhere said that your website will rank higher with search engines if you register your domain for longer than a year.
But this is a myth. Google’s Matt Cutts came right out and said: “my short answer is not to worry about that very much. Not very much at all, in fact.”
And I’d definitely trust what the person from Google says!