Article: Web Primer – Domain Names

Your website has just gone live.  You have tweaked every word to ensure that it communicates your message clearly and powerfully.  The HTML is perfectly coded so that search engines have the best chance of sending your site to the top of their listings.  The design is beautiful and elegant, and having had it tested on countless computers you are sure that it will look great on any screen.  Your web developer deserves a pat on the back, and so do you for hiring someone so competent.

However, it is quite possible that a decision you made weeks, months or even years ago will have a big impact on the success of your website, and certainly on the speed of its growth.  Choosing the right domain name (the bit that comes after ‘www’, so prominentmedia.com or google.co.uk for example) is incredibly important.  As a professional web developer, I am only occasionally asked for to advise on domain name selection, which is a shame because in many cases I could help my clients pick a domain name which makes growing their website even easier.

Here are a few handy hints (with notable exceptions):

Stick to the main TLDs where possible

The top level domain (TLD) is the final part of the domain name (‘.com’, ‘.uk’, ‘.net’ and so on), and is usually country-specific – in Germany they have ‘.de’, in France they have ‘.fr’.  The domain name system was invented in the USA, and as a result they don’t have their own geographic TLD; .com, .net and .org are theoretically intended to be US-only.  In reality everyone should register their chosen domain name as both ‘.com’ and ‘.co.uk’ if possible; it makes it much more likely that people will type it correctly.

Although there are a large number of TLDs available, at present I would advise you to stick to ‘.com’ and ‘.co.uk’ for businesses, and ‘.org’ and ‘.org.uk’ for voluntary organisations.  In my experience people simply don’t remember the less common ones such as ‘.biz’, ‘.eu’ and ‘.info’.

Exception:  Are you a TV company?  If so, then you may be able to join gm.tv and five.tv in making some use of the ‘.tv’ TLD, intended originally for the island nation of Tuvalu. 

Your domain name should ideally be short, memorable and easy to spell

Internet lore has it that all common single English words have been registered already, in .com form at least, so accountants.com is long gone.  All is not lost, however, because there are plenty of two-word combinations available, and there will be for some time to come.  Try to avoid hyphens if possible, because when you are telling people your domain name the convention is to run all the words together, and it just takes too long to say “Milton hyphen Keynes hyphen Plumbers”.

Exception:  Tech advice site Experts Exchange were sensible to register experts-exchange.com.

Your domain name should contain your key search phrases

Search engines know that you have to pay for domain names, so they give some weight to any terms found within them.  For an accountancy firm in Cambridge, then, the domain cambridgeaccountants.co.uk would be a good one. 

Exception:  If your brand is big enough, your name is all you need.  Amazon, Google and Yahoo! do fine using just their name (and a multimillion dollar marketing budget).

You can have more than one domain name

A common solution to the problem above is to have one domain name for your business stationery – usually your business name – and one which you submit to search engines and build links towards.  In the example above, the firm could register hughesandson.co.uk and cambridgeaccountants.co.uk and have them both point to the same website. 

Beware of having too many domains pointing to the same site, though, because some search engines may take a dim view, and downgrade you if they think that you are trying to unfairly disrupt (or ‘game’) their system.  One good quality ‘keywords’ domain, alongside a ‘business’ domain,  is unlikely to cause any alarm, however. 

Exception:  B&Q do all of their online trading at diy.com.

Iain Row runs Prominent Media, a web design an development company based in Milton Keynes.  They specialise in building websites ‘that work as hard as you do’.

Monday, November 10th, 2008 Published Elsewhere, Web Development

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