So you want to build a new small business website… That’s great! But before you start brainstorming colors and design elements, there’s one crucial decision you need to make right off the bat – what domain name you’ll register for your new site!
If you aren’t quite clear on what a domain name is, think about your website as you would forming an offline business. There are two things you need to run a website:
- A web hosting account, and
- A domain name
Your web hosting account is like the physical space that you’d rent for an offline business – it’s the digital space your website occupies. Just like you need to rent out an office space, a storefront or a warehouse to hold your company’s goods or to meet clients, your web hosting account holds the code, scripts and other digital resources that make up your website.
Your domain name, on the other hand, is like the business name you registered with either your county or your state when you first started your company. It’s the name that you plaster on your business cards or on the signage in and around your company’s physical location – except that, online, your domain name is formatted like “www.yourbusinessname.com” and entered into web browsers to find your company’s digital location.
If you’re a Homestead SiteBuilder client, the web hosting part of this equation is taken care of for you. However, you’ll still need to select a domain name for your new website. Here’s what you’ll want to keep in mind as you go through this process:
Domain Tip #1 – Look for the “.com”
Choosing a domain name is as much an art as a science, as your whole goal should be to choose a URL that’s memorable to your potential customers. In an ideal situation, your domain name will be so obvious to both new and returning visitors that they’re able to type your URL directly into their web browsers without ever having to Google your company’s name to find your site.
And when it comes to memorability, keep in mind that – for most people – it’s something of a give-in to assume that most domains end in “.com.” Even if they know that your URL uses an alternate suffix (like “.biz” or “.us”), many customers will still type in the “.com” version of your domain name – redirecting themselves to your site only after they’ve landed on the wrong page.
Because these mistakes have the potential to send traffic to your competitors, it’s best to register a URL that ends in “.com.” You might also find it helpful to register alternate versions of your URL (in particular, “.org” and “.net”) to prevent others from encroaching on your company’s web territory.
Domain Tip #2 – Keep your domain name short
Unfortunately, the popularity of “.com” domain names means that they’re much more competitive to register. Don’t be surprised if your first choice URL has already been registered. Unless your business name is truly unique, competition for good “.com” URLs can be intense.
If you find that your preferred domain name has already been registered as a “.com” version, you have two choices. You can either:
- Register an alternative suffix instead, or
- Modify your desired domain name.
Because registering an alternative suffix is less desirable for the reasons described above, the better choice is to attempt to register modified domain names. For example, if you’re attempting to register a domain name for your company “Thomas Law Offices” and find that “www.thomaslawoffices.com” is taken, try modifying your URL to something like, “www.thomaslaw.com” or “www.thomaslawoffice.com.”
Just be careful not to go too far overboard with your domain name modifications. Since memorability is so important, keep your URL under 3-4 words. Any longer than that and potential customers will find it incredibly difficult to remember your website’s address!
Domain Tip #3 – Be careful with numbers and abbreviations
On a similar note, watch out for domain name options that involve numbers or abbreviations, as these alternatives can make it difficult to communicate your company’s web address. To see why, consider the fictional example of a company called “Flowers for You.” The company finds that – unfortunately – the URL “www.flowersforyou.com” has already been registered. So instead, the owner decides to register the domain name, “www.flowers4u.com.”
Although this looks like an ideal compromise in terms of being able to secure a “.com” domain that includes the company’s full business name, the owner finds it difficult to communicate the URL to others. When customers ask for the company’s web address over the phone, he’s forced to explain – over and over again – that the “4” and the “U” are numbers and abbreviations, not full words. In addition, customers find it difficult to remember the company’s web address – frequently winding up on a competitor’s page at “www.flowersforyou.com.”
The bottom line here is to keep your customer at the front of your mind when choosing a domain name for your business website. If you’d find it difficult to keep your URL straight in your mind, chances are your customers will too!
Domain Tip #4 – Avoid unintended domain hilarity
Finally, give your URL a good hard look before hitting the “Register” button to ensure that the words that comprise your business name don’t form an unintended second expression when squished together in a URL.
To understand why this is so important, imagine what URL you’d select for a website advertising the vacation destination of Pen Island. Without being crude, I think you get the idea that words that form a legitimate business name when separate can form an entirely different entity when squished together in a URL!
All of that said, keep in mind that your business website URL will become a major part of your company’s advertising presence. Changing your website domain down the road can be a challenging process that may result in lost business, so put some thought into your desired URL and take the time to get this critical decision right from the start.