What is a Domain Name?
For those who are new to the website game, there's some confusion about what is what when it comes to websites.
Web hosting is your virtual "lot" on the web, so we'll talk about it like it's real estate.
Think about your home - how do people find you? You wouldn't have a party at your brand new place and just expect everyone to show up at 7:00 sharp without telling them where to show up, right?
Your Domain Name == Your Address
It's that simple. People find your website using your virtual address, or, your domain name. Technically, a domain name is a prefix followed by a suffix, sometimes called a T.L.D.
TLD stands for Top-Level Domain. If you're interested, you can take a gander at the official Top Level Domain list.
Exciting? No, not really. Interesting? Umm...kind of! A few years back this list just *bam* populated. Before this, we had a very short list: .com, .net, .info, .biz. The end. So, if you were around for the beginning days of the internet, you may actually find this a tad-bit exciting.
So, every word or word-set on this page can be the "last part" of your domain name. Some of them are restricted to a certain country, like .ca is for Canada and .com.au is for Australia.
Some are restricted to entities, like .edu is for educational institutions and .gov is for the government.
Going Magellan Style
Yes, you can certainly get uber-geeky and add coordinates on your party invitations. The online equivalent of coordinates would be your domain's IP address. That's a string of numbers (IP4) or numbers and characters (IPv6) that are unique to your web server. We talk a little bit about that in our article, Do I Need a Dedicated IP Address? But for this topic, that's neither here nor there. Just throwing that in for those of you who know there must be another way!
Picking a Good Domain
I have a lot of people ask me, "Is <this> a good domain?" Because, like most new website owners, they want to get it right!
I can offer my opinion along with some basic rules of thumb. I've seen a lot of websites succeed and fail. Success is rarely based on the domain name, but it can absolutely play a part in the failure. So, here's my list:
6 Domain Name Mistakes
- Knock-Off Domains - Obviously, if you try to knock off a trademarked or very unique name, you could be looking at legal trouble. It's obvious, but we'll make sure it's here for those of you who just weren't sure.So, maybe you've fallen in love with a site called FantasySilkHammocks.com and you also sell silk hammocks...so, why not grab FantasySilkHammocks.net? Yeah, don't do that. One, a "dotcom" will always have a leg up on you. Always. When people think of website businesses, they think dotcom. Why? It's the o.g., and it actually stands for "commerce". Two, your host could shut you down if the .com owner says you're trying to mislead their potential customers.
This goes for alternate spellings of a word, too. I guarantee if you tried to register something like bamazon.com and point it to your Amazon affiliate account hoping to capitalize on typos, you'd have lawyers breathing down your neck. (That domain name is actually registered to Hostmaster, Amazon Legal Dept. See, I told you!) It's unethical, sometimes illegal, a waste of money, and a waste of time. BE UNIQUE!
- Bizarre Spellings - Tread lightly here. Lately, it's been pretty trendy to drop the last 'e' in a word. Think Flickr, Tumblr, or Grindr. Something of that nature can actually work for you, though I'm thinking they had pretty good P.R. teams in place. Try it out, ask your friends, but don't get too far off base. People like to be able to pronounce your site name. Think: ByootifulBaybeez.com - see what I mean? I wouldn't click that domain purely out of principle.
- Numbers - For the love of all that is good, only use numbers if they're actually part of your legal business name. Guitars4Pets.com? I mean, I'd totally click that out of total curiosity, but if you're just looking to save 2 characters, don't. Use the actual word. Think about someone searching for your site by business name, but they don't remember the domain. They're going to type "where can I find guitars for pets?", not "where can I find guitars4pets?" Then again, kids these days, who knows what they're typing.
- Way-too-long Domains - This is (I think) a no-brainer. If your brain was actually thinking of registering something like "letmeplanaweddingforyouandyourfiance.com", well, I'm glad you found this page. The shorter, the better. It's easier to remember, easier to write, and easier to type.Do uber-long domains ever pay off? Yeah, sometimes. Think letmegooglethatforyou.com, but even this site redirects to lmgtfy.com!
You're going to be hard-pressed to find a good 1-2 word domain name, but that's what adjectives are for.
- Not Capitalizing on Keywords - This bit of advice can be taken with a grain of salt. Case in point - Earth Girl. Do I sell those? No. There is a story behind why I chose the name, but that's for another day. Does Amazon sell Amazons? Well, probably. But again, P.R. We're not all gazillionaires with a marketing team. Using your keywords can give you a major advantage.
Think about it this way. If you sell custom hand-tooled saddles, then definitely grab a domain name that has a variation of those words in it. I think you'd be crazy not to. People are going to search for that set of keywords and see your domain pop up in the search results.
It used to be popular to grab your keyword as a hyphenated domain name, but not so much anymore. I think people are a little more cautious of something like "custom-hand-tooled-saddles.com" than they would be of "BillsCustomSaddles.com" because it's less personable.
- Hard-to-Spell (or Type) Words - One word makes my point: connoisseur. GREAT word, terrible word for a domain name. I had to actually look it up so I could type it here. Want more examples? Check out Commonly misspelled English words - Wikipedia - a fun read! If you have trouble typing or spelling it, you're not alone. Keep it simple(r).
Okay, so that's out of the way. What should you choose?
- A Fun Descriptor + Your Product:
- Your Business Name (great for professionals)
- Something Sassy or Witty
You get the idea. Say your domain out loud. Type it. Write it. Easy to say, easy to spell, easy to remember? Bingo!