To use an analogy if your website is your house then your domain name is the land it’s built on. And I think you would agree it’s better to build your house on good land — have you ever heard about the house built on sand?
In short your choice of domain is important. Whilst you can change it later once your site has been developed, this can be a massive task, and certainly something I’d want to avoid.
It is absolutely nothing like changing your WordPress theme because that’s easy, so it’s best to get your domain choice correct from the start.
Choosing the right domain name extension
Lets start by briefly covering what a domain extension is. A domain extension is the bit to the right of the dot in your domain name, so .com, .org, .net, .co etc. And which of these you choose has an implication for your website today and in the future.
OK, now we’ve covered what a domain extension is lets look a bit deeper in to which one is right for you?
The first question I’d ask is if your website is local or international? Local websites have an advantage when it comes to finding appropriate domain names, this is mainly because domainers (people who buy domains to sell at a later date) have aggressively registered many of the best domains that service the world market, that is .com, .org, .net etc vs .co.uk, .us, .com.au (the local domain extensions). Coupled with this there’s also less chance that someone in your local region has the same website name; Pizza.com is good for any country, Pizza.co.uk is only good for the UK.
As a rule of thumb when working in a local country it’s best to get a local domain extension, this gives an instant indication to your website visitors, and potential visitors, that your website is relevant to them — being that they live in the same region. Also as Google puts more emphasis on local you’ll get an advantage there — the search results are becoming increasing localized. If the .com, .org, .net are available you’ll want to probably register those to protect from anyone trying to get a free ride on your websites reputation.
‘Country code top-level domain’ is the technical term for the local domain extensions.
‘Generic top-level domain’ is the name for the .com, .org, .net, .biz, .info etc
As far as generic top-level domains go .com is king. This is primarily due to the billions of dollars that have been spent on promoting .com websites. As such, if you can, it’s best to get hold of the .com. If not, in some circumstances the less well known top-level domains can be used. However, these should only be used if there’s a specific reason to do so — in the vast majority of cases a .com will be the best choice.
A couple of examples for when using an alternative generic top-level domain:
There’s a bonus for exact match domains. So if your domain is CarInsurance.com then Google ranks you more easily for the specific term ‘car insurance’. It’s just that exact search term, not ‘car insurance quote’ or ‘insurance’, or any other alteration on the term.
This bonus is currently included on the .com, .org, and .net extensions. And also on some country code top-level domains; not unfortunately the .us though.
Markets that comprise of early-adoptors are more savvy to new extensions. In this case a .co can be used effectively, and not be confused with a .com. An example of a website who has benefited from this are AngelList with Angle.co; AngelList is a website that caters to the angel investment market. And Google have recently got hold of the domain g.co for it’s URL shortening service.
Domain name length
Shorter is better.
A shorter domain is more memorable. A shorter domain is more likely to be typed in correctly. A shorter domain looks more authoritative.
With a shorter domain there’s likely to come a barrier of cost. Certainly if you’re looking to use a dictionary word it would have already been registered. So whilst it does look more authoritative you may well be paying for that perceived authority.
There are many two word domain name combinations that haven’t been registered; the same goes for domains that are three words in length. Once you start getting to four words the domain will start to look a little lengthy. Five and six words length look spammy.
To illustrate this point with an example, for the famous London nightclub Chinawhite it’s better to have the domain Chinawhite.com rather than ChinawhiteNightclubInLondon.com. As you can see that second domain name is way too long, and that’s with just four words.
Keywords in the domain
There’s two distinct strategies with keywords in the domain.
- Have them match as closely as possible
- Don’t have them at all and focus on brand
Ideally if you have performed keyword research and you want to use the keywords in your domain name, it should be an exact match for the most relevant key words your targeting. If you’re selling recycling bins then RecyclingBins.com is a good match.
A domain that has the exact search term in also has the added bonus of being an exact match domain, which we covered above. This is one part of the strategy. The other comes as people often like to link to websites with there official name, and if you have the keyword in your domain name then you’re going to get links with those keywords in the anchor text. Anchor text is currently an important signal in popular search engines, as such you’ll more likely rank for the keywords you’re targeting.
Depending on your situation a focus on brand can be a better option. Targeting keywords in the domain is only really helpful if there’s a lot of search volume for those keywords (the head terms). If there’s not so much volume at the head (vs the long tail) the branded domain will help you stand out in a crowded market place. It helps you differentiate, as generally there’s large volumes of keyword heavy domain names in any given area of the market.