What is a Domain Name?
Simply put, the domain name is the name of your website. It is the address that visitors need to type into their browsers in order to access your website. There are bad and good domain names, which is why people tend to follow a standard set of rules to get the best results. However, before we get to those rules, let’s first discuss the basics of internet connectivity.
The IP Address
Every computer that’s connected to the internet (or any computer network) is assigned a unique Internet Protocol (IP) address. Now, unless you’re a “techie,” you might not know what an IP address is or appreciate how important it is. In fact, when asked to define an IP address, most people (even the ones that use computers on a daily basis) will probably respond with the usual “it’s something that has to do with networking” or “it helps other people identify your computer.” While these responses are basically right, there’s more to IP addresses than that.
Don’t worry. We’ll try to simplify the concept, so that everyone can understand the basics.
IP addresses are miracles of modern technology. Their primary purpose is to allow different computers to communicate with one another by assigning each computer a specific address where it can send and receive data. Your IP address allows you to differentiate your computer from literally billions of other devices that are all connected to the internet.
To simplify this even further, the IP address is basically your computer’s virtual mailing address. Data is sent to and from this virtual mailing address through the internet. The speed of your internet then determines how fast this data is sent (upload speed) and received (download speed).
The Domain Name
So, what does your IP address have to do with your domain name? Well, the main problem with IP addresses is that they are extremely difficult to memorize. Here’s an example of an IP address: 2001:0db8:85a3:0000:0000:8a2e:0370:7334. Because the sheer number of possible combinations, it is basically guaranteed that we’ll never run out of IP addresses. Unfortunately, the obvious downside is that you also can’t expect regular people to memorize such a long string of figures.
To remedy this problem, domain names were developed to identify different websites in lieu of their IP addresses. Like IP addresses, every domain name is unique. It is absolutely impossible for two websites to have the exact same domain name. This makes it much easier for users to memorize the address of the computer where they’re sending and receiving data from. Google.com, Facebook.com, Twitter.com, and YouTube.com are all great examples of how catchy a domain name can be and how easy it can be for users to memorize them.
Importance of a Good Domain Name
Picking a good domain name is one of the most important things that you can ever do for your website. There are a number of reasons why your domain name is so important. Listed below are a few.
But before we start, I just want to add a short disclaimer: This is clearly not a complete list since it would be impossible to discuss everything in one article. However, I do think it’s good enough to help you appreciate the importance of a good domain name.
- • A good domain name will make your website more memorable. Your website might have the most interesting content in the world, but if your domain name is too long or complicated, chances are that visitors won’t be coming back. Why? Probably because they forgot your domain name. In contrast, having a short and catchy domain name will greatly improve your chances of getting repeat visitors, thereby increasing overall traffic. For example, let’s say that you’re planning to make a personal blog and you want to name it after yourself. Chances are that visitors will find it easier to remember JaneSmith.com than TheGreatJaneWallowitzSmith.com.
- • A good domain name immediately establishes your brand. Is your brand quirky, manly, sexy, intellectual or business-like? Whatever image you’d like to project, your domain name (just like your brand name) will help you do so. Keep in mind that it’s getting more and more difficult to stand out from the competition, especially since the internet gives users access to a global marketplace. So, if you truly want to grow your website, you’ll need to do everything you can to improve your brand, which includes choosing a good domain name.
- • A good domain name will help you leave a great first impression. As the saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a good first impression. More often than not, your domain name is the first thing that visitors see when they come to your website. In fact, even on the off chance that it’s not, it will certainly be the thing they’re most likely to remember. Because of this, it’s extremely important that you pick a good domain name that will leave a great first impression. These first impressions are critical since they set the tone for almost all future interactions with that visitor. A good first impression will make it much easier to convince them to visit your website, if they haven’t already; to encourage them to stay longer and keep visiting your website; and to convert that visitor into a customer, subscriber or member.
- • A good domain name will help you rank better on search engines. Your domain name not only communicates vital information about your website to other people, but also to search engine bots. Optimizing your website to rank better on search engines is extremely important if you want to generate new traffic. This is especially true if your website is relatively new. Search engine rankings will not only direct new visitors to your site but will also help former visitors (who might have forgotten the exact URL or address) to find you again. Unfortunately, search engine optimization is no easy task. For example, according to Google, it uses over 200 factors in determining search engine rankings. Although your domain name is just one of these factors, it is certainly a very significant one since it immediately gives people and search engine bots a good idea of what your website is about. Moreover, it indirectly affects several other factors, such as total traffic and the rate of visits, because a good domain name, on its own, can already attract a significant number of visitors. In short, a good domain name is a small yet essential part of your website’s search engine optimization.
- • A good domain name will make your website more profitable. While not everyone’s in it for the money, it’s probably safe to assume that a very large percentage of existing websites were created for profit. Moreover, even if the primary goal of your website isn’t to generate profit, a little extra cash on the side probably still wouldn’t hurt. With that said, a good domain name will increase the profitability of your website by increasing its traffic. For very obvious reasons, having access to a larger audience will make it easier for you to get more sponsors and advertisers, as well as earn more from affiliate marketing, direct sales, and other sources of income.
With all that said, picking a good domain name is, of course, just one of the elements for a successful website. As such, you shouldn’t neglect the other elements either. After picking a good domain name, you should also start working on the content, user interface, search engine optimization, and other important elements to maximize your chances of success.
Keep in mind that a good domain name might not be the only thing you need to succeed, but a bad domain name is certainly the fastest way to kill your website before it’s even able to leave the gate.
Tips on How to Pick a Good Domain Name
Now that you understand the importance of a good domain name, the next question that we’re going to address is how you’re supposed to pick a good domain name.
There are quite a few factors that you should consider when picking a good domain name. Some may be more important than others, but all of them undoubtedly factor into the overall success of your website. From simple issues like length to more technical ones like domain extensions, we’ll discuss several noteworthy factors in the section below:
How long is a good domain name?
A domain name can be up to 67 characters in length. Naturally, however, you shouldn’t use up all 67 characters. But with that said, there is some debate as to what the optimal length of a good domain name should be.
Generally speaking, a short domain name is more memorable, easier to enter, and leaves less room for typographical errors. For example, dino.com is clearly a better domain name than argentinosaurus.com. However, there are exceptions to this rule. Short domain names made up of seemingly random characters will typically be worse than long domain names composed of actual words. For example, drjs.com is a worse domain name than DrJaneSmith.com. In other words, short domain names still won’t do well if they’re extremely obscure or confusing.
On the other hand, a long domain name is easier to find, ranks better on search engines, and immediately tells potential visitors what your website is about. For example, BostonBankruptcyLawyer.com has all the aforementioned advantages when compared to the shorter BankruptcyLawyer.com. Clearly, however, it’s also directed to a very niche market. Particularly, people searching for bankruptcy lawyers in the Boston area. So, if your practice fits that description, you’re better off with BostonBankruptcyLawyer.com. But if you’re operating nationwide or if you specialize in a different field of law, then you’d better choose something else.
Bottom line: Pick a meaningful domain name that contains the keyword that you want to rank for. Afterward, make it as short and memorable as possible, without sacrificing any of its meaning. As a general rule, try to keep your domain name between 10 to 15 characters in length.
Does a good domain name have hyphens?
Hyphens are just plain confusing. People hate typing them and tend to forget about them entirely. Ultimately, this significantly increases the chance of typos. So, if you have a direct competitor that has the same domain name minus the hyphen, it’s highly probable that visitors making the said typos will end up on the competitor’s site instead. For example, if you’re using pineapple-pen.com and your competitor is using pineapplepen.com, there’s a large chance that you’ll be sending traffic to (but not receiving any traffic from) pineapplepen.com since the domain name is much easier to type and remember.
On the other hand, hyphens can make your domain name easier to register and understand. It becomes easier to register since there’s less demand for hyphenated domain names for the aforementioned reasons. It also helps you avoid any potential misunderstanding that could result from sticking two different words together. There are numerous examples of this issue, such as expertsexchange.com versus experts-exchange.com or penisland.com versus pen-island.com.
In terms of search engine optimization, there’s apparently no conclusive study as to whether hyphens hurt or improve rankings. Experts on the pro side say that hyphens act as spacers and improve readability, while experts on the con side say that hyphens are indicative of spamming and similar behaviors. But as already mentioned, there’s been no official word from Google regarding this issue yet so it’s best to take what you hear with a grain of salt.
Bottom line: Avoid hyphens. If your domain name needs a hyphen to make it readable, then you’re better off picking an entirely different domain name.
Does a good domain name use numbers?
Although different devices and browsers use different font styles, there are times when certain numbers and letters that look very similar to one another. For example, the number “0” versus upper case “O” or the number “1” and lower case “l”. If you use any of these characters, you risk significantly increase the risk of confusion and typographical errors. Users will likely mistake one character for another, especially when there is little correlation between that particular character and the surrounding ones.
Bottomline: Avoid numbers. If your domain name needs a number, make sure that number is easy to distinguish, e.g. easyas123.com.
Does a good domain name use double letters?
Having double letters in your domain name also increases the chance of typographical errors. At best, these errors will direct visitors to a non-existent page. At worst, it will direct them to your competitor’s website. For example, it’s a bad idea to name your site footballlovers.com when you could just as easily name it footballfans.com.
Bottomline: Avoid double letters. There are plenty of catchy word combinations that you can use without risking any confusion on the part of your visitors.
Should you bother with a language check if you want a good domain name?
Since you’ll essentially be building a globalised brand, it’s always a good idea to do a language check before picking a good domain name. Failing to do so may result in very awkward situations wherein your domain name is linked to a profane or obscene word. For example, the brand Vicks had issues marketing in Germany for the simple reason that the letter “v” is pronounced as the letter “f” in German. So, “Vicks” would actually be pronounced as “Ficks” which is essentially the German equivalent of the f-word.
Bottomline: Always do a language check before picking a brand name. Though this may be low on the priority list, it still pays to do so especially if you’re planning to go big with your website.
Does a good domain name use unique or generic words?
This is yet another issue that’s open to debate. Each of the two options has its own upsides and downsides and neither one can claim that it’s absolutely better than the other. With that said, let’s discuss each option.
Unique words, such as brand names, acronyms, and other uncommon terms, are obviously better if you want your website to stand out from the crowd. This is especially true if your domain name is super catchy and memorable. Using unique words in your domain name allows you to build a brand or, if you already have a brand, to capitalize on its success. Having a strong brand will you to diversify by operating in different industries without needing to completely start over in terms of customer acquisition. For example, if Tesla ever decides to branch out to the heavy equipment industry, it can probably still use the tesla.com website, which it currently uses to market passenger vehicles. Legally speaking, you could even trademark your brand to prevent others from taking advantage of your success.
On the other hand, using generic words in your domain name is usually better for search engine optimization. Naturally, people searching for a particular thing on the internet will simply enter the generic name of that thing on Google or some other search engine. So, if that particular keyword is already included in your domain name, then chances are that it will rank higher for that search. For example, trustfireinsurance.com will likely rank better than trustinsuranceco.com whenever someone searches for “fire insurance”.
Your third option is to combine both unique and generic words to optimize your search engine rankings while still maintaining your brand identity. For example, a pastry shop in Atlanta with the brand name Ellie’s may want to use the domain name ElliesBakeryAtlanta.com
Bottomline: Use unique words when you already have an established brand or if you have a long-term goal of establishing a brand. You can also use generic words if your goal is to improve your search engine rankings very quickly. It all depends on how much effort you’re willing to put into search engine optimization and branding.
What Top Level Domain does a good domain name usually use?
Simply put, a Top Level Domain (sometimes referred to as a domain name extension) is the tail end of your domain name. When the internet was first developed the .com extension (short for commercial) was initially used for business-oriented websites. However, it quickly became the most widely used and recognizable domain name extension on the internet.
But what if .com extension is unavailable (e.g. if you want to register mydomain.com but someone already owns that domain)? Well, there are several other good domain name extensions available, such as:
- • .net (e.g. mydomain.net) which is commonly used for websites related to internet infrastructure.
- • .org (e.g. mydomain.org) which is commonly used for non-profit websites.
- • .info (e.g. mydomain.info) which is commonly used for informational websites.
- • .me (e.g. mydomain.me) which is commonly used for personal blogs.
- • .co (e.g. mydomain.co) which is an abbreviation for company or community.
- • .biz (e.g. mydomain.biz) which is an abbreviation for business.
- • .edu (e.g. mydomain.edu) which is an abbreviation for education and is commonly used by schools and other academic institutions.
- • .uk, .ca, .nz, .de, or other geographic extensions (e.g. mydomain.com.uk) which is commonly used to indicate the geographical location of the entity that owns the website. Geographical extensions are very useful if you want to create a regionalized version of your website.
Aside from the above mentioned extensions, there are also newer, quirkier ones like .ninja and .pizza. Though you may be tempted to use these extensions to do something clever like pepperoni.pizza or super.ninja, it’s highly recommended that you stick with the more common domain name extensions, particularly .com. There are two very simple reasons for this.
First, the “quirky” domains name extensions are often associated with spam and other negative practices. Because of this, visitors tend to either unknowingly ignore these websites or actively avoid them.
Second, most people have grown accustomed to the .com extension. In fact, if you tell someone your domain name without including the extension, there’s a rather large chance that he will immediately assume that you’re using .com. Hence, sticking to .com will not only help you avoid confusion and typographical errors, but will also make your domain name much more memorable.
Bottomline: Use .com whenever it is available. If it’s not available, you can use a different domain name extension, but always stick to the well-established ones. If you need regionalized versions of your website, you may also want to use the extensions which represent that region.
Does a good domain name include your niche?
For the most part, including your niche in your domain name is a good idea since it will likely help you rank better for that keyword. But with that said, you should also leave room for future expansion. For example, if you’re a landscaper with a passion for blogging, you could name your personal blog HomeLandscapes.com. However, if you do so, you’ll be limiting any future blogging activity to residential landscaping. If you ever decide to blog about commercial landscaping (e.g. landscaping for resorts or restaurants), then your domain name doesn’t really fit anymore. To avoid boxing yourself in, a good domain name needs to be very broad while still mentioning your niche (e.g. MasterLandscaper.com).
Bottomline: A good domain name mentions your niche, but don’t make your niche narrow unless it is absolutely necessary (e.g. if you’re operating a resort on a private island or if you have some other business that can only exist in one place). Using broader terms will allow you to freely expand in whatever direction you choose.
Does a good domain name need to be old?
It’s not absolutely necessary to register a new domain name. You also have the option of buying an existing one from an owner who isn’t using it anymore. While there are currently no conclusive studies to this effect, some experts believe that the age of the domain name positively affects search engine optimization. They argue that older domain names will likely have pre-existing inbound links or have already been crawled by search engine bots.
In contrast, other experts argue that domain age has no effect on search engine optimization since the benefits thereof can only be received if there have already been previous efforts to optimize the search engine rankings. Sans these efforts, there is no point to buying an existing domain name. These experts also add it’s just as likely that the previous owner’s rankings would be penalized for suspicious or negative activities. To confirm this, you’ll need to invest a large amount of time and effort in background checks and other reviews, which is just not worth the potentially minimal benefits of buying an old domain name.
With that said, in 2010, a former executive at Google, Matt Cutts, assured people that “the difference between a domain that’s six months old and one year old is really not that big at all.” I know what you’re thinking. A lot has happened since 2010, so this Cutts’ statement may not be as reliable today as it once was. However, there’s also no reason to suspect that Google would change this part of their algorithm. So, if you’re left to choose between buying a relatively new domain and registering one yourself, the latter option will probably still be better.
Bottomline: When in doubt, register a new domain name. Don’t buy an old domain name unless you’re absolutely certain that it ranks well on search engines.
Step-by-Step Guide on Picking a Good Domain Name
Now that you have a general idea of “what” makes a good domain name, let’s discuss “how” you can craft a good domain name.
By now, it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that a large part of the said process is highly subjective and draws a lot of influence from your inherent creativity. With that said, however, you shouldn’t lead with your emotions either. Instead, try following this step-by-step guide on how to pick a good domain name. While reading, keep in mind that the following are more like guidelines or best practices than actual rules.
Step 1: Know your audience
There are plenty of ways that you can start brainstorming ideas for your domain name. Some people do a lot of in-depth research, while others simply bust out a piece of paper and start writing everything that comes to mind. Personally, I always like to start by defining my target audience. Once you know who you’re writing for, you can adjust your writing style accordingly. The same thing goes for a good domain name.
For example, if you’re operating a brick-and-mortar store, such as a coffee shop, restaurant or hotel, then it may be a good idea to indicate your geographical location in your domain name, e.g. SashaHotelMoscow.com.
Step 2: Include the right keyword
It’s almost universally agreed that placing a keyword in your domain name will help it rank better for internet searches which include that particular keyword or others related to it. Adding a keyword to your domain name will not only give people and search engine bots an immediate idea as to the subject of your website but will also make it easier to remember.
For example, let’s use SashaHotelMoscow.com again. If you break up the words in the domain name, you’ll get Sasha, Hotel, and Moscow. The latter two are the keywords which this website aims to rank for. In other words, if someone searches for “hotels in Moscow” or some similar phrase, then there’s a good chance that the said website will show up in either the first or second page, depending on how optimized it is for search engines.
Not sure what keyword you want to rank for? Try using a keyword research tool like Google Analytics. All you need to do is determine what your niche is and think of a keyword which best represents that niche. All the best keywords, however, are usually very competitive. This competition makes it very hard to achieve a rank that gets you on the first page of search results. To remedy this, keyword research tools often give you alternative keywords which may be easier to rank for. But the downside to this is that alternative keywords are often have fewer monthly searches than the most natural ones.
For example, if you have a personal blog about gardening, the best keyword will likely be “gardening” or “garden.” However, alternatives might include “green,” “plants” or “homegrown.”
Step 3: Testing the availability (and using a domain name generator)
Once you’ve identified your audience and keyword, it’s time to come up with possible domain names and test each of them to see if they’re available. More often than not, the catchiest ones will probably be taken at this point, especially if you’re in a highly competitive niche. For example, it’s highly likely that DogTraining.com will be taken. So, you might want to come up with a different domain name that’s a variation of your original choice, such as DogSchooling.com, DogTraining.org, or PoochPractice.com. Your options are only limited by your imagination.
If you’re really stuck or if you simply don’t want to go through all the trouble of checking the availability of numerous websites, you also have the option of using a domain name generator. These tools use complex algorithms to suggest variety of domain names based on your keyword of choice. What’s even better is that some domain name generators already pre-screen their suggestions. In other words, if a domain name is suggested by the tool, it’s definitely available at the time of the search.
Step 4: Use the tips discussed in the previous section to pick a good domain name
Now that you have a list of available options, it’s time to pick a good domain name that best suits your needs. To do this, use the tips and techniques that we discussed in the previous section. For example, pick a good domain name that is short and memorable; has little risk of typographical errors; contains the keyword you want to rank for; uses a popular domain name extension (e.g. .com, .org or .net); and is broad enough to allow for future expansion. You may also want to add a unique word, such as your brand name to the keyword, so that you can set yourself apart from your competitors.
Step 5: Register your new domain name
Once you settle on a domain name and its extension, all that’s left to do is buy it. Unfortunately, there’s no universal guide on how to buy a domain name since the exact steps really depend on your hosting provider. Generally speaking though, you usually get to choose a domain name once you subscribe to a particular hosting plan. More often than not, you’ll also have the option to buy your domain name from a different service provider but, as said, this entirely depends on your web host.
Final Thoughts on Picking a Good Domain Name
Picking a good domain name is a complicated process and can be very intimidating for some people, especially ones who are not tech savvy. However, there’s just no way around it. You simply shouldn’t start a website without picking a good domain name first.
Fortunately, with the right tools and knowhow, you can at least make the process more manageable. By putting into practice the five simple steps and numerous tips we just discussed, I’m sure that you’ll be able to get a good domain name that will not only help you rank well on search engines, but will also help you establish a successful brand.
Mitesh Ganatra is CTO at HostNamaste.com. He shares his web hosting insights at HostNamaste blog. He mostly writes on the latest Web Hosting Business, News, Trends, WordPress, Storage Technologies, Windows, Linux Hosting Platforms and Control Panels.