If you’re fortunate enough to be choosing a domain name for a new business venture or company site, congratulations. Good luck to you! We’re going to hit you with a couple of quick facts you should consider before we talk the importance of domain names.
- As of mid-2023, 45.49 percent of web traffic in the U.S. originated from mobile devices, which is down from 52.5 percent in the third quarter of 2022. But, in comparison, over half of web traffic worldwide is generated via mobile devices, according to Statista.
- According to WebFX, 94% of first impressions of a website are design-related.
At baseline, your new website must be mobile friendly and visually inviting. OK, check. Now we can discuss our five top tips to help you choose a winning domain name.
Your domain name is probably the first thing customers or prospects see when they encounter your company. It’s also the name you hope they’ll enter in the search bar multiple times for years to come—or bookmark for quick access. You’ll also use that domain name as part of your marketing efforts across multiple campaigns. You and your domain name, which is comprised of a top-level domain (sometimes called an extension or domain suffix), a domain name (or IP address) and an optional subdomain, need to work well together over time, so it needs to be flawlessly functional. And you need to like it.
If possible, choose .com for your domain
We’re referring here to your top-level domain, which is the formal term for the suffix that appears at the end of a domain name. You’re probably familiar with the most-common top-level domains, which are .com, .gov, .net, .org and .edu. But, according to Semrush, as of 2021, more than 1,000 TDLs were available, including military (.mil) and international (.int). Also available are country-specific TLDs known as country code top-level domains, such as .uk for the United Kingdom and .ZA, which is the ccTLD for South Africa.
A complete list of available TLDs can be found on the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority. (This also makes for great trivia knowledge as part of a party game!)
Please note that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with a .net or .org, but .com extensions are the preferred option, which may have come about because consumers using the early web tended to trust a .com domain more than other extensions. Vast amounts of spam, anyone? If a .com isn’t available as a TLD for your preferred domain name, .net and .co work well, but if you choose to use the web address yourdomain.com, your website won’t be accessible on yourdomain.net or yourdomain.org.
Also try to avoid off-beat TLDs.
“It is not recommended that SEO-conscious webmasters purchase low-quality TLDs such as .biz, .info, .ws, .name, etc. as a means of increasing traffic,” according to SEO company Moz. “Because they’re less commonly known, these TLDs receive substantially less traffic than the more widely known domains, as well as may be more frequently associated with spammy behavior.”
Domain names are the second level of a domain’s hierarchy after TLDs. Domain names on a specific TLD (called a root domain) represent the specific location of a website, according to Moz. These are the good stuff in the middle of the sandwich, which might display as www.amazon.com or https://hubspot.com.
(In our example here, amazon and HubSpot are root domains, which refer to the combination of exclusive domain names and top-level domains that form complete web addresses. A website’s root domain is the highest page in site hierarchy and is probably the homepage. Individual pages or subdomains can extend from the root domain, but each page’s URL must include the same root domain to be considered part of the website.)
Search engines used to use the keywords in domain names as a ranking factor, but keywords in domain names no longer play a role in determining search engine results rankings. It’s one of the specific functions of Google’s algorithm to combat keyword-stuffed exact-match domains.
“Our ranking systems consider the words in domain names as one of many factors to determine if content is relevant to a search. However, our exact match domain system works to ensure we don’t give too much credit for content hosted under domains designed to exactly match particular queries,” according to Google. “For example, someone might create a domain name containing the words “best-places-to-eat-lunch” in hopes all those words in the domain name would propel content high in the rankings. Our system adjusts for this.”
This doesn’t mean that domain names are unimportant. They’re just not direct ranking factors. They are more about relevancy, which speaks to the quality of a site in a search engine’s evaluation.
Subdomains are the third level of a domain’s hierarchy and considered part of the top-level domain. They are added in front of the root domain and separated from the domain name with a period. A subdomain is designed to separate sections of a website. You, or your site admin, will use subdomains to manage content-heavy sections on your site that require their own hierarchy, such as online stores, blogs or support platforms. Subdomains allow you to develop a section of your website without throwing your site’s overall purpose into chaos.
“Subdomains act as an extension of your domain name to help organize and navigate to different sections of your website. You can also use a subdomain to send visitors to a completely different web address, like your social media page, or point to a specific IP address or directory within your account,” according to Go Daddy.
Now that you understand domains and domain levels (use this information tonight at dinner!), here are four more tips to choosing an effective and useful domain name.
Research your domain name
This bears repeating, even after the dot-com bubble of the late 1990s, that investigating your chosen domain name is non-negotiable. Before you start the process of building your site and creating marketing materials, do your research. Be certain the name you’ve selected isn’t trademarked, copyright protected or being used by another business.
Shopify’s drop shipping app Oberlo offers some good general advice.
To save yourself endless time spent in your search bar, you can use a service, such as GoDaddy Domain Appraisals or Name.com. If you’re a Google fan, be sure you know about Squarespace’s acquisition of Google domains and go here instead.
But, even with the 2023 move to Squarespace domains, know that an older Google domain tip sheet still offers relevant and quick tips.
Make your domain name memorable and brandable
Your domain naming system is more than just the address for your website—if you have a strong online presence, it becomes a recognizable part of your brand. Think about companies such as eBay and Google—which would have had a tougher time gaining a foothold in their web presence if their domains were not ebay.com and google.com.
Neither ebayonlineauctions.net or googlesearchtheweb.biz rolls off the fingers, or is easy to remember. Yes, it’s harder to get short, punchy .com domains today than it was in 1997, but it is still important to make your domain brandable.
Work to make your domain name easy to remember, easy to type and easy to say. According to this oldie-but-goodie blog from Moz on processing fluency, an easy to type and easy to remember and say website domain is great for word of mouth, but processing fluency is directly connected, too.
“Processing fluency is the concept that we remember and have more positive associations with things that we can easily say and easily think about, and that includes pronounceability in our own minds. So, stay away from domain names that include numbers or other non-standard characters, use unusual spelling, or are longer than about 15 characters or so,” according to Moz. “Because of search engines’ growing reliance on accessibility and usability as a ranking factor, the easier a domain is to read for humans, the better it is for search engines.”
Make your domain name easy to spell
You’ve made it easy to remember, easy to (predictive) type and easy to say, but please make it easy to spell. When you share a domain verbally is it seamless, or mind-numbingly hard? Test by spelling your domain to someone over the phone—while your service cuts in and out. Or, remember your last trip to the coffee shop and the name on your cup was “Spindlegrat.”)
While adding extra ZZZs or changing a C to a K may make your domain name look clever, it will have you constantly correcting the spelling and may inadvertently send your customers to a competitor. And, while you’re at it, avoid hyphens. We love a good hyphen, but the use of hyphens also strongly connects with spammy behavior and decreases domain name readability and memorability. Ditto for numbers or other non-standard characters.
Make your domain name short, but not weird short
In the spirit of this tip, we’ll just say avoid domain names longer than about 15 characters.
If you go too short pointlessly, it can be confusing. If your business is Acme Building Center, abc.com obviously isn’t available and neither does it say anything about your business.
While domain names are important, remember that many of your customers will simply be typing your business name into Google or Bing. If they get even close to the correct spelling, they will find you, but having something distinctive—with brand associations—is best. Spend some time finding the ideal address for your site but realize it is just one of many things that goes into making your website a success.
Your domain name is often the first thing customers see and remember about your company. It’s crucial for branding and marketing efforts.
If possible, choose a .com TLD for your domain. It’s the most trusted and widely recognized TLD.
Yes, it’s recommended to avoid less common TLDs like .biz, .info, or .ws, as they may receive less traffic and could be associated with spam.
No, keywords in domain names no longer directly affect search engine rankings, but domain names still contribute to site relevancy.
Subdomains help organize and manage different sections of a website, such as online stores or blogs, without affecting the main domain.
Ensure your chosen domain name isn’t trademarked, copyrighted, or in use by another business. Use domain appraisal services for assistance.