Domain name strategy should be the foundation for building an online brand. Your domain name is a horizontal digital touch point that cuts across all of your marketing activities. A good domain strategy should factor in these baseline fundamentals:
- Concise - shorter is better (under 12 characters if possible)
- Easy to Pronounce and Spell
- Not similar to another Domain
- No Trademark Violations
- Passes Phone Test - grasp spelling and wording quickly
There are a ton of tools available for researching that perfect domain name. Two of my favorites are Thinkmap’s Visual Thesaurus (which looks up related words in a neat graphical map with free and subscription models). Another tool that many of us use in the industry is Domains Bot, which lets you punch in keywords to come up with available domains, with related (add on) keywords.
Google’s Wonder Wheel is a great little tool that is similar to Visual Thesaurus, in that it provides related/thematic terms - y0u can use this by doing a search via Google and pulling up More Search Tools on the left hand side of the page and selecting Wonder Wheel. Google will show you words that are related to what you are searching for.
Brandable or Searchable Domain Name
Do you want a brandable Domain like Yahoo or Google or one that is “searchable?” A brandable domain name gives you something that is memorable but you will lose any possibilities for generating traffic that might be generated by including keywords in the domain name.
By searchable, I mean a domain name that has actual keywords in it that will help an online searcher find your web site by searching for specific keywords that relate to your business. Using a unique character string with keywords will have long term value, as it will create long term traffic and enable your site to dominate this specific grouping of keywords.
Some companies utilize a number or hyphenated domain name strategy. I don’t recommend this for many reasons. It causes typing problems for many people when typing in your domain and is especially difficult for people who are using mobile or smartphones. And, this usage is skyrocketing. It adds a layer of complexity to something that should be simple - you don’t want to spend a large amount of time going over your domain when leaving messages for years. Less is more
Selecting a .com Domain Vs. Other Top Level Domains (TLDs)
1) Avoids confusion - using a second tier TLD like .net will be problematic for many and creates brand confusion for day one. Does not pass the “telephone test” - meaning, you have to explain the odd domain to people, adding another layer of interaction in today’s warp speed digital economy, which is never a good thing.
2) A .com sends a signal that you are a commercial entity to consumers, visitors and stakeholders and that you grok basic digital marketing tenets.
3) Not using a .com may open up your URL selection to a broader more effective keywords in the URL string but again (as in 1) can create confusion. Not worth the tradeoff IMHO.
4) Because so many spammers use second tier TLDs (.info) I believe your conversion rates (% of people who click into your site via listing on search engines or via PPC ads) may be impacted negatively by using a second tier TLD. I’ve seen studies that underscore this as well.
5) Through force of habit, people will automatically type in a .com when searching for your domain - not having one will clearly impact your traffic negatively.
6) If your market and/or customer focus is on Canadian or Indian markets then yes, you may want to use a country-specific (focused) TLD such as .cn or .in - I would not recommend using a .com if these markets are your sole focus.
But, there are no simple answers in our increasing complex digital world. If you were a UK based company that is focusing on a global audience you may want to use a .uk and .com addresses, as each domain is mapped to a specific audience. But, then you have to address duplicate content issues (different content for each site), which in turn can add to your marketing costs moving forward.
7) Matt Cutts (head of Google’s Web Spam team) has publicly stated (Pub Con and elsewhere) that Google looks at a number of variables when assessing a Domain for Search Rankings:
- Age of Domain
- History of domain
- KWs in domain name
- Sub domain or root domain?
- TLD of Domain
- IP address of domain
- Location of IP address / Server
This tells me that using a primary TLD like .com or country-specific (assuming your target market and content is specific) is very important for search engine rankings and downstream traffic.
Many do not realize the value of same - a keyword optimized .com domain is going to improve your ranking for a targeted keyword and increase in value moving forward. Spending $500. to $5K on a high quality domain is a great investment that is only going to approve like a find bottle of Pino. Scarcity will always equal value.
9) Finally, so many companies have no idea of the depth and complexity of starting out with a good domain strategy as a baseline component of their overall branding and positioning. They’ll blanch at the idea of spending say $2-5K for a high quality domain and turn around and spend $25-50K on a web site design - silly and shortsighted - leaving money on the table.
A good two or even three word keyword .com Domain can help you rank on page one of Google permanently, generating tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in advertising ROI over the years. Sure, not as cool and sexy as a “fun” domain parked on a second tier TLD; but, much more beneficial over the long run.
Domain Naming Conventions
There are multiple methods and ways to select a domain name for your business. Selecting a brandable domain name means you will instantly be found using this term or keyword(s). But, the trade off is a loss of long term keyword traffic that might be created by combining keywords in the URL character string.
Blended Domain Name: Created by combining two words. Microsoft is a great example of this - in the now ancient days “micro” referred to a computer and “soft” is representative of software. YouTube comes to mind as well - nicely connects two words and conveys strong meaning and branding.
Brandable Name: Google, Yahoo or Squidoo all come to mind. The name had no identification or value until the respective company’s built a brand around the name.
Compound Name: This is created by combining two nouns and can be difficult to find, especially if you want a .com domain. Good examples would be MySpace - tells you exactly what the business is about in two concise words.
Modified Word: A domain name with a core word that has been modified to facilitate utilizing the term or word. “Mashable” comes to mind - a play on the word “mash” or “mashup” which resonates with the social media market. iPhone is a another great example from Apple - provides good instant brand identification for the consumer.
Summary on Domain Name Strategy
When your naming your company you want to research and think about available domains as a key component to your strategic marketing. If the company name is great (creative, defines your market niche, etc.) but, you can’t come up with a domain name that maps to the company name, then you may want to rethink what your naming your company. This process is a blend of art and science and you want to spend quality time on this important component of your core branding processes.